The Dayak Version of Ngayau You Need to Know

The cover of the historical novel Ngayau: Misteri Manusia Kepala Merah, Cheu Fung Teu (The Mystery of the Red-Headed Humans, Cheu Fung Teu)

Ngayau (heahunter) is known as the culture of hunting human heads. However, from the perspective of the Dayak people, ngayau actually holds a profound value.

Book Data:
Title: Ngayau: Misteri Manusia Kepala Merah, Cheu Fung Teu
Authors: R. Masri Sareb Putra and M.S. Gumelar
Year of Publication: 2014
Publisher: Essence
Pages: vii + 377
ISBN: 978-1-312-05206-2
Reviewer: Handoko Widagdo

Exploring the culture, legends, and historical life of a community through fiction is quite a task, especially when it's connected to the worldview of that community. But Masri Sareb Putra and Gumelar truly nailed it with their book titled "Ngayau."

The Practice of Ngayau as depicted in the historical novel

They skillfully weave together the culture of ngayau and all the legends associated with it, along with the origin myths of the Dayak people and the contemporary historical life, into a captivating story. They even connect it to modern thinking and aspirations for the future, including the existence of life beyond Earth. A tale of a galactic spaceship landing is used as a prologue, with human cloning as an epilogue. Beyond just portraying the cultural stories and legends, this novel delves deeply into the interethnic relations in the West Kalimantan region, particularly between the Dayak and Chinese communities. The relationship between the Dayak and Chinese ethnicities has been long-standing, yet sometimes disrupted by external interference.

What might have been a harmonious relationship can suddenly turn into bloody conflicts and loss of lives, as seen in events like the 1967 massacre of Chinese people by Dayak tribes due to external provocation, as well as the ethnic riots known as the "Sambas Tragedy."

A significant portion of this book's narrative focuses on the 1967 Tragedy in West Kalimantan

The title of the novel, "Ngayau," is chosen because the culture of ngayau is the central theme throughout the story. Ngayau is the Dayak culture in Borneo known for headhunting. In this novel, ngayau, often perceived by outsiders as a savage culture, is explained as an effort to defend the territorial existence and ancestral lands from external threats.

Hence, towards the end of the novel, it's depicted that Panglima Burung (Bird Commander) enters the body of a wise young woman who becomes both the state leader and a science expert. This young woman, named Professor Eunomia Mae Kola Jora, is a university rector, elected as the state leader, and successfully creates superior human clones. The novel's story begins with the landing of a spacecraft from the Planet Dyak on Earth. Sabang Mangulur and Sabung Menjulur descend to Earth, and their children become the first inhabitants of Borneo.

This community from the Planet Dyak evolves into human beings over seven thousand years of inhabiting Kalimantan. Eventually, they encounter a group of people with slit eyes, yellow skin, and straight black hair coming from the north. These two communities intermarry, leading to genetic amalgamation. During that era, ngayau was practiced in the form of hunting animals to sustain life. The subsequent tales depict ngayau as a prerequisite for building villages. There's a belief that a betang, or longhouse, won't stand if its pillars aren't supported by the heads of enemies. Thus, ngayau was practiced inter-village to defend or expand the living areas of a community. It also served as a symbol of masculinity. Ngayau targeting other ethnic groups is recounted through the tragedy of the 1967 massacre of Chinese people. Dayak people, angered by external provocation, launched brutal attacks on the Chinese community. The terrified Chinese people (Hakkas) witnessed the "red-headed humans" (Dayaks) rampaging and attacking anyone.

The frightened Chinese people referred to them as "Cheu fung theu," which means fleeing in terror. Despite causing many casualties, this misunderstanding could be mitigated. This grim story is intertwined with the love story between Lansau, a Dayak youth, and Siat Mei, a Chinese girl. The bloody events of 1967 are a central part of the novel's narrative. Masri Sareb Putra and Gumelar weave it into a brutal yet deeply perseverant story of maintaining brotherhood between the Dayak and Chinese people.

These authors assume that fundamentally, Dayak and Chinese people are genetically similar. The difference lies only in the fact that the Dayak people arrived in Kalimantan first, followed by the Chinese. In the following chapters, Masri Sareb Putra and Gumelar discuss the meaning of ngayau in modern times. Ngayau, once synonymous with headhunting, ended with the mutual agreement of Dayak tribes in Borneo during the Tumbang Anoi meeting from May 22 to July 24, 1894.

In modern times, ngayau is interpreted as a strenuous effort to overcome food shortages and trophy collection in sports competitions. In this novel, ngayau signifies the character of Kalimantan people striving for excellence. *

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