Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Borneo Land

My Origins

My Mother's Ectnic (Bidayuh-Selako)    

     Bidayuh is the collective name for several indigenous groups found in southern Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, that are broadly similar in language and culture. The name "Bidayuh" means 'inhabitants of land'. Originally from the western part of Borneo, the collective name Land Dayaks was first used during the period of Rajah James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak. They constitute one of the main indigenous groups in Sarawak and live in towns and villages around Kuching and Samarahan in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Related groups are also found in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. In Sarawak, most of Bidayuh population are found within 40 km of the geographical area known as Greater Kuching, within the Kuching and Samarahan division. They are THE SECOND LARGEST Dayak ethnic group in Sarawak after the Iban. Mostly, Bidayuh areas are: Lundu, Bau, Penrissen, Padawan, Siburan and Serian. Most of the Bidayuh villages can be found in the rural areas of Lundu such as Kpg. Pueh, Sematan which is my mother's village now, Bau, Padawan, Penrissen and Serian district. The area in which they live is mainly in the basin of the Sarawak River, by the sea-side and hilly to mountainous forest, traditionally worked by rotational agriculture, fishing and hunting based around farms populated from parent villages situated on the hills for protection. Today, almost all the traditional longhouse-villages have been replaced by individual houses, by roads and there is some plantation agriculture and a reduced emphasis on the growing of hill-padi. Fruit trees, especially Durian, remain important property markers. My grandfathers has his own durian trees on certain marked land and the villagers seldom argue on land property because there was tolerance and ties among them. The distinctive architectural and cultural feature of the Bidayuh is the head-house, now adopted as a symbol.

     Selako is a branch of Dayak people from the Borneo island. The are found in the western most part of the Borneo island, can be said at the tip of the Sarawak's tail. They are related to the Bidayuh tribe. Most Selakos are settled in areas such as Lundu, Sematan, Bengkayang and Sambas. Their language is part of the Malayo Polynesian group and they are categorized as Malayic Dayak. Many Selakos are Christians, having converted to Anglicanism, SIB and Roman Catholicism following missionary work in the 19th century. Although classified as "Bidayuh" by the Malaysian government, the Salako and Lara culture have little resemblance to other Bidayuh groups and their oral tradition claim different descent and migration histories.

     Linguistically, the Salako belong to another language family tree which is of the Malayic-Dayak family (the same family as the Iban). The Lara, although said to be more related to the Bidayuh (Jagoi-Singai), speak a language almost not mutually intelligible at all with the Bidayuh but belonged to the same language family tree which is the Land Dayak. Even their customary rituals and rites differ from the other Bidayuhs (all Bidayuhs share almost the same ritual and customary rites)

My Father's Ectnic (Orang Ulu-Kelabit)

     Orang Ulu ("remote people") is an ethnic designation politically coined to group together roughly 27 very small but ethnically diverse tribal groups in Sarawak, with a population ranging from less than 300 persons to over 25,000 persons. Orang Ulu is not a legal term and no such racial group exist or listed in the Malaysian Constitution. The term was popularised by a minority association known as "Orang Ulu National Association" (OUNA) that was formed in 1969.The Orang Ulu typically live in longhouses elaborately decorated with murals and woodcarvings. They are also well-known for their intricate beadwork detailed tattoos. The Orang Ulu tribes can also be identified by their unique music - distinctive sounds from their sape’, a plucked boat-shaped lute, formerly with two strings, nowadays usually with four strings.A vast majority of the Orang Ulu tribes are Christians but old traditional religions are still practiced in some areas.

     The Kelabit, who have close ties to the Lun Bawang, are an indigenous people of the Sarawak highlands in Borneo with a minority in the neighbouring state of Brunei. The elevation there is slightly over 1,200 meters. Because there are few roads and the area is largely inaccessible by river because of rapids, the highlands and the Kelabit are relatively untouched by modern western influences.

With a population of approximately 5,000 people, the Kelabit comprise one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Many have migrated to urban areas over the last 20 years and it is estimated that only 1,200 still live in their remote homeland. There, tightly knit communities live in inherited longhouses and practice a generations-old form of agriculture — they are cultivators of wet paddy, hill rice, maize, tapioca, pineapple, pumpkin, cucumber, beans and fruit. Hunting and fishing is also practiced. Domesticated buffalo are valued highly, seven of which are traditionally required for the dowry for an upper class bride.

During the Second World War the Kelabit, like other natives of Borneo, were co-opted by the Allies into fighting the Japanese. The English academic Tom Harrisson led the Semut I operations (one of four Semut operations in the area), which parachuted into their midst in 1945 to make contact; they were supplied weapons by the Australian military and played an essential role in the liberation of Borneo.
After the War this remote ethnic group received visits from Christian missionaries. The Kelabit are now predominantly Christian. Prior to conversion they had a custom of erecting megaliths and digging ditches in honour of notable individuals.The Kelabit language, which belongs to the Borneo-Philippine branch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages.