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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Dayak of Indonesian Borneo

Focus of traditional culture
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In the pre-colonial time, the Ngaju in the catchment area of the Kahayan, were more open to technological and cultural influences from outside than most other Dayak. With the arrival of the Dutch and - in 1835 - the missionary Rheinische Mission (later followed up by the Basler Mission, many converted to christianity. The missionaries founded very good schools, so that the christianized areas nowadays have a lot illiteracy rate. Education stimulated a 'national awakening' among the Ngaju and Ma'anyan Dayak. This development was even more encouraged by the Dutch rule, aimed at the ban of islam from the inlands. Already long before the Second World War, the Dayak founded (nationalistic) political parties.
During the Indonesian battle for independence against the Dutch, the Dayak from KalTeng fought under major Tjilik Riwut, a Ngaju Dayak which practiced the traditional religion. After the proclamation of independence, Jakarta decided that the islamic Banjarmasin and mostly Dayak area west of it, should be one province. The plan got resistance from the Dayak - the Ngaju in front - which demanded a sole province. Under Riwut, which had become big during the revolution, the Dayak began a small guerrilla. The Indonesian army limited escalation of the conflict, probably because Riwut had been a loyal soldier. In 1957, the province of KalTeng was officially formed by Presidential Law. The government was lead by the Ngaju, and Rawit became governor.
The 'battle' was about a sole province, together with a revaluation of the traditional Dayak culture, especially the religious part - a reaction on the worsening missionaries. The traditional religions of the Ngaju, Ot Danum, Ma'anyan and other Dayak was named kaharingan ('power of life').
After the communist party was declared illegal in the 1960's, the subject 'religion' became very sensitive. The state ideology saw religion as believe in one God and the membership ow a 'acknowledged' world religion with a holy book. The Dayak were seen as 'atheists' (a synonymous for communist) and had the choice: converting to a world religion or being pressured by local authorities to do so. With this in your mind, it's fairly clear why the missions (with their schools, hospitals and lighter pression) had much more success after the 1960's. Different than in the 17th and 18th century, christianity offered more possibilities for social progress than islam.
Over time the ban on local religions was abandoned. In 1980, kaharingan was officially recognised as religion, but only as a part of the Hindu Dharma, so in fact it was placed under hinduism. In KalTeng, a small minority does practice this religion.

The carnival in the Jungle

In the religion of the Ngaju, the supernatural world is important, in which also the souls of ancestors have their place. Just like among other Dayak, the Ngaju known ritual re-burial, which usually takes place several months (sometimes several years) after the initial burial. This re-burial is very important for the soul of the deceased, so it can reach the highest point in heaven. With practicing the rytes, they protect themselves against bad supernatural powers.
The first funeral takes place just after someone has died. During this ceremony, masked dancers protect the deceased against the bad spirits. Guided by drums, the kaharingan-priests start singing, which will send the soul to heaven. On it's journey in the traditional ship of souls it is accompanied by spirits. Once in heaven, which consists of several 'layers', the soul has to wait in the lowest layer until the re-burial takes place.

Image Sandung

During this second ritual (tiwah), the remainders of the deceased are excavated, cleaned and put in a special grave. These woodcarved and decorated graves often have the shape of a bird or watersnake and are decorated with images of the hereafter. Too bad sandung from the factory replace the traditional tombes.
The tiwah is a big, complex and long lasting event. The cost vary between US$6,000 and US$12,000. It's common that several families hold a tiwah together, so they can spread the cost of sacrificed animals like a big number of waterbuffalo's and pigs. Once there were more than 200 souls brought to a higher level in one ceremony. But a tiwah also is a happy event. In the open air, foodstalls and shops are put up, and at some distance, there is also some gambling. The tiwah is the carnival of the jungle.

Adaptions

Sandung made of concrete are not the only changes in the kaharingan religion. To make the religion acceptable for the government a council was set up, which had to control the theological and ritual activities of the about 330,000 supporters. None of the about 78 basir upu (top specialists about rites) are part of the council and also the about threehundred kaharingan priests are not in there as well.
The council reflects aspects of the religion which are also known in other big religions. It also organises weekly meetings in specially built kaharingan-communal rooms, complete with speeches, prayers and psalms. Furthermore, the council registrates and coordinates all tiwah (there are two to ten every year), before giving an advice to the police, which can eventually give a permit.

16 comments:

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Darrel said...

Fascinating rituals. Can you write some more? Can you also dumb it down a bit for those of us not as conversant in the subject as you are?
thanks
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Thanks for this post . I learned a lot from it that I had never even heard of before .Interesting .

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Small Footprints said...

That was fascinating ... thank you, so much, for sharing it. I was surprised when I saw the dates ... without them, I could have imagined that this was a historical event from a distant past. But, religious and political conflict aren't only a thing of the past ... they happen every day.

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