Sunday, 6 May 2012

THE BIDAYUH..... who so enchanted the first White Rajah with their gentleness

Source of the colorful photos : Anak Borneo

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. 

The name "Bidayuh" means 'inhabitants of land'. Originally from the western part of Borneo, the collective name Land Dayak was first used during the period of Rajah James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak. 

Concentrated mainly on the west end of Borneo, the Bidayuhs make up 8% of the population in Sarawak (the third largest indigenous community in Sarawak after the Iban and the Malay) are now most numerous in the hill counties of Lundu, Bau, Penrissen, Padawan, Siburan and Serian, within an hour's drive from Kuching.

Historically, as other tribes were migrating into Sarawak and forming settlements including the Malays from the neighbouring archipelagos, the Bidayuhs retreated further inland, hence earning them the name of "Land Dayaks" or "land owners". The word Bidayuh in itself literally means "land people" in Biatah dialect. In Bau-Jagoi/Singai dialect, the pronunciation is "Bidoyoh" which also carry the same meaning.

Bidayuh is somewhat similar to Iban (the latter used to be known as Sea Dayak while the former was known as Land Dayak). The Bidayuh are less dependant on the ocean for their daily living as compared to the Iban.

The Bidayuh ethnic group is divided into smaller sub-tribal communities. Each Bidayuh district speak its own dialect :

~  Lundu > speak Jagoi, Salako & Lara

~  Bratak, Singai, Krokong and Jagoi > speak Singai-Jagoi

~  Penrissen > speak Bisitang

~  Kampung Bunuk > speak "Bunuk" (Segu-Benuk)

~  Siburan vicinity > speak Biatah

~  Around Serian such as Tebakang, Mongkos, Tebedu to Tanjung Amo near the border of Kalimantan
    Indonesia speak > Bukar-Sadong.

~  Padawan speak > several but related dialects like Bi-anah, Pinyawa, Braang, Bia', Bisepug &

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


Although classified as Bidayuh by the Malaysian government for political convenience, the Salako and Lara culture have nothing in common with the other Bidayuh groups and their oral tradition claim different descent and migration histories. It is understandable that since this group is living within Bidayuh-majority areas and the fact that they also prefer to stay in one permanent inland area, most probably for agricultural reasons instead of branching out to other locations as opposed to the other races, they are grouped together as Land Dayaks.

This tribal community is believed to have originated from Gajing Mountain, at the source of Salakau River, near Singkawang in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Their language is completely different and not intelligible with the other spoken Bidayuh dialects in the other districts. They are mainly found concentrated in the Lundu area. In August 2001, the Salako and Lara community set up the Salako-Lara Association to safe guard and preserve their culture and custom for the future generations.


Jagoi Ladies

Selakau and Jagoi ladies

Jagoi ritual


Dayak Bibukar

Bidayuh Saadong /Dayak Bisaadong

BIDAYUH BIATAH (by Nancy Nais, Padawan)

Younger Bidayuh Biatah women not so keen on wearing heavy brass rings

Women of Kampung Semban, Padawan showing off their ‘rasung’ (leg rings) and ‘ruyang’ (arm rings) - NANCY NAIS

Kampung Semban, the "village above the clouds" nestled atop a mountain in Bengoh, Pandawan, is best known, not only as the remotest  village in the Sarawak jungles but also for its women, who wear  heavy brass rings  on their arms and legs.
But the custom is  slowly dying  with only eight women in Sarawak, out of the 200-odd Bidayuh Biatah community, still wearing them.

The eldest is  Pelu Apeh, 86, while the youngest is Jiwa Hapan, 63.

According to Jiwa, the decline started in the 1970s when the state education department ruled that the girls could not wear the rings in school.

The girls were also reluctant to wear the rings on their arms and legs after leaving school.

But there is some hope as younger Bidayuh women, in other villages, seemed to have  taken an interest in the rings.

Putting on these brass rings, also known as rasung or ruyang, symbolised status and beauty,  said Jiwa.

"In those days, a woman's status was marked by the number of coils she wore."

Jiwa recalled that many men would chose their wives based on the number of rings they had.

"If a woman had none, she could remain unwed."

Located 305m  above sea level, Kampung Semban features less than 30 houses and a population of about 200 people.

Because of the extreme gradients surrounding the village, it has remained isolated and visitors have to walk through at least six bamboo bridges to get to the village.

The Bidayuh Biatah have been living in this mountainous region for generations and live a simple life, mainly growing padi bukit (upland rice).

In the evening, the ladies would string bead necklaces and weave rattan bracelets while the men would tune and play their bamboo xylophones.

On special occasions, the men would take out their percussion gongs and the women dressed in traditional garb, would perform the rejang -- a soaring eagle dance.

 only in Kampung Semban of Sarawak.
the brass coil was a plus for natural beauty of a lady in Borneo.

This special ethnic group can be found in Kpg Tringgus in Bau,and also in Kpg Semban/Rejoi along Borneo Height range. In Kalimantan Barat,this ethnic group are known as Dayak Badat

Sembaan Ladies do a traditional Ranggie Dance


Both ethnic Iban and Bidayuh possess almost identical longhouses, except that for the Bidayuh, the longhouses hold less significant importance in the community living. Today, almost all the traditional longhouse-villages have been replaced by individual houses.

Cooking area (Abuh)

The traditional community construction of the Bidayuh is the "baruk", a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres off the ground. It serves as the granary and the meeting house for the settlement's community.
the baruk

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.

Durian Tree

 The King of Fruit in Malaysia, i.e. DURIAN are getting ready to mature for the coming durian season starting early August.


Bidayuhs are traditionally animist, and vestiges of these beliefs still remain. The British 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 but few villages are Muslims -- 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.

Now some renown church also being establish in some villages such as SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo) also called as Borneo Evangelical Church, Baptist Church, Assemblies Of God church and other churches as SDA, Latter Rain.

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.

Salako & Lara people issues

Although classified as "Bidayuh" by the Malaysian government, the Salako and Lara culture have little resemblance to other Bidayuh groups and their oral tradition claim different descent and migration histories. 

Linguistically, the Salako belong to another language family tree which is of the Malayic-Dayak family (the same family as the Iban). 

The Lara, although said to be more related to the Bidayuh (Jagoi-Singai), speak a language almost not mutually intelligible at all with the Bidayuh but belonged to the same language family tree which is the Land Dayak. Even their customary rituals and rites differ from the other Bidayuhs (all Bidayuhs share almost the same ritual and customary rites).



The Bidayuh have a musical heritage consisting of various types of agung ensembles - ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drone without any accompanying melodic instrument.

Bidayuh dance, langi dayung


Many of Sarawak’s indigenous peoples still live by the river and forest fringe, and cook over open fires using implements fashioned from nature. Hardy bamboo is an essential cooking utensil.

The rice and chicken which is already marinated with salt, ginger and lemon grass are stuffed into bamboo log then directly placed over an open fire to be cooked. This way of cooking seals in the flavours and produces astonishingly tender chicken with gravy perfumed with lemongrass and bamboo.



Typical of the Sarawak indigenous groups, the Bidayuhs are well known for their hospitality, and are reputed to be the best makers of tuak, or rice wine. Bidayuhs also use distilling methods to make “arak tonok”, a kind of moonshine.

Tepui is an alcoholic drink which is quite similar to tuak. Tepui drink is made of sugarcane juice by the Bidayuh’s people. This alcoholic drink is both smooth and soothing


From containers to kitchenware, flooring to fans and pipes for water or tobacco, bamboo is used in a thousand ways in Sarawak. The variety of its uses is matched only by the diversity of the designs and carvings. The Bidayuh people are masters of bamboo carving, and produce very fine boxes and containers that may have been designed to hold betel nut or blowpipe darts, but are just as good for storing pens and pencils.


Berinchoyo isa bamboo transverse flutes. These playable flutes are made frombaloi bamboo and are played by both men and women. The upper third of the flute is decorated with “buti’ dawe’ tiko” (edible fern shoot motifs), using the bamboo whittling technique.


Tambok- The Bidayuh makes a variety of baskets of different sizes. The most popular is “tambok”. It is also in cylindrical in shape and supported with four vertical sticks. The Bidayuh carry their jungle produce to the market in this type of basket on their back, with a bark-cloth head strap over the forehead. Unlike the baskets made by other ethnic groups, the Bidayuh produce their “tambok” baskets by plaiting with vertical and horizontal strips of rattan, instead of with the diagonal ones as practised by the other groups.


Chantong is another type of basket made by the Bidayuh that is worth mentioning. It is finely plaited and superimposed with bark or skin and covered with a drum-like cover. Shaped like the “Kayan Ingan”, it is used for storing personal belongings. Formerly when headhunting was prevalent, new heads were stored in this type of basket and hung up in the head house.


Farm House made out from Bamboo.


Bamboo path up the hill


Bamboo raft for transport between village to their farm


the "Supak" for smoking


tiny bamboo bridge between houses

bamboo bridge across river

bamboo forest