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.

The Dayak tribe, Central Kalimantan
The Dayak tribe, Central Kalimantan (Source :

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.


For those who lead an active life might be tempted to follow the local fisherman to fish. Fishing technique ranges from using fishing rod to using their unique-style seine. There is nothing like feasting on the fish that you have caught yourself! Then to top it all, you can go hunting with locals for deers or wild boars. Dayak tribes make a living by clearing away forests and they have a unique hunting method. They do not actively pursue the animals, but somehow lure them to approach the Dayak people.

How can they manage to do that? They have a unique method in attracting the animals. When hunting deers, they imitate the sound of a young deer. Since does always protect their youngsters, the female deer will approach as soon as they hear the sound for help. In hunting, they use lances or blowpipes. A blowpipe’s size is long and it also functions as a lance. Blowpipe needles used for hunting are smeared with poisonous concoction that will paralyze or even kill.

The village provides home-staying services. While staying there, you can learn things like craftmanship or traditional cooking.

If you want to know further about Dayak tribe, learn Dayak traditional dances and music instruments, like the plucked stringed instruments and drums.

The Ngaju Dayak tribe, the most popular Dayak tribe occupying around Kahayan and Kapuas River, is known for their arts, especially the wooden-coffins at elevated cemeteries, ships of the dead and funeral poles.

While the Ot Danum tribe inhabits around the Kahayan River, north of areas occupied by the Ngaju and south of the Schwaner and Muller mountain ranges. The Ot Danum live in long houses built on 2-5 meter pillars above the ground. One house has around 50 rooms. These longhouses are locally known as betang. The Ot Danum tribe is known for their skill in plaiting rattan, palm leaves and bamboo. Until today they still continue to follow the ways of their ancestors. While in the village of the Ma’anyan this tribe still belief in the spirit world, and continue to practice their agriculture rituals and complex mortality ceremonies. They also call the shaman whenever they need healing. The cemeteries indicate social hierarchy. The cemetery of the nobility is located the upstream of the river, followed by their warriors, while the simple folk are buried the downstream, slaves at the very edge downstream.

Dayak tribe, Central Kalimantan
Dayak tribe, Central Kalimantan (Source :

For visitors who seek activities, they can fish with local fishermen. Then to top it all, go hunting with locals for deer or wild boar. Dayak tribes make a living by clearing forests and hunting for wild animals. Dayaks do not actively chase the animals, but make their prey to approach them.


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.

Facebook Comments

"Photos are copyrighted by their owners."

error: Do Not Copy