Bidayuh Sarawak … The People of the Land.

Bidayuh Sarawak or Land Dayak is one of the minority’s ethnic in Sarawak, living predominantly in Kuching Division.

The Bidayuh itself mean “the inhabitants of land”, is the second largest Dayak ethnic group in Sarawak after the Iban.  The Land Dayaks as they also known could be found living in kampong or villages in Serian, Peniressen, Padawan, Bau and Lundu in Kuching Division and along the border with Western Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Eventhough they are group under Bidayuh but are further grouped under 3 main linguistic namely; Bukar-Sadong, Singai-Jagoi and Biatah.  These groups are further into divided depending on area of dominical and the spoken dialects. Among these sub-grouping are;

  • Those speak Singai-Jagoi could be found living in Bratak, Singai, Krokong and Jagoi area.
  • Those living in Penrissen speak Bisitang, while whose staying in Kampung Bunuk speak "Bunuk" (Segu-Benuk)
  • Those living around Siburan vicinity speak Biatah
  • While Bidayuhs who live around Serian such as Tebakang, Mongkos, Tebedu to Tanjung Amo near the border of Kalimantan Indonesia speak Bukar-Sadong.
  • On the other hand the Bidayuhs living in Padawan speak several but related dialects like Bi-anah, Pinyawa, Braang, Bia', Bisepug & Emperoh/Bipuruh.

As they don’t understand each other well, Malay and English are the language of choice for communication with each other.

The ancestor of Sarawak Bidayuh first came to Sarawak, which was then under the rule of Brunei Sultanate, from West Kalimantan, some Bidayuh groups claimed that their ancestors came from as far as Java and Sumatra.

They first settled at the lowland but had to move inland due to regularly hostility from the Skrang Iban, the Malay Pirate and the oppression from the Brunei Nobility. They built longhouses and ceremonial hut within their fortified settlement on hills and mountains.  

These earliest settlement were centered at Ulu Padawan and Rabak Mikabuh in Kuching District, Bung Biratak, Mount Singai and Gunung Serembu in Bau District. While Bung Bagak and Sedemak is located in the Lundu District.

The community leader had taken the initiatives to revisit and develop these early settlement sites for their historical significance and promoting them at tourist sites. Bung Biratak in Bau District is one of such place. Mount Singai which is now a site for the Catholic Memorial Pilgrimage Centre is another one.

When the hostility and oppression stopped during the Brooke Era, many of the Bidayuh migrated to the lowland in searched of farmland and setting up new settlement or villages.

There are not many Bidayuh Traditional longhouses left as majority of the villages live in single houses. Among those villages that still have the traditional longhouses are;

  • Kampong Annah Rias and Kampong Benuk in Penrissen Area
  • Kampong Mongkos in Serian Area
  • Kampong Stass in Bau District
  • And a model of a Bidayuh Village at Sarawak Culture Village in Santubong, Kuching.

Bidayuh Culture, Tradition and Belief.

The Bidayuh Sarawak are traditionally animist, which rituals centred on the padi planting circle. Today there are not many villages practised and absorbed this old tradition, though they still celebrated the Gawai Festival or “Gawai Sowa”. It a merry and fun time where families members come together from far and wide to celebrate this once a year celebration.

In Sarawak, the gazetted holiday is on 1st. June but the actual celebration time varies from each villages or kampong. In some places, the celebration started in mid May and ended with a grand “ Gawoi Sowa” celebration in Mid June.

As time gone by, many Bidayuh Sarawak were converted to Christianity and left the old Bidayuh Tradition and Culture. Majority are Roman Catholic, some joined Anglican, SIB, Baptist and other small Christian Church. A small number are converted to Muslim either through marriage or out of their own free will.

Those that still practise the Old Tradition are not many as the new generations are unwilling to carry on the tradition. Some community leaders, organization and individual in the Bidayuh community have taken the initiatives to teach and encourage the new generation to carry on with the tradition so that they won’t get lost in the transition. It is important for the community to maintain some aspect of their tradition and culture for the future generation.

Bidayuh Dance, Songs and Musical Instrument.

The Bidayuh Sarawak dances are design and centred on the tradition and belief, and they are parts of the rituals during the Gawai Celebration. Among them are, “Boris”, “Ngikar” and “ngrinang” which would be accompanied by music from the “agung ensembles”.

These dances were performed by “Dayung Boris” or Bidayuh maiden dress in traditional costume led by the “Ketua Gawai”.

The traditional bidayuh songs were mantras sung to their ancestors, giving thanks and appreciation for the good health and bountiful harvest during the year. It is also to seek for their blessing and guidance towards a healthy and good harvest in the year to come.

This is a dying tradition as not many of the new generation willing to learn and carry on with the tradition. These mantras and songs are also difficult to learn as there are no written references and they were passed down orally from each generation to the next. 

The future of the Bidayuh.

Traditionally the Bidayuh Sarawak was involved in padi planting both dry and wet padi. The dry padi were planted on hill slope on a rotational basis, while the wet padi were plated on swampy group.

With the introduction of cash crops like rubber, cocoa, pepper and palm oil, many have left to venture into planting these cash crops. Those that continue with planting padi have dwindled.

As the new generation of the Bidayuh Sarawak get better education and more knowledgeable, many gained employment with public and private sector, a number of them are also self-employed; running their own business.

The Bidayuh Community of Sarawak which were once considered to be timid and naïve is getting more progressive and knowledgeable. Many of the villages have access to primary education, public health facilities and other amenities.