Who Are the Maloh? Cultural Diversty and Cultural Change in Interior Indonesian Borneo. (Research Notes)

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Ethnic Names: Embaloh, Taman, Kalis, Banuaka', Maloh

The following research note is occasioned by my reading of Jay Bernstein's excellent book Spirits Captured in Stone. Shamanism and Traditional Medicine among the Taman of Borneo (1997). I have reviewed the book elsewhere (see King 1998), 50 in these notes, I intend to focus on issues of ethnic identity and internal cultural variation. I shall be focusing mainly on Bernstein's findings, supplemented with some of my field data collected about 30 years ago. Bernstein examines and analyzes the healing practices, principles, and ritual paraphernalia of the Taman, a Dayak population of interior Borneo. It is based on his doctoral thesis, "Taman Ethnomedicine: the Social Organization of Sickness and Medical Knowledge in the Upper Kapuas," submitted to the University of California, Berkeley in 1991. The field research was undertaken in two periods from 1985 to 1988 among Taman villages in the Upper Kapuas regency of the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. Bernstein concentrated his work in two villages of the Sib au branch of the Taman: Sibau Hilir and the "unofficial village" of Tanjung Lasa. He also visited communities belonging to the Kapuas branch of the Taman people, noting that there are some differences between the two branches "in vocabulary and other aspects of dialect" (1997: 14).

The Taman comprise an "ethnic group" which numbered about 4,500 in the mid-1980s and 4,917 in 1993 (Thambun Anyang 1996: 24). Interestingly, Bernstein refers to official statistics for 1987 which put the total population of Taman villages at 5,090. Henry Arts, in his study of the Taman, has an even higher population in residence for 1989, just two years later, of 5730. This is some 1200 above the 4,500 figure for Taman indicated in the mid-1980s (1991: 7). In explaining the difference in his own statistics, Bernstein states that the balance of the population in Taman villages, that is, about 600 people, was made up by Malay, Kantu' (Kantuk), and Iban; members of these different ethnic groups were therefore living among, or in very close proximity to, the Taman. The Taman were also close neighbors of yet other ethnic groups, specifically the Kayan and the Bukat (Bhuket), and it seems that some Bukat, along with Kantu', also lived among or close to the Taman of Tanjung Lasa (1997: 15). This general pattern of r esidential intermingling accords precisely with my observations from the early 1970s among several communities of the Embaloh division (as I referred to it), which are socially, culturally, and historically related to the Taman. Embaloh had close relations with the Malay, Kantu', and Iban in particular. In the past, they had also intermarried with and absorbed significant numbers of formerly nomadic Bukitan or Ketan (King 1985).

My own research was undertaken principally along the Embaloh and Palin rivers and to a lesser extent the Leboyan, tributaries to the north of the Kapuas River; these were areas which had become increasingly dominated by Iban moving in from the Sarawak-Kalimantan borderlands. I also paid a brief visit to the Kapuas branch of Taman. It was clear that this whole complex of people, and, in particular, certain communities of the Embaloh division, had been subject to various intense external forces and influences over a relatively long period of time, and sustained long-established relations with a relatively diverse range of societies and cultures--from stratified Muslim Malay trading states and administrative centers to small, scattered, egalitarian, hunting-gathering Bukat and Ketan communities. These different ethnic groups followed very different models of social organization, which we can place on a continuum from egality to hierarchy, and with which the Embaloh and Taman were presumably very familiar. What is more, the Embaloh and Taman, as well as the Kalis, the remaining division of this "larger ethnolinguistic entity" (Bernstein 1997: 18), had all been drawn into the expanding administrative structures, the colonial economy, and, indeed, the culture of the Dutch, especially from the early part of the twentieth century, and, since Indonesian independence, into the politico-ideological and economic systems of the developing Indonesian nation-state. …