A Rejoinder to Herwig Zahorka's "Basap Cave Dwellers in Mangkalihat" and Some Additional Notes on the Basap and Resettlement in East Kalimantan

By Guerreiro, Antonio J. | Borneo Research Bulletin, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

A Rejoinder to Herwig Zahorka's "Basap Cave Dwellers in Mangkalihat" and Some Additional Notes on the Basap and Resettlement in East Kalimantan


Guerreiro, Antonio J., Borneo Research Bulletin


The title of the short article by H. Zahorka published in the 2001 issue of the Borneo Research Bulletin (Zahorka 2001b: 140-147) was surprising, as during my recent visit to the same community I did not meet any genuine "cave dwellers." In fact, I felt that the article gave a biased impression of the Orang Darat's (Basap Selatan) current situation in regard to their way of life and the resettlement programs they have experienced since the 1980s, and specifically the use of caves by the people in Teluk Sumbang or other neighboring communities. In short, it would be worthwhile to provide some precise information about the wider ethnographic and sociological contexts of resettlement, and more generally of ethnicity and socio-cultural change among the peoples of the Mangkalihat Peninsula located between the northern Kutai and southern Berau regions, because Zahorka does not address these issues directly in his article. The following notes were taken during an expedition of the boat la Boudeuse to Mangkalihat during February-March 2000 and during former surveys in Berau and Kutai.

Introduction

The so-called "Basap"--the term is a derogative exonym given to them by the Kutai and Berau Malays--are probably still the least-known people of the Province of East Kalimantan in Indonesia (see maps 1 and 2). These forest dwellers, foragers and horticulturists/swiddeners are divided into several scattered local groups which do not maintain close relationships with one another. By and large, the various Lebbu/Basap groups exhibit cultural and linguistic similarities in contrast to neighboring peoples who are part of the "Dayak" and "Punan" ethnic categories. Because of the difficult nature of the terrain they inhabit, the huge distances between communities, and their limited demographical size, these people tend to assimilate quickly into other ethnic groups by intermarriage or conversion to world religions. Furthermore, they seem to adapt their ethnicity to the local conditions of each area they inhabit, readily taking on cultural elements from other neighboring peoples. Thus, they show a large range of variations in economic activities and cultural patterns.

The Basap Selatan prefer to be called "Orang Darat" or, more generically, "Suku Darat" (considered as a "generic" ethnic category). Orang Darat is a neutral term in the Malay language, based on their geographical position, lit. 'people of the interior', because they used to live in the uplands of Mangkalihat, on the slopes of Gunung Data' in the Tindah Hantung mountain chain, while the Malays (Orang Kutai, Orang Barrau or Orang Banuwa), the Bugis/Mandar and Bajau settlements are found in the coastal areas. The ethnic label 'Basap' or Bassap according to Orang Barrau/Orang Benuwa pronunciation, clearly retains a derogatory connotation of 'primitive forest dwellers' or 'unclean peoples'. However, its precise etymology is not known--perhaps the Malay words basah lit. 'wet' and/or asap 'smoke' could be sources. When asked about the meaning(s) of their ethnic name, the 'Basap' themselves were puzzled. In short, they do not know the origin or the specific meanings of the term, but only its negative connotation, amounting to an insult (Obidzinski 1997: 2-4).

Resettlement Policies and Socio-Cultural Changes

The historical development of the resettlement programs in East Kalimantan Resetelemen Penduduk, Resetelmen desa (RESPEN, RESDES), directed at the non-Malay indigenous peoples, suggest they were conceptualized as a "new policy," aimed first at "stabilizing" the Dayak communities living in the border areas of this huge Province. Thus, they focused specifically on the more mobile and migratory groups with large populations living in the uplands such as the Kenyah, Kayan, Belusu', Abai, Lun Dayeh and also some Punan. The imperative of national security, coming after the end of the Confrontation with Malaysia in 1966 and the birth of the new regime of President Suharto (orde baru) the same year, created a situation that made possible the initial steps leading to the planning of the program a few years later. …

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