‘Nyobeng’, Skull washing Ritual in West Kalimantan

West Kalimantan, famous for its rain forests, also has various mysteries and enchantments.  The nyobeng, a ritual in which human skulls taken through mengayau, or headhunting, are cleansed in Sebujit hamlet in Bengkayang regency, a long way from the city.

A significant number of foreign tourists are expected to witness Nyobeng Sebujit, the unusual tradition of washing the skulls of the deceased, in Bengkayang, West Kalimantan, later this week.

The ritual is not only about washing the skulls, but also a manifestation of the beliefs of the Dayak Bidayuh people. Nyobeng Sebujit procession features the values of respect for the elders and diversity, appreciation for solidarity and compliance with traditions.

The word nyobeng originates from nibakng, which is the ritual of thanksgiving for abundant harvests and the ritual of washing the severed heads of defeated enemies following a procession known as Ngayau.

This annual event, taking place after the harvest as an expression of gratitude to God, drew a large number of visitors to Sebujit, not only from West Kalimantan, but also from Sarawak, Malaysia.

The peak of nyobeng was the bathing of skulls taken by headhunters in the past. The Dayak Bidayuh people believe that the body from the neck upward symbolizes the identity of a person. Dried human skulls are believed to have the strongest magic powers on earth. A freshly taken head is even said to be able to rescue a village from an epidemic.

Photo by arief-noegroho

Furthermore, with some concoctions added, skulls are considered effective for inviting rain, increasing harvests and warding off evil spirits. The more dried skulls are gathered, the greater their supernatural powers will be. Such beliefs have led to the special bathing rite, so that the strength of former enemies continues to emanate to provide protection and fortune.

The practice of headhunting among the Dayak society came to an end in 1894 at a general meeting of community elders in Tumbang Anoi, Central Kalimantan. Headhunting had previously been seen as a symbol of bravery and a way of saving people from a plague.

The area has started to attract more for foreign tourists in 2018, prompting the decision to stage various events and festivals to attract more.


Bengkayang district in the north of West Kalimantan province directly borders the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Best time to catch the ritual: Every 13th-17th June

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