Tokong: The first headhunter of Borneo (?)

Although it seemed that the Chebup were peaceful people when they were driven out of Usun Apau, legend has it that they were the ones who started the practice of headhunting. Of course, this is another oral history passed down.

Tokong is claimed as ancestor by the Chebups and by the Punans. The Chebups attribute the first head hunting to him. Back then, only the hairs of the enemy are taken to adorn their shields.

The story goes that Tokong and his people were about to attack a village. Before leaving, he was addressed by a frog who said to him, “Wong ka kok, tetak batok.”

This species of frog (Bufo) makes a croaking noise similar to that. “Tetak batok” in the Chebup language means “to cut through the neck”.

At first the people scoffed at the frog’s advice, but the frog assured them that taking heads would guarantee prosperity of every kind. It demonstrated by cutting off the head of a smaller frog.

Tokong was determined to follow the frog’s advice. he brought back the heads of his enemies. As the party returned home, the padi fields they passed through grew very rapidly. As they entered the fields, the padi was only up to their knees, but by the time they reached the end it has ripened. When the reached the house, their relatives came out to rejoice and greet them, telling of all the good fortune that has befallen them.

Thus the words of the frog came true, and the new practice of cutting of heads became the norm, and learnt by others.

Sourced from Hose and McDougall, 1902.

Of course this is just one of the legends describing the origins of headhunting. Various races make claims to be the pioneer of headhunting. What’s for sure is that we’ll never really know as the truth becomes lost in the mists of time.


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