The Chebup of Long Loyang, Tinjar

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In memory of babeh


When I went home today, it’s as if I can hear your voice calling out our name from the window by the front door. “Oh Nat, Tel, Lik, Lap, tundah kupi babeh…” I can still hear your raspy, thin voice, saying, “Nyak, taban babeh nug Serian birubi.” You look so peaceful where you lie, and we all miss you. We love you babeh. : )

Languages of Borneo

The indigenous languages of Borneo is divided into 10 subgroups (Hudson 1978).

The Malayic subgroup includes Iban and Malay. The diversity and relative archaism of the Malayic languages spoken in West Borneo suggest that the Malayic homeland may have been in this area.

The Tamanic languages are close enough to the South Sulawesi languages to form a subgroup with them. They have some striking phonological developments in common with Buginese, with which they seem to form a separate branch within the South Sulawesi language group.

The Land Dayak languages have a few striking lexical and phonological similarities in common with Aslian languages. This suggests that Land Dayak originated as the result of a language shift from Aslian to Austronesian, or that both Land Dayak and Aslian have in common a source from an unknown third language.

Malayic Dayak languages are part of the Malayic sub-family (including, among others, Malay, Minangkabau and Banjarese), Tamanic languages are most closely related to South Sulawesi languages, and Sabahan languages subgroup with the Philippine languages (Hudson 1978).

Hudson (1970) should be credited for identifying and defining the Malayic Dayak subgroup. Previous scholars were not aware of this subgroup and classified the Malayic Dayak languages either with the Malay dialects spoken by Muslims on the Borneo coast or with the Land Dayak languages.

In this way they classified Iban as a Malay dialect, and Salako as a Land Dayak dialect with strong Malay influence. Kendayan Dayak was seemingly also considered as a strongly Malayicized variety of Land Dayak (cf. Cense and Uhlenbeck 1958). Hudson, however, calls Iban, Kendayan, Salako and other closely-related Dayak languages ‘Malayic Dayak’, and he classifies them together with Malay and other Malay-like languages[10] into the ‘Malayic’ linguistic group. His term ‘Malayic Dayak’ is meant to distinguish Malayic languages spoken by non-Muslims in Borneo from other Malayic languages.

Hudson’s classification also pays attention to the fact that the Malayic Dayak languages are indigenous, whereas other Malayic languages in Borneo were introduced from Sumatra and/or Malaysia. This is important for the search of the original Malayic homeland. Three areas have been considered as a homeland: Sumatra, the Malay peninsula and Western Borneo.

Kern (1889) was in favour of a homeland in the peninsular Malay area, and he rejected the possibility of a Bornean homeland. But his arguments do not hold (Adelaar 1988). The historical and linguistic evidence suggests that the Malayic settlements in the Malay peninsula are of more recent date than those in Sumatra or in Borneo (Bellwood 1993). In view of the geographical spread (in the interior), the variety (which in some cases cannot be explained as due to contact-induced change) and the sometimes conservative character of Malayic Dayak languages, some linguists tend to favour Borneo as the homeland of the Malayic languages (cf. Blust 1988; Adelaar 1988, 1992).

The dialects belonging to the Tamanic subgroup are Embaloh, Kalis and Taman. They are spoken in the Hulu Kapuas Regency of West Kalimantan near the head of the Kapuas River and its tributaries.

If, as seems to be the case, Tamanic is more closely related to Buginese than to other South Sulawesi languages, it has to be included in the South Sulawesi language group in a subgroup with Buginese (or with Buginese and Campalagian, cf. Grimes and Grimes [1987] and Sirk [1989]).

It is evident that the Tamanic-Buginese link has no connection with the Buginese migrations to the coasts of East, South and West Borneo from at least the 17th century on. The Buginese kept their identity or merged with the local Malays. Their migration to Borneo is a more recent phenomenon in comparison to a Buginese-Tamanic split, which must have preceded the Islamization of South Sulawesi. It must have happened so long ago that it allowed the Tamanic speakers to adapt and assimilate to a considerable degree to their Bornean environment, and to forget their “exo-Bornean” (from outside Borneo) origin.

As to the original homeland of Tamanic, as a consequence of its apparent membership of the South Sulawesi language group it is most likely that at some point in time its speakers have left South Sulawesi and have migrated to Borneo.

~ K. Alexander Adelaar (Borneo as a Cross-Roads for Comparative Austronesian Linguistics)

The Kayan/Kayaan of Borneo

Kayan Ladies during an open house.

The Kayan are part of the Orang Ulu people, occupying Northeast Borneo. Although the term Dayak usually applies to all indigenous people of Borneo, the Kayan (or other Orang Ulus for that matter), prefer to call themselves Orang Ulu, and assign the term Dayak to the others like the Ibans and Bidayuh.

Ethnologist believe that the Kayan and Kenyah of Borneo has been inhabiting the island for about 900 years, migrating from southern China. According to a Kenyah Lepo Tau man, King Akalura of Tiongkok in China sent to ships to Borneo 900 years ago. One landed in Brunei, the people who would become the Kayan, while another landed in the Baram basin, where they settled, of which later became known as the Kenyah. This shows why the Kenyah-Kayan people have many things in common.

3 waves of migration occurred for the Kayan.

1st wave (15th century): Apo Duat (Mt. Murut and Baram River) and to Usun Apau (Balui and Tinjar)

2nd wave (16-18th century): Apau Kayan, Kayan River and Bahau River

3rd wave (18-20th century): Annexation of Malinau, Sesayap, Segah, Kelinjau, Telen, Wehea, Belayan, Mahakam and Medalam River. Some turned back to Sarawak (Balui, Tinjar, Baram and Baleh rivers)

Between the 17th to the 19th century, the kayans were fierce headhunters (ayau kung) and conquerors. They occupied many new lands from the west of Sarawak up to the northeast of Kalimantan, displacing the locals and renaming it with new names to signify their power. They even fought wars with the Suluk, Bajau and Tidung of Sabah.

In the Mahakam (Kalimantan), the Ot Danum, Bukat, Penihing, Punan, Murut, Tunjung, Benuaq and Maloh retreated to West and Central Kalimantan to escape the Kayan. Those who stayed must accept their new masters.

In the north of East Kalimantan, the Burusu and Tenggalan escaped to the east coast of Kalimantan after the Kayan expansion.

Their huge numbers, war experience, their high mobility, and the rich resources of newly conquered lands made the Kayan absolute rulers of East Kalimantan for 300 years. But they were never acknowledged as true rulers by the colonial powers because they were deemed as primitve tribes compared to the Sultanates of Brunei, Kutai, Bulungan, Berau and Tidung.

There are 3 types of Kayan (divided by language):

1. Ga’ay/Mengga’ay

Origin of the name comes from the word ‘gay’ (gai) meaning sword (mandau) used in headhunting (meng-ayau). A 2nd version comes from the Kenyah Lepo Tau who call these people “ba’ay” meaning people staying at the mouth of the river.

Long Glat, Long Huvung Lama and Keliway. Seloy/Gong Kiya:n and Long Ba’un by the Kayan River. Long Way spt: Long Nah, Melean, dan Long Bentuk by the mouth of the Ancalong. Long La’ay dan Long Ayan of the Segah River.

2. Kayan

Meaning “this is our land”. They live mostly by the Baram River.

In East Kalimantan, Uma’ Suling, Uma’ Lekwe, Uma’ Tua:n, Uma’ Wak, Uma’ Laran, Uma Lekan etc. In West Kalimantan, Uma’ Aging, Uma’ Pagung, etc. Kelompok In Sarawak, Sungai Balui, Sungai Baram, Sungai Tinjar, etc

A subgroup call themselves (Kayan) Busang, a name adopted before their migration to the Apau Kayan.

3. Bahau

According to the Kenyah, the word comes from the word “baw” meaning high (plains), where the Bahau used to live in the Baram before migrating.

Hwang Tring, Hwang Siraw, Hwang Anah, and Hwang Boh in the Mahakam. Ngorek, Lalu Pua’ of the Kayan River, and the Merap in the Malinau.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Bahau lady and a Kenyah man

Due to the huge influence of the Kayan expansion, many ethnic groups became Kayanized, like the Melanau and the Muruts. In the Mahakam, there are two types of Kayan, Kayan Amoh (False Kayan) and Kayan Laan (True Kayan). The Kayan Amoh are the Muruts who call themselves Kayan.

Unofficial estimates of the Kayan population of Borneo is at 100,000 people.

Dunging’s Legacy: The Iban Alphabet


For those interested to purchase the font can get it from

Mr. Bromeley Phillip, a lecturer of Linguistics in UiTM Sarawak is currently teaching on the usage of this Iban alphabet. You can check out his SACRED Facebook page at

Dunging Anak Gunggu (1904-1985)

Born and Died at:
Nanga Ulai LongHouse, Debak Sub-District,
Betong Division, Sarawak
East Malaysia.

In 1947 Dunging invented 77 characters/symbols representing phonological sounds in the Iban language. His alphabet was taught to a few of his nephews while the rest of the people in his community were too illiterate to appreciate the significance of his alphabet then.

Undaunted by the poor response from the surrounding community, Dunging kept at revising and refining his alphabet until after almost 15 years he managed to discard some overlapping and redundant characters. He finally managed to revise the alphabet from 77 to 59 characters in 1962.

Dunging was once invited by some colonial officers to teach his alphabet system to the Iban public in Betong. through formal education. His effort was unfortunately short-lived as he was not in agreement with some of the terms stipulated on his alphabet teaching. He left and the whole school for the alphabet was scrapped. Ever since then, the alphabet eventually disappeared into oblivion even though there had been some effort to revive it, nonetheless, all efforts seemed to fizzle away.

Dunging’s adopted son, Mr. Bagat Nunui however managed to put whatever was left together into an unpublished manuscript in 1990. It was only later that the alphabet was revived and revitalised by Dr. Bromeley Philip to salvage it from disappearing with times.

– Taken from by Bromeley Philip

An Iban Language Forum was organised to discuss the future of the proposed alphabet with a Windows Font coming out soon from Linguist Software called LaserIban for Windows.

It remains to be seen what the future holds and how will it appeal to mainstream Iban language educators.

A broken deal: The Borneo States after 1963

Singapore’s People’s Action Party initiated a merger with Malaya, but was resisted by it’s most dominant political power, UMNO, including Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR). The Malayans feared the possibility of left wing radicalism taking over the Singapore government in the elections as PAP suffered losses and rifts after an internal struggle in 1962. It is also the opinion of Malay politicians of the need to maintain racial imbalance, the political and cultural predominance of the Malays. In the Malaysia project, it was understood that in electoral and more broadly political terms the combined Chinese population of Singapore and Malaya, which outnumbered the Malays, would be offset by the “Malay” population of North Borneo and Sarawak. So that was TAR’s condition, that with the inclusion of Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak must follow suit.

According to Bob Reece, he opines that “a crucial influence on TAR’s ethno-religious calculations was a report made to UMNO by Malaya’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Senu bin Abdul Rahman…. (who) describing all the indigenous peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak as “Malays”… (concluding) that within a federation consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo, “Malays” would remain the… majority.”

Says TAR reported in newspapers dated 24th July 1961,

“From the text-books as the schools and by meeting the Dyaks, I found out that the only difference between the so-called Dyak language and Malay is in the dialect just as there is a difference in the dialects of Selangor Malays and Kelantan Malays.”

In TAR’s major speech to the Malayan Parliament on 16th October 1961,

“From the Federation’s point of view, we are linked to the Borneo territories not only by proximity and close association but also because the Borneo territories have the same type of culture and racial origins as the Malayans ( i.e Malays). We have similar customs – except, of course, in their case, they have some peculiar local customs but they are local affairs – and we have similar problems, economically or otherwise, and we even share the same currency…”

At the time of the Malaysia Project, in Malaya ethnic Malays make up 50%, with Chinese 37%. In North Borneo, 1,645 were ethnic Malays with the majority Islamicized indigenous groups (i.e Bajau, Illanun who do not call themselves Malay) who make up most of the state’s  37.9%. The other largest homogenous ethnic group were the Kadazan-Dusun, mostly Christians and animist who make up 30%, followed by the Chinese (23%).

Datu Donald Stephens, in a major speech in Singapore dated 10th August 1961,

“My people feel that if North Borneo joins Malaya now as a state, it would mean that North Borneo would not become a state but a colony of the Federation of Malaya. As I have said before, these fears are genuine. Not actually fear or suspicion of the sincerity of Malaya to take us on as an equal partner but more the fear that by virtue of our status as a British colony we would automatically become a second-class state or colony of Malaya… We must at least have self-government before we can talk, before we, the people of the country, can decide for ourselves whether we want to become partners in Malaysia. Self government for us is the pre-requisite to final settlement of the Malaysia question.”

However, it is generally agreed by academic commentators that the crucial factor in the changing attitudes of the Borneo states leaders was the Brunei Rebellion and Indonesia’s opposition (which escalated into the Confrontation after 1963).

Leaders of Sabah submitted a document dated 29th August 1962 to the Inter-Governmental Committee (to decide on the constitutional details of the Malaysian Constitution) containing 20 Points, while their Sarawakian counterparts published their 18 Points on 27th February 1963, of which should be embodied in the Federal Constitution.

Point 16 of the 20 Points stated that no amendment or withdrawal of any special safeguards granted to North Borneo can be made by the Central Government without the consent of the State Government and the power to amend should belong exclusively to the people of the State.

The IGCR recommended that the power for amendments to the Borneo States position was better given to Parliament (since to amend they need 2/3 majority, but the Malayan parliamentary seats grew in percentage when Singapore left).

Thus the safeguard was never embodied into the Federal Constitution.

Malaysia came into being on 16th September, 1963.

Then, within 2 years of the signing of the Malaysian Agreement, a series of events took place that demonstrated the new Malaysian Government in KL had not accepted the principals relating to the special standing of the two Borneo states, gradually treating them as unitary states needing strong centralized government control. The signs were:

1. The dramatic separation of Singapore in 1965

2. The expulsion of Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Sarawak’s 1st Chief Minister in 1966

3. The replacement of Tun Mustapha’s USNO-led government in Sabah in 1976

4. Creation of new parliamentary seats that favour Peninsular Malaysia

5. Certain amendments to the Federal Constitution (relating to the special position of the Borneo states).

Which brings us to the issue of the 20 Points and 18 Points Agreement that highlights the special position of Sabah and Sarawak. It had no legal/constitutional standing, but it was clearly looked upon by Borneo’s political leaders as a charter of state rights and the basis of the Borneo states future relationship with the Federal Government.

12th September 1991

PBS’ Datuk Monggoh Orrow asked Dr. Mahathir (then PM) for a referendum on the issue of remaining in Malaysia, to which he replied that it has been done and Sabah and Sarawak had decided to “swim or sink” with Malaysia and there are no second chances, when there has never been a referendum, except for the Cobbold Commission, which wasn’t.

January 1987, TAR

“All I can remember is that the Cobbold Comission headed by Lord Cobbold had drawn up the constitution which was accepted by Sabah. If I am not mistaken, Sabah readily signed the Malaysia Agreement and had accepted the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the head of Islam in the State.”

November 1992

Ghafar Baba, DPM issued challenges to the PBS to debate the 20 Points issue. The Kitingan brothers have been asking for the debate for the past 6 years, and by December 1992, Jeffrey Kitingan was detained under ISA, showing how hypocritical UMNO is.

There you have it. That’s what happened to the Borneo states’ 20 and 18 Point Agreement which guarded its special standing as equal partner to Malaya. Any demands to debate the Agreement has been viewed by Malaya as desire to secede and branded as traitors. In the course of the events leading up to today, the Federal Constitution has been amended to facilitate greater power and control over the two States. That is what 1Malaysia is all about, an attempt to salvage something beyond repair. We are the products of systematic destruction of our rights and our standing as equal humans and partners.

Because now, the sentiment is US against THEM. And we all know who THEY are.