The Headhunters of Borneo




A long time ago headhunters roamed within the borders of the island of Borneo. The term still has some fascination to many. However, the word can still strike fear among the not so strong at heart.

But by looking at the pictures taken of human skulls hanging from the ceiling of a dwelling such as a longhouse, you tend to believe that such things did occur. You will never see anything of this sort in your whole lifetime unless you happen to travel to that part of the world where this pastime is still being practised. If indeed, they still exist.

You would imagine that such inhumane activity is only found in folklore, perhaps carried out by ancient people living in caves or in jungles. But the facts seem to demonstrate that headhunting occurred not too long ago and may still exist today somewhere in a jungle somewhere in this wide world.


House of Skulls

Headhunting In Borneo

Some books about Borneo - Borneo, by the way, is the third largest island in the world - would not fail to mention house or houses of skulls. Pictures taken of such human skulls, some of which still have hairs intact, show that these things are very real. These are not legends or taken from native folklore. The ancestors of every North Bornean native tribes were headhunters. Headhunting stopped soon after the British and Christian missionaries came.

Centuries ago, head-taking by the ancestors of the Bornean indigenous natives was very much a part of life in a savage world. There were many reasons behind this. One was the necessity for menfolks to demonstrate their prowess in order to win the heart of young maidens or to wrest or maintain power over the people in a village or to increase wealth and further their influence.

It was even said that some resorted to cowardly acts such as taking the heads of helpless pregnant women. 

And so their customs developed under such an environment.

Some native longhouses in Sarawak are still decorated with human skulls. In Sabah, longhouses are practically gone. You can see these houses in Sabah only in the Kudat peninsular. The longhouses were converted into tourist attractions whereby native people can earn part of their living through the sale of decorative beads, sash, native head gears and traditional dresses.

Penampang does have a house of skulls. It is at Monsopiad Cultural Village. Not far from the Capital Kota Kinabalu, the Monsopiad Cultural Village is one of the popular tourists destinations located on the west coast of Sabah.

It is believed that these skulls form part of the collection of heads by Monsopiad, a well-known warrior and headhunter of Penampang. This is only one version of what Monsopiad did. Some of the information provided may still require collaboration. There is little chance of that happening as the elders who may have some knowledge about Monsopiad had passed on.

Clikc HERE to listen to the battle cry of a Kadazan warrior.

The Idea Behind the Longhouse

The occurrence of head-hunting in the past required people to live in a close-knit community for protection. It was easier to protect the inhabitants of the village especially womenfolks and children. Villagers could store grains and other foods without much fear of being stolen by their enemies or thieves.

Present terrace houses are not much different from longhouses. The only difference is that longhouses have common verandah. The mutual understanding that people will help watch over the security of other house owners no longer exist in the case of the former. In fact, in the case of the former, some neighbors may turn out as bad neighbors.

Modern Day Headhunters

Modern day headhunters still roam in this land. But they no longer use swords to sever the heads of people they perceive as enemies. Instead, they use razor-sharp words to bring down fellow natives. This phenomenon still exists among Kadazans even to this day. A sad state of affairs!

The blood of their head-hunting ancestors still flow in their veins. But this so called "ferocity" should become positive motivation to fight for what are right and just for their own people.

They need to channel their energy toward making their people a united and progressive people. The whole world is waiting for the Kadazan people to rise up to new heights in their life as a people, a highly progressive people.

What is preventing them from being so?






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