Human Inhabitants



A Brief Social History of Borneo

Note: more information here

Borneo, like New Guinea, has long had two very different populations: lowly populated, highly tribal groups in the inaccessible interior and relatively dense agricultural populations along the coast and the lower floodplains of major rivers. The inland people (Dyaks) were primarily hunter-gatherers with some shifting cultivation, spoke a number of tribal languages, and practiced mostly animist religions. In contrast, coastal populations relied heavily on oceanic trade, rice farming and fishing, spoke regional dialects of Malay, and were predominantly Muslim. The coastal Malay population dominated (as they still do today) politically and militarily the inland tribal population, which was characterized by constant clan war-fare.

When the Dutch arrived in Borneo they encouraged missionaries to convert the inland Dyaks. The Dutch had considerably less success making inroads with the coastal Muslim. There had long been animosity between the inland and the coastal populations, and the addition of organized religion only added fuel to the fire. Today violence rages on in Borneo between the largely Christian Dyaks and the Muslims of the coast and those imported into the interior through transmigration programs. New conflicts arise as greater numbers of Dyaks are displaced by logging.

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Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2005