H: 34 cm (approx. 1’ 1”)
Estimated age: early 20th century
Provenance: Collected in the early 1970s; Old French collection; Private Austrian collection
The Kenyah Dayak mainly populate the upper reaches of the Sarawak and East Kalimantan rivers. Possibly former forest nomads, they are strictly stratified into “noble, commoner, and slave” classes.
They were warlike and conquering peoples, requiring enemies’ heads for ritual purposes. At first glance, the baby carrier (ba’) used by the Kenyah Dayak of central Kalimantan simply appears to be a utilitarian, though highly ornate, object that is functionally analogous to American “Gerry Packs” or the cloth slings that many people around the world use to carry infants. Indeed, the ba’ is both a useful item and often a piece of art endowed with supernatural properties that plays an important social role. According to reports from anthropologists who study Borneo and its people, the ba’ is often cited as a means for carrying children, highlighting its role of “guardian” of the soul to protect from evil spirits and diseases, and its specific style of jewelry representing a particular social class. Sungai Boh region. Made from rattan fibers, decorated with sound bowls from Java and shells.