Officially, headhunting doesn’t exist in Borneo, though isolated jungle beheadings are still reported. In former times, men would awaken the spirit of courage, Bali Akang, to assist them during headhunting expeditions. After decapitating the enemy, great homecoming celebrations awaited returning warriors. The brains were carefully extracted through the nostrils, then fresh ulu (heads) were placed in plaited rattan nets and smoke-cured over fires.
Dried skulls provided the most powerful magic in the world, vital transfusions of energy. A good head could save a village from plague, produce rain, ward off evil spirits, or triple rice yields. Dayak people believed a man’s spirit continued to inhabit his head after death. Surrounded by palm leaves, heads were offered food and cigarettes—already lit for smoking—so their spirits would forgive, forget, and feel welcome in their new home. New heads increased the prestige of the owner and impressed sweethearts; they were an initiation into manhood.
In some tribes, a head’s powers increased over time; cherished skulls were handed down from generation to generation. In other tribes, a head’s magic faded with age, so fresh heads were always needed. Villages without ulu were spiritually weak—easy prey for enemies and pestilence. In remote villages of Kalimantan, travelers still come across skulls—usually not fresh ones.
Bidayuh Dayak Warriors
Extract from : The Splendid Isolation of Borneo’s Dayak Tribes by Bill Dalton, founder of Moon Publications and the author of Moon’s Indonesia Handbook