No. 13 (2016): Koppensnellers en ontdekkingsreizigers: Borneo in reisteksten van Hongaren uit de 19de eeuw

Mapping the Land of Headhunters: János Xántus in Borneo

Published 2021-09-16 — Updated on 2016-09-01
Balázs Venkovits
University of Debrecen

This article studies the travel account of János Xántus on Borneo, presenting the island based on his journey made in 1870. The paper examines how Xántus provides both Hungarian scientists and armchair travelers with fascinating descriptions of the island, often switching between different writing styles and using various tropes of travel writing. Borneo is portrayed not only as unfamiliar but also as uncivilized and particularly un-European. While providing accounts of this little-know area, Xántus does not simply involve binaries of Self and the Other but also reveals his views on European colonization and domination in the region, in particular, he contrasts English and Dutch systems of authority and control, favoring the former and criticizing the latter. Besides the discussion of European influence, the paper also deals with Xántus’ portrayal of the Dayak people. At the end of the article, a translation of excerpts from Xántus’ publication is provided, discussing Dayak (headhunting) traditions, the situation of Dayak women, slavery, and local customs.