Bidayuh Culture

Bidayuh cultural


The Bidayuhs are also known for their warrior audacity. In a war, a Bidayuh man’s status is judged by the numbers of skulls hung on the ceiling just before entering their houses. The more skulls you have, the higher your warrior rank!

Bidayuhs are mainly Pagans or animist and they believe in ancestral worship and they also believe in the ancient spirits or nature. Due to that, they would have big celebrations like the Gawai (June 1st ) which is a celebration to please the padi spirit for good harvest. They would also hold small praise and worship sessions occasionally to the River and Jungle spirits to cure illness and ward of bad luck. However, at least 50% of the Bidayuh community have converted into Christianity since the arrival of missionaries into Sarawak.

Being the people of colorful culture, the bidayuh have their own cultural dresscode (which , in the modern days, are only worn during festivities and celebrations) They have their own cultural dance and they play thier own culturul music which comprises of a set of Gongs. (Pic inset: A dance performance by a group of Bidayuh lass). The Bidayuh are generally very softspoken people. While the men are proud and strong, the women are more gentle, less outspoken and would usually shy away from strangers and outsiders. The bidayuhs staple food is rice but in a lot of places, wild-sago became their staple food.

Sadly, the longhouses, the costumes, the languages, the war, the worships, that was all then.

As Sarawak grew into a city and modernization took over, most Bidayuhs have moved into the city and with inter racial marriages, most Bidayuh are not purely Bidayuh anymore. Myself for instance, with my mom being chinese and that having lived in the city all my life, I speak more English and chinese compared to Bidayuh and I have unfortunately only mastered 60% of the launguage. I do not own a Bidayuh Costume and do not have the gift of dancing, so there goes my culture. I cannot ever swallow a chunk of sago so if you place me in my village for a week and expect me to eat, I’d probably not eat at all or risk death by choking. The chances of me meeting and marrying a Bidayuh man is so slim (the population is so small) that I will not be surprised that even my kids will loose all Bidayuh features and will not be able to speak the language.

The Bidayuh race faces the danger of extinction in a radical way. And yet, most times, i forgot my duty, being at least half bidayuh to ensure that I uphold the culture. I took for granted, like most people, that I am bidayuh and there’s nothing i can do about it. A lot of times, i look at my family and is sadden by the fact that half my cousins cannot speak the language and carry features of other races. And with this, i told myself that I will try harder to learn more about my people and to get in touch with my roots.

And if ever the Bidayuh faces their time of extinction and non-existance, I will remember this blog of mine and remember that I will always be proud to be a Bidayuh.

For example, The Bidayuh Selako community accounts for almost 95 percent of the population in Kampung Pueh. Their main occupation are either farming or fishing. The village was opened by their ancestors who came from Kalimantan in search for a new site to plant padi. At the same time, they were running away out of fear of the “head hunters”. Head hunting used to be a tradition among some communities in Sarawak at one point of time.

During the early days of their arrival in Kampung Pueh, the Bidayuh Selako community had built only one longhouse with 15 households. To-date, the number of longhouses has increased to 200 households. The longhouse has its own unique design and it is known as rumah anja’ng. It has a number of sections namely, pante, sami, nangkat, kamar and uatnai’. Pante is the area to dry clothes after washing while sami is the place to hold religious ceremony and spiritual treatment known as badukun. It is also the venue where the long house residents hold meetings to resolve issues related to the culture or the customs of Bidayuh Selako.

Nangkat is the bedroom for the single male aged 12 years and above. It is also the recuperating room for boys after undergoing the baturih. Baturih is a circumcision practice peculiar to the Bidayuh Selako which differentiates them from other Bidayuh communities. Another differentiating practice is the batenek or ears piercing among Bidayuh Selako females. Married couples are provided with a bedroom or kamar. The uatnai’ is a room used for cooking and bathing whose design is similar to a platform but smaller in size than the pante.

The Bidayuh Selako community has a cognitive family system. This system gives equal rights to the male and female children pertaining to inheritance of customary properties. However, the male child has more say in matters pertaining to the allocation of customary properties among other family members.

The population of Kampung Pueh totals 712 people. The Bidayuh Selako community totalling 352 people dominates the village population. Meanwhile, there are 150 residents of Chinese descendant in the village. The third largest community is the Ibans whose number totals 100, followed by the Malays 70, while the rest of the population is of other ethnic groups.

The 2008 statistics shows that 397 of the Kampung Pueh residents choose to work on their own, 65 of them are working in the private sector while 59 are working for the government. Many of the houses in the village are built in rows. However, you can also find houses that are built in clusters. The villagers erect their houses close to each other.Here, the villagers lead an average life, although some of their children are holding high posts. Many of the local children have furthered their studies in universities locally or abroad.

In Sarawak there are generally said to be three main linguistic groupings (Biatah; Bau-jagoi; Bukar-Sadong) but these can be broken down even beyond the list referenced below as most people can be distinguished by locals down to village level through smaller differences in vocabulary and intonation. Each area speak its own dialect:

1.     Lundu speak Jagoi, Salako & Lara

2.     Bratak, Singai, Krokong and Jagoi speak Singai-Jagoi

3.     Penrissen speak Bisitang

4.     Siburan vicinity speak Biatah

5.     Bidayuhs who live around Serian such as Tebakang, Mongkos, Tebedu to Tanjung Amo near the border of Kalimantan Indonesia speak Bukar-Sadong.

6.     Bidayuhs in Padawan speak several but related dialects like Bi-anah, Pinyawa, Braang, Bia’, Bisepug & Emperoh/Bipuruh.

The dialects are not mutually intelligible and English or Malay are often used as common languages.

Bidayuhs are traditionally animist, and vestiges of these beliefs still remain. The Brithis Colonial times (known as the Brooke family era) saw the arrival of Christian missionaries, bringing education and modern medicine. The great majority of Bidayuh are now Christians, majority of them being Roman Catholic.

Most Bidayuh villages have either a Roman Catholic or Anglican church or a mosque — rarely more than one or the village would tend to split. The Biatah people, who live in the Kuching area, are Anglican, while the people of the Bau area are Catholic.

The Bidayuh of Bau have a unique tradition of hanging the bodies of the dead on trees and leaving them to rot away. The skeletons are left on trees as a reminder of the dead. The tradition is rarely done nowadays.

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