Religion is all right, it’s the people.

To address the comments of one of my readers on the identity of the Jati Miriek, whom I mentioned termed themselves Melayu Kedayan, is that they used to call themselves that, but now are tyring to preserve their identity. Linguistically and culturally they are more akin to the Lakiput, Lun Bawang or Kajang, but because most of them are Muslims, they term themselves (or used to) Melayu. Why Kedayan? Because most of the Kedayans are Muslims (and among the few Dayak groups to be mostly Muslim) thus they generally regard themselves akin to them.

Taken from National Geographic.

Which brings us to another issue. Islamisation.

One of the reasons the Dayak identity is gradually being eroded is because of Islamisation. Before I go any further, I have no problems with Muslims. I have many friends who are Muslim. My father is a Muslim (I am not). I am blessed with many Muslim friends, both in Borneo and Lepehland, who are open minded and understanding. Many people accuse Muslims (because they are the majority) to be narrow-minded, over-privileged, and wants to impose some sort of superiority control over the general populace, thus eroding all other identities.

The thing is, the majority of Muslims I met are casual, free spirited and open minded people who embrace and acknowledge the differences yet embracing everyone. It’s the fringes of the majority, those supremacists like UMNO and PERKASA who dictate and sway public sentiment (using Utusan Malaysia). But non Muslims associate these over zealousness with all Muslims. As usual, politicising everything is the order of the day.

Let me set things straight. Being Muslim does not mean you are Malay. Religion and race is intertwined, but not mutually exclusive. If you think only radical Muslims wants to erode all cultures un-Islamic (allegedly) like wayang kulit, look at some of the Christian evangelists. No offence to our Christians brothers, but these ideas of burning traditional artifacts, fabrics and crafts just because it seems to promote idolatry and spirit worship is ridiculous. Just because the Pua Kumbu sometimes have human motifs on them doesn’t mean we worship it. I once knew someone (a Christian) who, upon his death, had his house purged of all traditional crafts and tapestries because it had evil spirits in them by these charismatic religious.

So it’s not just Islam. It’s the people who interpret religion. The dominant ideology will always try to prevail, like how Christianity slowly wiped out the cultures and traditions of the Orang Ulu. Now of course they are gradually reviving these lost traditions, but the damage has been done. It’s the whole yoga thing all over again.

There is nothing wrong with retaining your identity as a  Dayak if you embrace Islam. The Muslim Chinese still call themselves Chinese, not Malay. And by the way, the whole Abdullah and bin/binti you apparently must insert into your name once you convert? Nonsense. There is no provision in Islam that says you must. My father still maintains his Dayak name, without a bin or Abdullah. Why do you need an Arabic name? Are you an Arab?

I think some converts relinquish their identities as Dayaks is because of the privilege that entails being called a Malay.

So please, keep an open mind. Being pro-Dayak is good for our identity and culture, but always remember there are two sides to everything. Pride is one thing, zealotry something different altogether. Some people become so taksub with the idea of Dayak identity, they condemn everything else. Everyone else is not as good as we are because we have more unique cultures, exotic dances and diversity.

Isn’t that the same as Malay supremacy?


  1. i didnt know you can still maintain your own name even when youre converted to a muslim but its a good post.people do have that kinda thinking where malays are conservative,narrow minded etc.i think its the first impression that they give that will affect one in such a way that makes one thinks that happens to everyone actually.not only malays.generally.

    • Oh, JAIS will try their best to convince you to change, but my dad knew his rights, and so should everyone else.

      True, but coupled with the general stereotype others give Malays is what makes them seem more narrow minded than we think.

  2. Actually I am Kedayan myself …mixed Iban for detail … I don’t agree with the term Melayu Kedayan … Kedayan is Kedayan and Malay is Malay … except for Brunei (constituition) all jati Brunei is Malay (Melayu Brunei, Melayu Kedayan, Melayu Dusun, Melayu Tutong, Melayu Belait and Melayu Murut ) … I still remember when I was still a little boy I used term Melayu Kedayan while introduced my race and guess what ? My late grandparents and relative mocking me : Melayu lah kau, bukan Kedayan kah ?? the eldest still refused to call themselves Melayu Kedayan because Melayu is Melayu and Kedayan is Kedayan …. Islam is our religion but Melayu is not our race eventhough we are Malayic … have you heard about Makan Tahun feast ? done every year after harvest ? didn’t is show some similarities to other borneoan practices of Gawai and Kaamatan ? even the closest race to Kedayan in term of culture the Melayu Brunei didn’t held it ….

    • I don’t agree too. But some call themselves that to make it easier for them to receive privileges accorded to Malays by the Constitution. So it’s not so much about identity but politics. Thanks for your input by the way. I wish more Kedayans think of themselves as kedayans, and all other Bornean races instead of trying to be Malays just because they are Muslims. Please share about the Makan Tahun as I’m a bit lacking in knowledge about Kedayan culture. Or you can share it on Anak Borneo page on Facebook. Thanks!

      • Hard to say but just look at this video, in term of the traditional cloths and music have you seen the similarities with some Dayak tribes? Put aside all the religious rites, then you will see the ‘bell’ on the customes? From the dancers of Tarian Raja Berangkat (if you see closely ) the pengantin customes the ‘bell’ is everywhere ( rarely on Malays customes but often on Dusunic or Kadazans ), the black customes ( also rarely on Malays pengantin ) … the Kulintangan Sedaman ( wooden idiophone ) also found in Murut/Lun Bawang/ Dusun Tindal/Orang Sungai etc … by the way Kedayans as I knew never had Keris like Malays do but our traditional weapon is Pemarang (Parang, like Dayak or Borneo tribes has eg Iban with Parang Ilang etc), ….Have you read recently about Suku Kedayan wikipedia written and edited by a Kendayan@Kanaytn tribe which make a possible link between Kanaytn and Kedayan ?

    • a healing dance of Kedayan@Kadayan Sabah …. If I am not mistaken the Bisaya also have the same dance or song name Anding, and one of their Anding song also called Lagu Kedayan …

  3. Islamisation erodes a Dayak identity ?? Never read a research on that.What about Christianisation? Does the latter preserve it?

    • The answer is both yes and no. The Kelabits have begun losing their oral traditions after the coming of Christianity. In other other words, major monotheistic religions actually began replacing the animistic beliefs of the Dayak, at the cost of their heritage as some start embracing a more “westernized” way of life. However, to a certain extent, the influence of a fundamentalistic aspect of religion eg. Christianity in the 30s has slowly begun to be relaxed due to an awareness of the importance of preserving this heritage. Same goes for Islam. The point I’m trying to make is that the consequence of this transition from one religion (anismism/pagan) to another(Islam/Christianity) cause a certain loss/confusion over what has previously been an established norm.

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