Borneo is the third
largest island in the world; only New Guinea and Greenland are larger.
The island is divided politically into four parts. Kalimantan, the
Indonesian section, occupies approximately two-thirds of the area.
In the northwest region are the states of Sabah and Sarawak, originally
founded by British interests and now part of Malaysia. Finally,
there is the Sultanate of Brunei, a British Protectorate, that lies
between Sabah and Sarawak. ...
Ethnographically Borneo is an unusually rich and varied region
that offers unique opportunities to test theories of social process.
Borneo societies vary widely in their level of sociocultural integration.
One might rank these various types of societies along a continuum
on the basis of social and technological complexity. However, no
pejorative valuation is implied by this as to which society solves
better the universal human concerns for physical security, food,
and sex; physiological and psychological health; personal freedom
and responsibility; the expression and receipt of agape or altruism;
the rearing of children; the management of aggression; and the inspiration
of human creativity. Such a continuum of Borneo societies would
include the following five types.
First, and at the least complex level, are the nomadic hunting
and gathering groups that can still be found in the interior forests.
These groups, found primarily but not exclusively in Kalimantan
and Sarawak, are collectively referred to as Punan. However, this
should not be construed as indicating that these groups are more
closely related to each other ethnically or linguistically than
to their more settled neighbors. On the contrary, there is evidence
that many Punan groups have distinct and separate sociocultural
roots. Furthermore, King (1974) reports that in West Kalimantan
there exist other hunters and gatherers, or former hunters and gatherers,
called Peninhing, Bukat and Bukitan (Ketan), in addition to those
referred to as Punan.
These hunting and gathering groups of the interior Bornean forest
are rapidly disappearing under the impact of modernization. Bornean
governments for reasons best known to themselves are trying to settle
these nomadic groups into permanent villages. These groups are also
being displaced by various international corporations in the wood
products industry that are cutting the forests of their traditional
territories. Unfortunately, social anthropologists generally have
neglected the study of these peoples. Only in Sarawak has the culture
of such hunters and gatherers been studied, originally by Rodney
Needham (1972) and now by Johannes Nicolaisen, of the University
This first level also includes various groups of sea nomads living
in boats along the coasts where they engage in littoral and maritime
fishing and gathering. There has been only one study of these groups
of sea nomads, that by Clifford A. Sather. However, H. Arlo Nimmo
has investigated a related population in the southern Philippines.
As a result of this neglect, as with the Punan, the distribution
and cultural affinities of these various groups of sea nomads are
Some populations of these sea nomads have come ashore and taken
up livestock raising and/or agriculture. But there has been no full-scale
study of the processes involved and the structural entailments of
this change in cultural ecology.
At the second level of complexity are a variety of societies based
on swidden agriculture (primarily rice) that are found widely distributed
throughout the interior. Some of these have egalitarian social systems
such as the Iban (see Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr.), the Rungus, and the
Berawan (see Peter Metcalf). Others have highly developed systems
of social stratification involving at least three classes such as
the Kenyah and Kayan. These latter groups represent a more advanced
level of sociocultural complexity.
Research in these societies has been carried out in Sarawak among
the Iban (originally by J. D. Freeman), the Bidayuh Land Dayak (W.
R. Geddes), the Selako Dayak (William M. Schneider), the Kayan (Jérôme
Rousseau), the Berawan (Peter Metcalf), the Punan Bah (Ida Nicolaisen),
and the Kenyah (Herbert L. and Patricia R. Whittier). The Kenyah,
like many ethnic groups in Sarawak, extend into Kalimantan, where
they have also been studied by the Whittiers. Other swidden groups
that have been studied in Kalimantan include the Ma'anyan Dayak
(Alfred B. and Judith Hudson), the Ot Danum (J. B. Avé),
the Maloh Dayak (Victor T. King), and the Ngaju (most recently by
Douglas Miles). In Sabah, Rungus society has been studied by G.
Although this second level of sociocultural integration has received
the most attention from anthropologists, there remain a large number
of ethnic groups yet to be ethnographically described. In addition,
the problem of the nature and function of a well-developed system
of social stratification in swidden societies still has to be resolved.
When it is, we might find that highly stratified swidden societies
should be classed at a higher level of sociocultural integration
than the egalitarian ones, perhaps equivalent to or even higher
than some of the irrigation societies which have been tentatively
classed at the next level.
At the third level of complexity are those societies whose cultural
ecology is based on wet-rice agriculture such as the Kadayan, Kelabit,
and many Dusunic-speaking groups in Sabah. This is a tentative conclusion
based largely on the fact that these irrigation societies have a
more advanced cultural ecology than the stratified swidden societies.
Whether or not many of them are more complex socioculturally is
open to question. For the degree of sociocultural elaboration of
the irrigation societies is not clear, particularly those elaborations
that one might expect to arise in response to the technology of
irrigation. For example the Kelabit, wet-rice cultivators of the
interior highlands of Sarawak, appear to have a highly stratified
society, but many of the other wet-rice societies, such as those
in Sabah, do not.
This level might also be expanded to include those societies representing
a transitional state between swidden and wet-rice agriculture or
between a swidden and a cash-crop economy. Research in this type
of society has been carried out among Kadayan by Allen R. Maxwell
in Brunei, the Bisaya by Roger D. Peranio in Sarawak, the Lun Bawang
by James L. Deegan in Sarawak, the Melanau of Sarawak by H. S. Morris,
the Lun Dayeh by Jay B. Crain in Sabah, and the Ranau Dusun of Sabah
by Robert Harrison.
At a higher or fourth level of indigenous sociocultural complexity
are the Islamic sultanates that arose primarily along the coast
to control trade with the interior such as Brunei (see D. L. Brown).
An extremely interesting variation in the cultural ecology of the
Islamic sultanates occurs among the Muslim populations that occupy
the lakes region of the great Kapuas River system in West Kalimantan.
These groups have not yet been studied.
Finally, at perhaps the most complex or fifth level, are the various
plural societies that arose as a result of the onset of colonialism.
Although H. S. Morris (1967a) has delineated some of the issues
in the study of plural societies, little research has been done
on these with the exception of research on the Chinese of Sarawak
by Richard C. Fidler and T'ien Ju-K'ang; on the Chinese of Sabah
by David Fortier; and on the Malay of Sarawak by Tom Harrisson and
In addition to Borneo's cultural complexity, the next unique feature
of the anthropology of the island is its relative neglect in comparison
to other regions of the world. Little anthropological research has
been undertaken in Borneo, particularly in Sabah and Kalimantan
(Appell 1969a, 1974b, and 1976a). As a result, not only are we now
just beginning to understand the complexity of the various questions
posed by Bornean social processes, we are also just beginning to
fill in the ethnographic map. The crucial question is whether the
necessary research to deal with these problems will be undertaken
before the landslide of change erases the distinctive features of
the cultural map. At this point the answer appears to be negative
The third feature of the anthropology of Borneo is that all societies
to the best of our present knowledge are cognatic. I discuss the
impact that this feature has had on research and the development
of social anthropological research in the next chapter where the
status of social science research in Sarawak is summarized.
The final feature of Borneo that merits attention is the fact
that anthropological research plays such a fundamental part in the
development of research and understanding in all the social sciences
(Appell 1974b). Political scientists, economists, folklorists, and
historians turn to the anthropologist to sort out the ethnic complexities
of the region and to identify the cultural contours and processes
so that they can adequately interpret their own data. Nevertheless,
while anthropological research may in one sense be more fundamental,
only by a continuing interchange of ideas and research results from
all social science disciplines can progress in each be sound. This
is well exemplified by the chapters of this Special Report.
Contributions to this Volume
In the first chapter I discuss the status of social science research
in Sarawak and the interdependence of the various disciplines in
this endeavor. Sarawak is unique in terms of its explicit support
of social science research, particularly anthropological research,
and in the significance of the results produced. In this respect
Sarawak suggests a paradigm for the other political units in Borneo.
I. D. Black, a historian of the British North Borneo Chartered
Company's rule, analyzes in the next chapter the structure of the
Company's administration and its impact on the indigenous societies.
The research of Black illustrates nicely the importance of sound
historical interpretation for the development of the anthropological
knowledge of the region. He shows how the Company contributed to
the rapid disintegration of indigenous societies, even before they
were subjected to any direct contact with Europeans, because of
the lack of proper administrative controls.
In this and other publications Black (1968, 1969, and 1971) draws
attention to the consequences of the misuse of indirect rule. He
has detailed the employment of Iban in the Company's police force
and shown how they misused their government position to continue
their headhunting and political expansion.
This discovery helped explain to me what appear at first in my
research to be anomalous behavior among the Rungus. At one point
it was found that the Rungus were remaining close to their settlements
because there was a wide-spread rumor that the government had hired
headhunters to attack them. Originally this rumor was dismissed
merely as a projection of their own repressed aggressive drives
until I read Black's work. It was then realized that there was a
kernel of truth behind their behavior, albeit a half-century out-of-date.
D. E. Brown, in the next chapter, summarizes his research on the
Brunei Sultanate. Showing the close relationship between history,
historiography, and social anthropological inquiry, he has produced
extremely significant findings on the nature of social processes.
His data are relevant not only for the analyses of highly stratified
societies but also for the analysis and understanding of all social
First, using historical materials Brown concludes (1973a) that
the persistence of an element in a social system will vary with
respect to the "fundamentalness" of its status in that
system. "Fundamentalness" is defined in terms of the degree
to which a status includes other, more particular statuses. In other
work summarized in his chapter Brown (1973b) distinguishes between
the concepts of "office" and "commission". He
concludes that in governmental hierarchies spanning ethnic boundaries,
the positions occupied by and associated with the affairs of subordinate
groups are more likely to be commissions than offices. He also tests
and confirms a hypothesis that a sound sense of history is unlikely
to develop in a society with an entrenched system of hereditary
ranking (n.d.). Brown finally develops an extremely interesting
hypothesis as to the function of closed systems of stratification
in generating ethnic differentiation (also cf. 1973c).
The next contributor to this monograph, Jay B. Crain on the Lun
Dayeh, deals with representatives of a linguistic and cultural grouping
that is as yet ill-defined. The problem arises because the term
"Murut", an exonym (Appell 1968a),1 has been applied to
two distinctively different groups of peoples. The Lun Dayeh belong
to the more southerly grouping, tentatively termed "Southern
Murut" (Appell 1968b) until its ethnic and linguistic contours
are more satisfactorily delineated.
To the north of these peoples, there exists another grouping who
has also been referred to as Murut and whose concentrations are
more in Sabah. These peoples are linguistically more closely related
to the Dusunic speakers of Sabah. They have now been distinguished
by the term "Idahan Murut" (Appell 1968a). The Southern
Murut, in contrast, seem to have originated in Kalimantan near the
region where Sabah, Sarawak, and Kalimantan meet. Within the last
century and a half, or longer, they have been moving northwestward
from the interior ot Kalimantan towards the coasts of Sarawak, Sabah,
Crain's analysis of Lun Dayeh social organization presents the
calendar of their cultural ecology which is based on a system of
mixed agriculture involving both wet rice and dry rice as well as
cash crops. He shows how this is symbolized in the ngerufan feast
and in the metaphorical meanings of rice throughout the agricultural
For several years Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr. has studied Iban society,
particularly its urban manifestations. His chapter presents an analyses
of the role of the shaman and illustrates how it provides an alternative
role for Iban who do not find the more normal male role congenial
to their personalities.
Peter Metcalf has studied the Berawan, an important interior group
of swidden cultivators in Sarawak. He describes the nature of secondary
burial among these people. He also analyzes their belief system
and rituals supporting this treatment of the dead. He compares this
approach with the interpretation advanced by Robert Hertz many years
ago and reaches an unexpected conclusion.
Finally, Robert McKinley's chapter is an unusually stimulating
exploration in symbolic anthropology. In analyzing the rituals of
headhunting in Borneo and neighboring regions, he arrives at some
startling conclusions on the ritual symbolization of the human head.
Through headhunting and the incorporating ritual, he argues, the
enemy is now made a friend. He asks why the head functions as this
sort of symbol in contrast to other parts of the body. He concludes
that it is the face which is the symbol for social "personhood"
and through the face one is drawn into social relationships. He
concludes that headhunting is one institutionalized method of dealing
with the existential human concerns over in-group death, misfortune,
and confrontation with threatening, strange cultural systems which,
nevertheless, are carried by other humans who keep asserting their
common humanity with one's own group.
1 I have introduced the term "exonym" to contrast with
"autonym": "Terms used for ethnic identification
that are derived from the folk classification of peoples foreign
to those being identified might, for convenience, be referred to
as 'exonyms"'(Appell 1968A:2). This terminology was adopted
by LeBar (1972).
Appell, G. N.
1969a Social Anthropological Research in Borneo. Anthropologia (Ottawa)
1978d The Status of Social-Anthropological Research in Borneo.
In The Status of Social Science Research in Borneo edited by G.
N. Appell and Leigh Wright. Southeast Asia Program Data Paper 109.
Ithaca: Cornell University.
King, Victor T.
1974 Notes on Punan and Buka in West Kalimantan. Borneo Research
Morris, H. S.
1967a Some spects of the concept plural society. Man 2:169-78.
1972 Penan. In Frank M. LeBar (editor and compiler), Ethnic Groups
of Insular Southeast Asia. Volume I: Indonesia, Andaman Islands,
and Madagascar. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files.