It was reported in the media recently that Joseph Entulu, the Federal Deputy Minister for Rural and Regional Development, has called for the term ‘Dayak’ to be dropped because according to him it conveyed negative connotations like being uncivilised, uncouth and ‘low class’. This call is yet another attempt at selectively marginalizing some of the native Dayak peoples of Sarawak. And not surprisingly, it comes from a generation of ‘yes men’, the so-called Sarawak leaders whose signature contribution to nation-building has been to extinguish Native Customary Rights (NCR) lands. NCR is the last important resource in the hands of the natives. Now, evidently, not satisfied with the taking away of this Dayak resource, they are prepared to erase aspects of the community’s identity. As such they are not only being negative but also being manifestly unjust.
Lest the Deputy Minister has forgotten, the term ‘Dayak’ is a social and cultural construct, much like the term ‘Bumiputera’ is a construct. While the term remains a construct of social identity, they often have a policy implication. Thus, for instance, since the 1970s our country have used the term ‘Bumiputera’ to define and demarcate certain aspects of the country’s New Economic Policy (NEP). Dayaks do not enjoy such a status because in the 70s and 80s, there was no political will to refine the NEP to that level in Sarawak.
There are those, for their own reasons, who may have been uncomfortable with the term ‘Dayak’, who have politicised the term, and have sought to extinguish it. The present Sarawak Government has sought to drop the usage of the word ‘Dayak’. Indeed, until recently in Sarawak the term was included in the Interpretation Ordinance so that the term ‘Sea Dayak’ was used to mean also Ibans and ‘Land Dayak’ to mean those who are now commonly called ‘Bidayuh’.
Now, clearly, from time to time politicians who hope to revive their credentials will call for the term’s further degradation, evidently in an attempt to burnish their image and please their controllers.
Entulu laments the fact that Sarawak’s native communities have not been acknowledged “according to their respective ethnic groups.” He pointed out, “if we look at official forms or documents in the column for race, they only state either Malay, Chinese, Indian or Others.” Instead of blaming others, he should evaluate his own performance carefully; and if he did so objectively, he will find that this is damning proof that his generation of leaders have been ineffective representatives of the Sarawak natives.
The fact of the matter is that most Dayaks, with the exception of an opportunistic few, are proud of the name ‘Dayak’. They see the futility and the needlessness of changing the term just because some locals, the ‘jaguh kampung’ in power, have agitated for its abolishment.
When the federal bureaucrats get around to consider the dropping of the word ‘others’ in official forms, they should take a pointer from the Dayaks themselves. The Sarawak Dayak National Union, the Dayak Bidayuh National Union and the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association have, amongst others, used the word ‘Dayaks’ and have no problems about its reference for the 26 non-Muslim native communities in Sarawak.
It is time that the term ‘Dayak’ be accorded its proper place as a collective name to denote the non-Muslim natives of Sarawak. In the offending federal forms that Entulu griped about, the term ‘Others’ should be removed and in its place ‘Dayak’ and the names other specific communities should be put in its place.
Supreme Council Member
Parti Keadilan Rakyat