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Dyak Baby-Carriers

Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to artifacts

Dyak Baby-Carriers, Kalimantan, Indonesia

[Dyak beaded baby-carrier: 21k]

The Dyak tribes of Indonesia strive to retain much of their own culture. Children are the key to maintaining a culture and these beautiful baby carriers wrap the child in their group's embrace from birth.

Figure 1: Dyak beaded baby-carrier with spirit faces, shell and teeth charms.

The Dyak people of inner Kalimantan (Borneo) were head hunters, who until recently kept settlers out of their dense jungles territories. The tribes still hunt and gather in more remote areas of the bush and practice slash and burn agriculture along the inland rivers like the Mahakam.

The longhouse dwellers of these river districts hold planting and harvesting ceremonies that are believed to have originated with the Dong-Son migrations from the Annam region of northern Vietnam between the 8th and 2nd century B.C. These earliest rituals probably also form the basis for the trance dramas on Bali and Java.

[Two Dyak masks: 30k]

Figure 2: Two Dyak masks.

The gods in red, black and white painted masks come and dance as deer, pig, dragon, tiger and humans. The spirits are also invoked in the netted beadwork designs that the Kenyah and Kayan Dyak women string to protect new children in their baby-carriers.

[Detail of spirit face: 27k]

Figure 3: Detail of beadwork.

Beads were traded during the colonial period from Venice by the Portuguese and the Dutch and are associated by the Dyak with agricultural fertility and femininity. Newer beads, glass as well as plastic, come from Europe and Japan. Large, old beads are prized as heirlooms and may be used along with teeth, shells, coins and bells to add protective magic to the small seed bead designs on the carriers.


[Dyak beaded baby carrier: 25k]

Figure 4: Dyak beaded baby-carrier with geometric designs, shell and teeth charms.

Beaded nets and charms are fastened to a stiff, woven rattan and wood base. The beads themselves are believed to form a hard surface which protects against evil. High status babies may have carriers with figurative motifs representing human figures, tigers, or asoq masks such as the protective dog-dragon goddess. Commoners will use plainer, geometric designs. The baby-carrier guards both the body and the soul of the new child, and the charms warn the mother of approaching danger.


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Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/