An earnest request

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When I first started this blog, my dream was to write what I know about my culture and heritage for the world to read.

Now, I write because I feel a responsibility to disseminate largely hidden information that are usually tucked between the dusty sheets of science journals and scholar gazettes.

I’ve always wondered why are there so much information, yet most of it is inaccessible to the curious public? I’ve always thought the purpose of all these researches is so that laymen, like you and me, can learn more about who and what we are, and what will become of us.

It’s sad that the majority will never know, and most of what is found will probably never see the light of day.

Dig.

Rifle.

Scour.

Seek.

And the truth will set you free.

Let everyone know, start a blog, post it on your Facebook, but let’s learn about our dying culture together and be proud of this beautiful, fiery culture that carried our ancestors through aeons.

It’s our land, our life, our love.

Sincerely,

The Author

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The Kenyah Peselai, and the aftermath of Konfrontasi

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A Kenyah peselai group, 1930, with Dutch photographer HF Tillema

Peselai, an ancient ritual of the Kenyahs of Borneo, is a coming of age journey undertaken by men to discover new lands, wealth and trading. It is the equivalent of the Iban’s bejalai.

… peselai is a rite of passage with deep roots to the land; it is the journeying to distant territories by Kenyah men discovering new territories and cultures. Peselai was once large associated with long-distance raids, scouting for new arable lands, hunting  or trading expeditions. The wide array of ancient Chinese jars, Javanese bronze gongs, Venetian nad Mesopotamian beads, batik textiles and even Papuan penis gourds that can be found in possession among upriver kenyah and Kayan communities are ample evidence that central Borneo had been part of an extensive trade network, indicating the importance of mobility.

Before the outlawing of headhunting 1900s, peselai were organised into large group from 50-500 men, led by a paren (aristocrat) to ensure safety in numbers. Rampant headhunting by Iban raiders were always cause for concern.

But nowadays, especially the late 1900s, peselai trips has evolved into migrant labor journeys, where Kenyah men seek work in logging camps in Sabah and Sarawak.

The dynamic fluidity of movement between the Kenyahs of now Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Sarawak (Malaysia) resulted in many peselai journeys between the borders, which back then didn’t exist. It all came to an end when the Confrontation happened, and the borders of Indonesia and Malaysia were finally formed.

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Peselai expeditions of the Kenyahs between North Kalimantan and Sarawak.

Long Mekaba, a village with four longhouses, sits between Baram River and Silat River, in Miri. It is a sister village of the Kenyah in Apo Kayan (North Kalimantan), and kinsmen remain in contact with each other via peselai expeditions. Garau Dian, who now lives in Long Mekaba and owns a Malaysian IC, was born Eban Dian in the village of Nawang Baru in the Apo Kayan. In 1974, he went on a peselai trip to Sarawak with around 20 men for jobs in logging camps. He and many Kenyah men chose to settle down in Sarawak in the 1970s peselai trips.

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PeLencau Bilong

PeLencau Bilong, of Nawang Baru, a paren iut (minor aristocrat) made 11 peselai trips in his lifetime. He rescued Tom Harrison in a parachute incident when Mr. Harrison first landed in Borneo for Ops Semut in WWII. He said,

We used to go to the Baliu (Balui). It was called Malaysia after Konfrontasi. But we are happy; when we travel to Malaysia, we won’t go hungry as our kinsmen are there. Before we were still at war with the Iban, it was difficult to find food.

Knowledge was gleaned from these journeys between the different lands. These men picked up languages like Malay, Kayan, Iban, Penan and even some Foochow. Yet now with the disappearance of this rite of passage, the lingua franca of the Heart of Borneo has devolved to Malay or Bahasa Indonesia.

Pak Ubang Ding, of Long Nawang, neighbouring settlement of Nawang Baru, went on his first peselai trip to Belaga after being recruited by the Sarawak (British) government to build an airstrip there in 1958. Together with his father and 500 Kenyah men, they crossed the non-existent border. In 1960, he was personally invited by Tom Harrison, then curator of the Sarawak Museum in the Niah Caves excavation project.

Families have been sundered across distances that used to be a mere journey into a neighbour or relative’s land. As Pak Ubang put it so eloquently,

Kenapa dulu kita bisa berkumpul dengan saudara kita di Sarawak walaupun harus berdayung berbulan-bulan. Dan sekarang sudah ada jalan, ada mesin, ada outboard engines tapi nggak bisa, karena ada halangan, susah masuk ke Sarawak secara legal.

(Why is it back then we could meet our kin in Sarawak even though we need to paddle for months, yet now we have tarred roads, machines and outboard engines, we no longer could because borders make it hard to enter Sarawak legally.)

wpid-Screenshot_2013-12-25-17-28-20-1.pngLong Nawang, Apo Kayan Plateau

Excerpts taken from “The Malaysian Roadless Trip” by Adeline Ooi & Dave Lumenta, B-Side Magazine Dec 2014

Photo credits belong to The B-Side Magazine, Adeline Ooi and Dave Lumenta.

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.

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.