Spirits Captured in Stone: Shamanism and Traditional Medicine among the Taman of Borneo

By Jay H. Bernstein | Go to book overview

2

The Taman People,
Their Customs, and
Their Social Structure

Location and Relationship to Other Ethnic Groups

The Upper Kapuas (Kapuas Hulu) is a frontier regency in the heart of Borneo, in the furthest reaches of West Kalimantan. Within it lies the source of the Kapuas, the longest river in Indonesia. One of six regencies in West Kalimantan (area: 56,650 square miles, 146,760 square kilometers; 1986 population: 2,819,496), the Upper Kapuas is the least-developed and most traditional part of this province. With an area of about 11,500 square miles (30,000 square kilometers), its population in 1982 was only 138,280.

Putussibau, its capital, is located on the Kapuas River at the mouth of the Sibau River and is the last market town on the Kapuas River, 550 miles (900 kilometers) upriver from the modem capital city of Pontianak. Putussibau is predominantly Malay, but people from all over the archipelago—Javanese, Bataks, Ambonese, Menadonese—not to mention ethnic Chinese, also live there, having been sent by the government or a private firm, or arriving on their own to seek their fortunes.

For a mere subdistrict (kecamatan), Putussibau is immense, covering 3,230 square miles (8,375 square kilometers). But its population is minimal: only 21,526 persons, according to 1986 government statistics. Of that total, 5,495 reside in the capital town of Putussibau, with another 5,150 inhabiting five adjacent Malay hamlets, all easily accessible from the main road. Beyond this core in which half the people in the subdistrict live are several more rural villages—Malay villages at the riverside and Kantuk villages inland. Further upstream, along the banks of the Sibau, Kapuas, and Mendalam Rivers, one meets a distinct culture: the Taman. Unlike the other groups who live in this subdistrict but have their roots elsewhere, the Taman have their only true homeland here. However, many Taman live and work in Sarawak, and some educated Taman have been assigned to posts in other parts of Kalimantan.

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