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There is a saying of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The classic Bunga Terung design being just that: classic, might not warrant a makeover. However, the traditional Bunga Terung tattoo has such a deep meaning behind it; 1) One on each shoulder for the ‘Berjalai’ journey to make you stronger to carry your travelling pack, 2) Protection, and 3) the centre coil to symbolise the transformation from a tadpole (young man) to maturity.

It is this profound relationship with a dying practise that it is better to preserve its status as an Iban tribal ritual antiquity than to have its importance diluted and misunderstood by being misused by today’s wearers. Tattoos are freely received and given out today in a contemporary society where self-expression in the form of body modification is part of a thriving industry. A very large majority of wearers will get a design based purely on aesthetics, and this unfortunately results in many instances of misapplication of tattoos; misinterpretation, wrong connotations, inappropriate location on the body, demeaning of tribal ritual tattoos and so forth (Christensen W., 2012) Most obvious of all, today’s wearers do not go on ‘Berjalai’ journeys, and many seekers are not of Borneo origins, let alone Iban.

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A picture of a young man who wanted to get a tattoo but was afraid of needles. Picture by Alfred Charlie. The wearer is Iban.

Remember, the Bunga Terung must be done in pairs, for balancing and protecting both sides of your body. That being said, you are free to do as you please… after all tattooing is about personal expression. This post is just a gentle reminder as to the original function and intention of the Bunga Terung.

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