South Borneo (the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan Tengah and Kalimantan Selatan) contains the settlement areas of the Ngaju Dayak. Long-term and intensive studies in ethnography and history have been carried out in these areas for a long period of time. August Hardeland, who today is almost totally forgotten, and whose importance as an outstanding philologist of the Ngaju has never been fully recognized, stayed between 1841-45 and 1850-56 in the Kahayan and Murong areas. He linguistically assigned the Ngaju to four distinct groups (Hardeland 1858: 8): Pulopetak, Mengkatip, Mentangai, and Kahayan.
The first usable European reports of the people populating the Pulopetak and lower Kapuas areas date back to the 1690s (see Baier 1995: 77-79). In his history of the Theatine mission, Fr. Bartolomeo Ferro refers to “Porto de Beagius,” evidently a Biaju-Ngaju location (Ferro 1705: 529-633). The Portuguese Captain Cotingo pushed forward to the area of Pulopetak, where he enjoyed Ngaju hospitality (Gemelli Careri 1728: 215-236). Direct trade with the non-Moslem Ngaju was possible at that time. Indeed, the Ngaju (not the Bakumpai) wished to ally themselves with the king of Portugal and obtain Portuguese help, especially for erecting an armed fortezza (of course, also a protection against Banjarmasin). Unfortunately, Cotingo’s reports were not taken seriously in Macao, and so this unique chance of forging a direct commercial connection with Dayaks from the Kapuas area failed. At the same time, as many as 1,800 Ngaju converted to Catholicism over an initial six-month period; and a further 3,-4,000 during a three-year period a little later (Gemelli Careri 1728: 216; Valentijn III: 252). In 1691 the Ngaju controlled the delta area of the Kahayan and Kapuas Rivers. As findings from the extensive excavation area of Kuta Batagoh near the mouth of the Murong River, as well as Schwaner’s observation of the densely populated Terusan area (sandwiched between the lower Kahayan and the Murong River) demonstrate (Knapen 2001: 168; Riwut 1958: 379, 383), the area westward of the lower Barito River was inhabited by the Ngaju. Politically and culturally the Ngaju competed with the Banjarese. A fundamental change in the balance of commercial and political power to the benefit of the Banjarese occurred only after the establishment of Dutch colonial intervention in about the middle of the nineteenth century.
It is important to realize that before then the Ngaju were quite dominant west of Banjarmasin. They sometimes attacked trading ships on the coast. They conducted direct commerce with Singapore, which they named “Salat” (Hardeland 1859: 152; Perelaer 1870: 182, 183). Unfortunately, in 1826, this kind of trade came to an end and the power of the Ngaju at sea declined.
The first Protestant missionaries (from Germany) reached Borneo in 1835. Their interest centered on the Ngaju people. The first Christian schools were founded in 1836. The first Ngaju bible, a Ngaju grammar, and an extensive Ngaju dictionary became available during the 1850s. Simultaneously, through M.H. Halewijn, J.F. Becker, C. Hupe, and the extensive work of C.A.L.M. Schwaner, information about the Ngaju came to public notice in continental Europe. This was also the time of the first geographic expeditions across Borneo (H. von Gaffron in 1846, C.A.L.M. Schwaner in 1848) which reached what is now the province of Central Kalimantan and Ngaju territory. August Hardeland’s dictionary constitutes a real Ngaju encyclopedia. Hardeland’s works as well as the extensive archives with source material about Ngaju culture in Wuppertal and Leiden span more than 160 years of anthropological and linguistic research.
Not only Protestant missionary work was at issue, but also Ngaju beliefs and their development from animist polytheism (with headhunting and human sacrifice as central features) to a high religion which recognized the existence of only one (creator) God. My own 1998 article on the “Hindu Kaharingan Religion as a special case of post-Christian nativism” describes this development in detail (Baier 1998: 49-54). Historic breaks, both in the pre-Indonesian period (1892/94, 1942-45) and the early Suharto era, illuminate the gradual process of Dayak reform, emergence of rationalism, and acculturation; the latter including assimilation or elimination of extraneous elements (Baler 1998: 51). The effect of education, humanization and a modern outlook led to new norms. Kaharingan theology became codified and its community organized in a modern fashion. Though a look at past records can illuminate the change, commentators often neglect this. For instance, the current standard text on the Kaharingan religion entitled Small Sacrifices cites as an authority former Christian Lewis KDR (member of the provincial parliament) who refers to Dayak “humanism” as an ever-present feature (Schiller 1997: 5).
“From early times to the present,” he states, “Dayaks never drank rice wine out of human skulls,” when, as a matter of fact, during the 1920s, the contrary was asserted by the scientist Lumholtz. During extensive travels in south Borneo, a native administrator of high rank in the Katingan area had assured him that “on the Upper Samba the custom still prevails of drinking tuak from human skulls” (Lumholtz 1920: 335). Perelaer reports a similar custom: the drinking of blood from heads taken in headhunting (Perelaer II 1881: 66; similarly Scharer 1938: 571).
Even first-class Borneo specialists may be ensnared in errors. Hans Scharer, for instance, whose extensive work is generally reliable, became so taken with the theory of Dutch structuralism that he applied it totally in his Ngaju Religion. Influenced by his Leiden mentor and teacher, J.P.B. de Josselin de Jong, he interpreted Ngaju culture as reflecting a clearly stratified upper- and underworld, and, similarly, a society composed of two tribal moieties operating separately. He also explained the ritual texts from a structural point of view. For instance, Section A of one verse refers only to moiety A of the whole Ngaju tribal group, while Section B–though synonymous with Section A, only expressed differently–is valid only for moiety B. The Sangiang genealogies of the creation myth, and the marriage customs described in this connection, convinced Scharer that the Ngaju tribal group had been split into two branches in the past. One moiety was accordingly formed by the Ot Danum and the people of the Kahayan, who were associated with the upper world and were represented by the village of Pangkoh; the other was formed by the Ngaju “moiety” inhabiting the Murong and Barito area, who were associated with the underworld and were represented by Kuala Kapuas. Slaves and priests, both of whom functionally mediated between the two moieties, were represented by the village of Mandomai, on the lower Kapuas (Scharer s.a.: 139-164). Objective proof for these moieties and geographic assertions is not provided, and there is no evidence of the existence of two moieties at all. Scharer’s impressive study of Ngaju Religion thus seems over-interpreted. Most of his other work (some of which has remained unpublished) is unique in quality. It includes recordings of legends, myths and rituals and details of the sacerdotal language and of adat law. Important also are his journal articles, for instance on human sacrifice among the Katingan people, and on death rites among the Ngaju. These still rank among the best ethnology published during the twentieth century.
The role of slaves is best extracted from colonial and missionary reports concerned with southern Borneo. The Dutch administration began to exert some control over various forms of slavery (debt-slaves, slaves openly bought and sold, prisoners of war) by the 1890s. Until that time, the wealth and status of native chiefs continued to depend on the numbers of slaves they possessed, and on slave labor. For instance, the imposing longhouse fortresses erected on high stilts of ironwood and surrounded by high ironwood stockades, formerly known as kuta, could only be built by slave labor. During the mid nineteenth century, according to Tichelman (1949: 231), some 800 slaves were imported to east Borneo annually from the Sulu area. Strong slaves were employed for heavy work; those who were weak were reserved for sacrifice. During the burial rituals in 1863 for chief Tundan on the upper Kahayan, as many as 60 slaves were reportedly killed (Mallinckrodt 1924/25: 258). Clearly, slaves served to maintain the high status and constant feasting carried on by dominant chiefs.
According to J.F. Becker (1849a: 427), one-third, and to Rheinish missionaries (Ms 2, in my possession) as much as two-thirds, of the Pulopetak population were slaves. M.T.H. Perelaer reported that Dutch administrators also used slaves, notably for coal mining (1881: 33). Even the missionaries Hardeland and Denninger employed them. They did so to compensate the mission for the expense incurred when buying the freedom of slaves, a procedure which accorded with regulations then valid (van Lummel 1882: 78, 98-99).
The use of slave labor often involved cruelty. What actually happened depended on local conditions, such as population density, or methods of cultivation. Dutch and other foreigners, including missionaries (Knapen 2001: 11, 107, 177, 373; Sundermann 1914; Ms. 1, manuscripts of Rheinish missionaries in the possession of the Historische Documentatie KITLV, Leiden EP Coll.2 exercise-book No.137: 2), maintain that headhunting and political coercion promoted native migration, so that, in some areas, populations decreased. Sparsely populated Dayak land may thus be interpreted in retrospect as the consequence of emigration. One such area lay north of Mengkatip, along the western fringe of the Barito River, where traditional hostilities between Ngaju and Dusun-Lawangan peoples were maintained (Stohr 1959: 50); another was the upper Kapuas of West Kalimantan (Sellato 1994: 25), which, in time, became entirely depopulated. Still other examples are reported by Pijnappel (1859/60: 338-339). He described hundreds of warriors who attacked fortified longhouses, plundered and incinerated them, and killed the people. Longhouse villages were commonly beleaguered for a week or two, then attacked. If possible and opportune, prisoners were taken and enslaved, or else sold into slavery. Headhunting raids were also responsible for the depopulation of the once densely inhabited Sangkulirang area in east Borneo according to Spaan (1918: 784). When an attack by the mighty Dusun chief Surapati and his Ot Pari warriors was expected, even missionaries engaged in preparing the Ngaju militarily and managed their defense (Kriele 1915:33-34).
Old travel reports indicate that fortified longhouses along rivers were a common feature during the mid nineteenth century (especially Maks 1860 and Braches in Rheinish Missionaries, Ms. 1). Only decades later, when Dutch control of headhunting became effective, widely spread, isolated settlements appeared, and their presence made possible a more effective form of dry rice cultivation.
During the late twentieth century, European colonialism and proselytizing by foreign missionaries were the subject of much criticism. Even the reports and source material of European missionaries gradually became neglected. However, this did not necessarily lead to increased objectivity of reporting. As far as developments in southern Borneo went, the participation and cooperation by cultural anthropologists and missionary theologians remained positive and fruitful up into the 1960s (cf. the posthumous editions of Scharer 1966 by the KITLV in Leiden and of Zimmermann 1968 by W. Stohr). In the course of a lecture presented (in German) in Leiden in the presence of eminent Indologists, the missionary Sundermann put it this way(1914: 159):
The governor in Banjarmasin does not hear everything. But we
missionaries live among the people. We see with our own eyes what
people want, and hear what they desire.
* I thank Dr. Barbara Harrisson for her help in translating this essay into English.
Author: Baier, Martin
- Baier, M.
- 1995 Ventimiglia: Indonesia’s first bishop lost in the jungles of Borneo three hundred years ago. IN: V.T. King and A.V.M. Horton, From Buckfast to Borneo. Hull: Centre for South-East Asian Studies at the University of Hull, pp. 77-81.
- 1998 Die Hindu Kaharingan-Religion als beispielloser Fall eines nachchristlichen Nativismus. Tribus. Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Jahrbuch Band 47: 49-54.
- Becker, J.F.
- 1849 Reis van Poeloepetak naar de binnenlanden van Borneo, langs de Kapoeasrivier, Indisch Archief 1, 1:421-474.
- Ferro, Fr. Bartolomeo
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- 1858 Versuch einer Grammatik der dajackschen Sprache. Amsterdam: Frederik Muller.
- 1859 Dajacksch-Deutsches Woerterbuch. Amsterdam: Frederik Muller.
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- 2001 Forests of Fortune? Verhandelingen van her KITLV 189. Leiden: KITLV Press.
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- 1915 Das Evangelium bei den Dajak auf Borneo. Barmen: Verlag des Missionshauses.
- Lumholtz, C.
- 1920 Through central Borneo. New York: Scribner’s. 2 vols.
- Lummel, H.J. van
- 1882 Lief en leed uit de zending onder de Heidenen. Utrecht: Kemink & Zoon.
- Maks, H.G.
- 1861 Reis naar de Kapoeas en Kahajan in de Zuider- en Oosterafdeeling van Borneo. Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (TBG) 105/6: 466-558.
- Mallinckrodt, J.
- 1924-25 Ethnographische mededeelingen over de Dajaks in de afdeeling Koeala Kapoeas. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 80: 81.
- Perelaer, M.T.H.
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- 1881 Borneo van Zuid naar Noord. Vol 1. Rotterdam: Elsevier.
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- 1859/60 Beschrijving van het westelijk gedeelte van de Zuider- en Oosterafdeeling van Borneo. Bijdragen tot deTaal-, Land- en Volkenkunde VIII.
- Rheinish Missionaries
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- Ms 2 Epple estate (in my possession) No. 197.
- Riwut, Tjilik
- 1958 Kalimantan Memanggil. Jakarta: Endang.
- Scharer, Hans
- s.a. Die Bedeutung der Schopfungsmythe in der Kultur der Ngadju.Dajak (ein Querschnitt durch die Kultur) (manuscript in my possession).
- 1938 Das Menschenopfer bei den Katinganern. Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 78/79.
- 1963 Ngaju Religion. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff (KITLV, Translation Series 6).
- 1966 Der Totenkult der Ngadju Dayak in Sud-Borneo. ‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.
- Schiller, A.
- 1995 Small Sacrifices. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Schwaner, C.A.L.M.
- n.d. Borneo. Amsterdam: Van Kampen. 2 vols.
- Sellato, Bernard
- 1994 Nomads of the Borneo Rainforest: The Economics, Politics, and Ideology of Settling Down. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
- Spaan, A.H.
- 1918 De landstreek tusschen Sangkoelirang en Doemaring. Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch Aardrijkskundige Genootschap 2e s., 35.
- Stohr, W.
- n.d. Das Totenritual der Dajak. Cologne: E.J. Brill.
- Sundermann, H.
- 1914 Borneo vorheen en thans. In: Indisch Genootschap, vergadering van 23 Februari 1914.’s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.
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- 1949 Blanken op Borneo. Amsterdam: A.J.G. Strengholt.
- Valentijn, F.
- 1724-1726 Oud en nieuw Oost-Indien. Dordrecht. Vol. III.
- Zimmermann, Ph.
- 1968 Studien zur Religion der Ngadju-Dajak in Sud-Borneo. Ethnologica NF. Vol 4. Cologne: E.J. Brill.
- Martin Baler
- Guest Lecturer, STT-GKE Institute
- Banjarmasin, Indonesia