A hornbill from Borneo

17 May 2020

This large sculpture “Kenyalang Burong” of the Iban dayak people of Borneo represents a hornbill. In the past, these birds were used in connection with head hunting. The largest sculptures of this type were perched on large posts so that their spirits could fly to Sangalong Burong, the patron god of this hunt, to obtain his favours.

The hornbill was always depicted in a crouching, perched position rather than in full flight. Its beak was greatly exaggerated and its helmet drew a gigantic spiral topped with a flower.

Today, these carvings still appear in pairs, large and small, as part of a ritual celebrating the abundant rice harvest and to ensure the continuity of this abundance.

L. 174 cm. Inv. 3464-B. Former Nelson Rockefeller collection.
Photo Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet. MUSEE BARBIER-MUELLER

Or in our publication: Arts of Africa and Oceania, Highlights from the Barbier-Mueller museum, 2007.