Dayak tribesman participate in a procession in Bengkayang district, West Kalimantan. (Photo courtesy of the Bengkayang Tourism Agency)

Skull-Washing Ritual Attracts Cross-Border Tourism in W. Kalimantan


JUNE 13, 2017

Jakarta. A significant number of foreign tourists are expected to witness Nyobeng Sebujit, the unusual tradition of washing the skulls of the deceased, in Bengkayang, West Kalimantan, later this week.

"The ritual is not only about washing the skulls, but also a manifestation of the beliefs of the Dayak Bidayuh people," Bengkayang Tourism Agency head Made Putra Negara said on Monday (12/06).

Putra said the Nyobeng Sebujit procession will feature the values of respect for the elders and diversity, appreciation for solidarity and compliance with traditions.

"It is about a heritage that should be preserved and developed, as these cultural values are [part of] our nation's characteristics," he added.

The ceremony will take place in Sebujit village in Siding subdistrict, Bengkayang.

The word nyobeng originates from nibakng, which is the ritual of thanksgiving for abundant harvests and the ritual of washing the severed heads of defeated enemies following a procession known as Ngayau.

"Ngayau is a war tradition, as villagers took enemies' heads as proof of victory. The tradition is no longer practiced," Putra said. He added that the procession will start with a welcoming ceremony, where warriors climb a bamboo pole upside down to show their strength.

After washing, the skulls are stored in a wooden box in the balug (a traditional rectangle house). The local belief is that the skulls guard the community and that they should be washed and given offerings as a sign of respect.

"The idea of this ritual is thanksgiving to God [known as Tipaiakng in the Dayak Bidayuh language] for an abundant rice harvest, which is the goal of Nyobeng itself," Putra said.

Bengkayang district in the north of West Kalimantan province directly borders the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said the district offers many attractions and that it has a strategic position for cross-border tourism.

The area has started to attract more for foreign tourists this year, prompting the decision to stage various events and festivals to attract more.

"A cultural foundation is important. Remember that culture, if preserved, will create more welfare," Arief said.

"Cross-border tourism will improve the people's economy, especially in Bengkayang. Infrastructure development should continue while we promote cross-border tourism," he added.