Thanks to the popularity of tribal artwork within the tattooing industry in the past few decades there are many cultures around the globe that have seen a revival in their ancient practices of tattooing which was used by them for centuries to decorate the body. However, the purpose of these designs were not purely for adornment like they are now but were designed so that each symbol used had its own meaning which was used to tell a story, usually about the wearer’s life. An Iban tattoo is a prime example of this and this tribe and its artwork originates from the Malaysian island of Borneo. While there are many cultures in the world which have used tattoos to decorate their bodies, the Iban tradition is certainly one of the most well developed and interesting.
In centuries past most adult members of the Iban tribe – both men and men – would be tattooed for the first time as they approached adulthood. The beauty of the artwork used for an Iban tattoo is that each design had its own meaning and these designs would vary considerably in different areas with each region having its own specific artwork. For young men of the tribe their first tattoo was a depiction of a local flower – a member of the aubergine plant family – which was known as the “bunga terung.” This was tattooed close to the collar bone, underneath its outside edge as this was believed to make the wearer strong. This part of the body was where the straps from their heavy back packs would rest as they set out for their bejalai, a journey which all young men of the tribe undertook on the eve of manhood to gain wealth, fame and fortune.
These journeys could last weeks, months or even years during which the youths would visit other Iban communities to help the tribes there. As a reward for his efforts there, he would receive additional tattoos all of which would tell the story of his adventures upon his return. The young female members of the tribe stayed within their own communities where they were taught all the necessary skills required by women of the tribe. For every new skill the women accomplished, such as weaving, they would receive a special tattoo design in honor of their achievement.
Many of these original designs have seen a revival in recent years as the Iban tattoo has become a popular aspect of tribal artwork used in tattooing today. One of the most popular and widely recognized symbols is the Iban scorpion, also referred too as kala which ahs been around for centuries. This has close connotations with another mythical symbol, the aso which is a dog and dragon combined that was deemed to protect the wearer from malevolent spirits. In the kala design, the claws of the scorpion were originally designed to signify the back end of the dog while the hooked ends at the back of the scorpion represented the open jaws of dog’s mouth. If you are interested in tribal body art then this particular design, which is much rarer than some of the more commonly requested tribal symbols, is one that will definitely help you stand out from the crowd.