Learn Bidayuh Bukar: Familial Terms

I don’t pretend to be a linguistic expert, nor do I understand the phonetics system. But today we’ll learn some basic Bidayuh Bukar terms. Note that the letter /ŭ/ is pronounced as in “urn” or “baron“. Previous spelling by western priests who first documented the language created the letter /ɯ/.

Father: Amang

Mother: Andŭ

Son: Anak dari (dari to mean male)

Daughter: Anak dayung (dayung to mean female)

Brother/Sister (Older): Umbu’

Brother/Sister (Younger): Adi’

Grandfather: Babeh

Grandmother: Tayung

Great-grandfather: Babeh alak

Great-grandmother: Tayung alak

Grandchildren: Sungkuh

Great-grandchildren: Sungkuh barak

Uncle (parents’ older sibling): Amba dari

Aunty (parents’ older sibling): Amba dayung

Uncle (parents’ younger sibling): Amang bejŭ (bejŭ to mean young or young adult)

Aunty (parents’ younger sibling): Andu bejŭ

Cousin (Older): Umbu’ tungar

Cousin (Younger): Adi’ tungar

Nephew/Niece: Anak buah/ anak adi’ or anak umbu’ (literally means child of sibling)

Father/Mother-in-law: Tuwa’

Son-in-law: Iban dari

Daughter-in-law: Iban dayung

Brother/Sister-in-law (Older): Ingka’

Brother/Sister-in-law (Younger): Ipar

In the past (and to a certain extent today), the Bidayuh do not address each other directly by name unless they happen to be immediate family born within the same generation, eg. siblings, first cousins.

For example, Mary has a son called Peter. Thus, Mary will be called Andŭ Peter, literally the mother of Peter. Children are often used as a point of reference.

If the person happens to be single with no children, they will be called by their first names among those within the same generation, or amba or amang/andu bejŭ.

It is generally forbidden for those one generation younger to call those above them by their first names.

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Damming our Future: The Borneo Project

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I am not anti-progress. I just hope for a more sustainable development. Sustainable development that does not destroy the heritage, livelihood and culture of the Bornean people.

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An area estimated at 1/5 of Sarawak would be underwater once the 12 mega dams are built. Above is the picture of the area that will be submerged, and major archaeological and cultural sites drowned underneath methane releasing waters.

The infamous Bakun Dam dispaced 9,000 people, while plans for undersea HVDC cables to Peninsular Malaysia has been scrapped due to high costs and geographical concerns. Which means the Bakun Dam is not running at full capacity.

The Murum Dam will be complete soon and begin operation by 2015, displacing 2,000 people.

The Baram Dam is in the midst of construction, and will displace 20,00 people in the Kenyah and Kayan heartland.

Meanwhile, another nine more will be built.

These are the facts. You make your own judgements.

Damming Our Future from The Borneo Project on Vimeo.

Iban Cosmology

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Like the widespread animistic beliefs of prehistoric Borneo, the Iban held similar belief systems based on omens, birds and rituals. An aggressive and ruthless tribe, they were famed for their ngayau (headhunting). Unlike the Kayan, one of their bitterest foes, they do not have a stratified society.

Here is a brief outline of the pantheon of gods/spirits that govern the Iban worldview back in the day.

Raja Jembu begat seven children who possessed divine qualities.

(Aki Lang) Sengalang Burong: Son, Supreme god of War appears as a Brahminy Kite Bird to man.

Selampandai (Selampetoh/Selampeta): Son, healer & creator of man, great blacksmith

Ini Inee (Ini Inda): Daughter, great healer

Menjaya Raja Manang: Son, who received the skills of healing from his sister and became the first “transformed”/transvestite shaman healer

Bhiku Bunsu Petara: Daughter, high priestess of the supreme creative deity called Bunsu Petara. Emissary.

Anda Mara (Ganggang Ganggong): Son, god of material wealth

Raja Simpulang Gana: Son, god of earth and agriculture

Sengalang Burong and Raja Simpulang Gana are considered the supreme gods in this pantheon, communicating via omens and signs to the people of the earth. They live in Tansang Kenyalang (Hornbill’s Nest), in the dome of the sky.

Communication between Sengalang Burong and man is done through eight principal omen birds, seven of them being his son-in laws.

Living on the right side of his longhouse in the heavens:

Ketupong (Rufous Piculet)

Beragai (Scarlet-Rumped Trogon)

Pangkas (Maroon Woodpecker)

Living on the left side of his longhouse in the heavens:

Bejampong (Crested Jay)

Embuas (Banded Kingfisher)

Kelabu Papau (Diard’s Trogon)

The 7th messenger is Burong Malam (Night Bird), although he is actually a cricket, who is married to Sengalang Burong’s youngest daughter Endu Chempaka Tempurong Alang. They don’t live in Tansang Kenyalang after being expelled for committing incest with his nephew, Sera Gunting.

The 8th omen bird is Nendak (White-Rumped Shama), not a son-in-law, but merely a client who lives in an attached room to Kelabu Papau.

Sourced: Gregory Nyanggau, a direct descendent of Sengalang Burong.

Evolution of the Kenyah cosmology

The Kenyahs are highly artistic people living in the interiors of Borneo. Unlike their Orang Ulu counterpart the Kayan, Kenyah is a collective term for groups of people sharing a similar culture and linguistic origin, yet distinct from the Kayan. Oral traditions has it that the Kenyahs arrived from across the sea (China?) and landed in Telang Usan (Baram) and multiplied alongside their Kayan neighbors. After many generations, they subdivided into many separate groups/dialects. Terms such as Badeng, Lepo Tau’, Lepo Kulit, Lepo Timai etc. started to appear after a number of the Telang Usan (present day Sarawak) Kenyah migrated to Kalimantan in the Upper Iwan River, in relation to specific characteristics of their settlements.The term Lepo Tau’ was derived from the tau tree which grew in the vicinity of this particular group’s settlement.

In the beginning, the Kenyah practiced a belief system called the Adat Puon. The Kenyahs are a highly stratified society, meaning they practice a caste system. Under the Adat Puon, society is divided into:

Paren: Detau Bio’ (High Nobility)

Paren: Detau Dumit (Low Nobility)

Panyen Tiga (intermarriage between the Paren and Panyen)

Panyen Kelayen (Commoners)

Ula’ (Slaves)

The Detau Bio’ and Detau Dumit is used only during certain ceremonies. After the rituals are over, the High and Low Nobility converge back into a single Paren category.

The Adat Puon is a highly complex and restrictive belief system. It is central to their social activities. If an omen is unfavourable, they will abandon it immediately even if the task is halfway done. Activities that are intrinsic to their survival in the wilds of Borneo like choosing a settlement, farming and hunting are governed by omens. Birds are used extensively, like many other animistic belief system widespread among the peoples of Borneo. The sound and direction of passage of said animal can be interpreted as good or ill, animals like the isit bird, pengulung (owl), kijang (deer), cobra and many more. Heavy ceremonial requirements are needed like animal sacrifices. For example, if a plague hit a settlement, protection against this evil is done through the tepo ceremony, using the blood of a murdered man.

A new religion emerged in 1947-1950, called Adat Bungan. A man named Juk Apui of Long Ampung (Lepo Jalan subbgroup) received a dream of a revamped belief system. Animal sacrifices were scrapped and strict taboos lifted because it placed a heavy burden on the people. The main requirement is the worship of Bungan Malan Paselong Luan (goddess of creation). Chicken eggs were used in lieu of animal sacrifices. It eliminated the need for the separation of Paren into Detau Bio’ and Detau Dumit, causing great opposition from the Paren. The Paren felt responsible for the safety of the people and didn’t want to incur the wrath of the gods with an incomplete ceremony. However the belief flourished and became accepted by many, partly due to the ease of practising this revised version of the Adat Puon.

In the mid 19th century, Christian missionaries started to venture among the Dayaks. In Kalimantan, they were brought in by the Dutch while in Sarawak, a limited number of missionaries were allowed due to the Brooke’s dynasty restriction on unbridled evangelism among the natives. Thus, the Dutch declared whoever still followed the old ways are considered ‘godless’ and accused of Communism, subject to punishment. Many groups were split on the idea of converting to this new Western religion. Some who were adamant in maintaining the Adat Bungan/Puon split and opened new settlements. However, the first researchers who realized the value of the unique heritage of the Kenyah began putting it in writing, allowing for preservation of these traditions.

The effects of Christianisation is the Paren merged into a single category, and the Panyen as well. The Ula’ were abolished, although the social stigma of being an Ula’ was still evident. No leaders are elected from the Panyen and Ula’ categories.