The Origin of Dayak Tribe of Borneo/Kalimantan

The term of Dayak is generally used to refer the non-muslim indigenous people, and non-Malay inhabit the island of Kalimantan. This is especially in Malaysia, as in Indonesia there are muslim Dayak that include them in Dayak tribe even though so they are called as Banjar and Kutai Tribe.

According to Lindblad, Dayak derives from Kenyah language, “daya” . which means upstream or hinterland. King also assumed that Dayak probably derives from aja, Malay language means native people.

The native people is called as Daya in Sambas and Pontianak, which means daya people or the land people. While in Banjarmasin, they are called as Biaju (bi means from, aju means upstream). Initially Daya (land people) referred to the native of West Kalimantan, from sub-tribe Bidayuh that lately called as Dayak Darat (Dayak Land) to differs them from Dayak Laut (Iban subtribe). In Banjarmasin Dayak term used in the treaty between Sultan of Banjar with East Indies in 1826, to replace the term of Biaju Luhur (Kahayan River region) and Biaju Kecil (Kapuas Manurung river region) and each regions replaced respectively with Dayak Luhur and Dayak Kecil. Since then Dayak refers to Ngaju-Ot Danum or Barito subtribe. And recently Dayak refers to native tribe collectively especially non Muslim or non Malay. According to Departemen Pendidikan dan Norma budaya istiadat Anggota Proyek Pengkajian dan Pembinaan Nilai-Nilai Adat Kalimantan Timur, the first person to use Dayak term is a Dutch scientist, August Kaderland, in the 1895.

Some have opinion that Dayak means hiterland, Dayak means Human, so Dayak means people who inhibit the hinterland, the upriver. Iban people used Dayak to refer to human, while Tunjung and Benuaq use it to refer to upriver. They also claim that Dayak also means strong, brave, galant and hardworker. In literatre there are four terms : Daya’, Dyak, Daya and Dayak. The native themselves did not recognize this ter and yet outsiders called them “Dayak”.

Generally the inhabitants of Indonesia speaks Austronesia language. According to linguist : Peter Bellwoof and Blust, Austronesian language origin is from Taiwan. Around 4000 years ago, Austronesian migrated to the Philippines. And about 500 years ago they started to migrate southward to Indonesia archipelago, and eastward to Pacific.

Austronesian are not the first inhabitants of Borneo. Between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago, the sea surface was 120 cm to 150 cm lower and Indonesia islands was a land (some geologist called this land as Sunda). Human migrated southward from Asia to Australia, that in the past Australia was not so far away from Asia.

From mountains region stream rivers in Kalimantan. And then they spread to downstream and reach the coastland of Kalimantan. At the southern part of Kalimantan, Dayak tribe built a kingdom, which is called as Nansarunai Usak Jawa, Kingdom of Nansarunai of Dayak Maanyan that was destroyed by Majapahit Kingdom in the 1309 to 1389. And this caused Dayak Maanyan spread over. About 1520, Islam influenced arrived from Demak Kingdom and also the arrivals of Malay traders.

Dayak people in the south and east of Kalimantan that converted Islam exit the Dayak community and did not call themselves as Dayak, yet call them selves as Orang Banjar and Suku Kutai. Dayak tribe who rejected Islam, returned to hinterland through rivers and lived Katu Tangi, Margasari, Amuntai, Watang Amandit, Watang balangan and Labuan Amas. Some returned back to the jungle. Dayak Muslim usually stay in South Kalimantan and Kotawaringin. While a Banjar Hindu, Lambung Mngkurat, according to Dayak is a Dayak (Maanyan or Ot Danum). In East Kalimantan, Tonuoy-Benuaq who converted Islam called themselves Suku Kutai. Tribes from other areas also came to Kalimantan. Chinese recorded came to Kalimantan in the period of Ming Dynasty and that the first city visited was Banjarmasin and that one of a prince of Biaju was coronated as king to replace Sultan Hidayatullah I. And this new king was Sultan Mustain Billah. They visited only and did not stay , just like European traders that visited South Kalimantan has already happened in Banjar Hindu Kingdom in the 14th Century. The Chinese traders started to stay in Banjarmasin nearby coast since 1736.

The arrival of Chinese at the South Kalimantan did not affect Dayak Tribe to move, and did not have direct impact as they just trade, especially with Banjar Kingdom. They did not trade directly to Dayak people. Dayak people kept plates, and other Chinese ceramics.

Dayak Tribe is separated into about 450 sub tribe. And the subtribes have similar culture, tradition, language and custom.

Now Dayak tribes are divided into 6 families: Apokayan (Kenyah-Kayan-Bahau), Ot Danum-Ngaju, Iban, Murut, Klemantan and Punan. Punan is the oldest Dayak tribe while other Dayak are assimilation result of Dayak Punan and Proto Melayu (the ancestor of Dayak from Yunnan). And those 6 families are divided into 450 sub ethnics. Although there are 450 sub ethnics, Dayak tribe has similarity as their characteristics. They live in long house, they make earthenwares, mandau, sumpit, beliong, the way they see the world, livelihood, and dance. Ot Danum-Ngaju village generally called as Lewu/Lebu and other Dayak called as Banua.Benua/Benuo/Binua. In Kalimantan, districts of Dayak is led by Kepala Norma Budaya leading one of two different Dayak ethnics.

Various sources