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Home Dayaknese people from time to time Dayaknese Senior Traditional Life The Traditional Life of Dayak Senior Citizen in Central Kalimantan - Page 2

The Traditional Life of Dayak Senior Citizen in Central Kalimantan - Page 2

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The Traditional Life of Dayak Senior Citizen in Central Kalimantan
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Tjilik Riwut's Mother




Tjilik Riwut's Mother

In the concept of our belief, human and other creatures were decided and given task, each in its own position to fulfill its function in keeping the order of the nature so that everything work as they should be in the suitable and balanced condition.[5]. The suitable and balanced cosmic order in the Dayaks is called “Hadat“. Human is considered a good one or perfect if one is able to follow all the Hukum Adat[6] and to obey  Hukum Pali[7]. Thus, ”custom” for the Dayaks is not only a mere regulation or habit that regulates the relation among human, but it has wider meaning. The customary law covers all the events, the creatures and all the nature.

The Dayaks believe that the spiritual ability owned by someone cannot be learned in usual practice. The ability is inherited to one’s descendant in the end of one’s life or in process after the death. Besides that the ”curse” of elder person is frightening to those younger since it is believed that “sapa uluh bakas tada“.[8] It doesn’t mean that the elder can do as they please and give pressure to younger people. However, all attitude and action has consequences. The cursed one will suffer because of the curse, but the cursing person has a very heavy moral burden that sometimes it can be fatal for them. Such situation and belief where there is a balance among the behavior, action and risk, make the Dayaks really obedient and highly appreciate the ancestors; the elder persons have the most respected place and very distinguished in its family and its surroundings.

More ages for a Dayak, the stronger and silent one’s life is. The confidence is even strengthened. Ngalilu[9] “ and Gagiren[10] “  experienced by many elder persons give no effect for them and their surroundings. A younger person who does not appreciate the elder is a person that’s considered “dia bahadat“.[11] A ”dia bahadat’ or a person without respect to the custom will receive no respect from the community. In the other hand, a positive impact is experienced truly by the elder persons because they feel accepted and understood by its community. Generally the condition of those elder persons is healthy and constantly energetic.

The Tiwah ceremony is the funeral ceremony, the peak of respect of children to parents or ancestors. In the Kaharingan belief (the native religion of the Dayaks), a person who passed away will not arrive in the  “Lewu Tatau Dia Rumpang Tulang, Rundung Raja Dia kamalesu Uhate, Lewu Tatau Habaras Bulau, Habusung Hintan, Hakarangan Lamiang atawa Lewu Liau “[12] without being escorted by the whole family through the means of Tiwah ceremony. During which, all the concentration and all ability of children and other descendants are used maximally to prepare and execute the ceremony in order  to achieve the perfection of the aforementioned important ceremony. If a person passed away while the financial situation and condition makes the family cannot afford the ceremony, it can be adjourned since this ceremony takes place for seven days and seven nights. The Tiwah ceremony is the summit of respect from the children to their parent.


Old age is not an obstacle to do daily activity, they can still be energetic and joyful. In the social life within the community, they can still be active, be present in every community events such as berbaur manasai[13], mihup baram [14], mangarungut[15], and many others. Their presence in every event is totally accepted by their social community since the old age is not a burden, on the contrary old age is the best moment in everyone’s life

The way of the Dayaks in expressing their respect to the elder persons is not with complicated behavior or regulation, but mostly in the mental behavior. It is not an impossible thing that the senior citizen who experiences ngalilu[16] and gagiren[17] will become a matter of light jokes of children and grand children. However, it does not decrease a single bit of their respect and dedication. The joke and tease do not mean for ridiculing but mostly for showing the closeness situation and good interaction.

The senior citizen is free to do their daily routine. Younger people believe totally that the elders are able to handle their problems by themselves, that they are able to protect themselves that they are free to go inside out in the jungle, catch fish, do the farming and so many other activities without company. Younger persons have no much demands, do not also burden the parents with obligation to take care and handle the grandchildren. The only thing that they expect is the long life for their elder since younger persons feel strong being accompanied and guided. Senior citizen is panekang Hambaruan [18], guidance, a place to ask, a place for asking a blessing, the center of pride and the unifier of family.


With the changes of the time, living-eating-needs patterns, there are swifts here and there. Many senior citizens leave their village to accompany their moving children to another place. It happens since the children go to school, finish their formal education, live a new style of life in a strange way for the parent. The children move to town, have permanent work, both husband and wife work.

In general parents prefer to stay in the village in comparison to following their children to city, but in the other hand the children want and expect the parent to join them to the new place. Whichever the decision agreed to, one thing never changes, that the value of parent from the point of view of the children, the value of tambi[19] and bue[20] in the eyes of grandchildren never change, it is as panekang hambaruan. Those younger persons, although they are highly educated, they still respect and obey their parents. In the new place those senior citizen try to adapt, but they still love their old life in the village. They pass the days memorizing the beautiful moments in the village. In brief, it’s hard for them to adapt since their heart refuses to separate from their world, with the nature who gives them the secure, peace and welfare, where they are able to unify and befriend with the nature. The condition affects their emotional and physical stability. They are no longer energetic and start to fall sick and it’s faster to be senile.

Generally if an elder person leaves the village, they live in the home of one of their children. Usually they choose by themselves and the chosen one is their beloved child. The chosen child feels happy and thankful, they sincerely accept the presence of both of their parents. The existence of the parents makes the house often visited by the family and relatives. The visit is mostly for the courtesy visit to the elder without forgetting the gift as their token of love and respects to the elders. The gift can be money, clothes, food or small items that the parents love. The presence of the elder person in a family is like a matanandau[21] that shines the earth, warm, joyful, full of jokes and laugh. Grandchildren come one after the other searching for their grandma/tambi and grandpa/bue to hear the interesting stories told by tambi and bue. This is the moment when the process of tetek tatum[22] takes place.

Usually in healthy condition, an aged person, although staying at one of their children’s house, will stay independent, they do not like being served. Doing their own laundry, gardening, cooking as their desire and during the family dining, the meal made by elder persons is the favorite of whole family. If the parent, either father, mother, grandfather or grandmother falls sick, without command, all children and grandchildren will be involved actively in taking care and in turn accompanying and giving attention in other form [23]. In brief, an aged person is truly a center of love and attention of all children and descendants.

The role and meaning of those aged persons are hugely significant that the younger persons dare to sacrifice his life for guarding the good name of the parents. It might be one of the knightly souls “Dayak Sahawung “[24] that’s been part of the Dayaks, male or female [25], they will always guard and protect their parent, community, the old aged citizen.


”Lain ladang lain belalang, lain lubuk lain ikannya” (proverb: different farm has different grasshopper, different pond has different fish), that every region has its own custom that has been used for years and had become the way of living of each tribe in the nation. It is not possible to make them all uniform without trying to know and to understand the background of each local custom and culture.

The role of senior citizen is so important in Dayak life since they are the decision maker and the motivator of the younger generation. Thus, all the working program or plan in the Dayak area should never leave out those senior citizens. Without their blessing and support, it’s difficult to get the support for local community.

It’s important to emphasize here that the Dayak is very strong in holding its customs, culture and life principles that they believe, however it doesn’t means that they are a closed tribe. Recognize and understand their culture, you will know that they are very friendly and open.


Nila Riwut,

Yogyakarta, Indonesia.


[1] The Dayak tribe in Central Kalimantan is used to call themselves as “ Anak Esun Tambun Bungai “  that means the descendants of the Almighty.

[2] Hatalla means God Almighty.

[3] Ancestor

[4] Means the one who has knowledge. For example, not few of the elder people who know exactly the time of death that one has prepared oneself and bided farewell to one’s closest friends. In the past,  numbers of elder persons had the capability for lighten the body so that it’s possible to hang in easily on the branches of the tree like a bird.

[5] Fridolin Ukur, in the book ”Tantang Jawab Suku Dayak”, BPK Gunung Mulia

[6] Hukum Adat/customary law means unwritten rules known well by the Dayaks. In its execution, it concerns not only the relation amongst human, but also the matter related to the belief. Since prison is not known on the system, the punishment is a sanction called the “ Singer “.

[7] Hukum Pali/Pali law means prohibition on things that cannot be done. This is unwritten prohibition, but already well accepted by the Dayaks. e.g. in front of a Dayak house, there is a Sawang leaf, a sort of reddish green leaf hung in front of the house, it means that the house cannot be visited for any reason. Trespassing means that a sanction should be applied for all who disobey.

[8] Older people’s curse can become reality

[9] Senile

[10] Imitative behavior (e.g. imitation of speech), spontaneously imitate what’s been seen or heard

[11] Disobey the customary law.

[12] Means heaven. To reach the heaven, every soul should be escorted through the means of Tiwah ceremony.

[13] Social gathering Dance

[14] Drinking tuak/ local alcoholic drink

[15] Sing the verses

[16] Senile

[17] Imitative behavior (e.g. imitation of speech), spontaneously imitate what’s been seen or heard

[18] Spirit giver

[19] Grandmother

[20] Grandfather

[21] Sun

[22] Knowledge related to the customs, culture, belief, given orally

[23] Can be a prayer or chip in of money for medical assistance.

[24] One of the living motto owned by the ancestor of the Dayak is “ Dayak Sahawung “ means “ Be Brave, Never Surrender “

[25] Gender equality was known by the Dayak since the old days.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 March 2010 11:36  



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