Historical Longhouse Tour at Sendawar Cultural Park, East Kalimantan

Dayak long house origin picture
Dayak long house origin picture Ai

Today, traditional Dayak longhouses have become increasingly rare. Their numbers have dwindled significantly. However, even rarer are Dayak longhouses that not only continue to exist but are also still inhabited. 

Most Dayak longhouses have turned into historical artifacts, much like the Longhouse in Kutai Barat, East Kalimantan.

Read Pampang Cultural House, East Kalimantan

The emblem of Kutai Barat Regency depicts a longhouse (known as "louu" or "lamin") sheltered beneath a roof, safeguarded by a shield, and flanked by depictions of paddy and cotton, along with the inscription "tanna purai ngeriman," signifying fertile land and endless prosperity. 

The motto "BERADAT" encapsulates the principles of “Bersih, Asri, Damai, Adil dan Tenteram” (Cleanliness, Natural Beauty, Peace, Justice, and Serenity).

Under the leadership of Bupati Ismail Thomas and Vice Bupati H. Didik Effendi, the government of Kutai Barat Regency has constructed the Taman Budaya Sendawar Longhouse Complex as a tangible form of appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of various ethnic groups. 

Situated in Sendawar's city center, the complex showcases six longhouses (louu or lamin) representing diverse ethnicities, serving as a hub for artistic and cultural activities.

The longhouse, or "rumah panjang," is more than just a traditional architectural structure; it serves as the very heart of Dayak identity. These communal dwellings are not merely places of residence but are living symbols of unity and shared values.

A prominent instance is the Lamin Eheng longhouse, a representation of the Dayak Benuaq ethnic group, located in the village of Pepas Eheng, Barong Tongkok District. With an impressive history dating back to approximately 1963, Lamin Eheng initially consisted of three chambers, which have now expanded to eight. 

Read Dayak Customs And Culture: The Native People Of Borneo

Spanning over 75 meters in length, 12 meters in width, and 2.5 meters in height, the Lamin Eheng stands as a testament to the structural and cultural continuity of the Dayak Benuaq people. This longhouse accommodates around 80 residents and functions as their dwelling.

The Dayak Benuaq community constitutes a majority, approximately 60%, within this region, particularly around the Kedang Pahu River area in the hinterlands of Kutai Barat Regency, East Kalimantan.

Through the preservation efforts and cultural promotion by the local government, the cultural heritage of the Dayak Benuaq and other ethnic groups remains upheld and appreciated by both the local community and tourists.

The longhouse is a traditional dwelling of the indigenous community of the Dayak customary law. The nomenclature varies among different sub-ethnic Dayak groups. In the Dayak Bukit language, it is referred to as "balai" or "balai adat." In the Benuaq language, it is called "louu." In English, the term "longhouse" is used.

Prior to the 1950s, communities predominantly lived in longhouse settlements. These houses comprised interconnected family homes. For the Dayak people, a longhouse is not merely a large and elongated dwelling; it holds a broader anthropological significance as a "benua" (island) or the entire customary territorial region ("louu benua").

Based on classification, the collective or customary possession of these territorial areas ("louu benua") can be held collectively or traditionally. They can also be collectively owned as heritage areas, or individually owned in a personal capacity. 

The spatial arrangement of longhouses mirrors the arrangement of customary territory or ancestral land. A longhouse encompasses the entirety of social interactions between the community, nature, and the divine (spiritual beliefs).

According to the original Dayak religious mythology, the establishment of longhouses, their structural form, and the selection of appropriate locations for construction were guided by mystical instructions from departed ancestors, serving as protection for the living descendants.

The longhouse holds significant and paramount importance in Dayak society. It symbolizes territorial dominion for a particular ethnic group. In the past, the sovereignty of Dayak people was represented by longhouses, forests, and the surrounding natural environment, intertwined with their customs. 

In ancient times, prior to the Peace Treaty of Tumbang Anoi in 1894, sub-ethnic Dayak groups engaged in frequent conflicts, often driven by the competition for territorial dominance and natural resources. Therefore, the primary purpose of constructing longhouses was to shield individuals or communities from enemy attacks (headhunters).

However, with the signing of the Peace Treaty of Tumbang Anoi in 1894, which included an agreement to cease "Hakayau" (headhunting practices), the Dayak people transitioned away from such customs. 

The pursuit of knowledge and education replaced headhunting. The battle against enemies transformed into a fight against underdevelopment and poverty.

Thus, the communal values within the longhouse have evolved over time. Nevertheless, enduring qualities include mutual respect, cultural rhythms, cooperation, and the sense of unity and brotherhood among the Dayak ethnic groups that have remained timeless. 

The longhouse, or "rumah panjang," is more than just a traditional architectural structure; it serves as the very heart of Dayak identity. These communal dwellings are not merely places of residence but are living symbols of unity and shared values. Each longhouse is a microcosm of Dayak society, where several families live together under one roof, sharing not only living space but also responsibilities, joys, and challenges.

The longhouse as the very heart of Dayak identity 
One of the core principles that the Dayak people hold dear is "gotong royong," which can be roughly translated as mutual cooperation or communal support. Within the longhouse, this concept is brought to life daily. Families come together to work on shared tasks, from farming and hunting to building and maintenance. The spirit of "gotong royong" is not limited to material tasks but extends to emotional and social support as well. In times of celebration or crisis, the community gathers to provide assistance, showing a deep sense of togetherness that transcends individualism.

Another vital aspect of Dayak culture nurtured within the longhouse is "tepa selira" (tolerance).

This concept underscores the importance of harmony and consensus. Decisions made within the longhouse are typically reached through discussions and consensus-building, fostering an environment of inclusivity and collective decision-making. "Tepa selira" ensures that every member of the longhouse has a voice and a stake in the communal affairs.

Moreover, the longhouse serves as a stronghold of tradition and cultural preservation. Despite the influence of modernity and the geographical separation of longhouses, the Dayak people continue to uphold their customs and values within their homes. Traditional ceremonies, storytelling, and rituals are passed down through generations, reinforcing the strong connection between the past and the present.

While modern amenities and conveniences have found their way into the lives of the Dayak people, the longhouse remains a symbol of resilience, continuity, and cultural pride. The spirit of the longhouse, with its emphasis on community, cooperation, and respect, is not just a relic of the past but a living testament to the enduring traditions of the Dayak people in the present day. (X-5)

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