Model of war canoe (12-4-70/84548)

View of War Canoe model, PM 12-4-70/84548. Photo by Diana Gerberich
Details of War Canoe model. Photo by Diana Gerberich
View of War Canoe model, photo by Sophie Kimball.
Rear angle view of war canoe model, photo by Sophie Kimball.

Upon first glance, this war canoe does not fit the typical definition of a pirate ship. Its shape and design do not match the image of a large, dark, and spooky ship captained by gold-stealing, one-eyed men that many assume a pirate ship to be. There is evidence to suggest, however, that it acted as a pirate ship in the waters of Borneo in Southeast Asia. An indigenous tribe of Borneo called the Sea Dayak used war canoes, or more often called war prahus, to terrorize and plunder merchant vessels passing through the nearby waters to major Asian ports. Their stealthy and effective tactics have been recorded in stories about pirates in the waters of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Click to read more.

Diana Gerberich


More than 100 years ago, along the winding, tumultuous rapids of the Sarawak rivers in Borneo, Malaysia, one would likely witness boats such as the one above traversing the waters. Filled with up to eighty men flanking each side, and armed with cannons, this wooden canoe served as the primary form of transportation and warfare for the native people known as the Iban. This ship model immediately stands out, with its more primitive wooden construction, particularly long and narrow-shaped hull, bright-colored flag, and faded paint details adorning the boat. I immediately was intrigued to find out what purpose this unique-looking ship served, what type of people used the ship, and what was the significance of the specific colors spanning the ship and its flag.  Subsequent research would reveal a cultural and historical backdrop teeming with fascinating, if not violent, descriptions of an indigenous group of people that still persists to this day in the Malaysian region of Sarawak. Click to read more.

Callie Gilbert


This model of a war canoe is from the Sea Dyak culture of Borneo. Borneo is an island in the Java Sea; it was colonized by the British in the mid-eighteenth century and is now divided between Malaysia and Indonesia. The Dyak made extensive use of the region’s dense system of rivers, ultimately developing a culture uncommonly dependent on seafaring. This brightly colored canoe would have likely been used during times of intertribal conflict. Warring tribes would encounter each other on the region’s rivers and battle one another using boats such as this one. Click now to learn more about this vibrant culture and their unique maritime practices!

Sophie Kimball


Content of this page provided by students of Anthro 1218: Shipwrecks and Seafarers, Piracy and Plundering: An Introduction to Maritime Archaeology.