The Commodification of the Dayak in the Past by Outsiders has Influenced Their Image

The commodification of Dayak culture by outsiders has significantly influenced the portrayal of the ethnic group and inhabitants of the island of Borneo, whose population now numbers no less than 8 million. Photo credit: Tamasya, September 2000.

The Dayak people in ancient times, particularly before the 1990s, were frequently subjected to cultural commodification. 

Dayak women depicted with bare chests, adorned with elongated earlobes, loincloths, wielding blowpipes, and always carrying machetes and sheaths, have become symbols not only valued journalistically but also economically. 

Numerous postcards from earlier times

Numerous postcards from earlier times, including those I collected in the 1990s, prominently feature the traditional Dayak way of life. 

In addition, postcards that 'sell' Dayaks as skilled dancers with all their attributes are also popularly sold as cultural commodifications.

These postcards reflect a strong fascination with the exotic and culturally unique aspects of Dayak society. 

These cards highlight traditional attire, weaponry, and unique Dayak tools, meeting the demand for collectibles offering glimpses into exotic, unfamiliar worlds beyond everyday life. They capture the allure of Dayak culture by showcasing these elements, drawing collectors into the rich tapestry of a distant and intriguing way of life. 

In doing so, the Dayaks create a bridge between the ordinary and the extraordinary, sparking fascination with the traditions and artifacts of the Dayak people. 

Now, when you visit Kalimantan, you no longer find the traditional Dayak way of life as depicted in postcards of old. The Dayak have evolved to become one of the advanced ethnic groups in terms of their economy, politics, social structure, education, and infrastructure.

Dayak culture commodified

In this regard, Dayak culture is viewed not just as an alluring cultural heritage but also as a potential economic resource, through the sale of postcards and other collectibles depicting traditional Dayak life.

However, this commodification phenomenon also raises ethical questions about the appropriate representation of culture and the ethics involved in using a group's cultural heritage for commercial purposes. 

The Dayak are renowned experts in the art of blowpiping. They possess remarkable skills in controlling their sumpit (blowpipes), capable of hitting targets from great distances, whether they are moving forest animals or flying birds. 

What's their secret? It lies in the blowpipe darts made from tin or wire, designed to injure their targets. 

Ipuh's poison

The Dayaks use "ipuh" poison sourced from specific trees that produce latex. Ipuh's poison acts like a tranquilizer, capable of rendering animals or even humans unconscious.

This expertise represents specialized knowledge unique to the Dayak, revered as custodians and heirs of Borneo's cultural heritage. 

This skill is not only crucial for practical needs such as hunting and survival in the jungle but also forms an integral part of their rich and distinctive cultural identity. 

The Dayak people's deep connection with their environment and their traditional practices underscores the importance of respecting and understanding their cultural heritage beyond its commercial value.

--Rangkaya Bada

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