Getting To Know The Dayak Ways
The indigenous people inhabiting the dense tropical rainforests of Borneo are collectively called the Dayaks, but in fact they comprise many tribes that are diverse in culture as well as in language. The word “Dayak” actually means “inland” or “upriver”, especially where the Indonesian part of Borneo, – called Kalimantan, – is cut by many long and wide rivers as well as many tributaries, that are used as transportation highways.
In Central Kalimantan live the Ngaju Dayaks, the Lawangan, the Ma’anyan and the Ot Danum, known as the Barito Dayaks, named after the Barito river. Among these, the most dominant are the Ngaju, who inhabit the Kahayan river basin by the present town of Palangkaraya. The Ngaju are involved in agricultural commerce, planting rice, cloves, coffee, palm oil, pepper and cocoa, whilst, the other tribes still mostly practice subsistence farming through the slash and burn lifestyle.
Although many Dayaks have modernized and converted to Christianity and Islam, however, the majority still adhere to the original Kaharingan belief, also known as the Hindu-Bali Kaharingan, which is a state recognized faith.
Kaharingan belief focuses on the supernatural world of spirits, including ancestral spirits. For this reason, funeral rites and structures are elaborate. Most essential, however, are the secondary funeral rites, called tiwah, when the bones of the deceased are exhumed, cleaned and placed in a special mausoleum, called sandung, which are placed next to their other ancestors. These coffins are normally beautifully carved and adorned. The tiwah is believed to be a most essential ceremony to allow the soul of the deceased finally to be released to the highest heaven.
When visiting the Dayaks upriver one can also see many funeral poles. While best examples of funerary art are found on the upper reaches of the Kahayan River at Tumbang Kuring.
You need to return to Palangkaraya to rent a car or book a customized trip package where you can ask the guide to show you around wherever you want. The guide will give you a prediction on how long it should take to get there and what you should do to make the experience enjoyable.
In the local Dayak language, Palangkaraya means ‘holy container’. Palangkaraya can easily be reached from Jakarta, Banjarmasin, Samarinda, Balikpapan and other points on the island by air. The town has become the center of government, trade and education of the province. The Regional Museum of Palangkaraya contains a collection of historical and cultural interest from all over Central Kalimantan.
Here are some other places you can visit while going to or from the Dayak village.
- Kuala Kapuas. It is located at Kapuas River, 40 km from Banjarmasin. A well-known tourist attraction is Telo Island, a pleasant fishing village and port. For the adventurer, white-water rafter and nature lovers, there is Gohong Rawai, known for its beautiful and challenging rapids. The gold mines of Teweh and Batu Api, Rungan district, are also interesting sites to be visited. In this region, gold mining is a major source of livelihood for the people, who pan for the valuable metal using the old traditional method.
- Sampit, is the biggest timber port in Kalimantan. The Orchid Park of Pembuangan Hulu is home to a number of rare and beautiful orchid varieties. Hunters can engage in their favorite pastime in hunting park of West Kotawaringin.
- Pangkalanbun. Make sure to visit the old Palace of Pangkalanbun, constructed completely out of ulin (iron wood). It is the only Banjar royal legacy found in Central Kalimantan.
- Tanjung Puting National Park. The Park is a well-known nature and wildlife reserve in lowland and swamp forests, inhabited by orang utans, owa-owa, bekantan and other primates. One can visit the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre which is supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air and Sriwijaya Air operate scheduled flights to Palangkaraya from Jakarta, while Lion Air and Lion Air fly from Surabaya.
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