Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

The Lahanan of the Balui, 1963-2006

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

The Lahanan of the Balui, 1963-2006

Article excerpt

The Lahanan of the Batang Balui were the focus of research I started as a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney. My original plan was to carry out a demographic and socio-economic study of Levu Lahanan, Long Pangai on the mid-Balui. Two five-month periods of intensive fieldwork were carried out in 1987 and 1988 and subsequently for much shorter periods in the 1990s. In the new century I paid three brief visits (2001, 2002 and 2006) to the longhouse community at Sungai Asap to catch up with events since my last visit shortly after resettlement and the funeral of Pemancha Nyipa Pasu in 1999 (Alexander 1999a).

This paper provides a background to the Lahanan from the time of Sarawak's independence in 1963 to the present and focuses on the socio-economic processes which have transformed their society. The most crucial feature of their recent history is resettlement. In 1987, when l started fieldwork the Lahanan community of Long Pangai was one of fifteen longhouse communities which had been selected for relocation because of the plan to construct a dana downriver at the Bakun rapids (Rousseau 1994; 1995; Tan 1994). Although this project had been mooted since the early 1980s, it took nearly two decades for the resettlement to come to fruition. Other crucial features of recent change include religious conversion from Adat Bungan to Roman Catholicism and the introduction of educational and health services progressively updated since their introduction in the early 1950s. The Agricultural Department has assisted the community with agricultural development and the introduction of cash crops such as rubber, coffee, cocoa and pepper (see Alexander 1987: 75-77; Alexander & Alexander 1993; Guerreiro 1988a; 1988b).

The Lahanan, who belong to the so-called Kajang group (Alexander 1989a; 1989b 1990a; 1990b; Guerreiro 1987; Leach 1950; de Martinoir 1974:267; Nicolaisen 1997: 239; Rousseau 1974: 18; 1990), are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Their total population of around 1,000 people are allied with two longhouse communities of Belaga District in the Kapit Residency. The larger group, the focus of this paper, are the Lahanan Long Pangai. When Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963 this community lived on the upper Balui River, but by the end of the century had moved to the Bakun Resettlement Scheme (BRS) at Sungai Asap. (2) A splinter group, the Lahanan Belepeh, live in the lower Balui at Long Semuang and number around 200 individuals. Although the two groups share a common ancestry, over the 150 years since they split over a leadership dispute, the Lahanan Long Pangai have become steadily Kayanized because of their close proximity to, and intermarriage with, nearby Kayan communities. The Lahanan Belepeh, however, living close to other longhouse villages loosely labelled Kajang, have, in some respects, retained a stronger sense of being different from the Kayan.


The incorporation of Sarawak in the relatively young state of Malaysia in 1963 was marred by conflict with Indonesia. Early in that year the Indonesian government announced a policy of confrontation and within a few months launched a series of attacks on Sarawak border towns. Shortly after Sarawak joined the Federation, the Indonesian Army engaged in a skirmish with British Gurkha troops at Long Jawe on the upper Balui (Armstrong 1987:5). While the loss of life was confined to the Gurkhas, many elderly Lahanan recalled the anxiety they felt about the threat of "Communists" and other "strangers" at the time. They did report, however, that they and other upriver people (Orang Ulu) had good relationships with the Gurkha troops who used them as guides and traders. August 1966 marked the end of the conflict with Indonesia and genuine independence from the former colonial power, Britain.

In the post-colonial era, life in the upriver communities was altered by a state committed to particular policies of modernization and development. …

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