A Brief Social History of Borneo

Borneo, like New Guinea, has long had two very different populations: lowly populated, highly tribalized 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; they 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 politically and militarily (as they still do today) the inland tribal population, which was characterized by constant clan warfare.

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 Muslims. 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.

Suggested reading
  • The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey Of Richard Evans Schultes by Andrew Weil, Chris Murray, and Wade Davis
  • Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures by Wade Davis
  • Last Place on Earth by Mike Fay and Michael Nichols
  • One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest by Wade Davis by Wade Davis

  • Continued: People of the Rainforest

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