Dayak Proverbs: Reflecting Indigenous Land and Sustainable Life

Perhaps, as a foreigner, you might ask, “Why is this customary law so deeply rooted among the Dayak people, wherever they are?”

Well, the answer lies in these simple sayings:

  1. “Life is shaped by customs, and death rests in the earth” – “Hidup dikandung adat, mati dikandung tanah.”
  2. “Stick to customs, and follow the ways of the customary holders” – “Betungkat ke adat basa bepegai ke pengator pekara” – proverbs of the Iban people.
  3. “Let’s get lost in the wilderness, as long as we don’t lose our way in traditional customs” – “Biar sesat di belantara, asalkan jangan sesat di adat basa.”

For the Dayak people, proverbs aren’t just easy-to-say, pleasant-sounding phrases. Instead, they encapsulate the essence of wisdom that’s been passed down through generations over hundreds, even thousands, of years. These proverbs reflect knowledge that hasn’t made its way into scientific articles or books.

When it comes to knowledge, we understand that tacit knowledge makes up a whopping 95% of what humans know and value. The remaining 5% is what’s formally documented. This type of knowledge thrives among ethnic groups still immersed in their traditional cultural customs.

Derived from the Latin “tacit,” which means “to be silent,” tacit knowledge isn’t about being mute. It’s about knowledge acquired outside formal classrooms, through experiences, thoughts, skills, and unwavering dedication.

This knowledge evolves much like science and theory do, forming a structured and methodological competence. Essentially, individuals with tacit knowledge often reach a level where they create their own theories. This tacit knowledge encompasses four main components:

  1. Experience,
  2. Reflection,
  3. Adaptation, and
  4. Commitment.
    In the Dayak proverbs mentioned earlier, we find all these elements beautifully intertwined!
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