Indigenous People of East
Dr. Mark McGinley
Honors College and Department of
Texas Tech University
• Dayak refers to the non-Muslim indigenous
peoples of the island of Borneo, most of whom
traditionally lived along the banks of the larger
• It is a loose term for over 200 riverine and hilldwelling ethnic subgroups each with its own
dialect, customs, laws, territory and
culture, although common distinguishing traits
are readily identifiable.
• Dayak languages are categorized as part of the
Austronesian languages in Asia.
• Sarawak has a population of almost 2.5 million, made up of some
26 different ethnic groups.
• The non-Muslim indigenous groups are collectively called Dayaks –
most of whom are Christians or practice animist beliefs
– they account for about 40 per cent of Sarawak’s inhabitants.
– The two biggest ethnic groups within the Dayak community are the
Iban (also known as Sea Dayaks), who constitute just over 31 per cent
of the population, and the Bidayuh; others include the Kenyah, Kayan,
Kedayan, Murut, Punan, Bisayah, Kelabit, Berawan and Penan.
• Dayaks who live in the interior of Sarawak are sometimes referred
to as Orang Ulu, or people from the interior.
– Members of this group typically live in longhouses and practice
shifting cultivation; they engage in fishing to supplement their diet if
they live near a river.
• Only a few hundred of the Eastern Penan continue to live as a nomadic people
of the rainforest.
• Most of Sabah’s more than 3 million people can be
considered as minorities within the context of the
whole country, since they are for the most part nonMalay and are either indigenous (more than 60%),
Chinese (about 20%) or from ethnic groups originating
from southern Philippines, Indonesia or other parts of
• Some of the largest minorities are the Kadazan-Dusun
(about 25%), Bajau (15%), and Murut (3%).
– These are in fact broad categories, with for example 13
main languages spoken within the Kadazan-Dusun
Head Hunting Tradition
• In the past, the Dayak were feared for their
ancient tradition of headhunting practices.
Among the Iban Dayaks, the origin of
headhunting was believed to be meeting one
of the mourning rules given by a spirit which is
– The sacred jar is not to be opened except by a
warrior who has managed to obtain a head, or by
a man who can present a human head, which he
obtained in a fight; or by a man who has returned
from a sojourn in enemy country.
Head Hunting Tradition
• The war regulations among the Iban Dayaks are listed
– If a warleader leads a party on an expedition, he must not allow
his warriors to fight a guiltless tribe that has no quarrel with
– If the enemy surrenders, he may not take their lives, lest his
army be unsuccessful in future warfare and risk fighting emptyhanded war raids (balang kayau).
– The first time that a warrior takes a head or captures a prisoner,
he must present the head or captive to the warleader in
acknowledgement of the latter’s leadership.
– If a warrior takes two heads or captives, or more, one of each
must be given to the warleader; the remainder belongs to the
killer or captor.
– The warleader must be honest with his followers in order that in
future wars he may not be defeated (alah bunoh).
Head Hunting Tradition
• There were various reasons for headhunting as listed below:
– For soil fertility so Dayaks hunted fresh heads before paddy harvesting seasons
after which head festival would be held in honor of the new heads.
– To add supernatural strength which Dayaks believed to be centred in the soul
and head of humans. Fresh heads can give magical powers for communal
protection, bountiful paddy harvesting and disease curing.
– To avenge revenge for murders based on "blood credit" principle unless "adat
pati nyawa" (customary compensation token) is paid.
– To pay dowry for marriages e.g. "derian palit mata" (eye blocking dowry) for
Ibans once blood has been splashed prior to agreeing to marriage and of
course, new fresh heads show prowess, bravery, ability and capability to
protect his family, community and land
– For foundation of new buildings to be stronger and meaningful than the
normal practice of not putting in human heads.
– As a symbol of power and social status ranking where the more heads
someone has, the respect and glory due to him. The warleader is called tuai
serang (warleader) or raja berani (king of the brave) while kayau anak (small
raid) leader is only called tuai kayau (raid leader) whereby adat tebalu
(widower rule) after their death would be paid according to their ranking
status in the community.
End of the Tradition
• Reasons for abandoning headhunting are:
– Peacemaking agreements at Tumbang Anoi, Kalimantan in 1894 and
Kapit, Sarawak in 1924.
– Coming of Christianity, with education where Dayaks are taught that
headhunting is murder and against the Christian Bible's teachings.
– Dayaks' own realization that headhunting was more to lose than to
– After mass conversions to Christianity and Islam, and anti-headhunting
legislation by the colonial powers was passed, the practice was
banned and appeared to have disappeared.
• However, the headhunting began to surface again in the mid-1940s, when the
Allied Powers encouraged the practice against the Japanese.
• It also slightly surged in the late 1960s when the Indonesian government
encouraged Dayaks to purge Chinese from interior Kalimantan who were
suspected of supporting communism in mainland China.
• The Ibans are a
branch of the Dayak
peoples of Borneo.
In Malaysia, most
Ibans are located in
Sarawak, a small
portion in Sabah and
some in west
• The Ibans were traditionally animist, although
the majority are now Christian, many continue
to observe both Christian and traditional
ceremonies, particularly during marriages or
– The majority of Iban people have changed their
traditional name to a "Christian name".
Others, none, unknown
• Lifestyle centers on cultivation of rice. Other than rice,
also planted in the farm are vegetables like ensabi,
pumpkin, round brinjal, cucumber, corn, lingkau and
other food sources lik tapioca, sugarcane, sweet
• After the paddy has been harvested, cotton is planted
which takes about two months to complete its cycle.
– The cotton is used for weaving before commercial cotton is
traded. Fresh lands cleared by each Dayak family will
belong to that family and the longhouse community can
also use the land with permission from the owning family.
• Usually, in one riverine system, a special track
of land is reserved for the use by the
community itself to get natural supplies of
wood, rattan and other wild plants which are
necessary for building houses, boats, coffins
and other living purposes, and also to leave
living space for wild animals which is a source
– Any wild meat obtained will distribute according
to a certain customary law.
• The Kadazans are an ethnic group indigenous
to the state of Sabah in Malaysia.
• Due to similarities in culture and language
with the Dusun ethnic group, and also
because of other political initiatives, a new
unified term called "Kadazan-dusun" was
created. Collectively, they form the largest
ethnic group in Sabah.
• Originally the Kadazan
lived in large kinship
groups in longhouses
• Most now live in
smaller family units.
• In rural areas,
irrigated wet rice is
the principal crop,
supplemented by dry
rice, corn (maize),
and sweet potatoes,
through slash-andburn agriculture.
• The western Kadazan form much of the
labour force in local rubber production.
• Most Kadazan are Christian, although there
also is a significant Muslim community.
• Small groups maintain local religions in which
priestesses conduct a variety of agricultural
and communal rituals.
• Bidayuh is the collective name for several
indigenous groups found in southern Sarawak
and northern West Kalimantan
• The name "Bidayuh" means 'inhabitants of
• They are the second largest Dayak ethnic
group in Sarawak after the Iban and one of the
major Dayak tribes in West Kalimantan
• The area in which they live is mainly in the basin of the
Sarawak River and hilly to mountainous forest,
traditionally worked by rotational agriculture 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
• The distinctive
cultural feature of
the Bidayuh is the
adopted as a symbol.
• The Penan are a nomadic
aboriginal people living in
Sarawak and Brunei, although
there is only one small
community in Brunei.
• Penan are one of the last such
peoples remaining as hunters and
gatherers. Most Penan were
nomadic hunter-gatherers until
the post-World War II
missionaries settled many of the
• They eat plants, which are also
used as medicines, and animals
and use the hides, skin, fur, and
other parts for clothing and
• Penan communities were
predominantly nomadic up until
the 1950s. The period from 1950–
present has seen consistent
programs by the state
government and foreign Christian
missionaries to settle Penan into
longhouse-based villages similar
to those of Sarawak's other
• The Penan number around
16,000; of which only
approximately 200 still live a
• Penan numbers have increased
since they began to settle.
• Some, typically the younger generations, now cultivate rice
and garden vegetables but many rely on their diets of sago
(starch from the sago palm), jungle fruits and their prey
which usually include wild boar, barking deer, mouse deer
but also snakes, monkeys, birds, frogs, monitor
lizards, snails and even insects such as locusts.
• Since they practice 'molong', they pose little strain on the
forest: they rely on it and it supplies them with all they
• Everything that is caught is shared as the Penan have a
highly tolerant, generous and egalitarian society
– it is said that the nomadic Penan have no word for 'thank you'
because help is assumed and therefore doesn't require a 'thank
• The nomadic Penan have been
greatly affected by large-scale
selective logging, in the late
• More recently the creation of
palm oil and acacia wood
plantations has caused
• Since the 1980s various Penan
groups, both settled and
nomadic, have campaigned
against the logging - erecting
blockades and sometimes
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