Openness and Modernization: Threats to Dayak Custom and Culture in Kalimantan

In the past, Dayak houses were characterized by their communal nature, fostering a sense of belonging and interconnectedness among community members. Doc. Rmsp.

As Kalimantan undergoes rapid modernization and increased openness to external influences, the traditional customs and cultures of the Dayak people face significant threats.

One of the primary challenges is the erosion of traditional values and practices in the face of modern lifestyles and globalization. As Western ideals and consumer culture permeate the region, there's a risk of diluting the unique identity and heritage of the Dayak communities.

Additionally, economic development projects, such as infrastructure and resource extraction, often encroach upon traditional Dayak lands and disrupt their way of life. This not only affects their livelihoods but also undermines their spiritual connection to the land and natural resources.

The rapid urbanization of Dayak areas

Furthermore, the influx of outsiders, including migrants and investors, can lead to social tensions and conflicts over land rights and cultural differences. The rapid urbanization of Dayak areas may also result in the loss of traditional knowledge and practices as younger generations are drawn to urban lifestyles.

In response to these challenges, there's a growing movement among Dayak communities to preserve and revitalize their customs and cultures. Initiatives include cultural education programs, community-based conservation efforts, and advocacy for indigenous rights.

However, sustaining Dayak traditions requires not only internal efforts but also support from government agencies and broader society. 

Policies that respect indigenous land rights, promote cultural diversity, and empower Dayak communities to participate in decision-making processes are essential for preserving their heritage in the face of modernization pressures.

Appearance of the interior of Dayak houses in the past. Doc. Rmsp.

Exterior of Dayak houses in the past: adorned with skulls, household tools, and fishing equipment. Doc. Rmsp.

Before the arrival of Hindu-Indian influences, there was an era in the Muara Kaman region where Kudungga, a renowned local ruler, held sway. According to the Yupa inscription, this local governance occurred around the end of the 4th century CE.

Later, Kudungga's son, Mulawarman, became influenced by Hindu-Indian culture. 

A communal way of life

During this period, there was a complete overhaul of local names, including those of kings and their descendants.

At that time, Borneo was known as Varuna-dvipa, as recorded in historical accounts and Hindu-Indian texts.

In ancient times, the local inhabitants (known to have existed since around 40,000 years ago) lived in caves, such as those in Niah, Miri. Their characteristic was a communal way of life.

Read Management of Traditional Forests by the Dayak Community in Krayan, North Kalimantan

This sense of communal living was later inherited, through customs and traditions, in the construction of longhouses.

Various names were used to refer to settlements or Dayak dwellings, especially in the past. These were often referred to as "customary houses," with deep meanings and philosophies across various dimensions.

It's important to note before delving into their meanings and philosophies, that there were various names for the same objects among different Dayak ethnic groups in different places.

There are many terms to refer to the same entity, for example: huma betang (Central Kalimantan), lamin (East Kalimantan), rumah panjai (Iban), and rumah radakng (Kanayatn).

In the past, there were no Dayak houses directly built on the ground, as seen in Java and Bali. It's suspected that this architectural choice was influenced by safer conditions at the time.

In Dayak villages and settlements, due to the threat of venomous animals (snakes, scorpions), floods, and sudden attacks from enemies, houses were built elevated from the ground.

The philosophy of huma betang 

The philosophy of huma betang centers around the idea of communal living, harmony, and interconnectedness within the Dayak community. 

At its core, huma betang embodies the belief that individuals are interconnected and reliant on one another for survival and well-being. This communal ethos is reflected in the architecture of the longhouse, which features a long communal corridor (los) that serves as a gathering space for social interaction and shared activities.

The design of huma betang also emphasizes the importance of privacy and autonomy within the context of communal living. Each family unit has its own private space (bilek) within the longhouse, where they can engage in intimate activities and maintain personal belongings away from the communal areas.

The construction of huma betang reflects the Dayak's deep connection to the natural environment. The elevated structure of the longhouse protects against floods and predatory animals, while also allowing for easy access to resources such as fish for sustenance.

Huma betang embodies the values of unity, cooperation, and respect for both community and individual needs. It serves as a symbol of Dayak identity and cultural heritage, highlighting the importance of preserving traditional customs and way of life amidst modernization and external influences.

Huma Betang consisted of important sections. Within huma betang, there were actually several more houses. Some call them chambers, compartments, doors, or entrances. In huma betang, each household was separated by walls marking each other's neighbors.

An important point to note is the long corridor from end to end in huma betang, the los, which serves as a communal space. It's intentionally designed for communal interaction, fostering a sense of belonging and more than mere empathy or sympathy.

Read The Dynamics of Borneo Over Time: From the Deglaciation of Borneo Island to the Historical Records of the Javanese Kingdom

In this open corridor, there's social control within the cultural environment of longhouse living. Even the slightest noise is audible. This ensures everyone upholds harmony, etiquette, morality, and civility, contributing to social civilization.

In each chamber, privacy is respected. Unauthorized entry into someone else's chamber is strictly prohibited. Any unauthorized entry without permission and without stating intentions will face customary sanctions.

Deep philosophical concepts are embedded within the architectural design of huma betang. The fundamental concept is that while individuals have their rights, they're also bound to others. 

The truth is holistic. The concept of individual humans, while being social beings, exists within every ethnic group.

-Rangkaya Bada

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