Being Sarawakian: The Reserved Tribe

All the while I was in the Peninsula, I have had the chance to mingle with people of different culture, mindset, attitudes and characteristics. This was through my college years and employment at two different companies.

Quite embarrassed to say, I feel like I know the people of the Peninsula more than I know my own people back home. Even more embarrassed when they ask me questions about my own state, I could not answer them confidently; worried that I would be the butt of or their jokes if they happen to know more that I do.

Here is the thing, I left Kuching before I turn 21 and basically grew up in the Peninsula as I was there for almost a decade. I was a loner in my teenage years and I was deep in my own world of imagination and worry. I was busy writing and making music.

Leaving the Peninsula meant leaving my life, my friends, and my career. During my time there, I was not surrounded by any Borneans (relatives not included). Even when I come across a few, there was a degree of uncomfortableness that made me distance myself from them. The main reason would be their mindset. However, I do have two close friends that I met in college, though – Sharon Bentley (Kelabit + Chinese) and Clarribel Sayong (Iban). And they are an exception.

While they claim to be much more open-minded and liberal, they are to a certain degree, the opposite. Excluding my close friends, the majority of the people in Peninsula are downright racist and judgemental. I was lucky to have the one-of-a-kinds as my friends and confidant. They are the reason why I stayed there that long apart from it being the land of opportunities.

However, I am not discussing their attitude and characteristics to cause unnecessary chaos. Abiding by the series Being Sarawakian, this post is about my opinion on the progress of my own people.

The Attitude and Characteristics of the Bidayuhs

As mentioned in my previous post, the Bidayuhs are generally soft-spoken people. We are quite reserved and do not open up to strangers very easily.

Many articles/books written by the Europeans in the 19th century portray the Bidayuhs as people who suffered oppression before the arrival of Rajah James Brooke in 1841.

Malaysian-based New Zealand travel photojournalist, author and photographer Peter Anderson stated in his book Discover Borneo – Sarawak (page 58) that the Bidayuhs almost became extinct in the early 1800s due to their mild, inoffensiveness, and tolerant nature. The Brunei Malay rulers of Sarawak enslaved the surviving Bidayuhs from the Iban attacks, which the Brunei Malays encouraged. The Rajahs brought peace to Sarawak and the Bidayuh have prospered since that time.

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However, one of the White Rajahs did not hold the Bidayuhs in high regard, as stated in Dato Peter Minos’ book; The Future Of The Dayak Bidayuhs In Malaysia (page 15).

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“Charles Brooke did not think very much or very high of the Bidayuhs and thus he described them as having customs and appearance which do not encourage so great an interest in a traveller’s breast as the Sea Dayaks (Ibans). His words implied that the Bidayuhs lacked self-confidence and gregariousness.”

Yup, that… may be true, to a certain extent.

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The following are more excerpts from Minos’ book under the subtopic Attitudes and Characteristics:

“Morality is of a higher standard (than others), their gratitude is undoubted, and their hospitality to strangers well ascertained.” – Hugh Low

“The Land Dayaks (Bidayuhs) have not the bold and arrogant look which distinguishes the Sea Dayaks (Ibans). They are quieter and milder in their habits, and more modest in their dress.” – Odoardo Beccari

“The expression of all classes and of both sexes of these people is that of a subdued melancholy.” – Spenser St. John

Spenser is attributing this to the Bidayuhs past experience of oppression and suppression during the Brunei Sultanate.

“Bidayuh is mild and tractable, hospitable when he is well used, grateful for the kindness, industrious, honest and simple; neither treacherous nor cunning and so truthful that the word of one of them might safely be taken before the oath of half a dozen Borneans (Brunians). In their dealing, they are very straightforward and correct, and so trustworthy that they rarely attempt, even after a lapse of years, evade payment of a just debt. On the reverse of this picture, there is little unfavourable to be said, and the wonder is that they have learned so little deceit and falsehood where the examples before them have been so rife.” – Henry Keppel

“The Bidayuhs, to W.R Geddes, believed in true personal freedom and liberty and were highly independent-minded people who did not like to be controlled or dominated by others or by their own kind, so much so that they were often perceived as obstinate, recalcitrant, and uncooperative”, said Minos in the book.

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W.R. Geddes’ opinion is a slap on my face as that is what I think of myself majority of the time.

“Land Dayaks did not get much attention and encouragement from the Administration (Government) for many years. This neglect was mainly due to competition by other, more numerous and sometimes more troublesome ethnic groups. The Land Dayaks, used to being treated badly by outsiders, tacitly accepted this inferior position, which in turn contributed to the still popular idea that they are a conservative and less energetic
people.” – B. G. Grijpstra

The Bidayuhs today, are they still the same as their ancestors?

Here’s what Dato Peter Minos stated in his book:

“The Bidayuhs regard talking too loudly in public, airing one’s views too openly, pushing oneself and trying to order others around as marks of rudeness and arrogance. To be regarded or said or even perceived to be rude and arrogant in the Bidayuh community is undesirable and demeaning. To the Bidayuhs, a good and respected person is one who talks the least, who does push himself or herself around and who does not annoy or disturb anyone. Being natural adherents of extreme personal freedom and independence, the Bidayuhs tend to avoid those who order them around or who control too much of their lives or who tell them what to do or what not to do.”

In short, we are still reserved, but we definitely are moving forward. At least I think I and some people I know are. The youngsters are definitely pushing the envelopes.

I am hopeful.

And here are the notable Bidayuhs so far:

  1. Anding Indrawani Zaini, an Akademi Fantasia star, model, actor and singer. He is of mixed Melanau-Bidayuh parentage.
  2. Dewi Liana Seriestha, Miss World 2014 Top 25 and Miss Talent for Miss World Beauty Pageant.
  3. Pandelela Rinong, Malaysian national diving athlete.
  4. Tony Eusoff, actor and model.
  5. Venice Elphi, Malaysian football player, played for ATM FA.
  6. Richard Riot Jaem, Malaysian cabinet minister.
  7. Temenggong Salau, Bidayuh community leader during the formation of Malaysia.

PS: While doing my research (for my own intellectual satisfaction), I noticed that other writers who have written about the same thing also used the same quotes. While this is just a random post, I still want it to be worth referring to by some people some day for some reason.

PS: Dato Peter Minos, a modern and highly educated Bidayuh businessman is now the Chairman of Kota Samarahan Municipal Council

 

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