1. Laukien, Michael

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As a freelance journalist and photographer who has traveled and lived in Borneo and the surrounding area (I'm an adopted son of a chief in Iban), I'd like to point out some errors in "On the Cover" (March). First, it was not the Indonesian government but the British colonial government of North Borneo (now Sarawak and Sabah) that first outlawed head-hunting. Nonetheless, it was common practice there until Malaysia became independent in 1963.


Much more important, though, is the fact that the extensive tattooing of Iban men has nothing to do with headhunting. Anthropomorphic tattoos were (and still are) done while men are traveling, as part of a celebration. They were never done in a man's own village (it is taboo to get tattooed in one's own longhouse) and served as a passport stamp of sorts that proved a young man had reached manhood and traveled to remote places. The only tattoo that could be said to refer to headhunting is the tegulun, a row of small dots and lines on the hands that were the sign of the successful headhunter. Those are extremely rare now, and in all the time I spent in Borneo I met (and photographed) only two men adorned in such a manner.


Michael Laukien


Friedrichshafen, Germany