The isle of Borneo remained wild and was the haven for numerous groups of pirates. Largely, they comprise extended local fishing communities from two main regions, the Sulu pirates, centered around the Southern Philippines and the Aceh pirates, centered on Northern Sumatra.
Dyak Woman Dyak Warriors carrying blowpipes and shields.
Their headdress is decorated with eagle and hornbill feathers.
The sultanate of Brunei was the only substantial kingdom of Borneo. The Brunei sultanate thrived on local commerce and engaged in sporadic warfare with neighbouring kingdoms and communities. But the hinterland was dominated by numerous native tribes such as Sea Dyaks, Land Dyaks (Bidayuhs), Kayans, Kenyahs, Orang Ulus, Penans and so on.
Kayan dancer wearing Bidayuh dancer balancing
anthropormorphic face mask. on a small stand.
These tribes shared similarities of dress and culture, engaging in sporadic trading and warfare with each other, but retaining sufficient ethnic diversity to differentiate between themselves. Their attire was largely simple, with woven straw caps and jackets adorned with bird plumages or animal pelt, necklaces of bright and varied beads and they wore simple or woven cloth with complex designs. They may sport tattoos on their bodies and the men carried shields, parangs (knives) and sumpitans (blowpipes).
The blowpipe was a unique weapon used for hunting and warfare. It was typically about 10 feet long, and drilled out of hardwood with a long metal bore. The process was complex. The hardwood to be drilled had to be fixed to a wooden platform which was stabilized by lashing to part of a longhouse. The metal bore was then carefully inserted and drilling normally took about a day. Two bobs hung on each side ensured that the bore hole was straight and true.
Penan drilling out a blowpipe Penan wearing a porcupine headdress
The natives of Borneo were known to take part in head-hunting and piracy, and were spectacularly encountered by James Brooke, an English adventurer, when he first attempted to colonize parts of Borneo. Brooke set up his own kingdom, wrestling away the greater part of the Brunei Sultanate. The Brooke Dynasty lasted over three generations and was ended by the Japanese Occupation of South-East Asia during World War Two.
Brooke fighting against pirates
This painting was used as reference for an illustrated article “The Man Who Would Be Raja – James Brooke’s Conquest Of Borneo”, published in Military Illustrated 82, 1995.