Let’s Learn More About Bidayuh

Tabi basa and greetings everyone. Today I’d like to share about an interesting picture that I saw yesterday being spread around at WhatsApp, and I look at it as an opportunity to spread awareness about what Bidayuh is.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Last night I saw some images that shows an inaccurate depiction of Bidayuhs. It is believed that those picture were taken at KL.

Few things to note (refer to the picture above):

  1. Orang Ulu male costume was wrongly labelled as Bidayuhs. These motifs actually deserved a story of its own.
  2. Description about Bidayuh peoples is outdated. 

The Bidayuhs are also known for their warrior trait. In a war, a Bidayuh man’s status is judged by the numbers of skulls hanging 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 (1st June) which is a celebration to please the rice spirit for good harvest.

In this case, whoever that was doing that job clearly didn’t do his/her homework.

BIDAYUH POPULATION

Here’s some interesting fact about Bidayuh. Numbered about 200,000 peoples (2021), Bidayuh is only 0.5% of the whole Malaysian population, and 6% of Sarawak population, mainly occupying Kuching, Serian, Lundu, Bau, Siburan, Penrissen. There are some Bidayuh communities outside of these main area, namely Miri, Bintulu. 

Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) acts as a prime organisation that unites Bidayuhs all around the world.

BIDAYUH WARRIOR COSTUME

The correct Bidayuh warrior costume is the one that has either black or white loincloth, with horizontal patten across it, usually white, red, yellow (for modern costumes) 

The older one has an intricate, blue, yellow and red horizontal pattern, though it is much more complicated to be made. That’s why it is a precious family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. Even if you have money, it is not for sale. The closest you can get is a replica but it would never replace the real thing.

BIDAYUH WARRIOR TRAITS 

Yes, it is true in the past, Bidayuh warriors status are determined by the number of skulls that they have. The more skulls you have, the higher is your social status. But for ancient Bidayuhs, these skulls are not being hung at random places. In fact it is actually placed at our “balû / baruk”, which is considered communal place.

Some example of Bidayuh warriors costume.

WHERE ARE THE SKULLS RIGHT NOW?

There are few Bidayuh leaders interviewed about this topic, as shown in latest TVS documentary Journey of the Bidayuh. In the past, Bidayuhs are actually not headhunters by choice, but rather hunter-gatherer. But because of war, and a lot of people are hunting heads, Bidayuhs also became headhunters.

But head-hunting is no walk in the park. War is not cool as what Hollywood wants you to believe. People actually dies in war. Death is sorrowful.

Hence, to equip themselves for war, ancient Bidayuh learned a lot of mystical arts to help them to be invincible, to be able to teleport great distances and to be strong beyond normal human strength.

Skulls are taken as trophies. It is honoured.

At Kampung Pichin, for example, the skulls used to be hung at balû tada (middle hall), but eventually was handed-over to Sarawak Museums as we are Christians.

Now, I can no Bidayuhs hung those skulls at their house. Yes, no. Zero. Anyap. Doik. We hang cross, poster of Jesus Christ & Mother Mary and some Christmas decoration instead. Even if there are, those are probably some Halloween leftover props.

BIDAYUH ARE MAINLY PAGANS/ANIMISTS? 

If we are talking about 1823, this statement is true. But Bidayuhs in the past didn’t practice ancestral worship because in the past, we have seven gods, which some regarded ancient spirit. Only certain people is able to communicate with them, with most of the omens are communicated through dreams – the place where spiritual and physical plane meets.

In the past, Gawai Dayak is a celebration to give thanks to these gods for a good harvest and pray for a better harvest in the new harvesting year. For Dayaks, Gawai can be considered New Year. There are few other gawai but still Gawai Dayak is the biggest.

James Brooke’s arrival brought along Christian missionaries that spreads Christianity to Bidayuhs. In the present day, majority of Bidayuhs are Christian, with some groups embracing Islam.

Gawai Dayak is no longer a celebration to worship these spirits/gods, but it is a celebration that we still keep as part of our traditional culture / “batan asal” as Bidayuh. Being Christian, prayers in accordance to Christian ways still take place first, before we celebrate Gawai symbolically.

It is such a pleasant sight to see fellow Muslim Bidayuh takes part in Gawai because it is considered a celebration that unites Bidayuh, regardless of our religions.

There is only a few of Bidayuh old ways practitioners. 

HOPES FOR THE FUTURE

Hopefully through this writing, we can clear some misunderstanding about Bidayuh. I do not wish to know who the person that wrote misleading description and costume selection, but I hope all of us can learn more about each other.

Tukang Rantek,
Claudius (Del)

© Claudius Weson (2023). All rights reserved. 

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