The Bidayuh Sadong: Sumpas subgroup

The Sumpas subgroup is among the biggest group currently residing in Serian. Folklore passed down through generations says that their ancestors were devils/spirits who eventually became human with the assistance of Datu Merpati (who appears in many legends as the forefather – together with Padat a Sungkung Dayak – of the Bidayuhs in Serian, a man some claim to have supernatural powers, of Java origin). In Mentong Mawang, it was said their ancestors came out of a hole in the ground, while those of Bugu Mawang claim ancestry from a tree trunk.

The migration began from Bugau/Tembawang Tampun, making its was to Tembawang Sumpas in the 1500s via Tembawang Rutoi. From there it spread into 4 main villages, Mentong Mawang, Bugu Mawang, Bedup Mawang and Koran Mawang.

In the 1820s, there happened a dispute between Koran Mawang and Riih Mawang. The warriors of Riih went and cut off the head of Buk Lungor of Koran Mawang while he was working in the paddy fields. This angered the people of Koran who went and counter attacked. Again, Riih warriors decided to fight back and chose Mayom to be their leader. Mayom was said to have a sword as big as a banana tree. During the fight, he swung his sword so hard it got stuck in the root of the Bandir tree and was thus killed by the Korans. His head was then taken and the dispute ended.


Mentong Mawang: River name, abandoned in 1970.

Mentong Mubok: Kubuk vegetable

Bugu Mawang: It’s people claim to be the original inhabitants of Serian.

Diang Ipuh: They settled in Bugu Diyang in 1962 but moved to Diang Ipuh because of frequent floods.

Bugu Resak: Resak trees

Lunggo: Lunggo trees

Sg. Brok Bedup: In honour of Rajah Brooke

Empaneg: A type of bamboo

Koran: From mpuran, or dropping gold. Legend has it that Padat’s descendents dropped a gold necklace into the river.

Buluh Bedup: A Muslim village

Bedup Mawang: Abandoned in 1950s.

Gawai Tourism 2011 at Annah Rais

It was a rainy day on the 3rd of September 2011, all the way to late evening. Maybe that’s why the turnout was low, even with free food. The event started early, by noon many villagers opened up their stalls selling food, drinks and crafts. This year is the 2nd year it’s held, this time in Kpg. Saba (translated as the upper village) longhouse.

By 7.30 PM, the VIP arrived, YB James Dawos. It was so 1Malaysia, national anthem, 1Malaysia song etc. The programme began with traditional performances by the villagers and the invited dancers from Kpg. Semban, the ones who still wear the brass coils around their legs, arms and stomachs.

After the first biranggie (traditional dance), the VIP gave his speech. And what a long winded one it was. Of course, I should have expected it. I have yet to listen to a short, simple and to the point speech given by a local politician, Sadly, it’s publicity time! He’s repetitive, boring and has the least inspiring voice I’ve ever heard. Halfway through it people were beginning to nod off and play with their apps.

While the MC decided to speak only in Malay, so I’m guessing the foreigners just try to make the best of what’s going on.

What’s with the smoky stage effect anyway? It stinks, and the older dancers cringed whenever thick smoke started to engulf the stage. Not to mention the lighting (those big concert lighting) which blinded the poor ladies.

The last event is the joget time, with a live band and guest star Claudia Geres. Still much to improve, but it’s still in its second year. Great effort, although I wished it was more encompassing so that the Bidayuhs from other regions can join in and promote their own brand of culture.

The Bidayuh Sadong: Taup Subgroup

The Bitaup are one of the 15 subgroups that inhabit the Serian/Samarahan area. Like most Bidayeh, they migrated down from Bugau, to Tembawang Tampun and finally to Tembawang Rutoi (currently Kujang Mawang).

In the 1380s, a group migrated out of  Tembawang Rutoi and went to Sg. Robin. They moved up to Sg. Taup and established a village called Kampung Mawang Taup. This is the origin point for the Bitaup subgroup.

There is another alternate history passed down from generations. It’s said that the ancestors of the Bitaup is Padat, a man from Sungkung, Kalimantan who came over with his band of men in search of fruit trees and wild animals. One day, he arrived at Sg. Robin. He accidently slashed a bamboo, which fell into the river and pierced a fish. He thought it was a good omen so he settled down an established Kpg. Mawang Taup (the place where people still wear chawat).

Another legend tells of a man called Datu Merpati, from Tanjong Sipong, Santubong who desired to meet Padat and came inland to his village. While there, he fell for a local girl called Suhom. Soon she became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Merpati had to leavbe as his first wife was expecting a child. He came back after the baby was born. He changed a wooden Kelabut into stone in honour of his son, which now can be seen in Kpg. Mawang Taup. They say people used to burn the top of it in times of drought to ask for rain.

In 1940, Rev. Father Staal interview Orang Kaya Panglima Baret of Pichin. He said that he was the 19th generation after Padat, which means that at a average of 25 years per generation, the Bitaup has been living here for about 550 years.

In the late 1830s, there was an Iban Skrang attack on the people of Mawang Taup.

By the 1780s, the first group began migrating outwards and established Kpg. Sg. Ngarat, followed by the 2nd group in 1850s, Kpg. Pichin and finally Kpg. Reteh in 1927.

Most of the names of the kampungs were taken from rivers and mountains (Kuhom, Sungan). One of the major reasons for migration is congestion, lack of agricultural land and religious conflict especially with the pagans. Now most are Christians, among them Roman Catholic, Anglicanism and Seventh Day Adventists.

Slabi: Form the word terrapin (labi-labi)

Sijijag (pronounced Sejajug): Jijag trees

Munggu’ Kopi: (Hill of coffee plants) malays from Kpg. Gumpe established a Plaman for coffee planting, and when after the group from Tebakang Dayak settled there, they moved back.

Krusen Siu: Enchana led a group of people out after failing to be appointed as Orang Kaya.

Kranji: Kranji trees

Slabi Empurong: From Lubok Tempurong

Kuhom: Where boats always cpsize due to strong currents

Sebemban: Where two parallel river runs

Reteh: Named after Darud Reteh and Sungi Reteh

Gawai Tourism 2011

The state-level Gawai, or “Gawai Tourism” will be held in Annah Rais on September 3, 2011 to showcase the Bidayuh Biatah culture. The cultural event will be in the evening with an appeareance by the Dayung Iyang Biatah 2011, followed by the stage show and concert by local Dayak artists. I heard they’ll be a cultural exchnage programme with Kpg. Semban (among the last kampungs to still have ladies wearing brass coils around their arms and legs).

For those going, you can also drop by the Annah Rais hot spring, although I suspect it’ll be jam packed with families since it’s the weekend.

Indigenous identity in Borneo

There are numerous ethnic groups in Borneo, some say a few hundred. As awareness begins to spread through the different communities on their own unique identity, smaller, minority ethnic groups start breaking away from the major groups they joined. Some have been assimilated (intermarriges), some extinct (wars, diseases).

Before the coming of the European powers, the people of Borneo did not have any problems when it came to who’s who. You neighbours are your neighbours, you marry them sometimes, fought with them and maybe take their heads. But the Europeans, keen on neat categories for the different ethnic groups began to place names like Land Dayak and Orang Ulu. When Sarawak and Sabah joined the Federation, they continued this policy of nine categories (and expanded in the constitution). Major ethnic groups started changing their names to be more indigenous, (Land Dayak – Bidayuh) and an awareness for ethnic identity arose. So no longer are all just Dayak but Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu etc.

Some Orang Ulu, comprising the people of Northern Sarawak, Kayan, Kenyah, Kejaman, Penan, Punan etc. do not identify with the word Dayak, preferring Orang Ulu. Some Orang Ulu leaders even proposed that the name Orang Ulu (people of the inland) be changed because it sounds backward, wanting to change it to Lun Daya in 2009. Many objected, seeing as how the word Orang Ulu is already known, and such perception of primitiveness is no longer relevant.

Many Melanaus are Muslims, but there’s also a sizeable Christian population. Some groups were cut off from the ones on the coast by the Iban and Kayan expansion. The inland ones were becoming more “Kayanized” while the coastal ones adopted many Malay practices. Intermarriage with the Malays, and the Kayan among the aristocracies of the inlands.

The fact is that indigenous identity is immutable, always changing. As populations move across different areas, join together with other groups, they assimilate and become something else. The nomads become settled and adopt a new name. Most groups, being nomads, moved a lot and came into contact with diverse groups, sharing and borrowing cultures and practices. Intermarriage between aristocrats of different ethnicities were common. Slaves of war were taken and assimilated. Since records are mostly oral and does not go that far back, origins can be difficult to prove and always subject to controversy. Even if we were to categorize ourselves based on our origins, we have evolved culturally and linguistically so far from each other.

There still exists many in between groups, who shelter under an official category to make it legally easier. They take one name, then change it and now many use their original names out of pride. The assimilation of many Muslim Dayaks into Malays (taking on their culture and language) have also caused many ethnic groups to disappear. Today, those who claim to be pure Malays, or Ibans, or Kayans might not even be pure, because in the hazy first generations of the Dayaks, intermarriages are rife. I just found out I might have Kejaman blood after all.

“… cannot classify the population (of Sarawak) neatly on the basis of physical characteristics, because of the constant mixing. Cultural criteria are of little help… for they are often of such trivial importance as the presence or absence of tattoos. Linguistic classifications, too have so far had little precision… and the usefulness of classifying peoples, as opposed to languages, on linguistic grounds, remain to be demonstrated, in a situation where there seems to be little correlation between the language and anything else. Classification the basis of origins is equally difficult.”

~ Tim G. Babcock, 1974

Dayak rojaks are easier to find nowadays than pure bloods. For the Dayak mindset, racial lines aren’t that important. Religious are. Many Dayak parents forbid, or frown upon the marriage of Dayaks to Muslims because it usually entails the death of their culture where ignorance breed Arabic names and Malay practices. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Dayak Muslim who isn’t almost 100% Malay. Even the Bidayuh Muslims of Serian wear Baju Melayu and Baju Kurung.

Just like how as opposed to Western countries where asking the race of someone is sensitive, over here it’s the norm, where no one assumes because everyone looks almost like everyone else. You can’t speak Bidayuh to someone who isn’t one (and doesn’t speak it), and even then you have to make sure it’s the same with your own sub ethnic group. (Some people might say Iban is the lingua franca, but hey, I don’t speak it.)

You want to know not out of racism (mostly), but out of affinity.