Seven Classifications of the Dayak People According to Experts

The Dayak people today are literate in various fields, including finance, digital media, and culture. There are 37 professors from various disciplines, thousands of PhDs, and hundreds of thousands of master's degree holders.

The unique inhabitants of an island can be one of its most captivating tourist attractions, often surpassing its cultural heritage and natural beauty. 

Take Bali, for example; it is an appealing tourist destination largely because of the distinctiveness of its people. 

Similarly, Kalimantan, universally recognized as the home and heritage of the indigenous people of Borneo, boasts its own unique richness. The Dayak people, in particular, consist of seven major groups and 405 sub-tribes, with their population today estimated to be no less than 8 million.

Borneo: unique Island Inhabitants as tourist attractions

No ethnic group on Earth is as fascinating for study and research due to its multidimensional nature and inherent similarities as the Dayak people.

As previously mentioned, "Dayak" is a collective name given to the indigenous people of Borneo to distinguish them from migrants. 

Read The Dayaks Are From Nowhere Else But Borneo According to Prehistoric Research, Carbon Dating, Inscriptions, and Artifacts

The Dutch equivalent is “binnenlander,” meaning people living inland, far from the coast, residing upstream, and in the interior regions. 

In addition to being nomadic and practicing shifting cultivation, the pressure from migrant groups led the indigenous people of Borneo to settle inland, an expansive area suitable for their farming practices.

We recognize various classifications of the Dayak people, with at least eight different classifications to be narrated. 

The intriguing question to address is: Why are there so many classifications of the Dayak people?

The answer to this question is truly fascinating. By closely examining the different versions of Dayak classifications, we realize that these classifications are based on perspectives and similarities in certain aspects. 

These aspects include customary laws, residence (distribution), rites and ceremonies, language, and physical characteristics. Additionally, the classifications consider the rivers they inhabit.

What matters is that all classifications of the Dayak people provide explanations, particularly at the time of classification. They offer insights into the data and facts about the lives of the Dayak people in the past and for some time afterward, when the dynamics and social changes were not as rapid and massive as in modern times. To gain a comprehensive understanding and avoid leaning toward a single version, here are seven versions of Dayak classifications.

First Classification: Mallinckrodt's division, based on customary laws

Researcher H.J. Mallinckrodt (1928) categorized the Dayak people into six ethnic groups called "Stammenras":

1. Stammenras Kenyah-Kayan-Bahau

2. Stammenras Ot Danum, including Ot Danum, Ngaju, Ma'anyan, Dusun, and Luangan

3. Stammenras Iban

4. Stammenras Murut

5. Stammenras Klemantan

6. Stammenras Punan, including Basap, Punan, Ot, and Bukat.

Second Classification: Based on Death Rites

W. Stohr (1959) categorized the Dayak people as follows:

1. Kenyah-Kayan-Bahau

2. Ot Danum, divided into Ot Danum-Ngaju and Ma'anyan-Lawangan

3. Iban

4. Murut, including Dusun-Murut-Kelabit

5. Klemantan, including Klemantan and Dayak Darat

6. Punan

Third Classification: According to Tjilik Riwut (1958)

He identified seven groups divided into 405-450 sub-tribes:

1. Ngaju, divided into four major tribes: Ngaju (53 sub-tribes), Ma'anyan (8 sub-tribes), Lawangan (21 sub-tribes), and Dusun (8 sub-tribes)

2. Apau Kayan, divided into three major tribes: Kenyah (24 sub-tribes), Kayan (10 sub-tribes), and Bahau (26 sub-tribes)

3. Iban, consisting of 11 sub-tribes

4. Klemantan, divided into two major tribes: Klemantan (47 sub-tribes) and Ketungau (39 sub-tribes)

5. Murut, divided into three major tribes: Idath Dusun (6 sub-tribes), Tidung (10 sub-tribes), and Murut (28 sub-tribes)

6. Punan, consisting of three major tribes: Basap (20 sub-tribes), Punan (24 sub-tribes), and At (5 sub-tribes)

7. Ut Danum, consisting of 61 sub-tribes

Fourth Classification: By Raymond Kennedy (1974)

He classified the Dayak people into:

1. Kenyah-Kayan-Bahau Group

2. Ngaju Group

3. Land Dayak Group

4. Klemantan-Murut Group

5. Iban Group

6. Punan Group

Fifth Classification: By Bernard Sellato (1989)

This classification follows the major rivers:

1. Malay People

2. Iban People

3. Barito Group, including Ngaju, Ot Danum, Siang, Murung, Luangan, Ma'anyan, Benuaq, Bentian, and Tonyooi

4. Western Group, or Bidayuh (Dayak Darat), covering tribes in West Sarawak and West Kalimantan

5. Northeastern Group, mainly in Sabah, including Dusun or Kadazan, Murut Darat, and several groups around Brunei and the East Kalimantan coast. Their language relates to Southern Philippine languages

6. Kayan and Kenyah Groups, residing in East Kalimantan and Sarawak. According to the Kayan people, they originated from the Apau Kayan highlands and then spread to the Mahakam, Kapuas, and Upper Rejang areas

7. Penan People, including Beketan, Punan, and Bukat

8. Central Northern Group, covering Kelabit, Lun Dayeh, Lun Bawang, Murut Bukit, Kajang, Berawan, and Melanau

Sixth Classification: By Aronson (1978)

Based on language differences, local classifiers in East and North Kalimantan identified:

1. Exo-Bornean Group: Kutai from the Malayic group; Bulungan, Tidung, Abai, and Tagel from the Idahan group.

2. Endo-Bornean Group: Benuaq, Bentian, Luangan, and Paser from the East Barito group; Tunjung and Ampanang from the Barito-Mahakam group; Kayan, Bahau, Modang, Aoheng, and Kenyah from the Kayan-Kenyah group; Lundayeh, Lengilu', and Saben from the Apo Duat group; Merap, Punan Malinau, and Basap Sajau from the Rejang-Baram group.

Seventh Classification: By Dr. Anton Nieuwenhuis

In his book In Central Borneo prefaced in May 1898 in Buitenzorg (Bogor), Nieuwenhuis aimed to document his travels but also included ethnological data he collected during his research journey from Pontianak to Samarinda in 1894. 

Dr. Anton Nieuwenhuis provided a division, along with a map showing the distribution of the Dayak people at the end of the 18th century.

Regarding his research on Dayak customs in the past, Nieuwenhuis, as a foreign researcher, noted the difficulties faced by foreigners in researching the customs of tribes with low developmental levels. 

He stated, "The difficulties faced by foreigners in researching the customs of tribes with low developmental levels are so great that no one expects these sketches of the untouched Central Borneo tribes to provide a complete picture. Only due to very favorable circumstances was I able to gather so much material" (p. ix).

Despite the field challenges faced by Nieuwenhuis, we are grateful for the 1894 scientific expedition. This expedition was organized by Maatschappij ter bevordering van het natuurkundig onderzoek der Nederlandsche Kolonien and conducted by the Wester-Afdeeling van Borneo resident (now West Kalimantan), Mr. S. W. Tromp.

Their efforts were instrumental in gathering valuable data. The expedition overcame significant obstacles to collect comprehensive information about the Dayak people.

Thus, we find a comprehensive depiction of the Dayak ethnic distribution at the end of the 18th century. This depiction, as described by Nieuwenhuis, is based on their spread and residence.

His work provides critical insights into the Dayak people. It helps us understand their distribution and way of life during that period.

-- Masri Sareb Putra, M.A.

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