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A fine Jelutong wood Dayak Kliau or shield


Indonesia, Borneo, Kalimantan, 1st half 19th century

H. 126 x W. 36 cm

The kliau or klebit is the most popular shield amongst the Dayak of Kalimantan. Together with its massive grip, it is usually carved from a single piece of soft, light jelutong wood. The grip is located lengthwise in the centre of the shield, which is slightly curved both in width and lengthwise. It is usually strengthened in width with rattan strips to prevent the wood from splitting when struck by a sword. The front of the shield, with traces of human hair, is decorated in various colours showing a stylised boar-like creature or udo with large eyes and teeth, to frighten the opponent. The back is decorated with god-like dogs, aso, to encourage the fighter. This particular shield has a very deep brown patina and traces of usage in battle.

Fighting and war was an essential part of Dayak culture, who often, drivenby belief in curses,  marched for war against a neighbouring tribe. The Dayak believed that the paintings on the shields not only frightened their opponent but actually harmed them. Hair of a fallen opponent
was stuck to the shield to give it extra power. When the shield broke, as the present one, it was hung in the longhouse as decoration.

Provenance: Dutch private collection since the 1940s

We are grateful to Mr. P. van Drumpt for is assistance in writing this catalogue entry