Do you know what makes tribal Borneo women beautiful?

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Do you know what makes tribal Borneo women beautiful?

| Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

When people talk about beauty, what comes to mind? Generally, its fair skin, long legs, silky hair, and pointed noses. Western media has done a lot to influence what we think is beautiful. Yet if we look past this bias, we find that not everyone has the same beauty ideals.

In Sarawak indigenous beauty is far different from the Eurocentric beauty standards. What makes an indigenous Sarawakian woman beautiful may be seen as ‘savage’ by many today because of our heavily Westernised interpretation of beauty. However, once upon a time, these beauty marks were highly sought after in their own communities. They are still appreciated today, despite the fact that many indigenous women no longer adhere to them.

Many of these beauty marks will sadly fade in time as modern-day life dictates a more practical approach. Before that happens, we’ve put together a list to remind us that beauty always lies in the eyes of the beholder.

So, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, we’re taking the opportunity to share with the world the unique beauty marks of Sarawak’s indigenous women.

Ring Ladies of Semban

In the region of Bengoh, 400 meters above sea level, lies a quaint village called Kampung Semban. As this village is nestled in the mountains, it is no wonder that it is nicknamed “the village above the clouds”.

The Semban people are a sub-tribe of the Bidayuhs. What sets them apart are the copper-coiled rings that adorn the forearms (ruyang) and calves (rusung) of their women. As of 2020, five women were recorded still wearing these rings, wherein only 4 are still active, which makes the ringed ladies of Semban an extremely rare sight.

Many centuries ago, Semban ladies started wearing these rings from as young as 10 years old. Even though the practice was not imposed on them, the girls chose to wear rings because according to pagan customs, only girls with the rings were allowed to attend festive ceremonies and dance, and who wants to miss a dance?

Wearing these rings made the young Semban ladies more beautiful. They are never taken off, even while doing daily chores such as tending the fields or taking showers. As a result, wearing them can be painful. However, to the Semban women, it was worth the pain because beauty precedes everything. And because the rings made them more beautiful, it also made it easier for them to find husbands.

The practise of wearing these rings slowly faded when formal education was introduced to the village in 1969. Girls were not allowed to wear them to school and because of this, many chose to take them off or not wear them at all after school or at weekends and during the holidays.

The older generations of Semban still find these rings attractive but the younger generation does not and it’s only a matter of time before the practise dies out.

Long Ears of the Orang Ulu

The longer the earlobes, the more beautiful they are. This is what the traditional Orang Ulu believe. To them, long earlobes accentuate a woman’s beauty and will attract more men to marry them. Back in the olden days, it was common to see women of Orang Ulu walking around Sarawak with long earlobes.

The Orang Ulu consists of the Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Lun Bawang, and many other small tribes, commonly live in the lower-lying inland areas of northeastern Sarawak.

Using sharpened bamboo sticks, parents would pierce their children’s ears at just a few months old. After piercing, they wear brass earrings to elongate their earlobes. As they grow older, these brass earrings are replaced with heavier ones, weighing up to 500 grams a pair. These earrings then stretch out the earlobes, preferably reaching their shoulders and beyond.

This process is painful and their ears may even bleed and become infected. However, according to those who went through the process, the feeling of getting their earlobes to reach their shoulders left them elated.


Elongated earlobes are a symbol of beauty to the wearer. It is also said that the longer the earlobes are, the more significant the individual is to the tribe.

Sadly, with modernisation, the younger generation no longer practices this tradition. The elders do not blame their grandchildren for refusing to follow in their footsteps as they need to assimilate with the city and such signs of beauty don’t sit well with modernity.

Flat Foreheads of the Melanau women

Once upon a time, the Melanau people of Mukah and Bintulu deemed round faces as beautiful. Parents went to great extremes to get their children to grow up looking “moon-faced”.

To achieve this desired feature, a young infant had to go through ‘melipih beleang’, a process that flattens their foreheads with a device called ‘jak’.

The jak is a flat wooden bar that is 24cm long and 9cm wide. A soft pad is then attached to the centre of the bar, which is placed in the middle of the baby’s forehead. This is connected to a T-shaped strap of cloth with strings. These strings are then guided into a hole in the middle of a copper coin or a wooden disc.

This contraption is then strapped around the heads of infants while they sleep. By twisting the coin or disc, pressure is gradually applied to the babies’ foreheads. If the baby woke up or started crying, pressure would slowly be released. Each application usually lasts for 15 minutes and it takes between 10 to 20 uses of the jak to achieve the desired ‘moon-face’ effect.

Mothers will start using jak on their infants when they are as young as two weeks old because their bones are still quite malleable. Even though this process is painful and dangerous, the girls won’t remember the pain as they were too young when they went through it.

The Melanau people believe that round faces have the perfect head shape to don the serebang (golden tiara).

Tattooed women of the Kayan Tribe

Even though many tribes don tattoos, in the Kayan tribe, it was mostly the women who got them. These tattoos are called ‘tedek’. Girls would get tattooed as young as ten years old, and it was considered a rite of passage into adulthood.

The Kayan tribe are mainly settled along the Baram, Bintulu, and Rajang River in Sarawak.

The tattooing process begins with the girl’s fingers and the upper part of her feet. Within a year, her upper arms and thighs would be covered. It can take up to four years to complete the whole tattooing process, depending on the woman’s endurance level to pain. Only once her tattoos are complete can she be eligible for marriage.

The more tattoos a woman has, the more beautiful she is considered to be. Tattoos symbolise their identity, courage, beauty, and social status. The Kayan also believe that these tattoos will become their guiding lights in the darkness of the afterlife.

After the arrival of missionaries into Sarawak, there was a negative connotation attached to tattoos, mainly because of the influence of Abrahamic religions. However, recently there has been a resurgence of the tattoo culture led by younger generations who modernise traditional motifs to assimilate with the current world. If you’d like to learn more about the significance and symbolism of tribal tattoos in Sarawakian culture, you can read our article here.

What people may deem as a ‘thing of the past’ still holds a lot of cultural significance. Even though we see less of these beauty marks today, their allure remains alive in the eyes of many elder Sarawakians.

They are also deeply appreciated by the younger generations who are putting a lot of effort into keeping their culture and heritage alive through stories and art.

Can people spread coronavirus after they recover?

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Can people spread coronavirus after they recover?

Low-level viruses

It is not uncommon for viruses to persist at low levels in the body even after someone recovers from an illness, said Ebenezer Tumban, a virologist at Michigan Tech University. For example, Zika virus and Ebola virus are known to stick around for months after patients recover, Johnson noted.

The test that the four patients from Wuhan, China, underwent looks for genetic fragments of the virus in the body, Tumban said. The Tamiflu they were taking could have pushed the number of viral copies in their bodies down to just a few, he said. At that point, the test would not have been sensitive enough to detect the virus.

After the antiviral treatment ended, the viruses may have begun replicating again at a low level, Tumban said. There would not have been enough of the virus to cause tissue damage, so the patients felt no symptoms. But the number of viral copies would have gotten high enough for the test to catch them again.

At that point, the individuals were likely not very contagious, Johnson said. Coughing and sneezing spews viral particles around, but these individuals were not coughing or sneezing. Their viral loads were also low. It would take more intimate contact to spread the virus.

“They should be careful in the household setting not to share drinks and make sure they’re washing their hands frequently,” she said. “But if they’re just a carrier, they shouldn’t be able to transmit outside of that close contact of shared beverage and food.”

Immunity implications

None of the study patients’ family members tested positive for coronavirus at the time of the paper’s publication. However, the authors noted that the patients were all medical professionals who took very careful precautions to avoid spreading the disease while at home.

Virus that persists in the body may elicit enough of an immune response to provide some protection against new infection, Johnson said. There are many questions about how long immunity would last, though, Tumban said. For example, the body maintains immunity against the coronaviruses that cause the common cold for only a year or two, he said. And there is always the possibility that the new coronavirus would mutate as it moves through populations, changing into a version that already-exposed immune systems can’t recognize.

“The challenge is, how fast does this mutate?” Johnson said.

More follow-up studies are needed to understand recovery from COVID-19, Johnson said. The individuals in the study from Wuhan were all of similar age and health status, and none experienced severe illness from COVID-19.

Future research should also look at viral loads within the lungs, Tumban said. A throat swab captures the virus only from the upper reaches of the respiratory tract, but the virus makes its home deep in the lungs. Sampling from the lungs is a more invasive procedure, involving washing fluid through the alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) and testing that fluid for viral particles, Tumban said. Still, the study suggests that long-term monitoring of recovered patients and their contacts is important.

“One week or two weeks after, is the amount of virus in the blood or lungs going to come up to a higher concentration so that the person can transmit it to other people?” Tumban said. “That’s something that we still don’t know.”


Originally published on Live Science.

Here’s how long the coronavirus will last on surfaces, and how to disinfect those surfaces.

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Here’s how long the coronavirus will last on surfaces, and how to disinfect those surfaces.

Scientists figure out how new coronavirus breaks into human cells

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Scientists figure out how new coronavirus breaks into human cells

Zhou and his team used a tool called cryo electron microscopy, which employs deeply frozen samples and electron beams to image the tiniest structures of biological molecules. The researchers found that the molecular bond between SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein and ACE2 looks fairly similar to the binding pattern of the coronavirus that caused the outbreak of SARS in 2003. There are some differences, however, in the precise amino acids used to bind SARS-CoV-2 to that ACE2 receptor compared with the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the researchers said.

“While some might consider the differences subtle,” Gallagher said, “they might be meaningful with respect to the strength with which each of those viruses stick.”

That “stickiness” could affect how easily a virus transmits from one person to another. If any given viral particle is more likely to enter a cell once it enters the human body, transmission of disease is more likely.

There are other coronaviruses that circulate regularly, causing upper respiratory infections that most people think of as the common cold. Those coronaviruses don’t interact with the ACE2 receptor, Gallagher said, but rather, they get into the body using other receptors on human cells.

Coronavirus structure implications

The structure of SARS-CoV-2’s “key” and the body’s “lock” could theoretically provide a target for antiviral drugs that would stop the new coronavirus from getting into new cells. Most antiviral drugs already on the market focus on halting viral replication within the cell, so a drug that targeted viral entry would be new territory, Gallagher said.

“There is no effective clinical drug that will block that interaction that I know of” that’s already in use, he said.

The viral spike protein is also a promising target for vaccines, because it’s the part of the virus that interacts with its environment and so could be easily recognized by the immune system, Gallagher said.

Even so, developing either drugs or a vaccine will be a challenging task. Treatments and vaccines not only have to prove effective against the virus, but must also be safe for people, Gallagher said. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have said that the earliest a coronavirus vaccine could be available is in a year to a year and a half.

Originally published on Live Science.

‘Rapunzel Syndrome’ Caused Woman’s Odd Symptoms

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‘Rapunzel Syndrome’ Caused Woman’s Odd Symptoms

Man in China Contracts Brain Parasite After Eating Hot Pot

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Man in China Contracts Brain Parasite After Eating Hot Pot

How one small Italian town cut coronavirus cases to zero in just a few weeks

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How one small Italian town cut coronavirus cases to zero in just a few weeks

The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe

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The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe

A Moon with a Moon

moon triptych

(Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

What’s better than a moon? A moon orbiting a moon, which the internet has dubbed a moonmoon. Also known as submoons, moonitos, grandmoons, moonettes and moooons, moonmoons are still only theoretical, but recent calculations suggest that there’s nothing impossible about their formation. Perhaps astronomers may one day discover one.

Dark-Matter-Less Galaxy?


(Image credit: NASA, ESA, and P. van Dokkum (Yale University))

Dark matter — the unknown substance comprising 85 percent of all matter in the universe — is strange. But researchers are at least sure about one thing: Dark matter is everywhere. So team members were scratching their heads over a peculiar galaxy they spotted in March 2018 that seemed to contain hardly any dark matter. Subsequent work suggested that the celestial oddity did in fact contain dark matter, though the finding paradoxically lent credence to an alternative theory positing that dark matter doesn’t exist at all. Get it together, astronomers!

The Most Bizarre Star

Artist's Illustration of Tabby's Star2852

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

When astronomer Tabetha Boyajian of Louisiana State University and her colleagues first saw the star known as KIC 846285, they were flummoxed. Nicknamed Tabby’s star, the object would dip in brightness at irregular intervals and for odd lengths of time, sometimes by as much as 22 percent. Different theories were invoked, including the possibility of an alien megastructure, but nowadays, most researchers believe the star to be surrounded by an abnormal ring of dust that’s causing the darkening.

Highly Electric Hyperion

Cassini image of Saturn.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The title of weirdest moon in the solar system could go to many celestial objects — Jupiter’s overly volcanic Io, Neptune’s geyser-spewing Triton. But one of the strangest looking is Saturn’s Hyperion, a pumice-stone-like irregular rock pockmarked with numerous craters. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which visited the Saturn system between 2004 and 2017, also found that Hyperion was charged with a “particle beam” of static electricity flowing out into space.

A Guiding Neutrino

An artist's illustration shows the supermassive black hole at the center of a blazar galaxy emitting its stream of energetic particles toward Earth.

(Image credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab)

The single, high-energy neutrino that struck Earth on Sept. 22, 2017, wasn’t, on its own, all that extraordinary. Physicists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica see neutrinos of similar energy levels at least once a month. But this one was special because it was the first to arrive with enough information about its origin for astronomers to point telescopes in the direction it came from. They figured out that it had been flung at Earth 4 billion years ago by a flaring blazar, a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy that had been consuming surrounding material.

The Living Fossil Galaxy

DGSAT I (left) is an ultra-diffuse galaxy that doesn’t have a lot of stars like normal spiral galaxies (right).

(Image credit: A. Romanowsky/UCO/D. Martinez-Delgado/ARI)

DGSAT I is an ultradiffuse galaxy (UDG), meaning it is as big as a galaxy like the Milky Way but its stars are spread out so thinly that it is nearly invisible. But when scientists saw the ghostly DGSAT 1 in 2016, they noticed that it was sitting all alone, quite unlike other UDGs, which are typically found in clusters. Its characteristics suggest that the faint object formed during a very different era in the universe, back just 1 billion or so years after the Big Bang, making DGSAT 1 a living fossil.

Double Quasar Image


(Image credit: NASA Hubble Space Telescope, Tommaso Treu/UCLA, and Birrer et al)

Massive objects curve light, enough so that they can distort the image of things behind them. When researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to spot a quasar from the early universe, they used it to estimate the universe’s expansion rate and found that it is expanding faster today than it was back then — a finding that disagrees with other measurements. Now physicists need to figure out if their theories are wrong or if something else strange is going on.

Infrared Stream from Space

(Image credit: ESA/N. Tr’Ehnl (Pennsylvania State University)/NASA)

Neutron stars are extremely dense objects formed after the death of a regular star. Normally, they emit radio waves or higher-energy radiation such as X-rays, but in September 2018, astronomers found a long stream of infrared light coming from a neutron star 800 light-years away from Earth — something never before observed. The researchers proposed that a disk of dust surrounding the neutron star could be generating the signal, but the ultimate explanation has yet to be found.

Rogue Planet with Auroras

Newly described brown dwarf

(Image credit: Chuck Carter; NRAO/AUI/NSF/Caltech)

Drifting through the galaxy are rogue planets, which have been flung away from their parent star by gravitational forces. One particular peculiarity in this class is known as SIMP J01365663+0933473, a planet-size object 200 light-years away whose magnetic field is more than 200 times stronger than Jupiter’s. This is strong enough to generate flashing auroras in its atmosphere, which can be seen with radio telescopes.


The coronavirus did not escape from a lab. Here’s how we know.

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The coronavirus did not escape from a lab. Here’s how we know.