The Pacifists of Sarawak

The Bidayuh constitute about 8% of the Sarawak population, numbering about 200,000 people.

What are the Bidayuh?

“The humanists of the Dayak world, Bidayuh are tolerant of human idiosyncrasies and occasional excesses, most of which they realistically assess as absurd but harmless, seeking the peacemaking and healing course through the despairs and abrasions of this world…. Social aggressiveness is not looked upon with favour. A sense of humor, however, is a social asset; self-important folk are not taken seriously.”

~ The Honey Tree Song, Carol Rubenstein

Well, in away that sums up what the Bidayuh are. Mild, pacifist, relaxed people. My blood is mixed with the Kenyah so that explains my occasional swings from passive to aggresive.

The Bidayuh ancestors first came from Kalimantan Barat. Sungkung, Bugau and Sungai Selakau (origins of the Salako-Lara) between Sambas and Singkawang, are among the places where the majority resided. Gradually they migrated inland towards the hills and mountains, trying to escape the barbarities of the Skrang Iban and Malay pirates, and the oppressive Brunei nobility.

However, most of them migrated into Sarawak before the boundary between West Kalimantan and Sarawak were created. So in a sense they aren’t migrants from another land. But there are definitively more Bidayuh in West Kalimantan. The difference being that, the groups that are ethnologically related to the Bidayuh of Sarawak aren’t called Bidayuh in West Kalimantan, rather they group themselves based on localities, like Dayak Sungkung and Dayak Sekeyam, not having an umbrella term for all.

Before we go any further, like the Chinese (Hakka, Hokkien etc.), the Bidayuh are also divided into sub-groups (by geography). And under each main groups are more specific groups, whereby eventhough they speak the same language in a main group, there is always a slight difference in slang and tune.

There are 6 main groups.

1. Bisadong (Batang Sadong and it’s tributaries and Gunung Sadong, Serian)

2. Bibukar (Batang Samarahan and Batang Bukar and it’s tributaries, Serian)

3. Biatah (Siburan, Padawan, Kuching)

4. Bijagoi (Gunung Bratak, Gunung Jagoi, Bau)

5. Bisingai (Gunung Singai, Bau)

6. Selako-Lara (Lundu, Bau)

After exploring new lands and settling down, they moved away from each other and gradually became isolated. Thus the language and culture evolved exclusively off each other, creating marked differences even though certain groups aren’t that far apart.

Today the lines between one subgroup with another are gradually blurring with the intermarriage that is common among the younger generation, as well as the loss of native tongues in favor of more international languages like English, Malay and Chinese.


3 thoughts on “The Pacifists of Sarawak

    1. I don’t think it can be stopped. Unless the language of a culture is the language of knowledge like English or Chinese. Sadly it will happen no matter what we do. I guess it’s about accepting that identity is dynamic among all groups. We can preserve to learn from it.

      Liked by 1 person

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