A Bidayuh history

The Bidayuh constitute about 8% of the Sarawak population, numbering about 200,000 people.

What are the Bidayuh?

“The humanists of the Dayak world, Bidayuh are tolerant of human idiosyncrasies and occasional excesses, most of which they realistically assess as absurd but harmless, seeking the peacemaking and healing course through the despairs and abrasions of this world…. Social aggressiveness is not looked upon with favour. A sense of humor, however, is a social asset; self-important folk are not taken seriously.”

~ The Honey Tree Song, Carol Rubenstein

Well, in away that sums up what the Bidayuh are. Mild, pacifist, relaxed people. My blood is mixed with the Kenyah so that explains my occasional swings from passive to aggressive.

Anyway, the British called them Land Dayaks. Don’t call us that.

The Bidayuh ancestors first came from Kalimantan Barat. Sungkung, Bugau and Sungai Selakau (origins of the Salako-Lara) between Sambas and Sengkawang, are among the places where the majority resided. Gradually they migrated inland towards the hills and mountains, trying to escape the barbarities of the Skrang Iban and Malay pirates, and the oppressive Brunei nobility.

However, most of them migrated into Sarawak before the boundary between Kalbar and Sarawak was created. So in a sense they aren’t migrants from another land. But there are more Bidayuh in Kalbar. The difference being that the groups that are related to the Bidayuh of Sarawak aren’t called Bidayuh there, rather they group themselves based on localities, like Dayak Sungkung and Dayak Sekeyam, not having an umbrella term for all.

Before we go any further, like the Chinese (Hakka, Hokkien etc.), the Bidayuh are also divided into sub-groups (by geography). And under each main groups are more specific groups, where by eventhough they speak the same language in a main group, there is always a slight difference in slang and tune.

There are 6 main groups.

1. Bisadong (Batang Sadong and it’s tributaries and Gunung Sadong, Serian)

2. Bibukar (Batang Samarahan and Batang Bukar and it’s tributaries, Serian)

3. Biatah (Siburan, Padawan, Kuching)

4. Bijagoi (Gunung Bratak, Gunung Jagoi, Bau)

5. Bisingai (Gunung Singai, Bau)

6. Selako-Lara (Lundu, Bau)

After exploring new lands and settling down, they moved away from each other and gradually became isolated. Thus the language and culture evolved exclusively off each other, creating marked differences even though certain groups aren’t that far apart.

6 comments

  1. selako lara is not bidayuh. it just that in Malaysia administrative term, it’s under Bidayuh umbrella. You can just any Bidayuh. especially from Bau aream their intonation, vocabs and language are very distinct and hardly very little similarity.

    Take for example of top 5 list of main groups above, they can understand among themselves about what thy are talking about. Selako lara is just different

    • I agree. That’s the topic I discussed in another later post:
      ~ The term that is Bidayuh (https://dayakwithgoldenhair.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/the-term-that-is-bidayuh/)
      ~ Languages of Borneo (https://dayakwithgoldenhair.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/languages-of-borneo/).

      The Salako and Rara joined the Bidayuh in the 1970s due to political reasons as their numbers were too small. Linguistically, the Salako are categorized as Malayic, same as Iban and Malay, not Bidayuhic.

    • I think there is some misconception here in what constitutes the Bidayuh from a linguistic point of view. The Selako are a Malayic Dayak subgroup as the language they speak is more akin to the Malay group of languages while the Lara speak a language which has many of the similarities shared by the Land Dayak group of languages in terms of their grammar,vocabulary and phonology. Being from the same geographical locality of the Sungkung in West Kalimantan does not mean they share identical or similar linguistic characteristics even though they come under the generic ethnic category of the Austronesian Dayic race, most of whom do not embrace the Islamic religion. The majority of the Bidayuh and other Land Dayak groups,along with the Malayic dayak ethnies such as Iban and Salako and Kayani-Kenyaic groups in Borneo are followers of Christianity with a small population of converts to the Islamic faith and those practicing the old Dayak pagan religion.

      • Well said. That’s always been a problem. Seeing as how in the old days, the peoples of Borneo were a fluid society that adapts to their environment, the whole concept of classification introduced by the British was garbled at best. Unfortunately it filtered down to the established groupings we have now. The perennial question, “To classify by language, physical attributes, geographical location or culture?”

  2. why bother seeking the root of the smaller ethnics? all those of Borneo origin are Dayaks, as long as they are willing to accept their roots as true Bornean. FACE IT: we are the Dayaks of Borneo and this land is Dayak land

    • Thanks for your comments.

      I could say that the percentage of the Dayaks in relation to other major ethnics worldwide like Chinese and Indian is less than 1 percent.Why bother learning about the tiny Dayak population?

      In my opinion, it’s more to understand how by our differences, we are actually the same. Our culture and traditions, especially the diversity of our languages, shows that despite all that, we consider each other brethren.

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