1902 Encyclopedia > Borneo > Inhabitants of Borneo - Dyaks, Malays, Chinese, Buginese, Arabs, Dutch

(Part 6)

Inhabitants of Borneo - Dyaks, Malays, Chinese, Buginese, Arabs, Dutch

The population of Borneo consists of a considerable variety of races, of very different origin, and of different degrees of civilization. The most important numerically are the Dyaks, the Malavs, the Chinese. and the Buginese; and, from their political influence, the Arabs and the Dutch.

The Dyaks, Dayaks, or Dayakkers are generally regarded as the most aboriginal. For themselves they have no general designation; but, broken as they are into numerous tribes, they are distinguished by separate tribal names, many of which seem to be merely the names of the rivers on which their settlements are situated.

Though regarded by the Malays as aliens, and looked down upon as almost beneath humanity, they belong to the same race. Separation, however, must have taken place at a very early date.

Kessel, who has attempted to form a classification of the Dyaks according to their ethnographical affinity, divides them into five principal branches. The first of these, which he calls the north-western, includes the natives of Sadong, Sarawak, Sambas, Landak, Tayan, Melionow, and Sangow. They all speak the same language, and are remarkable for their dependence on the Malay princes.

The second branch, which is called emphatically the Malayan from its greater retention of Malay characteristics, occupies the north coast in Banting, Batang-Lupar, Rejang, and part of the valley of the Kapuas.

To the third or Parian branch belong the Dyaks of the rivers Kuti and Passir, who are said to speak a language like that of Macassar. The fourth consists of the Beyadjoes, who are settled in the valley of the Banjermassin ; and the fifth and lowest comprises the Manketans and Punans, who are still nomadic and ignorant of agriculture.

In stature the Dyak is rather above the Malay, while still considerably shorter than the average European. He is rather slightly built, but is active and capable of enduring great fatigue.

His features are distinctly marked and often well-formed, though the cheek-bones are higher and the nose more retroussé than agrees with the European standard. The forehead is generally high, and the eyes are dark; the hair is black, and the colour of the skin a pure reddish brown, that frequently, in the female, approaches to a Chinese complexion. In general neither beard nor whiskers are present, but this does not hold of all the tribes.

In dress there is considerable variety, great alterations having resulted from foreign influence. The original and still prevailing style is very simple, consisting of a mere chawat or waistcloth, generally of blue cotton, for the men, and a tight-fitting petticoat for the women, who acquire a peculiar mincing gait from its interference with their walking.

The favourite ornaments of both sexes are brass rings for the legs and arms, hoops of rattan decorated in various ways, necklaces of white and black beads, and crescent-shaped ear-rings of a large size. Tattooing is commonly practised by most of the tribes. The men usually go bare-headed, or wear a bright-coloured kerchief.

The custom of betel-chewing being almost universal, the betel-pouch worn at the side is a necessary part of the equipment.

The weapons in use are a klewary or curved sword and a long spear. The bow is unknown, but its place among some tribes is partly supplied by the sumpitan, or blowpipe, in the boring of which they show great skill.

When going to war the Dyak invests himself with a strong padded jacket, which proves no bad defence.

Not only is it a custom with many tribes to preserve the skulls of their slaughtered enemies as trophies of their success in war; but, as the possession of a certain number of human heads is necessary before a man can be admitted to some of the most important of his social privileges, it is usual for the young men to go out on private head-hunting excursions. The custom, however, is dying out before the influence of civilization.

The Dyak is decidedly intelligent; his memory is tenacious, and his powers of observation good. Unacquainted in his natural state with both reading and writing, his aptitude for acquiring these arts is greatly praised by missionaries. In moral character he is far superior to the civilized Malay, being unsuspicious and hospitable, and honest and truthful in a striking degree.

The various tribes differ greatly in religious ceremonies and beliefs, and it is hard to give a satisfactory idea of them. They have no temples, priests, or regular recurrence of worship; but the father of each family performs such rites as the exigencies of each day demand. A supreme god seems generally acknowledged, but subordinate deities are supposed to watch over special departments of the world and human affairs.

Sacrifices both of animals and fruits -- and in some cases even of human beings -- are offered to appease or invoke the gods; divination of various kinds is resorted to for the purpose of deciding the course to be pursued in any emergency; and criminals are subjected to the ordeal by poison or otherwise.

There is a very strong belief in the existence of evil spirits, and all kinds of calamities and diseases are ascribed to their malignity. Thus almost the whole medical system of the Dyaks consists in the application of appropriate charms or the offering of conciliatory sacrifices.

Many of those natives who have had much intercourse with the Malays have adopted a kind of mongrel Mahometanism, with a mixture of Hindu elements. The transmigration of souls seems to be believed in by some tribes; and some have a system of successive heavens rising one above the other very much in the style of the Hindu cosmogony.

In the treatment of their dead the same variety prevails as in other things -- they are sometimes buried, sometimes burned, and sometimes elevated on lofty frame-work.

The Dyaks have no exact calculation of the year, and simply name the months first month, second month, and so on. They calculate the time of day by the height of the sun, and if asked how far distant a place is can only reply by showing how high the sun would be when you reached it if you set out in the morning.

In agriculture, navigation, and manufactures they have made some progress. In a few districts a slight sort of plough is used, but the usual instrument of tillage is a kind of cleaver. Two crops, one of rice and the other of maize or vegetables, are taken, and then the ground is allowed to fallow for eight or ten years. They spin and weave their own cotton, and dye the cloth with indigo of their own growing. Their iron and steel instruments are excellent, the latter far surpassing European wares in strength and fineness of edge.

Their houses are neatly built of bamboos, and raised on piles a considerable height from the ground; but perhaps their most remarkable constructive effort is the erection of suspension bridges and paths over rivers and along the front of precipices, in which they display a boldness and ingenuity that surprise the European traveller.

The Dyaks speak a variety of dialects, most of which are still very slightly known. The tribes on the coast have adopted a great number of pure Malay words into common use, and it is often hard to ascertain their own proper synonyms.

The American missionaries have investigated the dialects of the west coast (Landak, &c.), and their Rhenish brethren have devoted their attention to those of the south, into one of which (that of Pulu Petak) a complete translation of the Bible has been made. Mr Hardeland, the translator, has also published a Dyak-German dictionary. (See Vocabularies in St John's Life in the Forests.)

On the authority of the sultan of Bruni [Brunei], who in 1824 visited Singapore, Crawfurd asserts that of the forty wild tribes that inhabit Bruni [Brunei], eight had completely, and five partially, adopted the Malay speech. The dialect of the Kayans seems to be one of the purest, -- nine-tenths of its words having no cognates in the other languages of the archipelago.

For an account of the Malays the reader must be referred to a separate article, but the Chinese require more particular notice. They seem to have been the first civilized people who had dealings with Borneo: their own annals speak of tribute paid to the empire by Pha-la on the north-east coast of the island as early as the 7th century, and later documents mention a Chinese colonization in the 15th. The traditions of the Malays and Dyaks support these statements, -- the people of Bruni [Brunei] regarding themselves as partly of Chinese descent, and the annals of Sulu recording an extensive Chinese immigration about 1575.

Be this as it may, the flourishing condition of Borneo in the l6th and 17th centuries was largely due to trade with China. The Chinese founded in the 18th century an important colony in Bruni [Brunei]; but their numbers were lessened by the bad treatment of the princes. The Malay chiefs of other districts invited them to come and develop the mineral wealth of the country, and before long they were to be found in considerable numbers in Sambas, Montrado, Pontianak, and elsewhere. They were at first forbidden to engage in commerce or agriculture, and prevented from wearing firearms or possessing gunpowder.

About 1779 the Dutch acquired immediate authority over all strangers, and thus had the means of controlling the new colonists, who soon proved themselves rather trouble-some. Their numbers continually increased, and they pushed inland to new mineral districts, forming friendships and contracting marriages with the Dyaks.

For the better management of their affairs they entered into extensive associations, which gradually assumed more and more of a political character until they were almost regular confederacies. This rendered them at once more disposed and more able to assert their claims to independence; and it cost both the Dutch Government and the Rajah of Sarawak several severe contests to bring them to terms.

They form at the same time one of the most valuable elements in Bornean civilization, and are an industrious, intelligent, and well-educated race. It would be hard to find a man among them who cannot read and write; and their first care in a new settlement is to found a school. The greater part of those on the west coast are emigrants, originally from the northern boundaries of Quang-tung and Quang-si. They are rough, stern, and quarrelsome. A more polished class come from the coast district of Amoy, and look down on their ruder fellow-countrymen, from whom they keep themselves markedly distinct. The former class are called Kehs by the Borneans, and the latter Ollohs.

In regard to the number of the population of Borneo it is difficult to arrive at anything like a satisfactory estimate. The inland districts seem to be very thinly inhabited; and the Dyaks increase in numbers at a very slow rate, in spite of their being both a healthy and moral people. This is attributed by Mr Wallace mainly to infecundity on the part of the women brought on by the excessive labour to which they are subjected from early girlhood.

The population of the Dutch territory was stated in 1871 at 335,677 natives and 131 Europeans in the western division, and at 847,846 natives and 320 Europeans in the south-eastern, making a total of 700,386; but the statements rest on little better than conjecture. If they approximate to the truth, the population of the whole island may be set down at between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. Earlier estimates carried the total as high as 3,000,000.

Read the rest of this article:
Borneo - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries