Ritual Vessel 

Object Ritual vessel
Culture Borneo
Time Around 1900
Dimensions Length 44 cm
Material Wood, rattan, fruit kernel(?), glass

This ritual vessel is made from a bamboo stick around which a snake winds. At the end is a fruit kernel(?) with two eye sockets, which symbolizes a head. A rattan ring is attached to the end piece to hang it up. The snake has mirror eyes. The object is tinted with black pigments.

This ritual vessel was probably used in healing ceremonies by a shaman. The content could have been rice wine, which was given to important guests or to people who needed healing.

The rice wine served in a head brings strength and vitality to the head, the snake symbolises the underworld and increases the power of the drink.


This brings to mind a myth of origin, which is very common in East Indonesia. Here a girl, who later becomes an important crop by killing it, is born out of a coconut, which was previously wrapped in a cloth. Thus this head would become a primordial being, which is reborn through the revelation. The cloth is called the “skin”, which is equated with the snake as a skinning and renewing being. This in such a way “untransformed” head is later “planted” in the fields like a seed after its reception at the Iban-Dayak, sometimes after the splitting with the sword (uti-ritual), after which “the rice comes out of it”. It is probable that the rituals were originally related to the coconut and other useful plants and later transferred to the rice.

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