The Kaul Festival of Dalat

The annual Kaul Festival of Dalat (specifically Kpg. Medong) is held on January 1st every year (villages within the area celebrate around closer dates), as opposed to the Kaul of Mukah, which is celebrated on the 3rd week of April. This festival is a large and pagan festival celebrated by the Melanaus of Sarawak. The Kaul in Dalat does not have the “Tibau”, the large swing that men jump on as part of the festivities.

Taken from Learn Melanau.

The festival’s ritual ceremony starts when the Serarang, made from sago, bamboo and meduk leaves, are placed on the boats or tongkang.Offerings are placed in a container containing, chicken eggs, yellow glutinous rice, tobacco leaves and betel leaves. The Serarang is part of the Melanau Liko belief system in the Sea Deity, Ipouh. The festival is to appease Ipouh and provide offerings.

The ceremony is led by the Bapa Kaul (Kaul Father), who undergoes the ritual cleansing or purification before beginning the ceremony.

During the 3 days of the festival, no animal are allowed to be slaughtered within the borders of the village, already marked with red flags. Sago palms (staples of the Melanau) are also not to be felled. Gunshots and fireworks aren’t allowed because peace and quiet must avail in the surrounding area where the ritual is being held.While the Serarang is carried around the village, no one should paddle their festival boats against the approved direction.

The tongkang, which carries the Serarang leads 60-100 small boats, that travels behind or beside it only. They act as guards of the main tongkang.



Hidden Cities: Sarawak by History Channel Asia (Channel 555 Astro)

~ Host, Anthony Morse drinking with Iban elder (Taken from History Channel website)

Episode #8: SARAWAK
Premieres 11 January, Wednesday, 9pm
Sarawak – Malaysia’s gateway to the wild frontiers of untouched Borneo is home to over 2 million people from more than 20 indigenous groups. But hidden beneath the tropical calm lay remnants of its turbulent past. Forged by fires of war, colonialism and rebellion, it is even said to be once an ancient land of magic and ritual.

In this episode of Hidden Cities, host Anthony Morse explores the forgotten kingdom of a former British adventure. The White Rajahs of Sarawak were the only Caucasian kings to rule over a dominion in South-east Asia. Moving southeast from the capital Kuching to Sri Aman, Anthony reveals the secrets behind a disappearing headhunting tribe, the Ibans. We also learn about the tragic story of early Chinese gold miners in Bau district as well as the healing rituals of the Melanau people.

As one of the most culturally diverse states in the world, Sarawak promises to thrill with the richness of stories hidden just beneath its surface.

Encore details:
• 14 January 2012, Sunday, 10pm
• 17 January 2012, Tuesday, 11pm
• 18 January 2012, Wednesday, 8pm

Indigenous identity in Borneo

There are numerous ethnic groups in Borneo, some say a few hundred. As awareness begins to spread through the different communities on their own unique identity, smaller, minority ethnic groups start breaking away from the major groups they joined. Some have been assimilated (intermarriges), some extinct (wars, diseases).

Before the coming of the European powers, the people of Borneo did not have any problems when it came to who’s who. You neighbours are your neighbours, you marry them sometimes, fought with them and maybe take their heads. But the Europeans, keen on neat categories for the different ethnic groups began to place names like Land Dayak and Orang Ulu. When Sarawak and Sabah joined the Federation, they continued this policy of nine categories (and expanded in the constitution). Major ethnic groups started changing their names to be more indigenous, (Land Dayak – Bidayuh) and an awareness for ethnic identity arose. So no longer are all just Dayak but Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu etc.

Some Orang Ulu, comprising the people of Northern Sarawak, Kayan, Kenyah, Kejaman, Penan, Punan etc. do not identify with the word Dayak, preferring Orang Ulu. Some Orang Ulu leaders even proposed that the name Orang Ulu (people of the inland) be changed because it sounds backward, wanting to change it to Lun Daya in 2009. Many objected, seeing as how the word Orang Ulu is already known, and such perception of primitiveness is no longer relevant.

Many Melanaus are Muslims, but there’s also a sizeable Christian population. Some groups were cut off from the ones on the coast by the Iban and Kayan expansion. The inland ones were becoming more “Kayanized” while the coastal ones adopted many Malay practices. Intermarriage with the Malays, and the Kayan among the aristocracies of the inlands.

The fact is that indigenous identity is immutable, always changing. As populations move across different areas, join together with other groups, they assimilate and become something else. The nomads become settled and adopt a new name. Most groups, being nomads, moved a lot and came into contact with diverse groups, sharing and borrowing cultures and practices. Intermarriage between aristocrats of different ethnicities were common. Slaves of war were taken and assimilated. Since records are mostly oral and does not go that far back, origins can be difficult to prove and always subject to controversy. Even if we were to categorize ourselves based on our origins, we have evolved culturally and linguistically so far from each other.

There still exists many in between groups, who shelter under an official category to make it legally easier. They take one name, then change it and now many use their original names out of pride. The assimilation of many Muslim Dayaks into Malays (taking on their culture and language) have also caused many ethnic groups to disappear. Today, those who claim to be pure Malays, or Ibans, or Kayans might not even be pure, because in the hazy first generations of the Dayaks, intermarriages are rife. I just found out I might have Kejaman blood after all.

“… cannot classify the population (of Sarawak) neatly on the basis of physical characteristics, because of the constant mixing. Cultural criteria are of little help… for they are often of such trivial importance as the presence or absence of tattoos. Linguistic classifications, too have so far had little precision… and the usefulness of classifying peoples, as opposed to languages, on linguistic grounds, remain to be demonstrated, in a situation where there seems to be little correlation between the language and anything else. Classification the basis of origins is equally difficult.”

~ Tim G. Babcock, 1974

Dayak rojaks are easier to find nowadays than pure bloods. For the Dayak mindset, racial lines aren’t that important. Religious are. Many Dayak parents forbid, or frown upon the marriage of Dayaks to Muslims because it usually entails the death of their culture where ignorance breed Arabic names and Malay practices. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Dayak Muslim who isn’t almost 100% Malay. Even the Bidayuh Muslims of Serian wear Baju Melayu and Baju Kurung.

Just like how as opposed to Western countries where asking the race of someone is sensitive, over here it’s the norm, where no one assumes because everyone looks almost like everyone else. You can’t speak Bidayuh to someone who isn’t one (and doesn’t speak it), and even then you have to make sure it’s the same with your own sub ethnic group. (Some people might say Iban is the lingua franca, but hey, I don’t speak it.)

You want to know not out of racism (mostly), but out of affinity.