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West Kalimantan at a glance

Published: Jul 01, 1997

Indigenous Dayaks have been left behind by rapid economic change

The term 'Dayak' is a collective and often confusing term for hundreds of groups on Borneo related to one another by language and culture. Most of the Dayak in West Kalimantan are sedentary swidden (slash-and-burn) cultivators who produce rice but continue to derive a substantial part of their livelihood from forest products, including tree crops such as durian (a fruit), rubber and resin.

Fruit crops are often grown within community forest reserves (tanah adat) in which village cemeteries are also located. Rubber trees, one of the most important year-round sources of income for farmers, are grown in plots managed by individual households. Much of the community forest reserves and garden plots, however, are on what the government considers to be state land, available for commercial use. The government has never recognised traditional Dayak land tenure in its own system of land registration.

More timber concessions have been granted in West Kalimantan than in any other province. The pattern is often the same. The logging company will find a corrupt local official or gullible group of villagers to sign away large chunks of land, signs will go up banning local farmers from trying to harvest fruit or tap rubber in the area, often the trees in question will be cut down, the farmers will protest, and the local government will accuse them of 'obstructing development.' No benefits whatsoever will accrue to the dispossessed Dayaks.

Ethnic balance

With a population variously estimated at 3.5 to 4.1 million, West Kalimantan is the most highly populated of Kalimantan's four provinces, though at twenty persons per square kilometre, its population density is a third of South Kalimantan's. Figures on its ethnic breakdown are difficult to obtain. Military reports from 1979 and 1980 say the indigenous Dayaks, mostly in the more sparsely populated interior, made up 41 percent of the population; the ethnically similar but Muslim and largely coastal Malays made up 34 percent; Chinese, concentrated especially in coastal towns like Singkawang but found in small numbers in all built-up areas, made up 14 percent; Javanese, largely in government and government-sponsored transmigration areas, made up 3 percent; Buginese from South Sulawesi 5 percent; and Madurese, living mostly in coastal areas and to a lesser extent also in the interior, made up 2.5 percent.

In the provincial capital of Pontianak, which today has a population estimated at 400,000, Dayaks constituted only 1.4 percent of the population in 1980, as compared with 13 percent for the Madurese and 40 percent for the Malays.

Transmigration, both government-sponsored and spontaneous, has tipped the population balance against the indigenous Malays and Dayaks since then. By 1980, about 1.4 percent of the province's population consisted of transmigrants. By 1985 the proportion was up to 6 percent, unevenly distributed. In Sanggau Ledo, where the violence broke out, a full 15 percent of the population was settlers by 1980, and the proportion is likely to have risen since. By 1984, the percentage of transmigrants going to West Kalimantan as opposed to other provinces had risen from 14.6 to over 25 percent. In 1994, an estimated 6,000 families, or about 25,000 persons, migrated to West Kalimantan.


While most transmigrants who arrived in government programs were Javanese, the Madurese were more likely to come on their own. Most Madurese in urban areas work in cheap transport (river crossing ferries, pedicabs), and as coolies, stevedores or day laborers. In the countryside most are small-time wetland rice farmers. The Madurese, in other words, are mostly poor, but they are not so obviously the dispossessed, having acquired, not lost land in their new home.

Violence between Dayak and Madurese has occurred several times in in West Kalimantan - eight times in the last two decades. Each clash, according to Dayak sources, was triggered by a Madurese stabbing a Dayak to death. The Madurese invariably appear as the losers in these clashes. The clashes described here are by far the largest thus far.

One Dayak grievance heard repeatedly was that Dayaks have been politically marginalised since the 1960s. Many Dayaks were eliminated from government administration for their alleged leftism after Suharto's 'New Order' came to power in early 1966. Today only one of the province's six districts, the most remote, is headed by a Dayak.

Other informants spoke of Dayak economic marginalisation. Exploitation of the forests has gone further in West Kalimantan than anywhere else. 'Dayaks can only listen to the sound of chainsaws', was the way one Dayak informant put it.

From a forthcoming Human Rights Watch Asia report.


Inside Indonesia 51: Jul-Sep 1997

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