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Borneo’s 10m Dayaks are urged to stay united
Published on: Thursday, February 09, 2023
By: David Thien
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Borneo’s 10m Dayaks are urged to stay united
Abelnus and Agustinus
Kota Kinabalu: There is a need for better education, business, job opportunities, recognition of Dayak rights on land, culture, religion, and technological advancement for a better livelihood on Borneo, the sole island of their abode before the colonial powers partitioned their third largest island home.

Kalimantan Dayak representative Pak Abelnus Abel welcomed ties with Dayaks in Sabah and Sarawak, just as his organisation enjoys support backings from Dayaks and descendants of Dayak mix-marriages based in other parts of Indonesia like Java and Sumatra.

Pak Abelnus said non-Dayaks can also undergo a ritual to become Dayaks in their cultural centre if they wanted to, joining the 10 million strong community in Borneo.

He supported the vision of Papar lawyer Ken Dunstan Kundaya of forging a strong Dayak network globally with successful business ventures to be financially strong to finance upliftment of Dayak socioeconomic status with awards of scholarship to Dayaks to get the highest education attainment possible to be leaders in Borneo.

Ken is based in London and organised a zoom talk last month, calling for Pan-Borneo Dayak unity.

Dayak is a generic term used to categorize a quite large group of indigenous peoples of Borneo. The island is divided between three countries: Indonesia, the Malaysian regions of Sabah and Sarawak, and Brunei Darussalam. 

Widodo Jokowi with Agustinus Jilah

In the past, the Dayaks were feared for their ancient tradition of headhunting practices (the ritual is also known as Ngayau by the Dayaks).

Transmigration programmes, first implemented by Dutch colonists at the beginning of the century and reinstated by former Indonesia’s President Suharto approximately 30 years ago, moved many Madurese to West Kalimantan to alleviate overpopulation on Madura.

The conflict between the Madurese and the Dayaks began in the 1960s, when the Indonesian government initiated a transmigration programme that brought as many as 100,000 Madurese to Kalimantan Borneo.

Although ethnic clashes were minimal under Suharto, the province has seen several drastic outbreaks in the !990s. In early 1997, violence erupted between Dayaks and Madurese.

 “The Madurese have a reputation of being very hard traders, being very tough,” said Andrew MacIntyre, a specialist in Indonesia and a professor at the University of California-San Diego.

The Dayaks say the Madurese stole their traditional lands and their jobs in the local mines. They were angry that “people were coming in and taking over their area,” MacIntyre said.

Although the official death toll is around 200, relief workers and community officials suspect that it may be as high as 2,000. To deal with the problems of violence in Borneo, the government devised a plan of relocation. The National Development Planning Agency of Indonesia gave funds to build communities for the refugees on the nearby islands of Padang Tikar and Tembang Kacang, both still within West Kalimantan province.  Refugees who chose to return to their native Madura were aided in doing so. Sabah Dayak leader Cleftus Mojingol hoped the Dayaks of Kalimantan could help empower the Dayaks of Sabah (KDMR).

New Zealand Dayak representative Allan Dumbong who is from Keningau spoke about the Borneo Dayak Kingdom before the advent of European colonialism. He opined that green Borneo island can overtake manufacturing powerhouse China in economic attainments in the future with many ports that can be developed as China progressed due to its ports and many engineers.

West Kalimantan was where a Dayak “Kingdom of the Headwaters” or “Upriver” once existed in the interior of Ketapang District (Kabupaten), according to scholars (Wadley and Smith 2001) and Research Notes by Djuweng (1999) and Sellato (1999).

According to Djuweng (1999), the “kingdom” was a regional federation of Dayak groups, the seniority and historical prominence of which was acknowledged by the Malay sultanates in the area. Sellato (1999) proposed that the “kingdom” once controlled large areas that extended northwards over the Kapuas, and that its strategic importance lasted until the Dutch took control of the region in the 1850s.

A very different slant on the history and nature of the “kingdom” was given by John Bamba, Director of the Institut Dayakologi in Pontianak, in a wide-ranging discussion paper that related Dayak cultural values to ecosystem resilience in the face of profound changes in Kalimantan (Bamba 2000).

According to Bamba, the “kingdom” still exists as a solely spiritual entity. Its “king” (Raja Hulu Aiq: RHA) “has no political power; he is not a king with a feudal government...”

He is “the highest spiritual leader of the Dayak” in a region of Ketapang District, West Kalimantan, called Desa Sembilan Demung Sepuluh (“Nine Villages, Ten Customary Chiefs”).

This area is a territory of cultural binding that recognizes him as the highest leader of adat. RHA is believed by the Dayak in Desa Sembilan Demung Sepuluh to be the one who was chosen to become the guarantor of the Dayak’s good fate, especially in relation to farming activities.

Therefore, the Dayaks pay special tribute to the RHA by mentioning his name in prayers in farming rituals” (Bamba 2000: 37). Bamba also described the Meruba ritual (Maruba according to Djuweng) that is performed yearly to honour the sacred pusaka objects, inherited by the RHA’s family, and only touched by the RHA.

The objects include what Djuweng (1999) called the Besi Koling Tungkat Rakyat (“the Koling Iron Staff, the People’s Champion”). Spanish colonial authorities in the Philippines and Americas gave native agents canes or batons of office (Wadley and Smith 2001).

Likewise, in the mid-1840s, Dutch officials in Borneo were authorized to distribute staffs (stokken) that were embossed with the arms of the Netherlands, as symbols of Dutch authority (Irwin 1955: 153).

The first and second Brooke Rajahs gave staff (tungkat) to native chiefs in Sarawak (C. Sather). Wooden staffs of a very different kind were used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Batak priests of Sumatra as symbols of their power (Schnitger 1939: 85-100). They were about 1.7 m long.

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