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 Bidayuh Sadong: Sumpas subgroup

The Sumpas subgroup is among the biggest group currently residing in Serian. Folklore passed down through generations says that their ancestors were devils/spirits who eventually became human with the assistance of Datu Merpati (who appears in many legends as the forefather – together with Padat a Sungkung Dayak – of the Bidayuhs in Serian, a man some claim to have supernatural powers, of Java origin). In Mentong Mawang, it was said their ancestors came out of a hole in the ground, while those of Bugu Mawang claim ancestry from a tree trunk.

The migration began from Bugau/Tembawang Tampun, making its was to Tembawang Sumpas in the 1500s via Tembawang Rutoi. From there it spread into 4 main villages, Mentong Mawang, Bugu Mawang, Bedup Mawang and Koran Mawang.

In the 1820s, there happened a dispute between Koran Mawang and Riih Mawang. The warriors of Riih went and cut off the head of Buk Lungor of Koran Mawang while he was working in the paddy fields. This angered the people of Koran who went and counter attacked. Again, Riih warriors decided to fight back and chose Mayom to be their leader. Mayom was said to have a sword as big as a banana tree. During the fight, he swung his sword so hard it got stuck in the root of the Bandir tree and was thus killed by the Korans. His head was then taken and the dispute ended.


Mentong Mawang: River name, abandoned in 1970.

Mentong Mubok: Kubuk vegetable

Bugu Mawang: It’s people claim to be the original inhabitants of Serian.

Diang Ipuh: They settled in Bugu Diyang in 1962 but moved to Diang Ipuh because of frequent floods.

Bugu Resak: Resak trees

Lunggo: Lunggo trees

Sg. Brok Bedup: In honour of Rajah Brooke

Empaneg: A type of bamboo

Koran: From mpuran, or dropping gold. Legend has it that Padat’s descendents dropped a gold necklace into the river.

Buluh Bedup: A Muslim village

Bedup Mawang: Abandoned in 1950s.

Gawai Tourism 2011 at Annah Rais

It was a rainy day on the 3rd of September 2011, all the way to late evening. Maybe that’s why the turnout was low, even with free food. The event started early, by noon many villagers opened up their stalls selling food, drinks and crafts. This year is the 2nd year it’s held, this time in Kpg. Saba (translated as the upper village) longhouse.

By 7.30 PM, the VIP arrived, YB James Dawos. It was so 1Malaysia, national anthem, 1Malaysia song etc. The programme began with traditional performances by the villagers and the invited dancers from Kpg. Semban, the ones who still wear the brass coils around their legs, arms and stomachs.

After the first biranggie (traditional dance), the VIP gave his speech. And what a long winded one it was. Of course, I should have expected it. I have yet to listen to a short, simple and to the point speech given by a local politician, Sadly, it’s publicity time! He’s repetitive, boring and has the least inspiring voice I’ve ever heard. Halfway through it people were beginning to nod off and play with their apps.

While the MC decided to speak only in Malay, so I’m guessing the foreigners just try to make the best of what’s going on.

What’s with the smoky stage effect anyway? It stinks, and the older dancers cringed whenever thick smoke started to engulf the stage. Not to mention the lighting (those big concert lighting) which blinded the poor ladies.

The last event is the joget time, with a live band and guest star Claudia Geres. Still much to improve, but it’s still in its second year. Great effort, although I wished it was more encompassing so that the Bidayuhs from other regions can join in and promote their own brand of culture.

The Bidayuh Sadong: Taup Subgroup

The Bitaup are one of the 15 subgroups that inhabit the Serian/Samarahan area. Like most Bidayeh, they migrated down from Bugau, to Tembawang Tampun and finally to Tembawang Rutoi (currently Kujang Mawang).

In the 1380s, a group migrated out of  Tembawang Rutoi and went to Sg. Robin. They moved up to Sg. Taup and established a village called Kampung Mawang Taup. This is the origin point for the Bitaup subgroup.

There is another alternate history passed down from generations. It’s said that the ancestors of the Bitaup is Padat, a man from Sungkung, Kalimantan who came over with his band of men in search of fruit trees and wild animals. One day, he arrived at Sg. Robin. He accidently slashed a bamboo, which fell into the river and pierced a fish. He thought it was a good omen so he settled down an established Kpg. Mawang Taup (the place where people still wear chawat).

Another legend tells of a man called Datu Merpati, from Tanjong Sipong, Santubong who desired to meet Padat and came inland to his village. While there, he fell for a local girl called Suhom. Soon she became pregnant. During her pregnancy, Merpati had to leavbe as his first wife was expecting a child. He came back after the baby was born. He changed a wooden Kelabut into stone in honour of his son, which now can be seen in Kpg. Mawang Taup. They say people used to burn the top of it in times of drought to ask for rain.

In 1940, Rev. Father Staal interview Orang Kaya Panglima Baret of Pichin. He said that he was the 19th generation after Padat, which means that at a average of 25 years per generation, the Bitaup has been living here for about 550 years.

In the late 1830s, there was an Iban Skrang attack on the people of Mawang Taup.

By the 1780s, the first group began migrating outwards and established Kpg. Sg. Ngarat, followed by the 2nd group in 1850s, Kpg. Pichin and finally Kpg. Reteh in 1927.

Most of the names of the kampungs were taken from rivers and mountains (Kuhom, Sungan). One of the major reasons for migration is congestion, lack of agricultural land and religious conflict especially with the pagans. Now most are Christians, among them Roman Catholic, Anglicanism and Seventh Day Adventists.

Slabi: Form the word terrapin (labi-labi)

Sijijag (pronounced Sejajug): Jijag trees

Munggu’ Kopi: (Hill of coffee plants) malays from Kpg. Gumpe established a Plaman for coffee planting, and when after the group from Tebakang Dayak settled there, they moved back.

Krusen Siu: Enchana led a group of people out after failing to be appointed as Orang Kaya.

Kranji: Kranji trees

Slabi Empurong: From Lubok Tempurong

Kuhom: Where boats always cpsize due to strong currents

Sebemban: Where two parallel river runs

Reteh: Named after Darud Reteh and Sungi Reteh

Gawai Tourism 2011

The state-level Gawai, or “Gawai Tourism” will be held in Annah Rais on September 3, 2011 to showcase the Bidayuh Biatah culture. The cultural event will be in the evening with an appeareance by the Dayung Iyang Biatah 2011, followed by the stage show and concert by local Dayak artists. I heard they’ll be a cultural exchnage programme with Kpg. Semban (among the last kampungs to still have ladies wearing brass coils around their arms and legs).

For those going, you can also drop by the Annah Rais hot spring, although I suspect it’ll be jam packed with families since it’s the weekend.