The Lahanan of the Balui

A Lahanan man (Taken from

We Lahanan are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the Batang Balui. Our ancestors, as with all those people originating from the Apau Kayan, the high plateau in the centre of Borneo, trace our source  to a forest giant. One by one as each person emerged from this giant tree they were assigned to a particular community with its own language. Except for we Lahanan, who did not have a language, as we were the last to emerge from the tree. Our founding ancestor Lake Galo consulted those who had emerged before him. “What are we Lahanan going to do about a language? We want one of our own.” After much discussion we Lahanan were permitted to borrow language  terms from the various other communities to make up our own language. That is the reason why Lahanan is so mixed up–we have borrowed words from many different peoples.

The Lahanan, who belong to the so-called Kajang group, are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Their total population of around 1,000 people are allied with two longhouse communities of Belaga District in the Kapit Residency. The larger group, the focus of this paper, are the Lahanan Long Pangai. When Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963 this community lived on the upper Balui River, but by the end of the century had moved to the Bakun Resettlement Scheme (BRS) at Sungai Asap. (2) A splinter group, the Lahanan Belepeh, live in the lower Balui at Long Semuang and number around 200 individuals. Although the two groups share a common ancestry, over the 150 years since they split over a leadership dispute, the Lahanan Long Pangai have become steadily Kayanized because of their close proximity to, and intermarriage with, nearby Kayan communities. The Lahanan Belepeh, however, living close to other longhouse villages loosely labelled Kajang, have, in some respects, retained a stronger sense of being different from the Kayan.

The Lahanan of the Balui River regard themselves as among the original inhabitants of the area. Often loosely defined as Kajang, along with other similar small groups, the Lahanan have no difficulty in enumerating the cultural differences which distinguish them from major ethnic groups, such as the Kayan and Kenyah, living in Central Borneo. The most important of these included secondary burial of the dead, the cult of the sacred stones, and the erection of kelerieng, massive funerary poles for the elite. While these customs have long since been abandoned, and many of the features which once distinguished the Lahanan from other local groups have been submerged in common cultural practices, the Lahanan are still keen to promote their differences.

In 1999 the Lahanan community had just moved under the Bakun Resettlement Scheme (BRS) to a new area, some five hours travel by boat and timber roads north from Long Pangai. The Lahanan’s mass evacuation from the Balui took place in mid-June after several days of ceremony (bulak) incorporating both Bungan and Christian rituals in their former longhouse village. Lahanan views of the mass departure from their old longhouse to the new were rosy, if tinged with sorrow. They had planned and executed a great ritual performance at the old longhouse and invited numerous people to participate. One of their elite had recorded the events on video and these were on frequent show during the early days in the new settlement and during the funeral of Lake Nyipa Pasu, their former headman and pemanca, held within weeks of their arrival. The excitement associated with their mass emigration was short-lived. Feelings of dislocation, disorientation, malaise and even dismay took over once they had settled into their new quarters. They had felt intense grief on the imminent departure from their ancestral lands and this was once again revived when they had finally completed the move.

~ Borneo Research Bulletin, Jennifer Alexander


9 thoughts on “The Lahanan of the Balui

    1. If you google’ Lahanan language’, there are websites that show a list of English words translated into Lahanan.

  1. I am Lahanan girl (kayanized). I am proud to be who are we, where we from, what language we have… We have our own culture, our people’s and the point is we are one,, We are Lahanan. Thanks giving to all who’s had read about us..

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