Kalimantan Dayaks

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Kalimantan Dayaks

ETHNONYMS: Biadju, Bidayuh, Dajak, Daya

The category "Kalimantan Dayaks" includes several groups of indigenous peoples in southern and western Kalimantan in both Malaysian and Indonesian parts of the island. They may be distinguished from the Malay population by the fact that they are not Muslim, and from the Penan (or Ot) by the fact that they are settled rather than nomadic. They are further characterized by their practices of living along river banks; growing rice in swiddens; gathering forest products; bilineal inheritance and bilateral kinship reckoning; uxorilocal residence; political unity rarely above the level of the village; absence of social stratification (although slavery is or was practiced by some groups) ; multifamily dwellings (often including longhouses); and, in most cases, secondary burials. The Dayaks speak a number of related Austronesian languages, and there are, in addition, many more dialects. Owing to great linguistic and cultural variation, as well as to the political autonomy of the large numbers of villages, the categorization of Dayak peoples by culture and by social group has been problematic, and there are differences of opinion as to how this should be done; we rely here on linguistic, cultural, and geographic factors. In addition to the four ethnic groups discussed below, there are others, including the Lawangan, Tundjung, Tamuan, Lamadau, Arut, Delang, Mamah Darat, and Kebahan (an Islamic Dayak or Orang Melayu group). Distinctive or salient features of four major groups follow; all groups are linguistically united, with the exception of the Land Dayaks.

The Ngadju Dayaks are the largest central Kalimantan group; they live in the area from the B arito drainage to Kotawaringin, and from the south coast to the Mahakam Valley. This group lives along the larger rivers, and uses two or three family houses rather than longhouses. The Ngadju regard the Ot Danum as their cultural ancestors. They rely a great deal on fishing, and less on hunting. Ngadju villages are sometimes politically united as subtribes under chiefs. Slavery is practiced, and slaves are killed at the funerals of chiefs. Ngadju culture includes tattooing and tooth filing.

The second ethnic group is the Ot Danum Dayaks, who live on the headwaters of rivers, and who speak dialects of the same language, which is closely related to Ngadju. The Ot Danum number approximately 30,000. They gather or raise fruit, rubber, and lumber for sale, and make dugout canoes that they trade downriver. The Ot Danum raise dogs, pigs, and chickens; cattle are raised for celebrations. Iron forging is important, and is done with bamboo double-piston bellows. Land is owned individually, but may be sold only to another member of the village.

A third ethnic group is known as the Maanyan Dayaks, a society of approximately 35,000 people who live in the Patai river drainage and share a single language. They had lived in a single village until external influences caused their society to fragment. Presently, the Maanyan Dayaks live as distinct subgroups each having a name and a common set of cultural rules (adat ), and residing in a group of several villages. The Maanyan do not have longhouses; their dwellings are built to house one nuclear or extended family. Each nuclear family has its own swiddens and field house, in which they live while tending crops. Ambilineal descent groups (bumah ) hold usufructory rights in village lands. Shamans cure through spirit possession and trance, function as priests at funerals and entertain as dancers. They also act as repositories of group knowledge; they memorize creation myths, history, and the genealogies of important families. One of the subgroups of the Maanyan, the Padju Epat, cremates the bones of its dead; this practice was once followed by all Maanyan.

The fourth group is known as the Land Dayaks (or Bidayuh), and this very heterogeneous group of people inhabits western Kalimantan and southern Sarawak. They had a population in southern Sarawak of 104,885 in 1980, and in western Kalimantan of approximately 200,000 in 1942 (more recent figures are not available). Though Land Dayak villages are large by comparison to other Dayak villages, often containing 600 or more people, the population lives in just one or a few longhouses. In contrast with the other groups, the Land Dayaks speak more than one language. This largest Dayak group is also the most culturally distinctive; though they now live alongside streams, they once lived on fortified hilltops. That feature which most distinguishes the Land Dayaks from other Dayaks is their long and pervasive contact with the Chinese, who came to trade, and with the Dutch and the Malay, who came as both traders and colonizers. Another distinctive feature is the headhouse, which serves as a men's house, a council house, and a ceremonial facility; it gets its name from the fact that the heads of captives are stored beneath it.

See also Iban


Avé, J. B. (1972). "Kalimantan Dyaks." In Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia, edited by Frank M. LeBar. Vol. 1, Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar, 185-187. New Haven: HRAF Press.