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LOCATION: Indonesia (Borneo)
POPULATION: 3.5 million
LANGUAGE: Banjarese
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Indonesians; Javanese; Vol. 4: Malays


The modern Banjarese people are the product of the mixing of four Dayak groups (Ma'anyan, Lawangan, Bukit, and Ngaju) with Sumatran Malays, Javanese, Sundanese, Arabs, Chinese, and Buginese. What distinguishes them from their upriver and highland neighbors is their use of the Banjarese language, a dialect of Malay, and their adherence to Islam, both reflecting connections to the maritime world beyond Borneo. Their identity focuses on the now defunct sultanate of Banjarmasin, whose origins go back to the Hinduized kingdom of Negara Dipa. The city of Banjarmasin itself was founded at the end of the 13th century by Ampujatamaka, the son of a merchant from the Coromandel coast of southeastern India. In 1377, a Majapahit prince married the daughter and sole heir of the Negara Dipa king; thus, Banjarmasin became a vassal of the great Javanese realm and experienced strong Javanese influences, still reflected in the language and various local art forms. In 1526, one side in an internal power struggle triumphed, thanks to aid from the north Javanese state of Demak; conversion to Islam was the price for this aid.

The 17th century was the Golden Age of Banjarmasin when it flourished in the pepper trade, enjoyed vigorous commerce with Java and Gujerat in India, and exercised influence along the Borneo coast from Sambas and Sukadana in the west to Kutai and Berau in the east. Dutch attempts at extending its monopoly over Banjarmasin's pepper trade (including once destroying the city and expelling their British East India Company rivals) failed, due largely to competition from Chinese merchants.

From the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries, Banjarese internal struggles encouraged Dutch intervention. In 1817, one sultan with a less-than-solid claim to legitimacy obtained Dutch aid in exchange for ceding the rights to suzerainty over most of Banjarmasin's traditional sphere along the Borneo coast. The Dutch also demanded the right to name the sultan's successor. In 1857, their installation of their own candidate on the throne enraged the Banjarese and started a short but vicious and costly war. The Dutch dissolved the sultanate in 1860 but faced resistance mounted by Pangeran Antasari, a royal descendant, and Sultan Kuning (despite the title, a peasant) until 1864. Islamic leaders were to stage sporadic uprisings until as late as 1905.

With the exploitation of Kalimantan's timber and fossil fuel wealth, as well as the development of the immediate region's agricultural potential, Banjarmasin and South Kalimantan as a whole are developing rapidly. This is accelerating the forces of integration (Malayification and Islamization) through which the Banjarese community has always expanded.


Banjarese are the majority population of the province of South Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo. The Meratus mountains, a long, broad range with no peak higher than 1,900 m (6,235 ft), run north–south through the province. The great Barito River and the Martapura, a tributary meeting it close to the sea, provide access to the interior of the province and beyond into Central Kalimantan. A vast tidal swamp occupies the coast. Over the last six decades, part of the swamp has been reclaimed for the cultivation of wet-rice and other crops; this area constitutes one of the major rice bowls in the Outer Islands(i.e.,outside Java-Bali-Lombok).

According to the 2000 census, Banjarese numbered 3.5 million (Indonesia's tenth largest ethnic group), up from 2,755,000 in 1990. The 1990 figure represented a 55% increase over the 1980 level, the fastest growth rate for an Indonesian linguistic group during that period. As they have become integrated into wider society through conversion to Islam, increased economic activity, and cross-ethnic marriage, speakers of smaller regional languages in South Kalimantan have adopted Banjarese as their primary language in recent years (an acceleration of the process that created the Banjarese identity in the first place). Between 1980 and 1990, the Banjarese-speaking proportion of the province's population rose from 62.8% to 81.7%; in Central Kalimantan, the proportion nearly doubled over the same period, going from 17.5% to 32.3%. By 2000, the Banjarese proportion of the South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan populations had declined slightly, to 76% and 24% respectively (probably due to the immigration of other ethnic groups, such as the Javanese who accounted for 13% and 18% respectively). At 14%, Banjarese were the third largest ethnic group in East Kalimantan, between the Javanese (30%) and the Bugis (18%), all immigrant groups.


Although popularly regarded as a separate language (and counted as such in Indonesian government usage), the speech of Banjar is essentially a dialect of Malay, although one which differs considerably from other dialects such as standard Bahasa Indonesia. Banjarese itself divides into two dialects: Banjar Hulu (upriver or interior) and Banjar Kuala (downriver or estuarine). The language is rich in words of Javanese origin, such as pitu ("seven"), banyu ("water"), and lawang ("door"), which correspond to Malay tujuh, air, and pintu. Under the influence of Javanese, a special bahasa keraton or "palace language," expressing respect to social superiors, developed and spread to the upper and middle classes. When speaking to someone younger, a person uses aku and ikam for "I" and "you," respectively. The younger, however, will say to the older, ulun and sampiyan in the Hulu dialect, and unda and nyawa in the Kuala dialect.

Banjarese is an oral language: writing (traditionally in the Arabic script) and formal speech-making are in standard Malay. In Islamic rites, Banjarese naturally use Arabic chants. In customary rites, however, incantations are in a mixture of Arabic and Kawi (Old Javanese) or will begin with "Bismillah…" ("In the name of Allah…"), go on to express the main content in Malay or Banjarese, and end with "La ila ha ilallha, Muhammadaddar Rasulullah" ("There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet").


According to the foundation myth of the Banjar kingdom, the first raja's wife emerged from a gigantic mass of white foam (or, alternatively, mud) with the assistance of the vizier Lambung Mangkurat, who would live for three generations to oversee the new realm. Other mythological or historical figures are regularly invoked in traditional rituals, e.g., various sultans, other aristocrats, such as Pangeran Surianata and Puteri Jun-jung Buih, and the muwakkal Datu Baduk a "good" (literally, "Muslim") spirit who came with Sheikh Banjari from Mecca.

Banjarese recognize a variety of spirits or ghosts. One such is the takau, which appears as a black cat that can grow to the size of a water buffalo. A woman who has employed black magic to control her husband becomes a penjadian after death; smelling of pus, it visits its family to ask for food. Tabib (traditional healers) have the power to take spirit form while still alive, transforming themselves into grass or animals or becoming invisible so they can cause mishaps for persons to whom their clients have directed them. A woman who has drunk minyak kuyang (a kind of oil) becomes a monster capable of severing its head from its body. With the ears as wings and the heart, lungs, and stomach dangling as a tail, the monster flies about in search of pregnant women whose blood it can suck. The monster leaves the body hidden behind a door and returns to it before daybreak.

One type of amulet is the jimat tambang liring, used to enhance beauty and gain popularity. This consists of a paper with Qur'anic verses; a picture of the wayang clown-servants, Semar with his children; and one of the wayang heror Arjuna as Batara Kamajaya, the guardian of the heavenly nymphs (bidadari), with seven bidadari. The ink used in the amulet has been mixed with the blood of a killed person, whose spirit must continually be honored.

The Islamic texts Syair Tajulmuluk and Syair Siti Zubaidah are used to predict the future: one opens such a book to a random page, turns three or seven pages ahead, then interprets the content of the fourth or eighth page. One can diagnose diseases and ascertain cures by turning to the fourth page before looking at the random page. A man can similarly employ the surat "Yasin" from the Quran to make a woman fall in love with him or to harm an enemy.


Being Banjarese by definition includes professing Islam. The region has produced Islamic scholars famous throughout the archipelago, the most renowned being Sheikh Muhammad Arsyad Al-Banjari (1710–1812), sent by the sultan to study in Mecca (his book, the Sabilal Muhtadin, gives its name to Banjarmasin's great mosque, resplendent with the finest marble and calligraphic decoration). Islamic mystical sects, some of which assert (heretically) the identity of God and self, have long been active. Mystics meditate in large buildings raised in the forest near villages, each man sitting within his own kelambu (mosquito net) and leaving only to defecate. In the early 20th century, conflicts arose between conservative and modernizing Muslims (respectively, the "older" and "younger" generations). If a modernizer came to pay respects to an older kinsman of the conservative group, the latter would receive him, but, after the modernizer left, the chair upon which he had sat would be wiped clean as if a leper had been there. Currently, both the conservative Nahdatul Ulama and modernizing Muhammadiyah organizations have strong constituencies among the Banjarese.

Families of topeng (masked dance) performers and dalang (shadow puppeteers) venerate Hindu gods, respectively Batara Kelana (the Ramayana's Dasamuka) and Batara Kala, chief of the spirits and Lord of Time. A dalang cannot perform without receiving the bisik wayang ("whisper of the shadow puppet"), i.e., without being possessed by Arjuna and Semar [seeJavanese. ]


Aruh are ritual celebrations that community tradition obliges a village to hold at regular intervals. Of the various types of aruh, the most elaborate is the aruh menyanggar banua, held right before the Islamic New Year, or at any other time deemed appropriate or necessary. Led by older people versed in ritual, this aruh serves to purify the village of the evil of the previous year, ward off disaster in the next, and call on the aid of ancestors and Batara Kala. Prayers are recited and offerings made, including great quantities of uncooked rice, thread, old Chinese coins (picis), incense, and 41 kinds of traditional foods prepared by postmenopausal women. Various forms of entertainment complete the celebration: wayang (shadow plays); topeng (masked dance); kuda kepang (hobby-horse dances); and gamelan (music).

Another important aruh is the aruh terbang besar, celebrating the birth of Muhammad during the month of Maulud. Its highlight is the performance of hadrah, a combination of Islamic changing and rhythmic movements.


Rites of passage generally resemble those of the Malays. Aspects of the wedding process specific to the Banjarese include the following: parents discuss the choice of a partner for their child with their closest kin and also consult a fortune-teller to learn the fate of the proposed union; and the man's family sends an old woman to make the initial inquiries of the woman's family and chooses a well-spoken and influential person to deliver the proposal. Included in the rites are ceremonial baths of purification. The bride and groom present each other with palimbaian, an arrangement of betel leaves and flowers; afterwards these are thrown to the unmarried women among the guests and the ones who catch the palimbaian are believed soon to find a partner. Clans bring out heirloom naga-naga (the carved heads of dragon-serpents) to escort the bride and groom in a procession around the village.


Traditional Banjarese society distinguished two strata: the tutus and the jaba. Possessing titles such as pangeran, ratu, gusti, antung, nanang, andin, and rama, the tutus were the aristocrats, descendants of the Banjar rulers. The jaba were commoners, including various office-holders, such as kiai adipati, patih, tumenggung, ronggo, demang, mangku, and kiai. While society once divided into aristocrats, ulama (Islamic scholars), merchants, and peasants, nowadays the main distinction is between educated people and "ordinary" people, with ulama remaining as a special category.

Etiquette within the family requires that, while eating, older individuals sit with other older folk, and younger sit with younger; older people also sit on a physically higher spot on the floor. Moreover, the younger walk behind the older and assume the heavier tasks.

The only occasion sanctioned by custom for young men and women to meet is during the communal preparation of food for large celebrations.


Villages (kampung) usually extend along rivers or roads. Houses line up along a riverside, with their backs facing the water and their fronts facing the road, if there is one. After pacifying the region in 1865, the Dutch forced the inhabitants of scattered interior villages to relocate along a newly built post road. A village includes one or more prayer-halls (langgar, or a mosque if the settlement is big enough), a bathing place (usually riverside), and an area for a once- or twice-weekly market.

The most characteristic Banjar house is the rumah bubungan tinggi, so called for its "high roof" that rises at a 45o angle, high indeed given the total area of the house. All types of houses are raised on piles. Roofs were once made of dried leaves, but now more often they are made of shingles. Wall materials range from palm leaf to tree bark to bamboo plaiting to wooden planks; beams are of long-lasting ironwood or other hardwoods. The front most section is the palataran, an open veranda where the family relaxes in the afternoon and where it receives guests. Deeper into the house on successively higher levels are the chambers panampik kecil, panampik tengah, panampik besar, and palidangan. The wall between the panampik besar and the palidangan, called the tawing halat, is decorated with intricate carvings; in front of it are seated the most esteemed guests during celebrations. On both sides of the palidangan are anjung, lofts for sleeping. Behind the palidangan at a lower level is the panampik dalam. Behind that and lower still is the padapuran, the kitchen; above the door to the kitchen is the katil, the sleeping area for the family's unmarried daughters.

South Kalimantan has a Human Development Index (combining measures of income, health, and education) of 67.4 (2005 score), significantly lower than the national HDI of 69.6 and dramatically lower than that of the neighboring provinces, Central Kalimantan (73.2) and East Kalimantan (72.9), which are now attracting Banjarese transmigrants. South Kalimantan's GDP per capita is US$8,644, relatively high for Indonesia (cf. US$9,784 for West Sumatra and US$8,360 for North Sulawesi, but US$6,293 for Central Java and US$6,151 for West Nusa Tenggara), though much lower than that in the contiguous provinces (East Kalimantan's is US$23,253 even minus income from petroleum and gas). In 2000, the rate of infant mortality stood at 69.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, the third highest in the country, surpassed only by North Maluku (74.59) and West Nusa Tenggara (88.55).


The principal productive and property-holding unit is the nuclear family: a man, his wife or wives (polygyny is not uncommon), and their unmarried children.

A newly married couple sometimes remains for a time in the wife's parents' house. This results in parents, their unmarried children, and their married daughters with their husbands and children sharing the same roof (though sleeping in separate annexes and keeping their own kitchens). Married daughters usually, however, move out to a small house they have built themselves or which the parents have given them.

Parents usually choose their children's marriage partners. A young man who already has an eye on a girl other than that selected by his parents may use magic to undermine the arranged engagement. Young women who meet their husbands for the first time only at the wedding ceremony itself often refuse to sleep with their husbands; the family will do everything in their power, including resorting to spells, to persuade the woman to accept her man.

Kin relations are traced through both paternal and maternal sides, but the father or, if he is dead, one of his brothers will represent the bride in the wedding ceremony. Terminology distinguishes a parent's eldest sibling (julak) from the second eldest (gulu), from the third eldest (angah), and from the youngest (pakacil for uncles and makacil for aunts). Relatives are almost always addressed with abbreviated kin-terms: datu (great-grandparents); kaye (grandfather); ni (nini, grandmother); bah (abah, father); ma (uma, mother); lak (julak, eldest uncle or aunt); ngah (angah, middle uncle or aunt); cil (pakacil/ makacil, youngest uncle or aunt); anak (child); and cu (cucu, grandchild); or yut (buyut, grandchild).


Everyday wear for men consists at its most simple of the salawar culuk, trousers of unbleached cloth that reach down to the calf; the top of the trousers is folded over and rolled tight at the waist. Shirts and the laung head cloth are rarely worn with it. Alternatively, men may wear salawar panjang (long trousers), baju taluk balanga (an open-collared, long-sleeved tunic), and a peci cap. Women wear the tapih kurung (sarong), kebaya (long-sleeved blouse), and kakamban head covers; nowadays, the favored fabrics are from Pekalongan in Java.

Aristocratic styles can still be seen as ceremonial wear. A man will put on a baju pokok pria, a white sleeveless under-shirt whose sides remain unsewn, secured by ties; and over this a baju miskat, a black or red long-sleeved shirt, tapering down to the waist and sporting a wide, stiff collar and buttons (always uneven in number). In addition, he will wear the salawar pidandang, trousers that taper towards the bottom to hug the lower leg, and a laung head cloth (differing in style according to rank). Women wear the baju kurung basisit, an open-collared, long-sleeved shirt of blue or black satin or silk, extending down to the knees. Ceremonial clothing for both sexes is decorated with motifs (plants, naga snakes, etc.), embroidered in gold thread.


Meals consist of rice and side dishes. The latter could be fish (dried or fried) from rivers or flooded rice-fields, vegetables, and curries (e.g., preparations with squash, jackfruit, or taro). Supplementary foods include cassava, sweet potato, sago, pati panguning (a kind of tuber whose plant resembles turmeric), and a variety of bananas. One specialty available throughout Indonesia is soto Banjar, a rich soup of chicken meat and duck eggs eaten with lontong (rice steamed in banana-leaf wrappers).

Rice provides the basis of local sweets, such as apam, which is rice flour, palm or granulated sugar, and coconut milk blended into a batter, poured into molds, and steamed; dodol, a taffy made from glutinous rice flour, palm sugar, and lots of coconut milk, which is eaten with coconut meat, durian, or peanuts; and kalapon, green-dyed, ping-pong-size balls of rice flour filled with a chunk of brown sugar, steamed, and sprinkled with grated coconut before eating. Amping are chips made from newly harvested rice that has been pounded; they are eaten with grated coconut or sugar. One local drink of note is banyu tipikan, water in which ginger and brown sugar have been boiled.


In 2005, South Kalimantan's level of literacy stood at 94.47%, relatively high by Indonesian national standards, comparable to provinces with higher HDIs, such as West Java and Jambi (see also the article entitled Indonesians ).


An accompaniment for celebrations, such as weddings, hadrah is a performing art of Arab origin that combines Islamic chanting, the striking of the rebana tambourine, the waving of multicolored pennants, and the spinning of decorated umbrellas.

Mumenggung is an elegant step- dance welcoming spectators to all-male mamada plays (dramatizing tales from the Thou-sand and One Nights). The Banjarese also perform Javanese-style dances, topeng (masked dances), wayang (shadow plays), and gamelan music.


Agriculture is the most common occupation among the Banjarese. Since 1939, from the vast tidal swamp between Banjarmasin and the Java Sea, 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) of land have been reclaimed for wet-rice fields, tangerine and orange groves, and vegetable gardens. Varieties of rice are cultivated that can grow in as much as 2 m (6.5 ft) of water; farmers harvest these from boats. Less and less by the swidden (shifting-cultivation) methods of the past, Banjarese also grow crops in dry-fields: dry rice, oil palm (kelapa sawit), rosela (a plant yielding fiber for sacks and ropes), sugarcane, and fruits. Traditionally, pepper was the primary cash crop, but cacao, illipe nuts, and especially rubber have taken its place.

Livestock includes water buffalo, horses, cattle, goats, sheep, ducks, and chicken. Some 160,000 people make a living fishing in the province's inland waters, and another 5,000 from the sea; large quantities of dried fish are exported to Java.

Although Banjarese shun work in the local lumber mills that process wood from the Kalimantan interior (leaving it to Javanese migrants), many do work in factories where upriver rattan is transformed into mats and furniture. Another alternative to agriculture is small-scale mining for gems (including diamonds) and panning for gold. Many Banjarese engage in commerce, such as the women of Banjarmasin's pasar terapung ("floating market"), who sell vegetables and other produce from boats. The region has long been the source of various "exotica": frog legs, snake and lizard skins, and roots for jamu (traditional herbal remedies).


Kite-flying and top-spinning are popular pastimes and form an integral part of post-harvest festivals.


See the article entitled Indonesians.


Traditional crafts include the weaving of baskets and mats, the carving of house walls and furniture, and the working of metal and gems. One regional specialty is batik sasirangan, a tie-dyed cloth of many designs, once believed to ward off evil spirits and cure disease.


See the article entitled Indonesians.


South Kalimantan's Gender-Related Development Index (combining measures of women's health, education, and income relative to men's) is 61, slightly above Indonesia's national GDI of 59.2. The province's Gender Empowerment Measure (reflecting women's participation and power in political and economic life relative to men's), however, is 51.8, lower than the national GEM of 54.6.


Badan Pusat Statistik: Statistik Indonesia. (November 9, 2008).

Muller, Kal. Borneo: Journey into the Tropical Rainforest. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1990.

Profil Propinsi Republik Indonesia. Vol. 11, Kalimantan Selatan. Jakarta: Yayasan Bhakti Wawasan Nusantara, 1992.

Rosantini, Triana. "Banjar, suku bangsa." In Ensiklopedi Nasional Indonesia, Vol. 3. Jakarta: Cipta Adi Pustaka, 1989.

Steinhauer, Hein. "The Indonesian Language Situation and Linguistics." Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land en Volkenkunde 150-IV (1994).

Tobing, Nelly, ed. Adat Istiadat Daerah Kalimantan Selatan [Customs of South Kalimantan]. Jakarta: Department of Education and Culture, 1978.

—revised by A. J. Abalahin