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Introduction to Central Kalimantan

The huge province Kalimantan Tengah (KalTeng) is the least visited province of Borneo. The Dayak who live there belong to the most traditional of the island. The officially recognized kaharingan-religion, in which dozens of religious themes are kept, spread to other provinces from KalTeng. A visit to Central Kalimantan demands courage and the readiness to travel like an inhabitant of Borneo yourselve: with small planes, speedboats, slow boats and canoos.
Kalteng has about 1,5 milion inhabitants and concludes about 153,800 swamp and jungle. The province is cut up by a number or almost parallel rivers, flowing from the Schwaner- and Müller Ranges in the north to the Jawa Sea in the south. Most kabupaten (districts) are located around the bigger rivers and reach from the coastal areas until the first rapids, which mark the change from the lowlands into the highlands. The vast and barely populated northern part of the province is made up from two districts. The coastal area around the rivermouths is barely populated and consists of swamps, which can reach inland upto 100 km. They are overgrown with nipah-palms and mangrove forests. Exceptions are the towns of Kumai, Pangkalanbun and Sampit.


For centuries, big parts of KalTeng were ruled by Banjarmasin. When the Banjarese elite converted to the islam in the early 17th century, soon the principalties along the coast followed, and the Dayak in the region also followed. Around 1830, the colonial rule and the first protestant missionaries slowed down the islamization among the Dayak.
The Dutch geologist and explorer Schwaner mapped KalTeng for the first time. Between 1841 and 1848 he travelled over the big cities (Barito, Kahayan, Kapuas and Katingan), and mapped the villages on the riverbanks. The mountain range between KalTeng and KalBar was later named after him. Between 1880 and 1890, the Dutch dewatered the southeastern part of KalTeng by digging five canals between the Kaupas, Barito and Kahayan.
After the proclamation of the Indonesian independence in 1949, the area still was under control of Banjarmasin. Conflicts rose between the traditional Dayak and the islamic Banjarese and at the end of the 1950 the Dayak demanded autonomy. A combination of small guerrilla warfare and political support from Jakarta lead to the formation of a separate province, KalTeng was born.

A treasure in resources

The economy of KalTeng is still heavily dependable of Banjarmasin. Im- and export go through the seaport of this city and for transport of products, the rivera and canals between Palangkaraya and Banjarmasin are very important. But the political couse of the province is now being decided in Jakarta, while air traffic helps making it more independent from Banjarmasin.
The vast tropicsl forests of the area supply wood which is processed in Sampit, Pangkalanbun and Kuala Kapuas. Over a hundred companies are involved in the woodprocessing industry. After wood, ratten is the most important recourse; KalSel is the main supplier of ratten. Rubber, introduced from the Amazon area at the end of the 19th century, is in third place, fish and schrimp (processed in Kumai) are fourth. The forests also produce a number of other products which bring in money like damar-raisin and kulit gumur a tree bark which is used for cosmetics and insect repellent. The oil fropm the illipe-nut is also used for cosmetics and as replacement for cacao-butter. While the wood-processing industry was already brought big in the 1970's, gold mining has just started. Geological surveys have disclosed vast amounts of porcelain-soil, quarts, iron, uranium and petroleum, but before they can start mining it will cost a lot of money to improve the infrastructure.

The Dayak of Central Kalimantan

Just as somewhere else in Bornei, separating the Dayak of Central Kalimantan is hard. Most Dayak in KalTeng - the Ngaju, the Lawangan, the Ma'anyan and the Ot Danum - have much in common for what language and culture concerned.
The biggest population (living in South- as well as Central Kalimantan) are called Barito, to the biggest river in the area. The named ethnical groups are the Barito Dayak, as well as the Benuaq and the Tunjung, which live partially along the Middle-Makaham in KalTim. Several Ot Danum, the less known Tebidah and a number of Limbai live in the catchment area of the Melawi, a side-river of the Kapuas, north of the Schwaner Range. Most Barito live in the inland along the rivers which flow to the Jawa Sea.
All Barito Dayak speak closely related languages. They know extended funerals, which are branded by a ritual re-burial. As well as in politics as in number, the Ngaju are the most important Barito Dayak. The vast territory of the less numerous Ot Danum (of which some branches are named Dohoi) is located north of the area of the Ngaju, above the rapids. However they have a lingual similarity, the Ngaju and Ot Danum cannot understand eachother. The last named mainly produce for their own, while the Ngaju have started commercial agriculture a long time ago. Due to their strong isolation the Ot Danum are more traditional than the Ngaju.

The Ngaju

The Ngaju, the most known Barito Bayak, managed the creation of the province of KalTeng. They speak different dialects of which the Kahayan has become the local dialect. Most Ngaju practice Kaharingan, or are converted to protestantism; only the Bakumpai Ngaju converted to islam over a century ago.
The branding longhouses of the Dayak are hard to find among the Ngaju. Their place is taken by communal rooms, in which meeting and rytes are held. The Ngaju belong to the best artists of Borneo. This reputation is shown in the ceremonial objects for the dead, like the wooden coffins, tombes, and sailboats and big statues.

The Ma'anyan

The Ma'anyan speak a language which is almost the same with that on Madagascar. There is a lot of speculation that their ancestors crossed the sea to Madagascar in the 3rd or 4th century. This would mean that the Ma'anyan lived more close to the coast than they do today.
The different Ma'anyan communities hold contact with eachother and with the cities along the Barito by periodical markets. Their most important product for trade - nice canoos made out of one piece - are loved among the Banjarese.
During wars the Ma'anyan lived in family houses in pillars, which could be as high as seven meters. Many Ma'anyan practiced the Kaharingan religion. They know complicated rytes in combination with agriculture and funerals, bring sacrifices for spirits and ask a sjaman when someone has fallen ill. On their graveyard, you can see that the Ma'anyan used to be very layered: the bone-houses of the nobility are placed more upstream, followed to the ones of the warriors, the normal population and the slaves, most downstream.
Before a traditional marriage, the comming husband needs to work and live with the family for five years. This period can be shortened by payments to the coming mother-in-law. This is an extra on the bridal treasure, which consists of bronze drums, beads and money.

The Ot Danum

The Ot Danum (the name means upstream area) live in the area around the rivers north of the Ngaju and south of the Schwaner- and Müller Range, as well as the Melawi-beaken of West Kalimantan, which is located north of the Schwaner Range. Their area is a threehundred km wide stretch of land just south of the equator. The Ngaju see the Ot Danum as their cultural ancestors, but there are remarkable differences between the two groups. The Ot Danum live in longhouses in pillars, two to five meters above the ground. This habit is probably taken from the Kenyah or Kayan.
The same with the headhunting, the mild form of social hierarchy and the images on shields and mandau lemmets. However the religion of the Ot Danum looks like that of the Ngaju (most of them still practice kaharingan), their ritual re-burials are more simple and their woodcarvings are less detailed.

Commercial agriculture

Most Dayak groy rice for own use following the rules of ladang-cultures. The Ngaju of KalTeng started the culture of tradeable crops, which has been followed in other regions. On the ladang, ratten is first grown, and harvested eight to ten years later. After that the ladang is re-used for growing rice again.

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