Bidayuh

History of Bidayuh


Bidayuh is the collective name for several indigenous groups found in southern Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, that are broadly similar in language and culture (see also Issues below). The name “Bidayuh” means ‘inhabitants of land’. Originally from the western part of Borneo, the collective name Land Dayaks was first used during the period of Rajah James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak. They constitute one of the main indigenous groups in Sarawak and live in towns and villages around Kuching and Samarahan in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Related groups are also found in the Indonesian province of  West-Kalomantan. In Sarawak, most of Bidayuh population are found within 40 km of the geographical area known as Greater Kuching, within the Kuching and Samarahan Division. They are the second largest Dayak ethnic group in Sarawak after the Iban.

Predominantly Bidayuh areas are: Lundu Bau, Penrissen, Padawan, Siburan and Serian. Most of the Bidayuh village can be found in the rural areas of Lundu, Bau, Padawan, Penrissen and Serian district. The area in which they live is mainly in the basin of the Sarawak River and hilly to mountainous forest, traditionally worked by rotational agriculture and hunting based around farms populated from parent villages situated on the hills for protection. Today, almost all the traditional Longhouse-villages have been replaced by individual houses, by roads and there is some plantation agriculture and a reduced emphasis on the growing of hill-padi. Fruit trees, especially Durian, remain important property markers. The distinctive architectural and cultural feature of the Bidayuh is the head-house, now adopted as a symbol.

The three largest are Dayak Iban(580 000), the Chinese(550 000) and the Malays(440 000). There are also other dayak groups like the Kayans, Kenyahs, Lun Bawangs, Kelabits, Penans and Punans(orang ulus).Nobody really knows for certain about the origin or the beginning of the Bidayuh. There are different ideas and theories, but they all agree on that Bidayuhs were an original dayak group who have been in Borneo for a very long time, probably on of the first people here. The Bidayuhs are also known as “Land dayak” while the Ibans are called “Sea dayak”. Most Bidayuhs today have converted into christianity from their old religion (Adat Oma) a spiritual religion quite similar to the one the Red Indians practised. As a landbased people who provided them self from what the forrest could give and of course in planting of hill padi (rice), they paid a lot of homage, tribute and respect to land, including the mountains, the forrest, rivers and things connected with nature and their spirits. Next to the nature the Bidayuhs had and still have another special and important place, their Kampung(Village). The village also referred to their “place of living”, this is the place were they got born, raised up, set up families and learned to survive. It was in the village that they practised their traditional rituals, festivals and prayers. A Bidayuh village were usually in the form of wooden longhouses or houses closely clustered and physically connected.

In the past many Bidayuh villages was fortified and well defended by wood and sharpened bamboo. The villages were also often built and located either at hill-tops or shoulders of hills/mountains making it difficult for enemies to detect and attack. Precautions like this were a result of their history, it is known and it was very clear that the Bidayuh people suffered terribly under the hands of the local rulers/administrators of the various sultans of Brunei, who controlled Sarawak and much of Borneo since the 15th century until the british rule (1841-1962). Not only were the Bidayuhs exposed to starvation, slavery and death but they also suffered much from the depredations of the Saribas and Sakarang dayaks(headhunters).

In the past many Bidayuh villages was fortified and well defended by wood and sharpened bamboo. The villages were also often built and located either at hill-tops or shoulders of hills/mountains making it difficult for enemies to detect and attack. Precautions like this were a result of their history, it is known and it was very clear that the Bidayuh people suffered terribly under the hands of the local rulers/administrators of the various sultans of Brunei, who controlled Sarawak and much of Borneo since the 15th century until the british rule (1841-1962). Not only were the Bidayuhs exposed to starvation, slavery and death but they also suffered much from the depredations of the Saribas and Sakarang dayaks(headhunters).

Putting these sad incidents away there is another thing common for a Bidayuh village, a Baruk. A Baruk is a round house usually in the middle of the the village. This house was used as a meeting place to perform their traditional rituals, dances and festivals (gawais).The Bidayuhs had several annual gawais, e.g one for the rice to spring out, one for the rice to grow strong and healthy and one when all the rice were harvested.Some of these traditional gawais are still practised, but are now held on a certain date every year.

1st of June Bidayuh people celebrate their gawai and this last for about a week. During gawai most of the Bidayuhs who are living or working outside the village usually returns to their respective village to meet and socialise with friends and family. It is not unusual to combine gawai with a wedding since the whole family already are together.The Bidayuhs are a peaceful people and their hospitality is huge.



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