By Bunmi Adigun @Bunmi_Adigun
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Known as the Gawai Dayak, the festival is used by the native Gayak people to give thanks to a bountiful harvest and make preparations for the new season ahead.
The term Dayak, is a loose term used to describe more than 200 ethnic subgroups of native people who live on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia.
Photographer and Singapore native, Teh Han Lin, took the pictures of the festival during a visit to Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of the island.
He said: “The festival starts with an opening ceremony with some traditional rituals and continues with an amazing colourful cultural parade around the city. There are also traditional games and skill competitions like hunting and blowpipes.
“Some of the competitions include; tattoo painting, wood craving, bead weaving, traditional shield painting, traditional songs, costume fashion show and a beauty pageant.”
The origins of the festival can be traced back to the early 1960s when it was first introduced as a way to celebrate Dayak traditions and culture after decades of colonial rule.
Since 1964 the festival has been celebrated annually by the Dayak people.
One of the main things on display during the festival are the elaborately designed tattoos of people taking part in the festivities.
Tattoos are a key aspect of Dayak culture and are used as a way for modern Dayak people to connect to the traditions and practices of their ancestors, which were curbed during colonialism.
Teh said: “To Dayak tribes, each tattoo has its own meaning and purpose, which signify their life experience and journey. Tattooing was believed to be a sacred activity that was connected to many aspects of traditional Dayak culture, especially spirit worship and headhunting.”
Another noticeable feature of the festival are the numerous people who don necklaces made from monkey skulls and horns, many of which have been passed down through the generations.
“The traditional Dayak Iban male attire consists of a loin cloth attached with animal skin and a headdress with colourful bird feathers. Hornbills are preferred because they are believed to be a messenger of the god of war, at the same time symbolising rank and reputation,” Teh added.
Traditionally known for their ancient practice of headhunting, the Dayak people were ferocious warriors and would often go on expeditions into rival villages for the sole purpose of collecting their heads.
Preserved in a jar, these heads were kept as family heirnooms by the Dayak people and were used during traditional ceremonies.
Under European rule however the practice of headhunting was abolished by the 19th century.
Describing how he felt when he arrived at the festival, Teh said: “I was worried at first but after talking and getting to know them, I found them actually to be a very friendly group of people. They may seem scary because of their representation as headhunters but they are kind at heart.”