Dayak is a generic term that refers to a number of indigenous communities that live in the adjoining countries of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia on the island of Borneo. Whilst there are significant differences in the way these communities are stratified and organised most Dayak believe in a bifurcated soul. One soul is believed to expire once the corpse has vanished, the other remains in the area of the deceased until it can be coaxed into making the journey to the other world.
The architecture of the Dayak long-house not only serves to shelter its occupants but also to remind them of the cosmological order of things and protect them from unwanted spirits. Kenyah and Kayan architecture is generally more decorative and elaborate with living quarters separated and distributed according to rank. In this respect the chief who is the human embodiment of the community is located at the centre of the house where his presence will be most felt and where he is most protected. In addition, large sculptural figures, commonly known as ‘Hampatung’ ( see accession no. 197.2003 ) would have been positioned either directly in front of the house, at the entrance to the village or in the graveyard as protective guardians.
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, September 2015