How valid the case for Dayak nation?
Published on: Sunday, June 30, 2019
By: Dr Johan Arriffin


The recent inaugural Dayak International Justice Congress in Keningau organised by Borneo Dayak Forum (BDF) raises several questions. Are the Kadazandusuns and other natives in Sabah ready to be clumped under a single grouping “Dayaks”. 

The congress went one step further by passing a motion to look into re-naming Borneo Island as Dayak Island. While BDF appear to be a pan-Borneo socio-cultural body aimed at uniting all Dayak tribes of Borneo, including the Kadazandusun and Murut people in Sabah, some suspect it has political intentions.

It was reported that there were strong opposition to the event being held, rumours of potential violence and near cancellation due to suspicion of the organisers intent. 

Speaking to an online portal, organising chairman Jalumin Bayogoh admitted the actions by some people, including those who claimed to be supporters of the event, had almost resulted in the cancellation of the three-day programme.

In  March 2017, BDA President Jeffrey Kitingan and current opposition leader in Sabah State Assembly was barred from entering Sarawak. He said he was there to chair a meeting between Dayak leaders from Kalimantan and Sabah in Kuching. It is unclear whether the ban has been lifted.

Jeffrey said Rumpun Dayak are indigenous people who inhabited Borneo island in the past, which was also known as Dayak Island. 

He said this meant that the Kadazan, Dusun and Murut (KDM) communities in Sabah belonged to one stock or clump as the Dayak communities in Kalimantan, Brunei and Sarawak. 

Although that may be the case historically or culturally, the big question is whether the natives of Sabah are willing to commit themselves under the grouping of Dayaks.

One political scientist commented – the Kadazan leadership is already badly fragmented and BDA is another body that will widen the cracks. 

“I am very sure that the people who identify themselves as Kadazandusun, Mamasok, Momogun etc., would oppose to being clumped under Dayaks. We have fought for our ethnicity when the federal government ticked Sabah natives as “dan lain lain” in the government forms – why should we now be lumped together as Dayaks. Jeffrey cannot even unite his own Kadazandusun people and now he wants to unite the “Dayaks” of Borneo under one roof”, he said.

Reading on the origins of Dayaks, the definition of Dayaks appears to be synonymous with tribes of Kalimantan Borneo and Sarawak rather than the natives of Sabah. The general definition of Dayaks in the dictionary – a member of any of several indigenous, Austronesian-speaking tribal peoples of Sarawak and Indonesian Borneo. 

The term Dayak was coined by Europeans referring to the non-Malay and non-Muslim inhabitants of central and southern Borneo. With the BDA motion to rename Borneo as Dayak Island, where would the Kadazandusun fit in the bigger scheme of things?

The Kadazandusuns had their own identity crisis in the past and the the Dayak grouping promoted by BDA adds to the confusion. In the 1960s, the first Chief Minister of North Borneo, Donald Stephens used the term “Kadazan” as the official assignation of the non-Muslim natives, sparking opposition from the Dusun side. This hotly debated identity crisis slowly settled down after the two side agreed to use the term “Kadazan-Dusun” or “Kadazandusun”. 

The unified term “Kadazandusun” was unanimously passed as a resolution during the 5th Kadazan Cultural Association’s Delegates Conference on November, 1989 and adopted “kadazandusun” as the best alternative generic identity as well as the most appropriate approach to resolve the “Kadazan” or “Dusun” identity crisis. 

On August, 1961 the First Kadazan National Congress debated and voted to resolve that “Kadazan” is the generic identity of the numerous Dusunic, Paitanic, Idahan, Murutic ethnic and numerous other sub-ethnic and speech communities. 

This is the basis for the re-formulation of the KCA/KDCA Constitution and hence Article 6 lists all the ethnic, sub-ethnic and speech communities under Kadazan/Kadazandusun.

When the Kadazandusun, the largest native group of bumiputra in Sabah, are being challenged by the illegal immigrants (PTI) issues, state rights under Malaysia agreement 1963 (MA63), freedom of religion, native laws and customary rights, the conflicts on identity will further weaken the native community in resolving these issues.

In April, the proposed amendment of Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution failed to rename the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak as a different entity in relation to the 11 states of Peninsular Malaysia. 

Now, we have a new proposal to rename the whole of Borneo Island as Dayak Island. Does this proposed unilateral motion at the BDA congress renaming Borneo Island as Dayak Island serve any purpose?

Kadazandusun Cultural Association member Benedict Topin, who was appointed first president of the Dayak International Justice Council, told a news portal that the council was tasked to document all written and oral native laws from all Dayak groups in Borneo. 

The collected laws would be used as the basis of creating a common native law for all Dayaks. 

On a proposal for an International Native Court for the Dayak indigenous people in Borneo and some parts of Indonesia, Sabah Assistant Law and Native Affairs Minister Jannie Lasimbang said in January she was not dismissive of the idea. However, she questioned the viability of implementing the judgments made by this court.

How do you get Sarawak, Sabah and Indonesia to agree on one common native law under the clump of Dayaks across state and international boundries? If it’s sounds ambitious, it is. Sabah and Sarawak are not on the same page when it comes to MA63, and the Dayaks in Kalimantan has had several violent uprisings in the past against the central government. Each state or country like Indonesia have their own constitution, native laws and customary rights and it’s a tall order to have it united and coddified under one written law.

In Sabah, we have still not settled on the definition of natives. Unlike Sarawak, the terms natives in Sabah is not clearly spelt. Jannie Lasimbang said a proposed amendment to the Sabah Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance 1958, was among a few important issues on the ministry’s agenda but was not considered urgent enough to be looked at immediately. 

The ordinance explicitly mentioned five ethnic groups as natives: the Suluk, Kagayan, Simonol, Sibutu and Ubian, all of whom are to be found mainly on east coast areas.Other natives in Sabah, particularly the Kadazan-Dusun and Murut people are not listed in the definition of native.

There are many benefits for those  listed as a native, such as land ownership and the right to claim certain lands under native customary rights. 

At present the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut, Bajau, Bisaya, Rungus, Lotud and many other groups are lumped into two sub-clauses of the Interpretation Ordinance but the names of their particular ethnic group is not mentioned. 

This anomaly on the definition of Sabah natives is likely to be prolonged unless there is a concentrated effort to amend the status of the largest native group. 

The pursuit of Dayakship and the land of the Dayaks does not help the Kadazadusun cause, it further divides the groups and cause further complications in uniting a fragmented group of natives.

On criticisms on the BDA proposals, Jeffrey said many of the indigenous people fear that accepting a common identity would replace their own identities as Kadazan, Momogun or Murut. 

If anything, he said,  it is the opposite because the single Dayak identity enhances their ethnic identity as one needs to belong to an ethnic or racial native group in Borneo to be a Dayak. We cannot remain fragmented and be mentally, politically and economically colonised and dependent forever. 

While many would agree to Jeffrey’s comments on the need for the natives to be united, very few people would agree that all the Sabah natives should come under a single Dayak groupings. 

Forget about the United Nations with no real teeth, would Putrajaya agree, would Indonesia agree, would Philippines agree (since they have not dropped their claims on Sabah) for the Island of Borneo be renamed as Dayak Island?

One senior Kadazandusun leader commented it would be better if the likes of Jeffrey and Benedict Topin concentrate on amending Sabah native laws rather than promoting the land of the Dayaks. 

The concept of the greater Dayak does not benefit Sabah natives directly except in the area of cultural exchange, and the time and energy should be spent on Sabah centric issues which has yet to be resolved.





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