Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sarawak Shield Motifs

In modern Sarawak especially in urban Kuching city, one can buy these decorative shields at many souvenier shops that abound by the Kuching waterfront area. Shields were the principal protection a warrior would equip himself with in the days of rampant piracy and head hunting expeditions during much of the 19 th century Borneo. The design motifs are very much similar to those drawn as tatoos on their necks, shoulders, arms, legs , backs or chests. The designs are composed of mythical animals and birds, inspirations adapted from the twirls of ferns, floral patterns and occasionally the human form. These patterns I noticed are highly stylised and forever growing with a flow that keep the eyes mesmerised.

In the beaded table mat pieces above you can see how the shield motifs are incorporated into the design. The shield design is thus characteristic of Sarawak because the shield is a cultural artifact used by most natives of Sarawak especially among the Ibans, Bidayuhs, Kenyahs, Kelabits,Kayans etc., Below is an example of a sketch showing Iban warriors holding the 'parang ilang' (fighting sword/matchet) and the shield marching on their warpath partly depicting the days of old 19th century Borneo.( Ref: DJM Tate ( 1988), Rajah Brooke's Borneo,pg.92.)

19th century Iban warrior

The familiar flowing floral patterns are also seen on the wood carving above which depicts the head of Sarawak's biggest bird- the hornbill. This wood carving of soft wood is mainly used as decoration on arches or long boats and very colourfully painted.

I kind of like the above shield for the main reason that the carving is done on Sarawak's hardest timber called the 'belian'( Eusideroxylon zwageri).
These are decorative shields which tourists bring home to remember of their visits to Sarawak.

1 comment:

Zuzana said...

There is always so many colors in all the art from your culture. It is beautiful; I too would buy this as a tourist. Do you get a lot of tourists in your area?