The People of Krayan Have a River-based Culture

The people of Dayak Krayan in North Kalimantan and their river culture.

Until now, it has been commonly assumed that the Dayak ethnic group is synonymous with inland culture, unfamiliar with coastal cultures such as building houses on water, fishing, and sailing.

 However, such assumptions are shattered in Krayan, Nunukan Regency, North Kalimantan. The Dayak ethnic group, specifically the Lundayeh (Lengilo') sub-tribe, is found to be acquainted with river culture. They are skilled in boat-making, fishing, and constructing houses near or on the water.

A river-based culture

The Dayak, as the indigenous people of Borneo (Kalimantan), generally do not have a river-based culture. Their civilization is centered on something other than the coast or riverbanks. This is the general condition. However, it turns out that there is one clan/community in Krayan, the Highlands of Borneo, that does have a river-based culture—the Lundayeh people.

Upon exploring the pages of history, it becomes clear that the term "Dayak" is synonymous with people or a community residing in the upstream areas of rivers, on the mainland, not people dwelling along a river.

The term "Dayak" was introduced by the colonial powers (the Dutch) and Westerners who were more culturally literate around the year 1757. This is noted in a monograph about Banjarmasin by J.A. Hogendorf, where the indigenous population was referred to as "binnenland" in contrast to the newcomers.

Dayak as Binnenlander

The native people of Borneo were then referred to as "binnenlander," referring to those living upstream, people residing on the mainland rather than the coast, or rural people. This is the early sense of the Dayak, an attribution, a labeling that categorizes the population based on their settlements and dwelling places.

Before 1992, there were various spellings for the native people of Borneo. It appeared in different variations: Dyak, Daya, Daya', Dayak, Dayaker, and so on. In 1992, during an international seminar in Pontianak, it was agreed to write "Dayak." The primary source that directly mentioned "Dayak" was from the work of Jan B. Ave and V.T. King titled Borneo: Oerwoud in ondergang culturen op drift (1986, page 10), which states: "Naar ons weten was het woord ‘Dayak’ reeds in 1757 aan Nederlanders bekend, getuige het voorkomen van die term in de beschrijving van Banjarmasin door J.A. Hogendorf. Het woord betekent ‘binnenland" ("To our knowledge, the word 'Dayak' was already known to the Dutch in 1757, as evidenced by its appearance in the description of Banjarmasin by J.A. Hogendorf. The word means 'inland'").

Therefore, the terminology "Dajak" was introduced to the colonial powers (Dutch) in 1757, as noted in the monograph about Banjarmasin by J.A. Hogendorf, where "binnenland" refers to the indigenous population, in contrast to newcomers.

From historical records, we learn that the Dayak generally do not have a river-based culture. Ethnic groups in the archipelago known for river cultures include Bugis, Bajo, Biak, Bawean, and Madura.

 The people of Krayan have a river-based culture

However, one Dayak ethnic group, the people of Krayan, has a river-based culture. This community is "unaffected by foreign cultures" due to its geographical and environmental conditions.

Even until now, the inhabitants of the Krayan river can be considered homogeneous. They not only practice agriculture but also engage in rice farming and have river-based traditions and culture.

Therefore, it is incorrect to generalize that Dayak people are rural or dwell inland.

(Rangkaya Bada)

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