The large hats of the Dayak Ngaju people of Central Kalimantan are not just accessories to protect them from the sun or rain.
The hats, locally known as sapuyung, are also considered as adornments during ceremonies, which can protect the wearer from evil forces.
The sapuyung is taken from the Katingan dialect of Dayak Ngaju people who live along the Katingan River in central and southern Kalimantan.
“A sapuyung, is like a decoration in ceremonial events for the Ngaju people. The hats are not just aimed at humans but also for divinities or gods in their Kaharingan native religion,” said anthropologist Junita Arneld during Kalimantan’s Plaited Arts Festival in Jakarta recently.
The researcher and external collaborator for the Museum of Cultures in Lugano in Switzerland, who along with husband Paolo Maiullari conducted a 10-year research on sapuyung, explained that the large hats were divided into those for ceremonial purposes and those for working in the field.
For ceremonial use, the hats are called sapuyung dare — a hat that is decorated with a red motif, locally known as daren, and are worn during specific ceremonies; and, sapuyung meto, large ceremonial hats that are partially decorated with a red motif.
Dare means “woven” and refers to woven objects representing motifs on their entire surface which are produced by means of a special weaving technique interlacing red and plain bamboo strips. This kind of dare artwork is used only in the ceremonial sphere.
For working in the field, the large hats are called sapuyung ladang. The hats protect the heads of the wearers from sun and rain.
The ceremonies that require the large hats include tiwah or secondary burial ceremonies; marriage ceremonies; potong pantan or establishing boundaries between communities; nahunan or introduction ceremonies for a newborn into a community and into elements of the world; and mambuhul balaku untung or a prosperity and longevity ritual that concludes all ceremonies of the Ngaju traditions.
The Dayak Ngaju ritual hats.
The red color, which is made naturally from jarenang or rattan fruit, is chosen because it represents the “water of life”, or blood, and it is also considered as a symbol of prosperity.
The ceremonial hats are also made of bamboo as it is believed to offer protection.
In general shape, the ceremonial hat is in a circular form with borders at the side and slightly cone-shaped. It is also equipped with a cap on the inner side to make it wearable. It is woven from narrow bamboo strips of 1 to 2 millimeters in width.
The hats display a large number of red symmetrical patterns on the upper surface.
Sapuyung dare have two motifs, a primary and a secondary.
The main motifs — which are put in the center of the hats’ upper surface — depict symbols of divinities, myths and plants.
Meanwhile, the secondary motifs, which are located around the primary ones, depict Ngaju’s environmental elements and material culture.
“For example, there is a symbol of a mountain in a vertical pattern as the primary motif with the symbol of chicken’s bowels in the horizontal pattern as the secondary motif. The main motif in the vertical pattern depicts the relation to the Almighty, while the secondary motif portrays the relation to the world,” said Junita.
“The use of chicken bowels as a symbol is simply because it is regarded as the tastiest dish [for the Dayak Ngaju people].”
The hats are also decorated with human or animal hair and buttons. The hats sizes vary from 42-45 centimeters, to 52-55 centimeters and 62-64 centimeters in diameter, with a height of 12-17 centimeters.
Most of the motifs and patterns used in the large hats include liau haguti, or the symbol of souls helping each other getting rid of fleas which is an important pattern symbolizing the integration of the soul into the ancestral community; matan andau, a representation of the sun — the emblem of the supreme divinity; and tinggang, a representation of the hornbill, a sacred bird related to prosperity on earth.
Others are tambarirang or a representation of an immortal being with human origins, which acts as the guardian spirit of the deceased; and putak hanyut or a representation of a river’s foam, as created from the intense flowing of the river — a simile associating the foam with prosperity.
The wearing of ceremonial hats is believed to close the skull’s fontanel, which is considered as the door to the soul and the vital force of human beings.
By closing the fontanel, the ceremonial large hats protect its spiritual principles from evil forces during the interaction with the celestial world.
Junita said that every man and woman of the Dayak Ngaju people was allowed to make sapuyung ladang hats since the hats carried no spiritual symbols. The hats are made of pandanus vegetal fibers and they have no decoration at all.
But sapuyung dare and sapuyung meto are exclusively made by women and girls of the Dayak Ngaju.
Girls of the Dayak Ngaju start to learn hat weaving at the age of 13. After helping their parents in the field, they usually sit around their grandmothers, mothers or aunts at night to learn the weaving techniques and patterns.
The men’s main duty, she added, was building infrastructure including houses and collecting wood from the forest.
“Those girls learn the weaving just by observing and through trial-and-error. If they make a mistake, their grandmothers will spot it but won’t tell them which one is the mistake,” said Junita, who is of Dayak Ngaju descent.
“In the Dayak Ngaju community, women are the symbol of sacredness because in their belief, the principal divinity sent his 180 assistants to the world in the form of women. Only women of master-weaver descent can weave the hats.”
— Photos courtesy of Museo delle Culture Lugano and Junita Arneld