The Iban is a part belong to the Dayak race in Malaysia and live in the state of Sarawak located at the eastcoast of the Borneo Island. They also known as the Sea Dayaks during the reign of the Brooke’s and the British Colonial before as they are the most dangerous tribe in Borneo and so daring in their war battle just to have the head of their enemies as their war trophies. The word Dayak is a Land Dayak or Bidayuh word, and “before proceeding to elucidate how the word Dayak came to be misrepresented and it must first of all deal with the favourite meaning of it that it is the corrupted form of the Malay word “Darat” which means inland or up-country. This is an impossibility.”
The generic term Dayak (or properly called Daya by themselves) in many dialects simply means inland although among many of the branch tribes the term is not known as being referable to themselves. Some of the interior populations even as far off as Brunei are called “Ka-daya-n”. Then again the Matu or Melanau name for inland is “Kedaya.” The Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands says that “Dayak or more correctly Dayak is a word used by the Malays as a generic term for all the wild races of Sumatra and Celebes, but more especially of Borneo where they are most numerous. It seems to be equivalent with them to the European word savage. And some author informs us that “the word Dayak is only applied to the race in Borneo who are living in much barbarism.” But almost in the same breath they adds “the Sea Dayaks are not at all savage race as may be proved later on.”
The Iban’s is belong to the Malayan race as the evident from the root-forms of their language which are synonymous with the root-forms of the Malayan language. Both languages admit prefixes. If there is at the Iban grammar is similarity will be at once indentified with the Malay grammar. More likely Sumatra where Melayu originated as a small kingdom. Neither the Iban’s nor the Malays of Sarawak may be called the aborigines of this part of the island of Borneo. Three or four centuries ago they were driven to migrate into the island. The Iban’s appear to have migrated before the Malays. We can conjecture nothing satisfactorily as to the causes of their migration other than the compulsory conversion of Mohammed’s successors, or famine, or war.
It is clear the Iban’s were once upon a time in the Malaysian Peninsula. This is proved from the arts of spinning, weaving and colouring cloths, which they have possessed for many generations back independently of their neighbours the Malays of Sarawak. But the aborigines roughly speaking of thispart of the island are quite ignorant even of the art of spinning. The Malays, it may be presumed, were once what the Dayak are now, in matters of civilization perhaps dates from the time of their conversion to Mohammedanism. The proof of thisis that they have not yet been thoroughly purged of their once heathenish rites, in the belief in witches and so forth.
It may be presumed that the word Dayak was also known to the Sea Dayaks before they migrated into this island. It is a word of the Land Dayak whom we may roughly call one of the aboriginal races of Borneo. But the word, according to the pronunciation of both the Land and Sea Dayaks, has been corrupted in the spelling by the introduction of the final K, which is not at all present in the native pronunciation of the word. The word Dayak or properly speaking “Daya” answers to the Malay word “Orang”, which means a man, or the people. If “Darat” could be at all corrupted it would not receive that form of corruption, but its corrupted form would be “Dara” or “Dar”, for both the Sea Dayaks and the Malays pronounce their “r”. Futhermore, when we come to explain the phrase Dayk Undup, Dayak Skrang, etc, by which each tribe of the Sea Dyaks call itself, the word “Darat” will not only appear ungrammatical, but also absurd.
The misrepresentation of the word Dayak, it may be presumed, had accidentally cropped up, and was retained in force through the mere carelessness and ignorance of the Dayaks to have allowed themselves to be thus called; the Malays call themselves “Laut”. But with reference to the Malays their nationality is known and therefore no question is necessarily raised to investigate their proper nationality. With regard to the Sea Dayaks there is no light as yet thrown upon the matter which will lead us to any satifactory conclusion with reference to their nationality.
The word “Daya” which is a word of the Land Dayaks meaning a man, or the people, gives us no assistance whatever towards the investigation of their nationality. But from studying their peculiarity and habit it gives one just a chance to surmise, without the aid of their tradition, that they once had a name to express their nationality; but for what cause or reason their fore-fathers had allowed it to die out in such a mysterious manner is better answered by ourselves. The presumption manner that may be taken is this, that the peculiarity of the Sea Dayaks up to the present day is to call themselves by the place or river they remove to.
If the Dayaks account of their migration could be even relied upon, it still gives us no help to trace it beyond the island of Borneo. They unanimously affirm that their fore-fathers had removed here (i.e. the lower part and mouth of the Batang Lupar river) from the very source of the Batang Lupar or the main river. The Sea Dayak after their migration into this part of the island of Borneo and after having touched at certain unknown localities, must have separated themselves either on account offamily discord or from choice. Before this had taken place they all must have divided themselves into tribes and this resulted in the different forms of dialects now spoken in the Sea Dayaks tribes.
The divisons of the Sea Dayaks tribes are these; Batang Rejang, Katibas, Kanowit, Krian, Saribas, Sebuyau, Balau, Batang Ai, Undups, Skrang, Lemanak, Kumpang, Engkari, Kubau, Engkerebang, etc. If these tribes are to be subdivided again they will number five or ten times as many. The Sea Dayak, although divided into various tribes, yet speak only one language, and this one language is the Malayan language. It is significant fact that the Malayan language is the mother language of various tribes of people. It is also a fountain of which the richness extends far and wide. It is not to be wondered at if hundreds of Malay words are found in the Sea Dayak language. It is not assuming a privilege for argument but merely asserting a self-evident fact. If the Sea Dayak language is carefully compared we shall find many Sanskrit words used and admitted as genuine Dayak words.
Of various tribes of Sea Dayaks, each tribe adopts its own idioms, pronunciation, and adds foreign words to its language to enrich it. To one who is not thoroughly conversant with the Malay and the Sea Dayak languages it would be difficult to detect their identity. The peculiarity of tones and pronunciations which each tribe has habituated itself to, to suit its own taste would at first sight to a stranger appear unintelligible; and it would appear impossible to distinguish the language of one tribe from another.
The Sea Dayak language is like some other languages growing rich in its vocabulary; aas the people come in contact with foreigners they adopt their words. The Malayan language has adopted many Sanskrit words which were introduced perhaps under the Majapahit Kingdom. The Malayan language also has adopted many Arabic words which came about dating from their conversation to Mohammed’s faith. But the adoption of the Sanskrit words into the Malay is prior to the Arabic. This appears more convincing in affirming the migration of the Sea Dayaks into the island of Borneo, and their being once upon a time in the Malayan Peninsula, because the Sanskrit words are found in their language.
The Malays before their conversion to Mohammedanism had no letters of their own, and what they have now are made up out of the Arabic alphabet. To suit the tone of their language they have to name their letters accordingly. With reference to the Sea Dayaks since the Gospel of Christ has been preached to them, the Bishop and his Missionaries have been able to form letters for them out of the Roman alphabet. To suit the tone of their language they have also to pronounce their letters accordingly. It is difficult to form one’s opinion or judgement between the two languages (the Malay and the Sea Dayak) as to which is the richer and more expressive. Both languages claim classical forms. When the Malay language is spoken grammatically it is not only expressive but exceedingly musical. It is also with the Sea Dayak language when it is spoken grammatically.
The above named tribes of the Sea Dayaks have descended from one family, which they are able to prove from their genealogy. Some of the people are extraordinarily gifted with good memories. Although we allow a limited amount of credit to traditions, yet we must admit that they have their foundations upon which their stories are built. The Dayaks have their own rules of logic in their own courts of law, which are more approximate to axioms than proverbs. To listen to their advocates in defending or pleading cases in their own courts is certainly worth while, if one is conversant with their classical language. They are a political race, more so than the Malays or Chinese. With them all offences are finable. Apologies are not accepted in their society.