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Photographer's Note

Iban are very fond of body decorations and tattooing (pantang in Iban) is the most important form of such decorations. Seeing Iban with boldly designed tattoos on most parts of their bodies is a norm in the past. It was believed that tattooing not only associates with many aspects of Iban culture particularly headhunting and spiritual beliefs, but also life after death.
According to tradition, a departed Iban soul encountered numerous obstacles in searching the land of ancestors (heaven). The toughest obstacle was the River of Death. Only the soul that was properly tattooed was able to cross the bridge that spanned the river.
Iban tattoo was an important symbol to denote the tribal practice of headhunting. For men, headhunting was a visible and proven sign of manhood, braveness, success in war and status. To mark these achievements, the Iban warriors were tattooed on their torso, fingers, arms and legs. As for the Iban women, the tattoos decorated on their arms, fingers, feet and legs were a sign of their social rank and their accomplishments in weaving, dancing or singing.
many of its patterns (kelingai) are a mixture of plant motifs (brinjal flower, fruits), animal (hornbill, serpent, dog, scorpion, crab etc.), thing (jar, head trophy, bracelet etc.) or being (woman) images that are strongly associated with curative and protective properties. These patterns were thought to protect the tribe against evil spirits, unwanted predators, harms and diseases.
Other than those beliefs, Iban tattooing was also an initiation rite in the community and served as vital elements of beauty for women.

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