Tawai: A Voice from the Forest


If you are curious about the Penan, a 2017 documentary by Bruce Parry is a simple show illustrating their way of life and belief system. The Penans, being semi-nomadic, has always been victims of discrimination by the government and the people who live around them. While this documentary doesn’t delve much into their history or origins, it’s an introduction for those who want an insight into their language, the people and their way of life. Documentarian Bruce weaves his narrative with the Piraha people of the Amazon and the yogis of India to answer the question, what do we need to do to be in balance with the world?

It gets a bit New Age-y at some points, and spouts some questionable romantic ideal of the wandering tribe. It’s less about the Penan and more about the general ideals we hold today and whether humanity is going down the right path. But overall I’d say watch it for the visuals and the way the Penans carry themselves today.


An earnest request


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.





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.


The Author

The Kenyah Peselai, and the aftermath of Konfrontasi


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.


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.


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.