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The Bidayuh

Introducing the Bidayuh

The Bidayuh are the fourth largest ethnic group in Sarawak, with a population of 204,000, making up 8% of the state’s population. During the Brooke and Colonial eras, they were known as Land Dayaks (the Dayak, or people, of the hill country). They are believed to be indigenous to Borneo, originating from the interior of West Kalimantan, although some legends claim descent from the Srivijaya and Majapahit Empires of Java. Their own oral history suggests they migrated to Sarawak any time between 1,200 and 2,500 years ago, although some researchers believe the migration began in the mid-14th Century

In their remote hill farms, the Bidayuh grow hill rice, maize and sugarcane as staples, and pepper, cocoa and rubber for cash. They have developed superb handicrafts; their basketry is every bit as fine as that of the Penan, although subtly different, and they are splendid craftsmen in bamboo – whole longhouses were built of this tough, durable material, and water supplies are delivered from remote mountain springs through complex arrays of bamboo plumbing.

 The Bidayuhs were James and Charles Brooke’s favourite people. This may have something to do with their legendary honesty, their love of music and dance and their physical appearance. The Bidayuh are a handsome people, and the elegant, high cheekboned, sensual faces of both sexes were just made for smiling.

One of the best reasons to spend time with the Bidayuh is because they are Borneo’s master wine makers. Their tuak, or rice wine, is comparable with that of the Iban, and they produce liquid masterpeices from anything that contains carbohydrates. Tuak tebu (sugarcane wine), tuak tampui (mangosteen tuak), and tuak appel (cider) can enliven an evening spent in a kampung or longhouse beyond your wildest expectations.

Don’t bother learning the language unless you’re planning to stick around. When Bidayuhs are introduced they speak in Malay or English, because if they’re not from the same village they probably can’t understand each other’s dialect. This may be why they became such good brewers – to overcome the language barrier.

Bidayuh Links

Dayakwithgoldenhair: A Bidayuh blogger discusses life, the universe and everything from a Bidayuh perspective.

Eye On Borneo: This multi-ethnic blog has some excellent articles about Bidayuh culture.

Traditional Bidayuh Costumes: Want your own tailor-made Bidayuh costume? Check out this Facebook page.

Recommended Reading

Bidayuh & Melanau Tales by Heidi Munan: An interesting collection of Bidayuh and Melanuu folk tales and legends. Hard to find online but widely available in Sarawak.

A Dayak Bidayuh Community: Rituals, Ceremonies & Festivals by Patrick Rigep Nuek: A well-researched monograph, unfortunately hard to find online. Try the Sarawak State Library or good local booksellers. 

Bidayuh Ladies in their Finery