Thursday, February 28, 2008

Savages of Borneo, 1853 part 1

Written by Arimi Sidek

Savages of Borneo part 1

I concluded that early western researchers had no respect toward Borneo people in their researches. Probably there are rationales for such arrogant behavior as their works came with invasion process. As invaders, they were military powerful. Superiority feeling was in its peak. It was the lifetime opportunity to see “savages” in action, and those “savages” were happen to be our immediate ancestor back in 19th century - about one hundred and fifty years from now.

19th Century Dyak of Borneo Picture

19th Century Dyak of Borneo Picture

They had equally narrow mindedness and huge bias pre built in their head upon arrival. When they saw our ancestors, they look down terribly, to the deepest bottom, with incomparable feeling of superiority and might. For them, we are just slightly clever than the famous Orang Utan, native primate of Borneo.

Craufurd is without exception. According to him, the aborigines of Borneo are of the same race of men as the Malays and Javanese - are, in fact, these people rude, uncivilised, and in the infancy of society, just as the Silures of Agricole are the civilised Welsh of our time. The dyaks of Borneo are divided into probably not fewer than hundred different tribes or nations speaking as many different tongues. This is tropical Africa, or tropical America all over, and a sure indication of a low state of society.

He think that the natives of Borneo, of whatever description, have no name, or, at least, no popular and well-known name, for it, this is, indeed the case with all the natives of the Archipelago to which it belongs. in so far as concerns all the greater islands, with, perhaps, the single exception of Java.

He observed that Borneo people does not know how to differentiate the real “pulo” and “islet”. According to him, “What they call "an island" (pulo), is no more than an islet, an object, of which the insularity is palpable, almost to the eyesight. This is quite consistent with their narrow knowledge and their limited powers of comprehension and generalization”.

But unless Borneo natives were really equivalent to Orang Utan at the time, I don't think these “savages” were too stupid that they can't comprehend with their own surrounding.

At the very least, now people of Borneo already know that Borneo is a pulo, a real pulau - an island.

Europeans, on the other hand maintain the ancient presumption that Europe is not part of Asia until now.

With all the biasness and shortcomings, we still have to relied on their record, as we do not have properly documented past.

He mention that "Borneo is inhabited by four descriptions of people-the original inhabitants, the Malays, the Chinese, and the Bugis of Celebes. The first of these are the most numerous, and from the singularity of their manners best worth a detailed account".

Biasness aside, Craufurd did some observation that match with other researchers findings. The aborigines of Borneo have no native name by which they distinguish themselves in the aggregate, but each tribe commonly takes the name of the principal river on which lies its chief residence. The Malays call them all Dyak, a word equivalent to our own term "savage" or wild man, and apply the term equally to the wild tribes of Sumatra and Celebes, as to those of Borneo.

To distinguish one tribe from another, they add to the general term the name of the tribe'chief river, as Dyak Kayan, "the savages of the Kayan," Dyak Sakaran, "the savages of Sakaran," &c. &c.

Craufurd wrote the life of Borneo natives quite descriptively, and in a way from broader perspective. It is carried out in a more Borneo way than we have now. It is interesting to note that early researchers, including himself does not segregate Borneo based on the political boundary that we have now, that is Kalimantan, Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah as they had none.

So when he said Borneo, he meant the whole Borneo, not just part of Borneo the way we segregate our mind on the subject at present.


John Craufurd, 1853. A Sketch of the Geography of Borneo by John Craufurd, Esq., F.R.S. &c. read May 10, 1852. 11. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 23. (1853), pp. 69-86.

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