From December, 1980, through August, 1981, we undertook ethnographic
field work in Kalimantan Timur. We had earlier in the summer of
1980 attempted to continue our long-term study of Rungus society
and Rungus oral literature. However, the Sabah Government, after
initially encouraging us, refused to permit us to conduct research,
as it has in the past. We were similarly discouraged from engaging
in ethnographic field work in Brunei and Sarawak. Consequently,
I, with my wife and three daughters as field assistants, applied
to LIPI to undertake field work in Kalimantan Timur under the sponsorship
of the Population Studies Centre at Gadjah Mada University. This
was approved, and we subsequently obtained local sponsorship of
our research from the University of Mulawarman as well.
Our research goal in Kalimantan Timur was to find an ethnic group
where we could initiate a long-term study of their social organization,
language, and oral literature similar to that we had planned among
the Rungus. To this end we conducted ethnographic surveys in the
Sebuku River drainage basin and in the Sekatak, Batayau, and River
basins of the northeast section of Kalimantan Timur.
PEOPLES OF THE SEBUKU RIVER BASIN
The Agabag Tinggalan
At the present time the main section of the Sebuku River up to
Pembeliangan is occupied by Tidung people. At Pembeliangan the river
divides into two branches, the Tulid and the Tikung. In these branches
of the Sebuku River are found speakers of Idahan Murut isoglots
(Appell 1968). We surveyed the Tulid branch.
The Idahan Murut in this region traditionally call themselves
Agabag, which is derived from the lexeme for "loincloth."
an exonym for these speakers and perhaps related speakers has been
the term "Tinggalan" (alternatively rendered Tenggalan),
which has been in use since the late 1800's. I have suggested that
it might be productive for the ethnic terminology of Borneo to use
a binominial system with the first term being the autonym, and italicized,
while the second term would indicate the general linguistic family
to which the group belongs, and would therefore be an exonym (Appell
1968). Consequently, I have called the Idahan Murut speakers in
the upper reaches of the Sebuku River Agabag Tinggalan.
However, we should be cautious in this since the term "Agabag"
may in fact be an earlier exonym which has been subsumed by these
I should also make clear that it was extraordinarily difficult
to interview on the ethnic terminology of the region. Previously
the exonym "Tinggalan" had become well established among
the indigenous peoples. More recently, however, the term Orang Pedalaman,
"people of the interior," has been the term the local
Indonesian government has decreed appropriate to refer to these
people. Therefore, in eliciting ethnic terminology we would frequently
get either the term "Tinggalan" or Orang Pedalaman."
The Tulid Agabag no longer live in their traditional villages.
Several years ago the government brought them down from their traditional
areas, many above difficult rapids, and have aggregated them into
three resettlement areas. While the Agabag traditionally lived in
longhouses, the Indonesian government has decreed that they should
live in individual houses, and they have been told to take up one
of the approved world religions in place of their own.
The Tulid Agabag are swidden agriculturalists with a primary dependence
on manioc rather than rice. Marriage involves a bride-price, and
residence after marriage is virilocal.
I have previously argued that as far as we knew all the societies
of Borneo were cognatic (Appell 1976a). However, I have also argued
at various times (Appell 1973, 1976b) that the classification of
societies into unilineal and cognatic in essence distorts ethnographic
reality. The Tulid Agabag provide a good example of this argument.
All the male descendants of the purchaser of a large funerary
jar have the right also to be buried in that jar. Bones are removed
periodically. These are put in coffins and buried underground to
make place for newer corpses. Also, the virilocally residing wives
of men entitled to burial in these jars have the right to be interred
in these large expensive funerary jars by reason of their marriage.
This in no sense can be considered a corporate descent group but
is what I have termed previously a jural collectivity, in this case
a funerary jar focused jural collectivity (Appell 1983, ms.). The
rights lie with the individual members rather than the group as
an entity of its own. Unfortunately there was not sufficient time
to go into jural cases at length during our stay among the Agabag,
and I assume it was a jural collectivity, although it may have been
in fact a jural aggregate (see Appell 1976c, n.d.).
This traditional culture of the Agabag was disrupted by confrontation.
Since then there have been extensive changes brought about by resettlement
and Christianization. Therefore, after an inquiry of approximately
two weeks, we decided not to continue our work among them but instead
to work among the Bulusu'.
THE PEOPLES OF THE SEKATAK, BENGARA, AND BATAYAU RIVER
THE BULUSU', TIDUNG, BULUNGAN, AND PUNAN
In the lower reaches of these rivers are found Bulungan and Tidung
settlements. The middle reaches are inhabited by an ethnic group
called Bulusu'. And in the highlands are found Punan.
The Bulusu' are also known as "Berusu" or "Brusu."
Their preferred autonym is, however, "Bulusu'." The Bulusu'
inhabit primarily the Sekatak, Bengara, and Batayau Rivers. A few
villages can also be found on the right bank of the Mentarang River
as well as some of its southern tributaries.
It is difficult to assess the linguistic affiliation of the Bulusu'
at the present time. It is clear that their language is most closely
related to the Tidung language, and they themselves recognize this
close affiliation while pointing out how divergent their language
is from other neighboring languages.
Traditionally, the Bulusu' are longhouse dwellers and swidden
agriculturalists. Post-nuptial residence is virilocal, and a bride-price
is required of gongs, jars, cannons, and various other items.
Bride-price payment in Borneo may be divided into two types: corporate
and redistributive. Corporate bride-price is found among the various
Dusunic-speaking peoples. In this situation, the domestic family
of the bridegroom pays a bride-price from its accumulated assets
to the domestic family of the bride, which adds these assets to
its accumulated earnings.
In the redistributive type of bride-price, the bride-price is
constituted not only from the assets of the groom's domestic family.
The father of the groom also borrows additional required items both
from his network of kin as well as the network of kin of his wife,
the groom's mother. The father of the bride receives the bride-price
and redistributes it among his network of kin and the network of
kin of the bride's mother in repayment for outstanding loans of
brassware, jars, etc., as well as in repayment for contributing
to the marriage feast.
The Bulusu' method of bride-price is the redistributive type.
The development cycle of the Bulusu' domestic family differs from
that of the Iban or the Rungus. The longhouse compartment holds
a patrilateral extended family. Typically it is composed of the
parents and their sons, the sons' wives, and the sons' children.
However, this unit is essentially a consumption rather than a production
unit. There is one hearth, but each nuclear family has its own swidden
and its own swidden house. Each nuclear family spends much of their
time in their swidden house during the agricultural year. But when
they are living together in the longhouse apartment each one contributes
food from their own swidden to the domestic economy.
A son will remain in his father's apartment until his children
have reached a marriageable age. He will then build his own longhouse
apartment from which his children marry, and the three generational
structure is created again. The eldest son remains in his parent's
apartment to care for them in their old age.
I have drawn attention to the two basic types of land tenure systems
in Borneo (Appell, 1971, Appell n.d.). These are, with of course
various subtypes, as follows: the Rungus system or what I have termed
the "circulating system" and the "contingent system,"
which occurs among the Iban, Kayan, and Kenyah. In both systems
the village owns residual rights over a territory in which the resident
members cultivate their swiddens. In the circulating system, no
individual or family can establish permanent use rights over an
area by felling primary jungle. Instead each year after a family
unit has removed all its agricultural produce from its swidden area,
the area reverts to the area of disposal of the village. And any
other farming unit in the village may use that swidden for its own
new swidden when sufficient forest cover has grown up.
In the other system, permanent use rights may be established by
a farming unit clearing primary jungle. I have termed this system
the "contingent land tenure system" because these rights
are contingent on residence. These use rights are held by the farming
unit and its successors as long as they remain resident in the village.
One leaving the village these rights revert to the village and its
area of disposal.
The Bulusu' have a very interesting variation of the circulating
land tenure system. The swidden area reverts to the village area
of disposal unless it is planted in fruit trees. Fruit trees are
significantly more important among the Bulusu' than other peoples
in Borneo I have worked with. While the Rungus plant small groves
of fruit trees, the Bulusu' during a fruiting season will plant
a whole swidden with trees. And the rights to these trees belong
to the cognatic descendants of the planter. However, this is only
done after a major fruiting season, which only occurs irregularly,
anywhere from three to seven years, after an unusually dry spell
which permits the flowers to be fertilized and the fruit to set.
I should like to point out that this system of Bulusu’ land
tenure occurs in an area of extreme rainfall, contrary to my original
hypothesis on the possible ecological determinants of land tenure.
There appears to be no predictable dry season in the Bulusu’
region, and so planting is timed only in terms of minimizing bird
At the headwaters of the various rivers in the Bulusu’ territory
and in the height of land between water sheds, in what I have referred
to as “the Punan highlands,” are found various Punan
groups. They refer to themselves as Punan, but I believe that this
was originally an exonym.
The language of these Punan groups is markedly different from
the Bulusu’. In fact, in intermarriages between Punan and
of Bulusu’ the use of the Punan language in the family has
resulted in cause for divorce because of the inability of a Bulusu’
woman to know what is being talked about.
From the Punan highlands down to the traditional Bulusu’
villages, here is a steady cultural and genetic gradation from Punan
to Bulusu’ populations and Bulusu’ culture. In the upper
reaches of the rivers are found impermanent Punan settlements in
which the economy is based on hunting and gathering and the planting
of some cassava. Farther downstream are found settlements of Punan
with some admixture of Bulusu’. Rice is cultivated and longhouses
are used, although it is my impression that these longhouses are
smaller and less elaborate than in full Bulusu’ villages.
Even in these latter villages male Punan can be found. For when
a Punan male wishes to learn rice agriculture and give up hunting
and gathering, he will marry a Bulusu’ female. Living with
his father-in-law for a number of years he learns the techniques
of longhouse building and swidden farming.
However, this is not to imply that the Punan settlements in the
Punan highlands are composed solely of Punan. There you do find
an occasional Bulusu’ or a Bulusu’-Punan mixture and
in one instance which I know of there has been a Tidung male who
has married in and lives with a Punan-Bulusu’ wife.
My remarks on the Tidung and Bulungan ethnic group will be abbreviated
here for lack of time.
There is considerable intermarriage between the Tidung and Bulungan
so that a new ethnic category is developing: the Tidung-Bulungan.
We found Beech’s work (1908), which has been one of the
reference points in our understanding of the Tidung and Bulungan
in the past, to be full of errors. We collected materials to correct
this dictionary as well as some of the conclusions he reached. One
of his conclusions was that the Tidung and Bulungan languages are
fairly closely related, but this is certainly not true. As I mentioned,
the Tidung are most closely related to the Bulusu’.
His conclusion that the Tidung did migrate from the interior to
the coast has been substantiated by the data we gathered, but the
evidence on which he drew his conclusion was false. The term “Tidung”
does not mean “hill” or “mountain,” as he
indicated. From Nunukan south through Tarakan and into the Bulusu’
area we were constantly corrected on this assumption. There is a
minimal pair Tidung:tidong. The first refers to the ethnic group
and the second refers to hills or mountains.
Cline of Intermarriages
Punan males marry Bulusu’ females. And Bulusu’ females
also marry into the Tidung-Bulungan category. Therefore, there should
be on balance more males than females in Bulusu’ society.
This does not seem to be the case. The obvious conclusion that can
be drawn is that the Bulusu’ are producing significantly more
females than males. But we have not yet had time to analyze all
our genealogical data to verify this impressionistic conclusion.
Intermarriages are only part of a complex series of exchanges that
link these societies together.
Cultural Differences in Cognitive Processes
Our work in Indonesian Borneo resulted in one interesting discovery
about differences between cultures in cognitive processes. I have
found it useful to distinguish cultures whose cognitive organization
is primarily based on digital information processing from cultures
where the processing is analog.
The Rungus Dusun and American science primarily use digital processes
for organizing information. That is, boundaries of phenomena are
clearly distinguished and members of a category are defined by the
presence or absence of particular characteristics. In the analog
approach boundaries are indistinct and items may be considered in
two different categories depending on the social environment. That
is, categories are defined by the degree to which a characteristic
is present, and this is, of course, always open to negotiation (see
Dentan 1970, Appell 1973).
In contrast to the Rungus, we found in Indonesian Borneo that
cognitive processes are largely analog. Boundaries are unclear,
categories are organized in terms of degree of essential characteristics,
and these are open to interpretation by anyone. This approach is
represented in the comment made about Indonesia: “Everything
can be negotiated.”
I am not too sure the degree to which this observation pertains
to the indigenous cultures of Indonesian Borneo rather than to the
Indonesian national culture. However, we hope to explore this idea
further and provide examples of it from our field data in the near
1. I gratefully acknowledge support of this research from the National
Science Foundation (Grant No. BNS-7915343) and the Ford Foundation.
I want to thank my wife, Laura W. R. Appell, and my three daughters,
Laura P., Amity C. P., and Charity R., for their help in this research.
I also want to thank LIPI for their support and particularly Dr.
Masri Singarimbun, Director, Population Study Center, Gadjah Mada
University, for his valuable advise and sponsorship. I am indebted
also to Dr. Soetrisno Hadi, Rektor, Universitas Mulawarman, and
Bupati Soetadji of Bulungan for their many kindnesses and help.
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