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Dayaknese People From Time to Time 1

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Kalimantan as one of the biggest islands in Indonesia restores many resources such as natural and human resources. This essay tries to illustrate the Dayaknese people (Ngaju people) in Central Kalimantan with their unique characteristics and their relevant condition.

Figure 1. Woods and rivers as the center of Dayaknese people in the past

(Pawaka DIY documentation)



  1. Dayak Tribe

If we talk about Kalimantan we never forget to discuss about its people, the Dayaknese people.

Figure 2. Core family

(Tjilik Riwut documentation )


Figure 3 Boat or jukung, main transportation for Dayaknese people in the past

(Tjilik Riwut documentation)

There are some definitions regarding to Dayaknese people’s ancestor; one of the definitions is from Tjilik Riwut which can be found in his book Maneser Panatau Tatu Hiang. He said that the Dayaknese people believe they were descended from 7th heaven with Palangka Bulau (it is a dish for offering flowers or food to spirits) by Ranying Hatalla (God) [1]. Scientifically, the fact shows that 200 years ago BC there was first migration of Malay people to Indonesia then it followed to wave migration from Yunan. In the beginning, they lived in coastal area but due to a new aggression of Young Malay to that area thus Old Malay or Malay Proto had to move to the hinterland area. It happened because Old Malay’s civilization was probably lower than Young Malay’s civilization.

An anthropolog called Kohlbrugge divides Dayaknese people into two types. The first type is long head Dayaknese people or dolichocehaall who live along Kapuas River and they are empty into the western part of Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan. The second type is round head Dayaknese people or brachyoephal which is for instance Dayak Kayan tribe [2]. There are seven tribes in Kalimantan. Each tribe is divided into 18 sub-tribes that come from 405 relative tribes[3]

Civil conflicts among each tribe frequently happened in the past. The conflicts then became the main factor for spreading its people to the whole part of Kalimantan Island. They tried to find safety place to hide from other tribe’s attacks. This condition became the reason why each Dayaknese tribe has different culture and tradition.

Because of many conflicts in the past therefore Dayaknese people built betang house or lamin house. The house is built in the huge size; its length is 30-150 meters, its width is about 10-30 meters, and its pillars are about 3-4 meters above the ground. The floors and walls are from timber and the roofs are from shingled. Ulin timber is chosen for constructing betang house because it has high quality and termite resistant. Betang house is occupied by extended family whereas in one house can be occupied by more than 200 people. This tradition was mainly for safety reason because Dayaknese people have habit to cut enemies head or known as kayau. Women or children’s head were forbidden to be cut. Women who participated in conflicts or tribe war would be taken as jipen or slave if she got caught. Kayau (habunu or mambalah) is Dayaknese people habit to cut their enemies’ head during conflicts. Those who could cut their enemies’ head would be called and regarded as a hero. The more he could cut his enemies’ head the more he would get pride and appreciation from community.

Dayaknese people always choose along side river area to build betang house. Betang house can be called as a tribe house because it is occupied by extended family leaded by Bakas Lewu or tribe chief. Each family has their own chamber. Usually in front of betang house there is a public hall which is used as a living room or meeting room. Though its size is huge there is only one door and stairs in front area. The stairs are called hejan or hejot. At the back there is a small chamber to put some agricultural tools meanwhile in front yard there is sapundu (a high size statue which is used as a pillar to tie sacrificed animals for ceremony). Furthermore, there is sandung (a place to put family’s skeletons that have already had tiwah ritual) in front or back yard. The tradition for staying in betang house in an extended family still occurs up to know but the number is decreased already.


Figure 4. Betang House

(Tjilik Riwut documentation)

Figure 5 Hejan or hejot.

(Tjilik Riwut documentation)


Figure 6 Sapundu

(Tjilik Riwut documentation)

B. Colonial Era

Colonial era brought changes to Kalimantan people such as community system, medication system, and belief. Dayaknese people had had their own village system leaded by tribe chief before the Dutch came. The chiefs had had authority to be judge in community but then the Dutch changed this position to clerk position. The higher level was called Damang or Tamenggung.

The colonial next step was tightening tribe chiefs’ authority. The Dutch colonial made them performed activities such as collecting tax and rowing the boat for its staff that was going to do some trips in hinterland area in order to limit their authorities in community.

Kaharingan religion as the original religion of Dayaknese people faced many pressures and obstacles during the Dutch and Japan colonial era. They regarded Kaharingan as paganism without considering the origin of this religion. They did not understand that all rituals are based on the local wisdom. Luckily, the colonial government still gave permission to community to conduct religious ceremonies.

Dayaknese people recognize three relations that have to be kept, those are:

  1. Human and Ranying Hatalla[4] relation. Penyang Ije Kasimpei, Penyang Ranying Hatalla Langit, meaning faith to one God, Ranying Hatalla Langit.

2. Mankind relation in group and individually. Hatamuei Lingu Nalata. Meaning getting to know each other, experience and information transfer and helping each other. Hatindih Kambang Nyahun Tarung, Mantang Lawang Langit. Meaning human has to race to be kind so that he would be blessed by God, to see and to contemplate God’s greatness.

3. Mankind and human nature relation

The noblest and the most perfect Ranying Hatalla’s creation are human therefore they have to be the good examples for other creation. The miracles are as a tool to show the greatness of Ranying Hatalla so that it has to lead to understanding that Ranying Hatalla is the only one that should be worshipped. Nature is a harmony system and it would be the responsibility of mankind.

Dayaknese people believe that Kaharingan religion has been existed since the first human was created. Dayaknese people always relate birth, baby naming, marriage and mortality into rituals. The rituals have been performed since many years ago, for example Sandung (a place to put family’s skeletons during Tiwah ceremony). Sandung is made from ulin timber whereas it is water and heat resistant.

Figure 7 Sandung

(Tjilik Riwut documentation)

C. Christianity in Kalimantan

According to Fridolin Ukur, Christianity was brought to Kalimantan by missionaries from Rheinische Missionsgesselschaft. They came to Kalimantan in 1835. An English officer, Daniel Beekemann had brought gospel teaching to Kalimantan in 1789 as seen in his expedition journal in 17th century[5]. The journal was about Portuguese Priest who came to hinterland area to preach but was killed by the local people before his mission was succeeded.

According to Tjilik Riwut in his book Maneser Panatau Tatu Hiang, “Dayaknese people determined themselves to keep Kaharingan as their religion because it has been inherited from their ancestors”.[6] In the other hand, the missionaries always tried hard to mingle with the local people in order to spread their teachings. Their effort little by little brought to satisfaction result because the people started to know gospel. After the community learnt and knew gospel, the church in Kalimantan distributed new rule called Aturan Ungkup. It says that those who would like to be Baptist have to follow the Christianity teaching and have to join weekly Sunday mass and agree not to attend any traditional ritual. If they broke the rules, they would not be Baptist. Their faithful to the new rules from church required them to stay away from the old religion. The condition caused the youth generation did not recognize their cultures.

D. Modern Medication System in Kalimantan

For Dayaknese people who live in hinterland area, diseases and its medication are related to nature on Kaharingan teaching. They tend to see the caused of diseases in metaphysically way. They have Balian as their traditional medicine practitioner.They accustomed to use ritual for healing certain diseases conducted by a Balian.

Balian has been known since long ago in the past. Balian is a woman who becomes a mediator and communicator among human and supernatural creation ( Riwut, 2003:259). Balian has an important role in Dayaknese society. They believe that Balian has special talent which has not been owned by ordinary people therefore they can cure some diseases particularly those related to supernatural.

Figure 8 Balian ceremony

(Christian Bela Bangsa documentation)

The missionaries brought changes to medication world in hinterland area in Kalimantan. They tried to introduce modern medication system to the local people. According to Scharer (Ukur, 1971:192), a Balian woman repented after she got medical treatment from missionaries in Tumbang Lahang. She refused any gospel teaching in the beginning. She was the person who warned the surround community to stick on the tradition. One day she found out that her only child was sick and she could not cure him from his sickness. She then asked assistance from the missionaries to take care of her son. Amazingly, her son was cured and it dragged her to believe to the Christianity after then. Along with polyclinic and hospitals building construction and sanitation and hygiene socialization in community developed, the Dayaknese people attitude toward health also improved.

The Dayaknese people keep their traditional medication knowledge for traditional healing together with the modern medication system too. For instance in Dayak Ngaju tribe in Kasongan Baru village, Central Kalimantan, people knows how to blend the ingredients for making traditional medication. Each household in that area mostly know about the ingredients. They called the ingredients as obat kampung. The ingredients for obat kampung are usually from leaves and branches collected surround their neighborhood (Hintan,Mutia,2003:55).

The Dayaknese people believe on obat kampung virtue to their health. They consume it for some diseases case such as diarrhea and skin diseases. Obat kampung is an alternative medication for them and its existence still occurs until now. This fact is supported by the existent of Balian and Basir in each village in Kalimantan (Hintan,2003:56-57). Basir is the same as Balian but the difference is he is a man. The characteristics of basir are he acts and talks resemble to woman. Currently those characteristics are not existed anymore. In spriritual world, Basir has special talent to cure supernatural diseases (Riwut, 2003:259-260).

Figure 9. Nepenthes or katupat napu, it is an original flora from Kalimantan which can be used as a medication

(Suparta Diut documentation)

People mostly have made consideration before they choose the right treatment for medication case. A native man from Dayak Ngaju tribe, Central Kalimantan shared his experience in choosing the right medication treatment for himself or his family. Riggisman[7] shared his experience regarding to his dad’s case in 2002:

“In the beginning my dad often complained on ache below his stomach. He did not pay attention on that ache because he believed it would be okay. He thought that he was too tired working in field. He worked in field without paying attention on the ache. But after 2-3 weeks the aches often occurred so that I took him to doctor. Doctor said that my dad got a prostate and should be immediately operated. Due to lack of medication supplies in Kasongan, I took him to a hospital in Palangaka Raya, Dr. Doris Sylvanus hospital.”

Riggisman, his mother and his sister went to Palangka Raya to take care of him. Before operation was conducted the doctor said that his dad was not in good condition for operation due to his heart was too weak for that. Finally they decided to go back to Kasongan Baru village without doing the operation.

Riggisman then entrusted his dad’s to a well known Balian named Tambi Dawin to cure his dad prostate problem. Actually he did not really trust this way of medication system but he took him to Tambi Dawin still as the final effort to cure his dad.

“I saw Tambi Dawin massaged my dad’s thigh with oil. Suddenly I saw a rock came out from my dad’s thigh. She said that that rock was the caused of my dad’s prostate problem. After that my dad’s condition became better and better and now he can work back in field as usual.”

Another story is from Sinah[8], she is a Dayaknese woman who embraces Kaharingan. She believes on Balian medication system. She said that diseases are usually caused by supernatural disturbances or superstitious thing. She believes diseases caused by supernatural disturbance cannot be cured by modern medication system. She shared her experience as follow:

“I have tried to take my dad to get some medical treatment in doctor, he also hospitalized for almost 2 weeks long. The treatment was useless because his condition became worst. I decided to take him home and took him to Balian. Balian conveyed that there was a spirit who disturbed my dad’s health. She conducted a ritual to expel that spirit away from my dad. The next day, my dad’s condition became better and better.”

Sinah also had an experience which is probably beyond our mind.

”One day, my thigh was swollen so that I could not walk. I even had to crawl at that time. One of my children promised to get additional income to pay my medication expense by collecting rattan. At night when I was sleeping I dreamt about a guy came after me and said that I have to plant jackfruit and light fire on under the house and conduct traditional ceremony. Planting jackfruit and lighting the fire on under the house was easy things for me but conducting traditional ceremony would cost extra money. The next day I told my dream to my husband and he helped me doing those things. My swollen was gone in the next day. Due to I was afraid that my thigh would be swollen again I then worked very hard and tried to save money in order to conduct traditional ceremony required by the guy from my dream. Finally I got 4,000,000 IDR and I conducted the ceremony. I sacrificed pig and seven chickens for that”.

The above stories tell about the modern medication and also traditional medication in hinterland area in Kalimantan. It obviously shows the condition in which the people still believe Balian to help them in medical sector (Hintan,Mutia,2003: 77-80).

[1] Maneser, Panatau Tatu Hiang, Page59

[2] Maneser Panatu Tatu Hiang,Page 60

[3] Maneser Panatau Tatu Hiang , Page 64

[4] God.

[5] Tantang Jawab Suku Dayak , Page 87

[6] Maneser Panatau Tatu Hiang, Page 536-540

[7] Riggisman got his bachelor degree from economic faculty in Palangka Raya University, Central Kalimantan. Riggisman lives with his brother in law, his sister and two nieces. They live in a spacious house and also have spacious garden. His family is a wealthy family in Kasongan Baru village. Riggisman and his family embrace Christianity.


[8] Sinah is a woman who studied in Primary School only; she works as rattan collector and sells it to get her income. She has no fix incomes; it depends on her rattan collection she got. Her daily income is between 40,000-60,000 IDR. She lives in a small house with her husbands and children.


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Last Updated on Sunday, 07 February 2010 22:30  



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