Dayak

“DAYAK” was once a derogatory term from the past. In this modern era, we bid farewell to everything that demeans, marginalizes, and attempts to relegate the ethnic inhabitants of Borneo—the native land—to mere spectators of various life activities.

Likewise, we part ways with the Days when Dayak were treated as subjects of study and cultural commodification by anthropologists and foreign writers. Now is the moment for Dayak to claim their narrative, share their distinct perspective, and rewrite their history. The fate of the Dayak people should rest in their own hands.

In a span of just about a dozen years since the Gerakan Reformasi (Reformation Movement) in 1998, the Dayak have undergone a remarkable transformation.

The Dayak people’s wisdom in agriculture and utilization of natural resources is reflected in their harmonious interaction with nature. A balanced approach to harvesting and using natural products still prevails, especially in rural areas.

They now stand as equals with other ethnic groups, having witnessed substantial growth in their economy, society, culture, education, health, and politics. It’s truly astonishing to witness numerous Dayak individuals ascending to prominent positions, with some even becoming influential figures within their nation. The Days of external leadership dependency are fading, as many among them exhibit competence and proficiency in various fields, including governance.

Observing the evolution of the Dayak people over time is undeniably captivating. Their development can be characterized as swift and exponentially extensive. However, despite this rapid progression, the ethnic group—whose population in Kalimantan is estimated at around 8 million—remains deeply connected and retains its distinct identity and sense of belonging to the island of Borneo.

A sense of camaraderie and brotherhood thrives among the Dayak, manifesting in the enduring spirit of “gotong royong” (mutual cooperation) that persists, even as metropolitan cities increasingly drift toward anonymity and individualism. The intention to safeguard and preserve nature, stemming from their innate connection to the universe, endures, despite external attempts to transform Borneo’s jungles into industrial plantations.

The Dayak people’s wisdom in agriculture and utilization of natural resources is reflected in their harmonious interaction with nature. A balanced approach to harvesting and using natural products still prevails, especially in rural areas. Nevertheless, in certain places, signs of pollution and degradation in Borneo’s environment are becoming apparent.

Throughout history, the oral traditions and traditional arts of the Dayak have often been studied and documented by outsiders. However, this has brought about certain limitations, as these depictions tend to be skewed due to differing perspectives, leading to one-sided interpretations.

For instance, the works of Jamie S. Davidson exhibit considerable bias due to a Western perspective on Dayak politics. While the West often associates economic power with political power, this correlation doesn’t hold true in Kalimantan. Davidson’s assertion that a faction of the Dayak community supported or incited the Ethnic Riots in West Kalimantan in 1999 exemplifies this perspective-driven narrative.

Similarly, Carl Bock’s portrayal of the Dayak people as uncivilized, transient beings lacks accuracy. His comparison of their homes to duck coops fails to acknowledge the practical reasons for constructing elevated homes in Kalimantan—protection against wildlife and floods. Bock’s perspective was colored by his Western upbringing and his lack of understanding about the Dayaks’ adeptness in navigating their environment.

Numerous instances of misrepresentation, such as Karl Helbig’s misnaming of locations and misconceptions about the local lifestyle, highlight the challenges of conveying an accurate portrayal of the Dayak people. These instances underscore the inherent biases and preconceptions that outsiders bring to their observations.

The resulting biases in foreign publications have significant implications for shaping public perceptions of the Dayak. These skewed representations perpetuate a view of the Dayaks as primitive beings, akin to animals. The media’s instantaneous impact often accumulates, shaping public consciousness and reinforcing these distorted notions.

To counteract these misconceptions and biases, continuous efforts are required to publish authentic depictions of the Dayak people. These publications serve as a legacy for future generations and serve to inspire, inform, and educate. Through such works, Dayak individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their own culture, while outsiders can gain insights into the true essence of the Dayak community.

In essence, the impact of media underscores the importance of ongoing publications that portray the Dayak in their true light. By doing so, these publications can correct misrepresentations, educate the wider public, and empower the Dayak people to take control of their narrative.

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