Carbon dating: Dayak has been present for 40,000 years

Appearance of Niah Cave. Source: Charles Tyler (1993).

Tourism, with all its businesses and aspects, cannot be separated from its inhabitants. Take Bali, for example, renowned as the best tourist destination in Indonesia and the world. The people of Bali are not only a significant attraction but also a key factor. 

Similarly, with Borneo tourism, it is inseparable from its inhabitants, namely the Dayak people, whose global population is currently no less than 8 million.

Tourism and the local indigenous people

In Bali, the local culture, hospitality, and traditional practices of the Balinese people contribute significantly to the unique charm of the island. Tourists are drawn not only to the natural beauty of Bali but also to the rich cultural experiences offered by the Balinese people.

Likewise, in Borneo, the Dayak people play a crucial role in shaping the identity and appeal of the region. Their traditions, customs, and unique way of life contribute to the overall tourism experience. Visitors to Borneo are not only attracted to its diverse ecosystems and natural wonders but also to the opportunity to engage with the Dayak culture.

The global population of the Dayak people, as mentioned, is substantial, emphasizing their importance in the context of Borneo tourism. As custodians of the land and keepers of traditional knowledge, the Dayak people contribute to the sustainable development and promotion of tourism in the region.

The synergy between tourism and the local population, such as the Balinese in Bali or the Dayak in Borneo, creates a unique and enriching experience for visitors. The cultural richness, hospitality, and authenticity provided by the inhabitants enhance the overall appeal of these tourist destinations.

Tourism, both tourist attractions and destinations, is inseparable from the involvement of the local population. Often, the local customs, culture, arts, and lifestyle of a particular ethnic group in a tourist destination become the primary allure that captivates foreign tourists to visit.

Local customs and culture

Local customs and culture create the uniqueness and authenticity of a destination. Tourists often seek authentic and immersive experiences, and interaction with the daily lives of the local population can provide valuable experiences. Traditions, ceremonial rituals, distinctive attire, and local cuisine are part of the attractions that distinguish one destination from another.

Traditional arts, such as dance, music, and visual arts, can also serve as a powerful magnet for tourists. Art performances and local cultural exhibitions not only provide entertainment but also serve as a means to understand and appreciate the cultural heritage of a region. This not only brings joy but also supports the preservation of valuable cultural traditions.

Dayak has its origin in Kalimantan and nowhere else

Dayak originates from nowhere. Not from Yunan, let alone from another hemisphere. The native Dayak people are the custodians of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, covering an area of 743,330 km².

The claim that three authors state Dayak comes from Yunan is doubtful and challenging to prove. We can pose the following questions: Where are the artifacts? Where is the Chinese/Chinatown village? How did the migrants come to the island, which later, during the influence of Hindu-Indian culture in the 5th century AD, was referred to as "Varuna-dvipa"?

Who were the first Chinese migrants to set foot on the island of Borneo? In what year did migrants from Yunan land in Borneo?

Ask these questions to them. They will surely struggle to answer, let alone provide evidence. If the four obligatory historical points cannot be scientifically proven based on historical evidence, then they are mere myths, legends, or bedtime stories!

Carbon dating: Dayak has been present for 40,000 years

Scientific carbon-14 dating confirms that Dayak has been present on the island of Borneo for 40,000 years.

Research by Blust on prehistory states that before deforestation, Borneo already had inhabitants who were later called "Dayak."

Ther is no doubt that Niah Cave is evidence of the existence of human inhabitants in Borneo 40,000 years ago. Niah Cave is sufficient evidence both scientifically (carbon dating) and historiographically that the original inhabitants of Borneo are not from anywhere else (Masri, 2022).

The illustration shows the appearance of Niah Cave. A historical locus proving that the ancestors of the Dayak ethnic group are the original inhabitants of Borneo. Today, the inhabitants of Niah Cave belong to the Iban ethnic group.

Then there are Edwin Gomes, Evans H.N. Ivor, King, Hogendorp as historical references. They state that Dayak has inhabited Borneo for 40,000 years.

The first mention of "Dajak"

Since when have Dayak been known worldwide as an ethnic group?

The answer to this question varies, depending on the milestone used as a reference. From various historical milestones, it seems that we agree that the formation of the first identity of the indigenous inhabitants of Varuna-dvipa, later referred to by European travelers and writers as "Borneo," occurred in 1757.

The first mention of "Dajak" was coined by Kontroleur Banjarmasin, J.A. Hogendorf, in 1757 to collectively refer to the native people of Borneo. The term is equivalent to the Dutch term "binnenland," meaning: the original inhabitants here since ancient times, as opposed to newcomers.

Later, the native people of Borneo were referred to as "binnenlander," referring to the upriver people, those living inland rather than on the coast, rural people, or the inhabitants of Borneo since ancient times.

That was the taste of Dayak in the early sense. A true ascription. It is a labeling that leads to the categorization of ethnic groups on the third-largest island in the world after Greenland and Papua.

Dayak comes from nowhere. Not from Yunan, let alone from another hemisphere. Dayak is the original custodian of Borneo. The claim that three authors state Dayak comes from Yunan is doubtful: Where is the Chinese/Chinatown village? Who were the first Chinese migrants to set foot on the island of Borneo? In what year did migrants from Yunan land in Borneo?

We can continue with other labels about Dayak. David Jenkins and Guy Sacerdoty in the Far Eastern Economic Review (1978) described the Dayak people as "the legendary wild man of Borneo."

The appearance of the Dayak people today: modern, neat, handsome, progressive; not as portrayed in past publications anymore.

Meanwhile, Jan Ave and Victor King (1985) portrayed the native people of Borneo as "the people of the weaving forest." 

This is a depiction of the past that is quite discomforting, considering if the Dayak people were as they are now, proficient in reading and writing and literate in various aspects.

Labeling: from curse to blessing

Now, Borneo's forests provide life and livelihood, the biggest contribution to the world, including Ave and King's home country.

Then Carl Bock, a Norwegian naturalist and explorer, labeled the Dayak people as "head hunters of Borneo" in 1881. In certain parts of his book, we see that what Bock labeled was actually part of the true labeling. It might even be the first labeling in the history of Dayak until today.

Borneo's forests give life. Bock's book, based on prejudice and a Western perspective, marked the beginning of the stereotyping of Dayak that spread worldwide.

Today, we can label the contemporary Dayak people as inhabitants of the island created by God while smiling, beautiful in their time, pressed onto the land when rivers and coasts became centers of culture and economy in the kingdom era, and in the plantation and mining era, became rich due to labels, precisely what I call "ascription": rural, remote, upriver people, binnenlander, and various past ascriptions that were minor but are now blessings.

If, in the past, the Dayak people did not live on the land, where would they have ancestral land— including customary land—so abundant? At least, a Dayak family in villages has 2 hectares of land!

History can then turn around. What was once a curse is now a blessing. What was once demeaning is now a source of pride. Being upriver, remote, making the native inhabitants of Borneo own extensive land—customary land—before the independence of Indonesia. What was once labeling, with a tone of insult, should not be attempted today.

Long live its people

The global Dayak population, with around 600 subgroups (not just 405 according to previous researchers), is no less than 8 million people.

During the New Order era, the central government's transmigration policy was forcibly implemented. Dayak had no power to refuse at that time, as is the case today where Dayak can protest if they disagree.

As a program, Transmigration was only good for 10% of the population. Just imagine! Facilities were provided for transmigrants. Land was given certificates. Meanwhile, the indigenous population was not treated similarly.

Furthermore, the Transmigration Program further marginalized Dayak. For example, in East Kalimantan, the majority of the population is non-Dayak. This has had tremendous effects on politics, economics, society, and the foundations of life. These are the gradual impacts.

The majority is obligatory

Therefore, in terms of population, Dayak must be the majority in their ancestral land maintained for tens of thousands of years. The Family Planning Program has increasingly dwarfed the Dayak ethnic group. While in Bogor, for example, not far from Jakarta, one couple can have more than three children.

Tracing the history of Borneo over time is truly fascinating. Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, has a rich and complex history reflected in its various names. One interesting early historical reference is the record by Poerbatjaraka, where Tanjungpura is highlighted. However, the history of this island extends far beyond that.

Over time, Kalimantan has become a center of civilization, trade, and exploration.

According to Sumpah Palapa, part of the Carita Parahyangan manuscript containing the promise of Prabu Hayam Wuruk, the king of Majapahit in the 14th century, there is a reference to Kalimantan: "... Tanjungpura as well." This suggests that Tanjungpura played an important role in the geopolitical context at that time.

In the past, Varuna-dvipa has become a magnet for explorers, traders, and colonizers from various parts of the world.

Its natural wealth, such as spices and forest products, made it an attractive destination for European powers in their colonial expansion. Various countries such as the Netherlands, England, and the Brunei Kingdom were involved in competition to control the territory and resources of Kalimantan.

Variations of the name Kalimantan

The dynamics of the island of Kalimantan are also reflected in the variations of names associated with it. Names like Borneo, which are commonly used today, come from historical and geographical terms used by European colonizers and sailors.

Previous names, including Kalimantan and Tanjungpura, carry deeper meanings, referring to the rich cultural and historical heritage of this island.

As time passes, Kalimantan continues to undergo transformation. Population growth, urbanization, and environmental changes have significantly shaped the face of this island.

Modern industries, such as mining and oil palm plantations, have had a significant impact on the environment and local communities. However, awareness of the importance of sustainability and the preservation of cultural heritage is increasing, creating a movement to maintain the integrity of this island amid changing times.

In observing the dynamics of Kalimantan over time, we not only witness the physical and social changes of this island. But also see how its historical heritage continues to live on in its names, culture, and identity.

This island, which invites curiosity and admiration, continues to call us. To understand its long journey filled with meaning and value.

(Masri Sareb Putra)

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