What our future looks like

Taken from : http://www.facebook.com/boytattoo (Sylvester Juli)

“He looks Dayak-ish, maybe Iban, but he has that Orang Ulu look too… Then  again the Vaiee also looks like that…”

He’s actually Iban + Lahanan.

You’ll be hard pressed to find any pure-blooded Dayak nowadays. Intermarriages have created a varied and diverse mix of looks that can be easily mistaken. So those who might think they’re pure blooded still, can be mistaken because our written records only go so far. While some who claim to be the product of more than 10 ethnic groups might be pulling your leg. XD

But we are headed towards a future of a more homogenized society where ethnic lines blur and the unifying of ethnic groups into a single, multi- cultural and cross boundary identity. We are at that crossroads now, as the influx of non-native blood began during British  and Japanese imperialism and continues today.

One day, we might not be Bidayuh, Iban, Chebup, Sihan, Vaiee, Murik, Tutong, Daliek or Kiput anymore. Ethnic identity is always in a state of change, but that doesn’t mean our heritage will be forgotten. It just means that our children and grandchildren will be the heir to a vast and multi-cultural heritage.

We must not forget who we are, but we mustn’t be afraid of change and embrace it as a part of the next step in our unique identity and universality.

We are Anak Borneo.


In between the lines

History under the microscope ~ The Borneo Post

WESTERN historical narratives on the colonised, focusing specifically on the Dayak Ibans of Sarawak under the Brooke regime, are being scrutinised in a book by an academic from UiTM Sarawak in Kota Samarahan.

Associate Prof Dr Bromeley Philip is shedding some light on how history was written to privilege only the so-called ‘white supremacy’ vis-à-vis the ‘savage’ native inhabitants.

Entitled Historical narratives of the colonised: The Noble Savage of Sarawak, one chapter of the book (still in press by Palgrave Macmillan) focuses on how western historians highlighted only the positive image of the so-called ‘paternal’ White Rajahs who were portrayed as bringing peace to otherwise chaotic Sarawak due to strong resistance from the Iban ‘rebels’ (western label), notably Rentap.

Rentap was depicted as a rebel, befitting the savage image, accorded by the imperialistic west to any other humans besides Europeans.

“The Ibans were probably fortunate because James Brooke saw the Ibans not just as savages but as noble savages – an opinion shared by Charles Brooke too,” Bromeley quipped.

Based on his research, he said: “In fact, James Brooke did write in his diary that the Ibans were “superior in stature, and better made than any Dayaks I have seen.” And I may also quote what Charles Brookes wrote of the Ibans – “strong in body, a mass of muscle, quick in intelligence and perception.” (source: Crisswell, 1978, Rajah Charles Brooke).

He pointed out that the history of Sarawak during the Brooke regime was written only from the eyes of westerners, adding: “We are in the periphery of history, never central in their historical account. It is their history.”

Bromeley said the natives did not really have their own history – it was always the Brooke’s.

Rentap was recorded in their history only to accentuate their supremacy over the native inhabitants and never was Rentap featured from his or his own people’s perspective, he added.

“During the Brooke’s era, we the local inhabitants were just like ‘Friday’ (a native character) in Robinson Crusoe’s story. What matters were things the Rajah did at that material time.

“Crusoe even gave his native friend the name Friday because he found him on Friday! That was rather convenient but unfortunately disrespectful. Crusoe did not bother to know what Friday’s actual name was. Friday was only mentioned in the story book and he did not have any voice – so much so that what he thought did not matter. Crusoe’s story was just analogical of the Ibans’ story under the Brookes as featured by western writers,” Bromeley said.

English commoner

James Brooke was an English commoner who, like most imperialistic European adventurers then, was looking for opportunities in the East and he saw them in Sarawak. He was also known as the first White Rajah who obtained governorship of Sarawak from the Sultan of Brunei and eventually proclaimed himself Rajah of Sarawak.

According to Bromeley, based on his academic inquiry into a book, written by Robert Pringle (revised 2007), the Ibans were not made aware of the existence of any meaningful central government.

Quoting from Pringle (p59), he said: “Their (Ibans’) lack of respect for the Sultanate was quite obvious when the new European overlords arrived. Charles Brooke related a grim tale of some Brunei nobles en route to the Krian. Encountering some Iban marauders on the coast, the pengiran in command displayed the Sultan’s commission, carefully folded in yellow satin, hoping to dissuade them from attack. But the Ibans replied “we don’t know about things like that” (nadai nemu utai bakanya), and proceeded to take the heads of the entire party.”

Bromeley asked: “If the Ibans did not recognise the Brunei’s sovereignty which ceded Sarawak to James Brooke, how could they even recognise the Brooke family as the Rajahs?”

He said based on Brunei’s Selesiah, the Malacca ‘grant’ of the Sultan of Johore only included Kalaka, Saribas, Sadong, Samarahan and Sarawak (Kuching now) but there was no mention of the Batang Lupar river system, the first river in the now Second Division to be settled by Iban migrants from the Kapuas.

According to him, its omission from the Malacca grant, as remembered in Brunei tradition, may indicate the warlike Ibans were soon living along Batang Lupar and Batang Skrang in sufficient numbers to discourage Brunei interest.

Bromeley also said Batang Lupar was what Pringle declared as ‘the Iban country’ but this was not mentioned in the slightest amount of information available concerning the 16th and 17th century Sultanate.

It was along Batang Skrang that Rentap put up a strong resistance against the Rajahs because Rentap was just protecting his territory from a foreign encroachment.

Indigenous viewpoint

Rentap was pictured as a recalcitrant by western writers – Baring-Gould and Bampfylde. Villain as he might have been portrayed by western writers, Rentap’s struggle to ward off alien encroachment of his native land is clearly very commendable from the indigenous perspective.

Faced with strong resistance from Rentap, the Rajah’s expeditions met with failure twice. While the Rajah’s defeats were not highlighted in published accounts of Sarawak, Rentap’s retreat further into the interior (taken to be Rentap’s eventual defeat), was, however, highlighted.

According to Baring-Gould and Bampfylde (1989: p184), “Rentap will not be noticed again. Broken and deserted by all, he retired to the Entabai branch of the Kanowit where he died some years later.”

The writers picture Rentap’s retreat (as viewed by the Rajahs)
as being tragic – that he was broken and deserted. However, there was
no evidence to corroborate that Rentap actually suffered a tragic defeat.

As much as western writers tried to show how successful and effective Brooke’s Rule was against the Iban warrior-chief, what came to light was the fact that Rentap was a force to be reckoned with indeed.

Despite his lack of modern arms and ammunition and small band of followers in contrast to the Rajah’s force, he defended his fortress at Bukit Sadok against two separate attacks by the Rajah. It took three expeditions (June 1857, July 1858, and August 1861) by Charles Brooke, the Tuan Muda, to finally dislodge Rentap from his fortress. Rentap however, evaded capture.

“It was Rentap who actually showed bravery and resilience against the formidable White Rajah,” Bromeley noted.
Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2011/11/06/history-under-the-microscope/#ixzz1gYnBxHD4


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.

What’s your ROOTS man???

The generation of today is living in a world where they are offered a vast array of choices, whether in music, pop culture or dance. With that, comes the decline of interest in traditional arts, culture and music. It’s inevitable, as things are everchanging.


The custodians of traditional culture are gradually declining, as fewer and fewer young people take it up. The great teachers are slowly dying away, bringing their technique with them to the grave. The traditional is often perceived as boring, old and sometimes embarassing. We have begun to be ashamed of our culture, yet we condemn and ridicule others not of our kind who make an effort to learn it.

Unlike our counterparts in Kalimantan who excel and have carried Dayak culture far ahead and established it as a dynamic art form, over here, we are lagging behind, stuck to the old ways, doing the same thing, unappealling to the masses of younger generation.

From my personal experience, I’ve always found traditional dance to be somewhat outdated and reserved for the experts. So I never bothered to learn (and too embarassed to take lessons). My excuses were shame, two left feet and fear. But once I started, I got hooked. It was an incredibly liberating experince for me, even with all the mistakes I made. There’s a whole new world out there that we, as the modern generation, can carry on, make tweaks and still maintain it’s authenticity. What I mean is that on the one hand we have the traditional, slow ones, on the other, the faster, upbeat yet still derived from the orginal steps but improved (purists would not agree, however). Same goes for music.

There’s something about doing something that has been done for generations, slowly refined with the times. With the advent of Malayanizing everything (since it’s Malay-sia), the Dayak culture has slowly been eroded of it’s authenticity (Islamization). We can take a leaf from our incredibly pro-Dayak neigbours, who has stood by their identity with pride.

For example, in most dance competitions held in Sarawak, Malay elements has to be incorporated (to win) which is not only so homogenized, it clashes with the more spontaneous art of Dayak dance. Some competitions require that you do a Malay dance! While in the rampaian kreatif (Creative Dance Medley), the costumes are of the bright, shiny Malayic type, incorporated with many Malay moves. (Imagine someone wearing a chawat doing the joget, urgghh!) If you have the time and opportunity to watch a Kalimantan creative traditional dance, you’d be blown away by how Dayak (and beautiful) it looks.

I’m not just talking about boasting how powerful your ancestors are going mengayau (headhunting), or how good they are at drinking. That is a thing of the past. It’s no longer relevant today. Instead, think of how you can do your part by learning something about the history of your culture and it’s traditions. Part of the reason why our Dayak identity is eroding is because we have forgotten what makes us Dayak. Our language, dance, music, rotting by the wayside while we pursue the modern lifestyle (which is not wrong, not saying you have to hunt for food and wear a chawat). How can you be proud of your identity when you have nothing to show for it but the race stated in your birth cert?

It’s time we remember who we are and be proud of our own Dayak identity.

Penan or Punan: The Western Understanding

(Sourced from Global Voices)

There has been confusion about the terms Penan and Punan in ethnographic literature. In Sarawak, these two groups tend to be collectively grouped with various other tribal peoples.

According to Needham (2007), investigations confirm that there are a number of nomadic peoples in Borneo and the Penan form one group. The affected groups themselves however, are aware of their cultural and their profound linguistic differences. The confusion is perhaps due to early documentations.

Langub (1989, p.169) states that early Western writers like Hose and McDougall, Harisson and others used the two terms indiscriminately.

Sercombe and Sellato (2007, p7) note that the term ‘Punan’ which may also be articulated as ‘Penan’ have long been widely used by the settled tribes to refer to the various nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers. They state that in Kalimantan, the nomads are generally known as Punan while in Sarawak and Brunei, Penan became the default term.

Harisson (1949 in Hoffman, 1984, p128) stated in his writing that Punan is synonymous with the Malay word hulu or “upriver”. Other people define the term as “people who live at the source of the river”, “people who live deep within the forest”, “people always moving from place to place” and “people who do not plant gardens and swiddens and must hunt for their food”. The Kenyah look at this term as “to assemble, pile up or gather things together”.

In other words, the term Punan, is more of “a description of the geographical location and behavioral characteristics of the peoples”(Hoffman, 1984, 128).

Urquhart states that the term ‘Penan’ is used by the Kenyah and the term ‘Punan’ is used by the Kayan to refer to the nomadic people (Langub, 1989, p169).

Hoffman (1984, p128), states the term Punan has been an exonym – a name by which a group is referred to by other peoples or the outsiders. He notes the different usage of the terms as dialectal variant.

Needham (1953 in Langub 1989, p169) affirms that there are actually three distinct groups: ‘Penan’, ‘Punan’ and ‘Punan Bah’. Penan are divided into ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Penan. The Eastern Penan occupy largely the Baram and Limbang watersheds namely east of Baram River -Tutoh, Patah, Apoh, Upper Akah, Selaan, Selungo, upper Limbang and Upper Baram River. The Western Penan occupy the Balui watersheds, Silat and tributary of Baram namely Belaga district and the Silat River- watershed of Long Belina, Long Tikan, Lo Bo Pumu, Long Jekitan and Long Beku (Brosius, 1992).

(sourced from Pustaka Sarawak)

There has been many theories regarding the Penan/Punan issue. Some dispute the existence of the Punan, some say they are distinct from each other. I don’t claim to know much about the difference, and the information above are merely written records by Western ethnographers.

Based on my understanding, the Penan are nomads (Penan Busang among the earliest settled), the Punan never nomads, and the Punan Bah considering themselves Kajang. Of course, this might be simplifying things. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Sometimes, the problem stems from the Westerners themselves for trying to quantify something that is abstract to their organized, neat minds. Being newcomers to this side of the world (back then), they get confused by local dialects, and lump together groups that don’t even relate. They spell certain words differently when sometimes they mean the same thing (back then Dayaks have no written history), or use the same words for different groups which also leads to confusion among modern researchers as they try to put into context what and whom they were writing about.