Category Archives: Indonesia

Posts about Galleries & Museums in Indonesia including information on their objects.

Dayak Baju Perang (War Jacket), Central Kalimantan

I love the hunt of doing research about objects in the museum and then the delight of the FIND.  And what a find. At the moment, inspired by the collection at Museum Balanga in Palangkaraya, I’m researching fibre – bark cloth and rattan mats — ones from Central Kalimantan of course.


Detail: Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia – region of Kota Waringin Barat highlighted (Google Maps)

In former times the Dayaks of Central Kalimantan wore war clothing made of bark and animal skin adorned with metal. In the collection of Museum Balanga there is a superb Baju Perang (war jacket) which is part of the Dayak kit for war. The kit is currently on display and includes a penyang talisman – a woven belt decorated with small cowrie shells with a shell and pig tusks attached – and weapons such as a mandau, dohong and a sword (pedang).

This Baju Perang is from the region of Kota Waringin Barat and is painted with powerful decorative motifs that protect the wearer when they are at war or fighting. It is made from twined bark fibre made with a warp wrapping technique. [1]  The source of the fibre is the tengang vine.



Baju Perang (War Jacket) Front view with penyang and rear view. Photos courtesy Museum Balanga & John Boyd Macdonald,

Imagine my delight when I saw these photographs reproduced in my new favourite book Plaited Arts from Borneo. The faded war jacket from Sampit is dated 1910. Sampit is about three hours from where we live in Tangkiling. The detail of the more vibrantly painted war jacket is from Melawi, West Kalimantan. The later jacket is in the collection (No. 5963) of the Museum Nasional, Jakarta.


[1] Sellato, Bernard Appendix: Borneo Life and material culture in Sellato, Bernard (ed) in Plaited Arts from the Borneo Rainforest,  Jakarta: Lontar Foundation in Association with NUS Press, c2012, 504


Bali @ Museum Nasional Jakarta

When I walked into the gallery on Bali I felt quite at home. The ceremonial ‘objects’ were mostly familiar either from our time living and working in Bali or from the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). The NGA has an excellent collection of Balinese art much of which had been recently featured in the Art of Bali exhibition.

The Barong Landung ‘Jero Gede’ is the partner of the Barong Landung ‘Jero Luh’.  Jero Gede is strangely compelling. These Topeng are magical figures from Balinese mythology and ward off evil spirits. The barong are only used in performances on special occasions such as when a village is struck by an epidemic or at Galungan.

The Ukur Kepeng (sukat) made from copper in the shape of Chinese coins was of particular interest.  Neither John nor I had seen one of these when we lived in Bali even though we’d been to a number of Ngaben ceremonies and visited galleries and museums all over Bali. The first time I’d seen one was in the National Gallery of Australia. It was specially mounted on a white background for the Art of Bali exhibition. The Ukur kepeng at the Museum Nasional was also displayed on a white background.

Ukur Kepeng (Sukat)/Measurement, Tembaga/Copper, Bali
Ukur Kepeng (Sukat)/Measurement, Tembaga/Copper, Bali, Inv. 27189

Ukur kepeng is one of the ritual items used in Ngaben, the Balinese cremation ceremony. The Ngaben often takes place long after the actual death of a family member because of the prohibitive costs of the ceremony. The body is buried until the family is able to hold the Ngaben. On exhumation, the bones of the dead are often separated so an ukur kepeng is made to represent an effigy of the whole body.

Keris, Bali, iron and ivory
Keris, Bali, iron and ivory Inv. 12975

Information on the ukur kepeng  and Barong Landung ‘Jero Gede’ is from museum labels.

Kalimantan @ Museum Nasional Jakarta

Within a month of our Museum visit we’d be living in Central Kalimantan for six months and later travelling further afield on the island of Borneo. We were very interested in viewing objects and learning about Dayak culture.

The thematically organised displays were quite informative. For example, a small display on Dayak tattooing included photographs and information on the tattooing process, tattoo stamps and tattoo ink containers. The containers were beautifully crafted in stylised shapes of Dayak motifs – the hornbill and tiger. The featured Tattoo ink container (Wadah tinta tato) in the shape of a stylised tiger is a symbol of the Dayak God of healing [Inv.7769]

Wadah Tinta Tato (Tattoo ink container)
Wadah Tinta Tato (Tattoo ink container) in the shape of a hornbill, Iron, South Kalimantan [Inv.22375]
Tattoo stamp with dragon motif,
Tattoo stamp with dragon motif, Kayu, West Kalimantan [Inv. 7773b]
The dragon head is usually known as an aso, or dog-dragon. Ancient wisdom forbids the direct use of the name of the dragon goddess for fear that terrible retribution might follow. Thus there is a tradition among the Dayak of substituting the word ‘dog’ for ‘dragon.’
Hornbills are an important symbol throughout Kalimantan and this wooden carving symbolises the upper world of the Gods. In West Kalimantan  Kenyalang are placed on top of a pole close to the longhouse.  In times past the Dayak ‘elders’ had a way of limiting access and therefore protecting rainforest trees. Only a warrior who had killed an enemy was permitted to fell a tree to make a hornbill statue. In times of war, the hornbill spirit is invited to fly into enemy longhouses to weaken them.

Kenyalang/Hornbill sculpture
Kenyalang/Hornbill sculpture, Wood, West Kalimantan, [Inv.22199]
There were a number of jewellery and objects from Kalimantan worn or used in important ceremonies.

Bracelet (gelang) wood, fibre, beads,
Bracelet (gelang) wood, fibre, beads, Kalimantan [Inv. 2349]
Hampatong, Kalimantan Barat used by balian (shaman)  as a medium to cure or 'transfer' an illness or pandemic
Hampatong, Kalimantan Barat used by balian (shaman) as a medium to cure or ‘transfer’ an illness or pandemic [Inv. 6020]
Hisang (earring), Wood, Uma-Tow, Apo Kayan, East Kalimantan [Inv.9874] Decorated with aso dragon motif, worn by women.
Hisang (earring), Wood, Uma-Tow, Apo Kayan, East Kalimantan [Inv.9874]
Worn by women this Hisang (earring) is decorated with aso dragon motif.

Necklace (kalung), human teeth, sea shells, wood fibre,
Necklace (kalung), human teeth, sea shells, wood fibre, beads & wire, West Kalimantan [Inv. 2242a)
This necklace (kalung) made from human teeth, sea shells, wood fibre, beads & wire, West Kalimantan is worn as an amulet.

Tas (bag) bamboo, cotton threads, beads, Sampit, Central Kalimantan
Tas (bag) bamboo, cotton threads, beads, Sampit, Central Kalimantan [Inv. 14152]
A rattan bag with beads (manik-manik) was made in Sampit, Central Kalimantan. It turned out that Sampit is only about three hours from where we are now living.

Rituals associated with burial are some of the most significant traditional ceremonies in Kalimantan. This Miniatur Peti Mati (coffin) was the only funeral object on display.

Miniatur Peti Mati (coffin) Wood, bamboo
Miniatur Peti Mati (coffin) Wood, bamboo, Kalimantan [Inv. 17924] This coffin, also called a raung or kakurung, used to hold a deceased Dayak shortly after death.