Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Marked intimacy when killing your enemy

Long ago in Borneo, you can only tattoo your hands if you have successfully completed a ngayau (headhunting) expedition. You need to get up close and personal with your enemy, breathe in his last breath, and feel the sprinkle of his hot blood as you severed his head to take home before raising your phalanges to be inked.

Marked warrior(1)

More than just a trophy, the severed head is a talisman against evil to protect your longhouse and its occupants against enemies and disasters. The heads are placed at the highest points in the house, to have a vantage view of all within. And during feast days, the heads are brought down, cleansed and smoked in a ritual as old as mountains, accompanied by the chantings of wizened wise women.

Hands of a master weaver(2)

It takes a great deal more skill and power to kill your enemies with a bladed weapon. A will of steel to steady your hands when needed. A dying art of war immortalised in museums and books, little more than ink and paint on paper. The heart of the tribe is now transformed.

The West are better killers, of course. With their phosphorus bombs, high calibre projectiles, cluster munitions, and drones. Now they can kill aseptically from thousands of miles away, viewing death from high tech lenses, spewing bullets and explosives like a child with a PlayStation in the den. Never feeling the gut-wrenching fear of dealing with your enemies face to face, not caring of their names or faces, armed combatant or otherwise.

Nowadays, who earns their tattooed phalanges honestly? Are there still any?

Note: Cross-posted from my social media account.