Dayak Ear Weights & Ornaments of Borneo
Among the Kenyah and other Dayak peoples of Borneo, ear ornaments of cast solid brass were signs of prestige and power. (Borneo is an island in Southeast Asia shared between the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The Dayak tended to live across all three borders. The Malaysian states in Borneo are Sarawak and Sabah, and the Indonesian part is known as Kalimantan.)
Many such ornaments served both as ear pendants and as weights, designed to help stretch the earlobes to exaggerated lengths.
We have had pairs of ear weights that have had a combined weight of almost half a kilogram. These would have stretched the ear lobes to a remarkable length. Thereafter, great care was needed to prevent the ear lobe from breaking.
Women tended to stretch their ear lobes much more than men: it was considered effeminate for a Dayak man to have lobes that stretched beyond the shoulders.
Today, the practice of elongating the earlobes has largely died out among the Dayaks.
Nowadays, fake and reproduction brass ear weights abound. There are two ways to guard against fakes: look at the patina; and understand the provenance.
The surface of an ear ornament should show clear signs of wear and age. The brass should have a colour commensurate with age and it should feel smooth in the hand. Secondly, it should come from a good source that makes sense. It is doubtful that ear pendants with significant age can still be readily obtained on the open market in Borneo today.
We source all our Dayak ear ornaments only in the UK – from old collections built up during the colonial era. Currently we have these examples in stock: 5749, 5755, 3944, 3943 and 3945.
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