The Price of Pride

I mentioned a while back that I’ve noticed a sort of cultural Renaissance within the Borneo identity and culture in the recent decade. People are taking an interest in culture and history (that’s probably why you’re reading this blog), wearing their cultural pride on their sleeves (and on their cars). Which is great. Every culture is beautiful. Our indigenous culture is exquisite.


How many of you can actually speak your indigenous tongue?

I’m asking this because I believe that oral communication is an intrinsic human behavior. By speaking a language, we thus learn about that culture’s worldview. How ironic is it to spout about upholding your culture’s pride, when you can barely speak it? 

Too many of us millennials are proud of the superficial aspect of culture. The costume, the sape’, the dance, the drinking, Gawai. Yet the most basic part of it, many don’t, cannot or can’t be bothered to master. The power of language opens up so many doors to the world around us. It’s like how the Inuit and Yupik have 50 words for snow. The Bidayuh differentiates baru’ (uncooked rice grains) and sungkoi (cooked rice). By gaining fluency in a language, you begin understanding ritualistic terms, geographical locations, cultural identifiers, etymologies, evolution of identity. You even begin to learn how much of your culture and language has become subsumed by a another. So, so much.

I applaud those of you who make an effort to learn. The pursuit of knowledge is an admirable thing.

But to those who say “I’M A PROUD BORNEAN (insert ethnicity)” yet speaks none of her local tongues, well, shame on you.

That’s what I call, penunggang budaya.


Peak Dayak Feudalism

The Dayak mindset of today is so much entrenched in patronage politics and feudalism. A recent familial incident made me think about why we do things the way we do, and how it has become so much part of our cultural and societal fabric. A reverence for those whose title supersede us, or “deserve” our respect and honor for merely being conferred a title by virtue of their political achievements or heritage.

A modern example I like to point out is the mentality of requesting sponsorships or “donations” for events. It’s as if without these contributions, be it government aid or personal by these figures, nothing can be done. The irony is that many times over, those asking for these sponsorships aren’t rural, poor Dayak villagers (of which I’m more forgiving because they really need the money in many instance). They are middle class Dayaks, many holding positions in the civil service or various private entities as officers, directors, those who, if you think if, have the means to pool funds for say, a dinner or event.

This is where the Dayaks can take a leaf out of other culture’s playbook. A strong solid group of financially independent professionals, working together to maintain funds for the community instead of constantly hoping for institutional aid.

Ya lah Dayak sik maju.

That’s why the Dayak are always left behind.

Is an oft quoted expression, even among the Dayak community themselves. We have become so dependent on outside aid, and made worse also by the brainwashing that we cannot survive without help from the higher ups.

My late maternal grandfather was a self made man. He was abandoned at a young age, left to fend for himself with his sister. He used to tell stories of how he ate moldy food and extra rice from neighbors. He grew into a successful entrepreneur and farmer, one of the first to buy a car, to own those giant, wooden cabinet TV that he then turned into a cinema on weekends (and charged people!) at our ancestral home. I remember him mentioning to us many times, how he despised the Dayak’s self perpetuating helplessness. How many refuse to embrace change and adapt to a quickly unrecognizable world. How so many are insular, looking at those outside with distrust instead of collaborating for the good of the community.

What he said left a huge impact on me.

Isn’t it sad?

Our forefathers and foremothers were frontiersmen, living in hostile environments and making things work. Adapting themselves to the world around them. Survive or die. Thriving and growing, creating great cultures in the heartlands of Borneo. Yet somewhere along the way, we have lost our pioneering spirit. Did the Brookes break us? Did the forces of the modern world swept us off our feet? Did neo-colonialism extinguish the independent fire that was the hallmark of our people?

Maybe it’s all the above. And I hope to see change. The younger generation are questioning the world, no longer bound by the mores of old. We are embracing change. There’s nothing much to do about those still stuck in the old mindset. It may be too late for them.

But for us who look towards the future, opportunities are opening up.


Hello, it’s me

I’m back.

At least for 2019. I left this blog for quite awhile. Busy with work and the like, but mostly out of ideas about writing and the direction I want to take with this site. Dormant as it is, the site seems to be thriving. I guess people are as interested as before on our origins and culture here in Borneo. It does beg the question, why do you search for the information you are Googling right now? Are you genuinely curious, is it part of a school project, pride of the culture?

I am extremely interested to know. I still have to preface this with the statement that I am not, in any way or form, a certified historian, anthropologist, sociologist or scientist of any kind. Merely an “armchair expert” curious about the world around me, and the stories of the people of this land. Whatever is written here is based on personal observations, the occasional interview and references from articles, journals and books.

So tell me, why are you here?

Nyebang Baruk Kampung Gumbang


In conjunction with the launching of their new baruk, the Bidayuh of Kampung Gumbang held a ceremony together with their kin from Indonesia in a simple ceremony. Kampung Gumbang is located close to the border with Indonesia, and is populated by a unique sub-ethnic of the Bidayuh that has a distinct dialect.

The new baruk is their cultural centre, made with mostly modern materials and located a few minutes from the main village. In the village itself is the old baruk, where skulls still hang from the rafters and are propitiated annually. A unique feature of Kampung Gumbang is their custom of celebrating Gawai Nyobeng with different Desa across the border every year, a twinning celebration if you will. If distances are close they’ll even hike a few hours to reach the chosen village.



Niti Daun 2018

2018 saw the first time a Gawai cultural parade was held in the heart of Kuching ever since the 90s. Niti Daun is commonly performed in Iban longhouses or villages before Gawai.

It was an amazing display of indigenous cultural identity, despite the heat. The day began with clear blue skies and despite a temporary shower, the streets were warm and humid. The parade was scheduled to begin at 3PM but got pushed to 4.30PM when the Chief Minister had to turn back and retrieve his costume. It began with a miring ceremony by Iban elders before the participants departed.

The main procession walked about 1 KM from Tun Jugah Mall to the main stage opposite the Old Courthouse. About 90 contingents walked the length, made up of a diverse range of cultural, ethnic and civil societies and associations, proudly displaying their costumes and dances.

The tourists and onlookers were excited as well, standing by to catching a glimpse of all the different styles of traditional costumes. It provided a glimpse at the full range and variety of most of Sarawak’s indigenous culture and traditional attire side by side in full color and splendor. I hope they continue this tradition again next year, and perhaps, start on time.


Tawai: A Voice from the Forest


If you are curious about the Penan, a 2017 documentary by Bruce Parry is a simple show illustrating their way of life and belief system. The Penans, being semi-nomadic, has always been victims of discrimination by the government and the people who live around them. While this documentary doesn’t delve much into their history or origins, it’s an introduction for those who want an insight into their language, the people and their way of life. Documentarian Bruce weaves his narrative with the Piraha people of the Amazon and the yogis of India to answer the question, what do we need to do to be in balance with the world?

It gets a bit New Age-y at some points, and spouts some questionable romantic ideal of the wandering tribe. It’s less about the Penan and more about the general ideals we hold today and whether humanity is going down the right path. But overall I’d say watch it for the visuals and the way the Penans carry themselves today.