The way of cutting off their heads varies with the different tribes. The Sea Dyaks, for instance, sever the head at the neck, and so preserve both jaws. Among the Hill Dyaks, on the other hand, heads are very carelessly taken, being split open or slashed across with parangs. Often it may be seen that quite large portions have been hacked out of the heads. Others again cut off the head so close to the trunk that great skill and a practised hand must have been used.
Many tribesmen habitually carry about their person a little basket destined to receive a head. It is always very neatly plaited, ornamented with a variety of shells, and hung about with human hair. But only those Dyaks who have lawfully obtained such a head, as opposed to those who steal, or ‘find’ them, may include this human hair ornamentation to their macabre baskets.
The Sea Dyaks scoop out the brains by way of the nostrils, and then hang up the head to dry in the smoke of a wood fire – usually the fire which is maintained anyway for the cooking of all the food for the members of the tribe. Every now and then they will leave their preoccupations, saunter across to the fire, and tear or slash off a piece of the skin and burnt flesh of the cheek or chin, and eat it. They believe that by so doing they will add immediately to their store of courage and fearlessness.
The brains are not always extracted by way of the nostrils, however. Sometimes a piece of bamboo, carved into the semblance of a spoon, is thrust into the lowest part of the skull, and the brains gradually extracted by the occipital orifice...
Official of the Sarawak Government Service
[The particular tribe of the Dyaks known as the Janakang] practise certain refinements – if the word can be fairly used in such a context – in the matter of eating human flesh. They do not, like some other Dyak tribes, eat indiscriminately all parts of the body. Rather, they practise a form of epicureanism. First in favour among the delicacies comes the human tongue; then comes the brain; and then the muscles of the thigh and calf. These particular tribesmen, though by no means alone in the habit, file their teeth to exceedingly sharp points, to enable them to tear at this tough, sinewy flesh.
Assistant Resident in Upper Sarawak, c. 1895
The perseverance of the Dyaks during an expedition is wonderful. They get their information in advance from the women of some distant campong who have been taken prisoner in a foray. In proceeding toward a campong, their canoes are never seen on the river in day-time; they invariably commence their journeys about half an hour after dark falls. They pull rapidly and silently up the river, close to the bank. One boat keeps immediately behind another, and the handles of the paddles are covered with the soft bark of a tree so that no noise whatsoever is made.
After paddling without intermission, about half an hour before daylight they pull their canoes up on the river bank amongst the trees of the thick jungle, so that from the river it is quite impossible to see them or discover their tracks. Should their chieftain, or the leader of the expedition, feel the desire for human flesh, then one of the followers is killed. This not only provides him with a good meal, but provides also a head.
Some of the tribesmen then ascend the tallest trees in order to examine the surrounding territory and see whether a campong, or even an isolated hut or two, lies near at hand. They discover this from the smoke of the fires. Should it be a solitary hut, then they swiftly surround it and take very good care that not one of its occupants escapes. Should it prove to be a campong of any considerable size, they go much more warily to work...
[After fire-balls made of dry bark are thrown onto the thatched roofs of the campong] the hut roofs immediately and simultaneously burst into flames. Then the war-cry of the warriors is heard amid the crackle of blazing thatch and of the collapsing hut-poles and walls. The work of the massacre begins at once, in the pandemonium that ensues. The male inhabitants of each hut are speared or hacked to pieces as they stumble down the ladders from their huts, many of which stand high on stilts, in a desperate attempt to escape the leaping flames. The flames give sufficient light for the warriors to distinguish between men and women.
The women and the children – those who are not burned alive – escape into the jungle by the well-known tracks; but only to find these already guarded by sentries, from whom there is no escaping. They have no choice but to surrender, and are thus rounded-up and placed under guards...
I have been present when Selgie has taken two campongs. The inhabitants were surprised and the fighting as a consequence was all on one side, though in a few instances some resistance was offered. I did not observe them attempt to parry blows with any weapons; rather, they took them on their shields or on their bamboo caps. The noise was terrific during such a massacre – for it can be called no less than that, and is joined in heartily by such of the tribe’s women as have prevailed upon the warriors to allow them places in the canoes. An old Dyak loves to dwell on his success in expeditions such as these; and the terror of the women and children he has seen captured, mutilated, and then mercilessly killed affords a fruitful source of gratification and even amusement when they are gathered together to talk over past exploits.
The code of the Battas of Sumatra condemns to be eaten alive those guilty of adultery, those who commit theft at night, prisoners of war, those who treacherously attack the inhabitants of a house, or a lonely man. The execution takes place without delay, in the presence of the whole population. In cases of adultery, one last formality is necessary: the relatives of the criminals must be present at the carrying out of the sentence. The husband, the wife, or the persons most directly offended, have the right to retain the ears of the condemned for themselves. Then, each according to his rank chooses his fragment, and the chief judge cuts off the head and hangs it like a trophy at the door of his hut.
The brain, to which they attribute magical properties, is preserved in a gourd. The intestines are not devoured, but the soles of the feet, and the heart, cooked with rice and salt, are regarded as a delicious dish. The flesh is always eaten raw, or grilled at the place of punishment, and the use of palm wine and other strong liquors is strongly interdicted at these judicial feasts, where the men alone have the right to be present. Sometimes also they collect the blood in bamboo stems. In defiance of the law, the women use a thousand subterfuges, and employ all their seductions, in order to share in this secret and horrible feast.
Some travellers affirm that the Battas prefer human flesh to all other, but only indulge in it during warfare and following the death sentence. Others accuse them of immolating, in times of peace, from sixty to a hundred slaves annually. But today the Battas no longer put their parents to death when age has rendered them useless as workers or fighters. Formerly, every year at the time of the ripening of the citrons, old men were to be seen voluntarily submitting to death. The family assembled; the victim, weighed down with age, collected all his energy and sprang towards the branch of a tree, there to remain suspended by both arms until his strength failed and he fell to the ground. Then the neighbours and children, who had been dancing round him in a circle, sang this refrain: ‘When the fruit is ripe it needs must fall!’ They thereupon precipitated themselves upon him, beat him to death, dismembered him and devoured his flesh, soaking it in samboul or sprinkling it with kari. When an Englishman offers tea and milk, the Battas often reject them with scorn, retorting: ‘Only children drink milk; Battas drink blood!’
Dr. Felix Maynard & Alexandre Dumas, The Whalers, Hutchinson, 1937