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Borders of kinship and ethnicity: cross-border relations between the Kelalan Valley, Sarawak, and the Bawan Valley, East Kalimantan.


The paper that follows is an ethnographic study of the socio-cultural and economic links that connect people inhabiting a contiguous highland region of Sarawak, Malaysia and East Kalimantan, Indonesia. (1) These people, while living in two different countries, share a common border and are bound to one another by ties of ethnicity, language, kinship, religion, and economics.

Border communities organize themselves not only within the confines of national boundaries but also around social ties and interactions that cross these boundaries. This is particularly true of the study area where the national border was drawn in a way that ignored the natural and social divisions recognized by local people and which, today, remains porous to movements of people and goods. However, notwithstanding the artificial nature of this border, it is now necessary for borderland communities to organize their lives around it. The border has thus become an arena where diverse interests and actors play out their roles (Koji 2003: 1). Moreover, national citizenship is now one of the identities, in addition to kinship and culture, that must be negotiated (Bala 2002: 114).

This study focuses on two themes. First, as a borderland study, it examines the various links that join people living in two different sovereign nations divided by a political border. The border is also a place where other interests converge, including those of the state, and where outsiders come to trade and work. Second, the study will analyze the role of local actors, institutions, and interests in a borderland environment where ethnicity and kinship continue to be important.

The Study Area

Research was conducted in the Kelalan Valley (or Ba Kelalan) of Sarawak and the Bawan Valley, Wilayah Adat Kerayan Darat, in Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia (see map). (2) All villages were studied in Ba Kelalan, while in Long Bawan, the study included only those villages closest to the border. In Ba Kelalan, seven villages were studied: Buduk Nur, Long Langai, Long Lemutut, Long Ritan, Long Rusu, Pa Tawing, and Buduk Bui, and in the Long Bawan sub-district, five villages were studied: Long Nawang, Long Midang, Long Api, Buduk Tumuh, and Pa Rupai. The population of the Kelalan Valley is roughly 1030 persons. The selected study villages in the Bawan Valley have a population of some 2400, while the entire Kerayan Valley contains 89 kampung with a total population of about 11,000 persons.


Research Methodology

An ethnographic approach was used, supplemented by questionnaires, archival and library research. The approach allowed the researchers to test pre-conceived lines of inquiry and respond to information-gathering on the ground. As this was a collaborative study, the Sarawak researchers worked in Kerayan Darat as well as Long Bawan, while the Indonesian team leader, Ketut Ardana, also visited Ba Kelalan. Fieldwork was carried out in stints in May, August, and November 2003, and in February and September 2004.

As the time available in the study area was limited, the distances between Ba Kelalan and Long Bawan, and between individual villages, proved to be a problem, as much time was spent traveling. One member of the study team, Jayl Langub, is a Lun Bawang whose mother comes from Ba Kelalan. Consequently, he not only speaks the local dialect, but knows many families and individuals in both the Kelalan and Bawan Valleys. This greatly facilitated interviews.


The indigenous people inhabiting this highland plateau are called Lun Bawang in Ba Kelalan and Lun Dayeh in the Kerayan. Both groups are linguistically and culturally the same. Lun Bawang means 'people of the place', while Lun Dayeh means 'people of the interior', and researchers such as Sellato (1994: 12) and Crain (1994: 160) have noted similarities between them in terms of social organization and economy. In the past, European observers often referred to these groups as "Murut." However, the term "Murut" is no longer used in Sarawak as it can cause confusion with groups in Sabah, also called Murut, who have no cultural or linguistic affinity with either the Lun Bawang or Lun Dayeh.

Geographical Background

The study area is located in the highlands and valleys of northern Borneo, at the intersection of Kalimantan Timur, Sarawak, and Sabah. The Kerayan District (Kecamatan Kerayan) is divided into four Wilayah Adat (W.A.): W.A. Kerayan Hilir, W.A. Kerayan Tengah, W.A. Kerayan Darat, and W.A. Kerayan Hulu. The Bawan Valley is located in W.A. Kerayan Darat. In Sarawak, the Kelalan Valley is part of the Lawas District. One of the defining characteristics of the highlands is its relative isolation from the rest of Borneo. This is reflected in human settlement, agriculture, and economy. Isolation was caused in the past by the absence of navigable rivers, compounded by the highland terrain. The area averages 1000 meters in elevation and the climate is noticeably cooler than in lowland Borneo.

The traditional means of communication within the area was by foot. From the Kerayan to the nearest Indonesian township, Melinau, took about two weeks on foot and from the Kerayan to Lawas in Sarawak, 8 to 10 days. Air transport came only in the post-World War II period. In the upper Trusan Valley of Sarawak airfields were built at Long Semado and Ba Kelalan. However, at the time of writing, the Long Semado airfield has been discontinued and the Ba Kelalan airfield was closed for repairs. In Kerayan Darat, Long Bawan is linked by air to Tarakan, Nunukan, and Melinau.

Today, Ba Kelalan is linked by a logging road to Lawas some 160 kilometers away. The road is dry and dusty during the hot months of April through September, and muddy and treacherous during the monsoon months of October to March, and only four-wheel drive vehicles are able to operate on it. More recently, beginning in July 2004, the road from Lawas to Ba Kelalan was extended to Long Bawan. Due to the high cost of air freight in the Kerayan, the Bawan Valley has now turned to Ba Kelalan for most of its goods and also as an outlet for the sale of its rice.

The study villages consist of clusters of individual houses, with the exception of Long Bawan, the administrative center of Kerayan Darat, which also has rows of two-storey shophouses. In the Kelalan Valley, footpaths link villages which are all within walking distance of one another. Surrounding the houses are terraced rice fields. The main occupation of the villagers is wet rice cultivation, although some of the more enterprising have set up small village shops. The border is manned by Malaysian and Indonesian army posts.

Wet Rice Cultivation (lati' ba)

Geographical isolation and the mountainous terrain have forced both the Lun Bawang and the Lun Dayeh to settle in the valleys, where they practice a unique, complex, and productive form of wet rice cultivation known as lati' ba. Lati' ba represents a sound ecological adaptation to the mountainous topography. Rice fields are carved out of valleys and sustained by an intricate system of irrigation canals fed by mountain streams. Soils in the Bawan Valley are sandy and infertile, but the water supply helps overcome these deficiencies with natural nutrients carried by stream water from the hills and mountains (Padoch 1981). Buffaloes are kept to break up and fertilize the soil with their droppings. Adan rice is planted once a year, around July, and is harvested in January. After harvesting, rice fields are left fallow, and before planting, buffaloes are brought in to graze and work the ground. No machinery is used so that labor is in high demand during land preparation and harvest.

This method of rice cultivation, which depends on clear water, natural fertilization, fallowing, use of buffaloes, and the non-use of pesticides has proven effective and has sustained life in the highlands for generations. As the population is small, surplus rice, especially from the Kerayan, is traded as a commodity to the Kelalan Valley and beyond. For many Kerayan families, the economic value of adan rice encourages them to sell it, and for their own consumption, buy cheaper imported rice. The rice grown in the highlands is recognized for its quality and taste and is in great demand in lowland towns and cities. Here it is popularly known as "Bario rice." The term "Bario rice" is often taken to mean rice grown in Bario, Sarawak, but varieties of the same rice are grown throughout the highlands, from Ba Kelalan and Long Semado in Sarawak, through Long Pasia in Sabah, to the Kerayan region of Kalimantan. As this rice is in high demand, rice has become a major cash crop and this, as we shall see, has implications for cross-border trade. Rice cultivation is also intertwined with social and economic relationships, as rice farming in Ba Kelalan now depends on Kerayan labor.

Historical Background

According to Harrisson (1959a: 8-11), the Lun Bawang are an ancient interior population who began to move into the Baram and Limbang Districts of Sarawak and into Bahau in Kalimantan sometime in the seventeenth century. Historically, before the coming of Europeans, coastal groups sought to exert control over the hinterlands. Oral traditions acknowledge that the Bawan Valley was for a time a part of the coastal Tidung kingdom. However, the arrival of Europeans altered these relationships. Although coming within different colonial spheres, that of the Brookes in Sarawak and of the Dutch in East Borneo, people on both sides of the border remained in contact and colonial governance was minimal. Brooke rule was extended to the Trusan District in 1885 and to Lawas in 1905. On the other side of the border, Dutch control only reached the East Kalimantan interior in the early 1930s (Crain 1994). From archival sources in Sarawak, there is evidence of movement of Kerayan people, goods, and ideas into Sarawak in the early twentieth century. It was nearer and more convenient to travel to Sarawak than to the east coast of Borneo, a fact that is still true today. External influences acted as a catalyst for change and increased cross-border interactions. Trade in jungle and farm products such as damar, rice and buffaloes in return for manufactured goods, notably cloth, was a major economic force at work, followed later by wage labor.

Most historical information on cross-border relations comes from Sarawak archival records, which focus largely on trade relations between Sarawak's coastal towns and Indonesian border communities. It was at the coast that most trading transactions were recorded, not at the border. Hence, the extent of border trade is unknown, but coastal records clearly reveal the mutual advantages of trade to people on both sides of the border. The northern coastal towns of Sarawak, which served as administrative centers, were meant to foster trade and Chinese traders were encouraged by the Brooke government to set up businesses there. Following the establishment of Trusan and Lawas, interior peoples from Ba Kelalan and the Kerayan were able to walk down to the coast to trade.

Thus, in 1885 the Sarawak Gazette reported: "During next year, it is expected that the population will exert themselves in looking for produce, and that the different articles brought before their notice by the traders will give them encouragement ... Riches are spoken of in the interior, but it is a question if the inhabitants have the energy to unearth them for the market" (Sarawak Gazette, 1 December 1885: 119). News of the opportunities for trade on the coast reached across the watershed into Kalimantan and in 1887 it was reported that "Muruts" from Banjermassin had arrived at Trusan station after an overland journey of ten days. "They stated that they had heard a great deal about the Fort and things in general here, and had at length come to see for themselves; they were so much impressed that on their return they would induce others from that part of the country to follow their example" (Sarawak Gazette, 3 January 1887: 11). A few years later, it was reported that a group of Pa Lutut people from Dutch territory had arrived in Trusan to buy buffaloes and informed the Resident at Trusan that it would take a month to walk back (Sarawak Gazette, 1 August 1901: 162). Although the Brooke stations paid more attention to their own subjects, they welcomed these cross-border visitors. After these initial reports, there is hardly any mention of "Dutch Muruts" until the late 1940s. Trade had a major impact on the lives of border communities. Trade created opportunities for contact and introduced the use of money. Missionaries and Brooke officials would later cite religion as a major source of change, but exposure to coastal influences, trade goods, and Europeans began much earlier, with this first establishment of coastal trading centers.

Missionary activities began in the highlands in the late 1920s. The Australian-based Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) operated on the Sarawak side of the border, while in East Kalimantan, starting in the mid 1930s, American missionaries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance succeeded in making large-scale conversions. The new religion was received enthusiastically. As individuals crossed the border, they acted as catalysts by influencing others to embrace the new religion. The BEM missionaries Carey and Southwell arrived in Ba Kelalan in 1928. Some individuals from Dutch Borneo were present and told the missionaries that two American white men were preaching the same message on the other side of the border (Southwell 1999: 80). One Kerayan Christian, Panai, a convert of the American Christian and Missionary Alliance, is said to have been responsible for the mass conversion of the Ulu Trusan (Sarawak Gazette, 31 March 1957). Thus religious change criss-crossed the border, and today Christian churches in both the Kerayan and Kelalan Valleys are well-established institutions and common religious identity as Christians now reinforces bonds of ethnicity.

Arguably, the Japanese Occupation opened a window into the highlands (Bala 2002: 58), when the region became a center for covert military operations. Crain credits the presence of allied units with bringing major changes to the area, arguing that "the effect of these Europeans, with their extraordinary amount of goods, medicine, weapons ... et cetera, was to bring about a level and content of communication previously unknown between various areas of Lun Dayeh settlement" (Crain 1994: 125). While the Japanese Occupation may have given borderland communities a common cause and a feeling of togetherness, in 1963, a different kind of war, Confrontation, caused much distress, as national identity came to the fore, with a resulting differentiation between "us" and "them," as Malaysians and Indonesians.

While only sketchy information on the nature of cross-border linkages is available for the early twentieth century, much more is known for the second half of the century. After Sarawak became a British crown colony in 1946, trade continued to draw people from the other side of the border. In 1949 it was reported, "Muruts from Ulu Trusan and Dutch Borneo have visited Lawas throughout the year bringing with them rice and damar for sale, and bringing back cloth and other bazaar goods to their houses" (Sarawak Gazette, 7 May 1949: 121). According to the same source, "Dutch Muruts come here (Lawas) in preference to Long Berang, the nearest bazaar to them in Netherlands East Indies. Long Berang is at least 25 days' round journey from the Sarawak-Dutch border, whereas the round journey to Lawas is 16 days only and the track is less hilly and much easier for travelling, especially if carrying a load." Buffaloes were another trading item from the Kerayan and were walked all the way down to Lawas for sale (Sarawak Gazette, 31 May 1952:112).

Movement across the border for trading purposes was soon augmented by a need for labor. The Lawas District Officer in 1956 admitted that, "without the help of Indonesian Muruts, many of whom have been coming down on short money-earning sprees, the labour situation here would be grave. They are industrious, uncomplaining and prepared to accept reasonable wages in comparison with many of our own people" (Sarawak Gazette, 31 March 1956: 74). Building projects in Lawas needed labor and this need was filled by "Indonesian Muruts."

It was also observed that these Muruts were "skilled in the constructional work on additional bunds," and helped create rice farms in Ba Kelalan and Long Semado and even down to coastal Lawas (Sarawak Gazette, 12 September 1951: 183). Farms in Ba Kelalan and Long Semado were short of labor in the 1950s and turned to the Kerayan for help. The small population, and its drift away from the highlands to the coastal towns had already begun; "depopulation (from Upper Trusan) continues with a steady trickle of both householders and families going down to Lawas and staying there" (Sarawak Gazette, 30 September 1955: 236). The Trusan was underpopulated, and it was asserted that the small population increase from 1949 to 1957 was due to the movement of people from across the border, with many brides brought across from East Kalimantan (Sarawak Gazette, 31 October 1958:92 and 30 April, 1961: 66).

Following independence, with Indonesia becoming a Republic in 1949 and Sarawak joining the Malaysian Federation in 1963, different political sovereignties emerged and this affected border communities by conferring notions of citizenship. In the past, people did not think in terms of the "state," and the flow of people, goods, and ideas across the border continued despite differences in sovereignty. However, the outbreak of Confrontation created hardships as armies on both sides fought limited skirmishes and sought to restrict cross-border mobility and personal contact. But such restrictions did not work and a blind eye was generally turned to people crossing the border as they had always done. Fortunately, the Cross Border Agreement signed on 26 May 1967 between Indonesia and Malaysia recognized this reality and allowed individuals living in border communities to visit, trade, and work for one another.

Social Organization

Although separated by a national border, the Lun Bawang of the Kelalan Valley and the Lun Dayeh of the Bawan Valley organize their families in similar ways, recognize similar patterns of local leadership, and in both areas the church plays a similar role in maintaining social cohesion.

1) The Household

The basic social unit in both groups is the uang ruma', or household. Uang ruma' means literally 'flesh of the house' (see Crain 1970: 189). The uang ruma' usually comprises a nuclear family of a husband, wife, and offspring. The occurrence of extended families is rare, and, for Ba Kelalan, the average number of people per family is 5.3 (Sarawak Development Institute 2002).

The uang ruma' is the unit of production, consumption, procreation, and education. Every individual is a member of one uang ruma', and it is through this membership that he or she relates to the village and beyond. The head of the household is normally the most senior male, usually the father. Siblings and cousins prefer to build their houses next to each other so that help can be easily solicited. During important events, such as marriages, births, or deaths, help is sought from one's kinsmen. The Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh are monogamous, and marriage is possible with people outside their own ethnic group. However, in the past, the preference was for marriage not only within the group, but also within the same area. The Lun Bawang/Lun Dayeh practice the custom of paying a brideprice, so that after marriage the girl may leave her natal family and join that of her husband. In the case of the Lun Bawang, the brideprice is limited by custom to three buffaloes and cash amounting to 2000 Malaysian ringgit. Following marriage, the husband's and wife's family will try to help each other with farm work and other activities, no matter how far removed their villages are from one another. This has implications for cross-border interaction. Because one can get help from one's brothersand sisters-in-law, most people prefer to marry into families that have many children and close relatives who are known to be hardworking.

The next level of social organization is the village. Village organization in Ba Kelalan differs slightly from that of the Bawan Valley.

2) Village Social Organization: Kelalan Valley

The village comprises a cluster of detached houses, with each house occupied by an individual household. In the past, the Lun Bawang lived in longhouses, or ruma' kadang. Within the longhouse, each household occupied a separate apartment. However, in more recent times, detached dwellings are preferred. The households that form the village are bound together by a number of relationships: kin networks, farm work groups, church congregations, and village development committees. There are seven villages in Ba Kelalan, each with its own headman, or tua kampung, and farming territory.

The post of headman was created by the government and appointment is made through consensus of the adult village population. The holder of the office is expected to have a knowledge of community customs and traditions and must command the respect of the villagers. Since he receives only a small token honorarium from the government, he should also be economically well-off. The headman presides over the general affairs of the village. He also coordinates a number of community activities and acts as an intermediary between the village and the government. He arbitrates minor disputes between village members and provides leadership in matters pertaining to development activities. He thus chairs the village development committee (Jawatatan Kemajuan dan Keselamatan Kampung [JKKK]) and is assisted by a committee secretary, treasurer and members. The function of the JKKK includes general development of the village, social welfare, health, and security. It oversees the implementation of minor rural development projects, such as gravity-feed water supply, cement walkways, footpaths, bridges, and sport facilities like badminton courts or football fields. Various sub-committees may be formed depending on the needs of the villages.

Above the headman is the regional chief, or penghulu. This post was also created by the government and its holder is appointed through consultation with the elders of the area. The seven villages in the Kelalan Valley come under one penghulu. The penghulu's duties are similar to those of a headman except that they are more extensive. The penghulu visits every village under his jurisdiction at least twice a year to discuss matters pertaining to development and everyday life. He collects information for the government and has lay magisterial power, presiding over cases in the native chiefs court. As a lay magistrate, he must be conversant with local customs and reports to the District Office occasionally when required to do so. Since the job takes considerable time, he is paid a monthly salary. Like a civil servant, he is prohibited from taking part in party politics, but unlike them is free to engage in commercial ventures. His appointment is for five years. However, if he performs his duties well, he may be reappointed for further terms.

There are six government agencies represented in Ba Kelalan: the Upriver Agency, a primary school, a health sub-center, an agriculture sub-office, a civil aviation office, and an auxiliary police station, which the villagers consult when the need arises. Most matters of immediate concern, however, are dealt with within the village.

The Lun Bawang are Christians and belong to the Borneo Evangelical Mission denomination or Sidang Injil Borneo. The church is one of the most important institutions in the village. Each village has a church (gereja) and church services and prayer meetings are occasions during which villagers meet and share spiritual experiences, exchange information, discuss community activities, and renew their commitment to village well-being. The church community is also a source of solace and support in times of crisis.

Church activities are looked after by a pastor who receives a monthly allowance determined by the villagers, and donations of rice and other food items. The functions of the pastor include preaching, conducting church services and worship, arranging for prayer meetings, and counseling on matters relating to spiritual and moral issues. Sometimes he or she is called upon to mediate in domestic quarrels. The pastor is assisted in his work by deacons or pelayan. These are appointed by a consensus of the congregation. The criteria for appointment are good personal character and moral behavior. Deacons are respected individuals and serve many useful functions in the village. They make collective decisions on church activities, look after the finances and allowances of the pastor, and assist the pastor with church services and prayer meetings. In the absence of the pastor, they may also deliver sermons to the congregation.

Deacons also play a mediating role. When there are domestic quarrels, a deacon or a group of them may be asked to mediate between the quarreling parties. During betrothal negotiations, a deacon or a group of deacons may be asked to negotiate matters, such as the brideprice or the post-marital residence of the couple. The position of deacon is reviewed every two years, so that almost every adult male and female of good moral behavior has a chance to serve as a deacon. There are, of course, a few deacons who remain in the job for many years until age forces them to retire. These persons are highly respected for their honesty and ability. Being a deacon is voluntary and the only reward is the satisfaction of serving the community and being respected by the people. Table 1 shows the organization of the village church.

3) Village Social Organization: Bawan Valley

The composition of villages in the Bawan Valley is similar to that of Ba Kelalan, with clusters of detached houses forming villages known as desa. In the past, the Lun Dayeh also lived in longhouses. The village headman is known as the kepala adat desa. He is elected by popular vote of the adult population of the village and serves for a term of five years and may be re-elected.

Broadly, the kepala adat desa has two main roles: as an arbitrator in disputes and domestic quarrels and as a manager of village projects. As a manager, he is assisted by members of the urusan pembangunan desa (village development committee). This committee comprises a chairman (kepala adat desa), a secretary, treasurer, and three other members. Each member of the committee is also elected for a five-year term, and, like the headman, is paid a monthly allowance. Each village is given project funds by the government for minor infrastructure projects, such as dirt roads, footpaths, or sport facilities, and the village development committee organizes the manpower to implement these projects.

In the 1970s, scattered villages in Kecamatan Kerayan were regrouped at various locations and the position of ketua lokasi was created to coordinate development activities at these locations (lokasi). The Bawan Valley is comprised of four lokasi with eleven desa. Each lokasi has a coordinator or ketua lokasi. The ketua lokasi coordinates all development activities that involve the participation of villages (desa) within the lokasi. Table 2 shows the number of lokasi and desa in the Bawan Valley.

Kecamatan Kerayan, as noted earlier, is divided into four Wilayah Adat (W.A.). There are a total of 26 lokasi and 89 desa in Kecamatan Kerayan. The four lokasi and 12 desa in the Bawan Valley come under W.A. Kerayan Darat. Kerayan Darat is the largest of the four Wilayah Adat and comprises a total of 10 lokasi and 34 desa.

Each Wilayah Adat has a kepala adat besar. His responsibilities are similar to that of the kepala adat desa except that the area of his coverage is wider, extending to all the desa and lokasi under his jurisdiction. When a disputant is not satisfied with a decision of the kepala adat desa, he can appeal to the kepala adat besar. The kepala adat besar is elected every five years by popular vote of the entire Wilayah Adat. The kepala adat besar acts as a bridge between the government and the villagers under his jurisdiction. Villages in the Bawan Valley are within close proximity to the Kerayan distict headquarters at Long Bawan, where various government departments are located.

There are three Christian denominations present in the Bawan Valley: Gereja Betal Indonesia (GBI); Gereja Kristen Pemancar Indonesia (GKPI); and Gereja Kemah Injil Indonesia (GKII), and villagers in the valley belong to one or another of these denominations. Each church has a pastor and a group of deacons comprising men and women to look after the church and its activities. As in Ba Kelalan, the church plays an important role in village life. Deacons are appointed by consensus of the congregation in the same way, and, as in the Kelalan Valley, in addition to their spiritual role, act as peace-makers in the event of disputes. Table 3 shows the organization of a village church in the Bawan Valley.

3) Cross-Border Disputes

Although the people of Ba Kelalan and the Bawan Valley live in different nation states, they consider themselves to be one people. They also frequently interact with one another across the border. However, when they cross this border, they need to get an official pass from either the Malaysian or Indonesian authorities. They cross for a variety of reasons: to visit relatives, attend weddings or funerals, take part in religious events, to trade, and, in the case of those on the the Kerayan side, to look for temporary work.

Occasionally cross-border disputes arise. When this happens, those involved may call upon their respective headmen or regional chiefs to resolve the matter. Such disputes are rare and are generally settled at the village level, as individuals seldom go to officials for settlement. We did, however, learn of one case involving two hunters, one from Buduk Nur in the Kelalan Valley and the other from Long Midang in the Bawan Valley. A story of the case, which happened in 1978, was narrated as follows:

A hunter from Buduk Nur went hunting with his dogs along the border between the two villages. His dogs gave chase to a wild boar which ran across to the Indonesian side of the border. Here it was killed by a hunter from Long Midang. Unwilling to share the meat with the owner of the dogs, the latter explained that the animal he was skinning was an Indonesian wild boar. Disappointed, the hunter from Buduk Nur left with his dogs.

A month or so later the same hunters went to hunt in the same area. This time the dogs owned by the hunter from Long Midang gave chase to a wild boar. The animal ran over to the Malaysian side of the border and was killed by the hunter from Buduk Nur. When the hunter from Long Midang told the hunter from Buduk Nut that the game was chased by his dogs, the latter informed him that the wild boar was on the Malaysian side of the border.

The Long Midang hunter reported the matter to his kepala adat desa (headman). The headman was not sure what to do and took the case to a higher authority, the kepala adat besar (area chief) at Long Bawan. The kepala adat besar summoned the two hunters to settle the matter at the native court at Long Bawan. Meanwhile, the penghulu of Ba Kelalan sent word to the kepala adat besar of Long Bawan, saying that the matter should be amicably settled between the two hunters at either Long Midang or Buduk Nur, not at the native court. Thinking that he was being snubbed by the penghulu of Ba Kelalan, the kepala adat besar reported the matter to the Camat (District Officer) of Kecamatan Kerayan (Kerayan District), also based in Long Bawan. Fearing that a minor incident might sour relations along the border, the Camat wrote to the Lawas District Officer, asking for a meeting to resolve the issue. They met at Long Bawan and decided that the matter should be resolved amicably by the two hunters in the presence of their respective headmen.

The two hunters, we were told, did not meet to resolve the issue. Instead, the two headmen simply reminded people in their villages, in speeches, to respect the adat of sharing practiced since time immemorial. People in both villages felt embarrassed by the episode and wanted it forgotten and, since then, no similar incident has occurred.

The expansion of border trade between Ba Kelalan and the whole of the Kerayan District has given rise to a number of problems beyond the ability of village institutions to resolve. This will be covered in greater detail later in this paper. During our first field visit to Ba Kelalan and the Bawan Valley in 2001 on a separate research project, we observed a thriving business atmosphere in Ba Kelalan. People from different parts of the Kerayan District came to Ba Kelalan to sell rice and other agricultural products and bought building materials (zinc roofing, nails), cooking utensils, fuel, and sundries, which they carried on their backs when they returned across the border.

When the footpath between Long Midang and Ba Kelalan was converted into a dirt road, buffaloes and motorcycles were used to transport goods across the border. This gave rise to a new problem: taking buffaloes across without quarantine passes and clearance (there is a quarantine station at Punang Kelalan). The veterinary officer and policeman at Ba Kelalan gave a number of warnings, but these were ignored. In retaliation, the people of Punang Kelalan built a tollgate and charged each buffalo and motorcycle passing by RM5. Because of the dirt road, it is now possible to drive four-wheel drive vehicles from Lawas Town all the way to Long Bawan. As a result, Kerayan traders are now trading directly with Chinese businessmen in Lawas, and so bypassing the local Ba Kelalan traders. As will be discussed later, this has soured relations between some Ba Kelalan traders and their Kerayan counterparts. The matter has been brought to the attention of the District Officer in Lawas and the Camat in Long Bawan, but these officials have been unable to resolve it and have instead advised those involved to settle the matter at the village level, but to no avail. In this case, village institutions appear unable to cope with trade issues, and the border is clearly becoming a point of contention.

4) Kinship

At the community level in both the valleys, village leaders and the church help to maintain intra- and inter-community relationships. At the level of interpersonal relations, however, it is kinship that connects families in times of crisis or for work.

The Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh trace kinship bilaterally (see Crain 1970:77-112). There are six principal consanguineal kin terms:

1) tepun refers to a grandfather or grandmother; a great-grandfather or great-grandmother.

2) mupun refers to a grandson or granddaughter; a great-grandson or great-granddaughter.

3) taman refers to a father.

4) tinan refers to a mother.

5) anak refers to a son or a daughter.

6) kinanak refers to a brother or sister.

Collaterals, i.e., uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, are referred to as pinaken, with additional terms to indicate generation. For example: tepun pinaken is used for granduncle/grandaunt; mupun pinaken for grandnephew and grandniece; tamen pinaken for uncle, tinan pinaken for aunt, anak pinaken for nephew and niece, and kinanak pinaken for cousin. An additional term, kanid, is also used for a cousin. The villagers use these terms not only to indicate particular social relationships, but also to show endearment, concern, and loyalty. When visiting other villages, kin terms are used to stress one's association to the village through genealogical ties. Consanguineal kin terms are shown in Figure 1.


Referring to Sabah, Crain (1970: 110) says that "[t]he range of the kindred among the Lun Dayeh varies from individual to individual, but exact genealogical relationships are not commonly known beyond third cousin." The same applies to the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh. There are, however, specialists who know genealogical relationships (lun mileh nginan pupuh) beyond the third cousin range, but their number is growing fewer as older people die. Traditionally a knowledge of genealogical relationships was important, particularly when traveling to distant villages.

The affinal terms used by the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh are shown in Figure 2.


The terms iban and langu are of special significance in marriage transactions. When a man marries a woman, he is expected to pay a brideprice (purut) to the parents and siblings of the woman, whom, upon marriage, he calls iban and langu respectively. Cousins, uncles, or aunts, up to two or three times removed, may also ask for, or receive a brideprice (purut) from the man but, if so, they must reciprocate with a gift (purut sulang), the value of which is about two thirds of the brideprice they received. This exchange of gifts is an indication of precise genealogical relationships.

Both consanguineal and affinal kin are socially important and are looked to for help with farm work and for support in times of crises. The term pupuh has a variety of meanings, e.g., race, nation, or relative, but most often it refers to a relative beyond the range of third cousin. To keep track of distant kin, relatives visit one another regularly (ngikak pupuh) and so establish mutual bonds (pesiar pupuh). Of concern to both the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh is a knowledge of distant relatives living in villages far away. To identify such relatives requires an in-depth knowledge of genealogy. Among both groups there is a tradition of reciting genealogies (nginan inul). This has two main purposes: first, to identify descent (inul); and second, to identify relatives (pupuh). In the past, genealogical knowledge was important in enabling individuals to establish descent from apical ancestors whose descendants were entitled to use tracts of land for cultivation. Today, this knowledge is still important for tracing ancestral origins and migrations and for identifying relatives living in distant villages.

Virtually all Lun Bawang in Ba Kelalan say that they have Lun Dayeh relatives in the Virtually all Lun Bawang in Ba Kelalan say that they have Lun Dayeh relatives in the Kerayan. Our survey of Ba Kelalan identified 45 marriages across the international border between the Kelalan Valley and Kerayan. Of these marriages, 35 men from Ba Kelalan married Kerayan women, and 10 Ba Kelalan women married Kerayan men. All 35 men have brought their Kerayan wives to live in Ba Kelalan. Nine of the women have brought their Kerayan husbands to Ba Kelalan, and only one woman has followed her Kerayan husband to the Kerayan. Table 4 shows these cross-border marriages.

Profiles of Marriages Across the Border

Data compiled on cross-border marriages reveal several interesting facts. Parents or grandparents of some of the couples have moved back and forth across the border as shown in the following examples.

Darias Tagko, Long Lemutut: Darias Tagko was born at Pa Silau (long abandoned) in Wilayah Adat Kerayan Hilir. He is married to Dayang Padan of Long Kiwan, W.A. Kerayan Darat. Darias's genealogy reveals an interesting personal history. His grandmother, Takung Lakui, was born in Sarawak in the village of Long Semado. Takung Lakui married Akat Sigar Of Pa Silau in W.A. Kerayan Hilir. Their first son, Tagko (Darias's father), was born in Long Semado. When Tagko was a very young boy, Akat (Darias's grandfather) brought the family back to Pa Silau in the Kerayan. However after Akat's death, the people of Pa Silau decided to migrate to Ba Kelalan in the early 1950s. At the time they comprised 8 households. At Ba Kelalan, they negotiated for a place to stay and were given the Langai Valley where they established a village at Long Lemutut. By birth, Darias's grandmother, Takung Lakui, and his father, Tagko Akat, were thus Sarawakians. Their migration to Ba Kelalan in the early 1950s was a return to the country of their birth.

Darias and three of his siblings were born in Pa Silau but today they are Malaysian citizens. Darias is now the headman of Long Lemutut. He is married to Dayang Padan of Long Kiwan, W. A. Kerayan Darat. His Indonesian in-laws and relatives in Long Kiwan visit Ba Kelalan regularly to trade or to look for temporary employment. During such visits they sometimes stay with Darias's family. However, Darias and his wife seldom visit the Kerayan, and then only to attend important functions such as the weddings or funerals of close relatives.

Martha Peru, Long Rusu: Martha Peru was born in Long Midang. Martha's paternal great-grandfather, Ukab, was born in Sungai Adang in the Limbang District of Sarawak. In the 1930s he migrated to the Kerayan with several of his kinsmen and stayed with Kerayan relatives at Liang Tuer, in the Long Midang area of W.A. Kerayan Darat. From Liang Tuer they moved to Pa Nado, also in Long Midang. Two of his sons, Raut and Sigar, were born in the Adang and accompanied him to the Kerayan. Raut had only one child, a son named Peru. Peru married a woman of standing, Kemu Sangir, from the village of Liang Bua, W.A. Kerayan Darat. Peru and Kemu had four children: Paul, Martha, Son, and Iman. Ukab and his two sons, Raut and Sigar, were Sarawakians and their offspring, Indonesians. When Martha married Berauk Tadam of Long Rusu she was, in fact, returning to the country of birth of her grandfather and great-grandfather.

Martha and her husband Beruak maintain close ties with the villages of Long Midang and Liang Bua (Martha's mother's village of origin). They have one wet-rice field (about one acre) in Long Midang and ten acres of land in Long Bawan, all of which are Martha's share of her family property. They visit Long Midang and Liang Bua at least once every two months. These visits are reciprocated by Martha's Indonesian family and relatives.

Balang Paren, Long Muda: Balang Paren's mother, Kabeh Balang, was born and raised in Pa Lidung (long abandoned) in W.A. Kerayan Hilir. Kabeh married Paren Sakai of Long Muda and bore four children, one daughter and three sons. The younger son, Balang, married Rigo Bareh of Liang Mutan in Pa Brian, W.A. Kerayan Darat. Through his mother and wife, Balang has many cousins, nephews, nieces, and in-laws in the Kerayan. Although Balang and his wife Rigo have no property in Liang Mutan, they maintain links with their Indonesian relatives through regular visits.

Sigar Banging, Buduk Tumuh. Sigar Banging was born in Buduk Tumuh, W.A. Kerayan Darat. He married Ayun Akat of Buduk Bui, Ba Kelalan, and they have seven children: four daughters and three sons. Unlike the other marriages across the Kelalan-Bawan border, Sigar brought his wife to the Kerayan, rather than following her to Ba Kelalan. Sigar's father, Banging, was born in Long Napir, in the Limbang District of Sarawak. In the 1930s Banging followed his father Bangau who migrated to the Kerayan, staying with relatives at Liang Tuer. Banging married Kered Sial of Buduk Tumuh and took up residence there. Sigar and a younger brother, Palong (who married Gadung Lilung of Pa Ukat, Bario), were born in Buduk Yumuh. Sigar's wife Ayun died, but he and his children maintain links with relatives in Buduk Bui, Ba Kelalan. He and his children also maintain links with his brother Palong at Pa Ukat, Bario. Like most Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh along the border, Sigar does not feel like a stranger when he visits Ba Kelalan, Bario, or Miri in Sarawak. Sigar has nephews, nieces, and other relatives in these places. His Malaysian relatives also visit him in Buduk Tumuh.

People along the Malaysian-Indonesian border move back and forth across the border daily. The most frequent reason mentioned by the Lun Dayeh for crossing the border is "to visit relatives" (table 6). "Visiting relatives" may, apart from really visiting relatives, mean looking for short-term employment, trading or attending weddings or festivals. Sometimes children accompany adults on these visits so that they can get to know their relatives. Children maintain continuity, hence the value of taking them on cross-border visits.

As an example of the intensity of kinship interaction across the border, we take the case of two distant relatives, Balang Paren and Bian Ngilo (see Figure 7). Through Balang's maternal grandmother Litad (f) Sigar (#2 in Fig.7) and Bian's paternal great-grandfather Bian Sigar (#3), they are, by Lun Dayeh and Lun Bawang reckoning, uncle and nephew to each other. Litad (f) Sigar moved to Ba Kelalan upon her marriage to Sakai Libat, while her brother Bian Sigar remained at Pa Padi, Kerayan.


When Bian's father Ngilo (#7) was still alive, he used to visit Ba Kelalan and stayed with Balang's family. Today, Bian himself maintains this tradition of visiting Balang's family in Ba Kelalan. On these trips he is sometimes accompanied by one of his children. Bian's regular visits to Ba Kelalan may not be entirely for the purpose of visiting Balang's family and maintaining kinship ties, although kinship ties are important. Indeed, the visits may more likely involve other activities, such as buying and selling goods at the village shops in Ba Kelalan. However, when Bian applies for a visit permit at the border post at Long Midang, he usually writes in the "Purpose of Visit" column, "to visit my uncle, Balang Paren."

Balang seldom visits the Kerayan; he only visits the Kerayan on occasions such as the weddings or funerals of relatives. The fact that Balang seldom visits his relatives in the Kerayan does not mean that he is not interested in maintaining ties with them. Balang, who recently retired as a medical assistant with the Malaysian Medical Department, has not been able to find time to visit the Kerayan often. Now that he is retired, he still does not visit, largely because age is catching up with him, and he does not have the energy to walk on foot to the Kerayan. He maintains kinship ties by receiving visits. All of Balang's children, except for one daughter, Julia, work and live in Miri and Labuan. Julia lives in Ba Kelalan as a housewife. She does not visit the Kerayan as often as her Kerayan relatives do, but she is the point of reference for the next generation.

Cross-Border Economic Relations

Economic relations have long linked border communities. The establishment of coastal trading centers in Sarawak at the end of the nineteenth century was a boon to border villages, including those in the Kerayan. In this section, we will examine briefly present-day economic ties, how these are sustained, and their social implications. The border has experienced rapid change over the last few years, including the study period of 2003-2004. During this time, four-wheel drive vehicles from coastal Lawas reached Long Bawan and are now profoundly affecting social relations between border communities.

The most visible manifestation of change at the border is in the mode of transportation. From time immemorial, people have walked for long distances, with journeys taking days to accomplish. As previously mentioned, it formerly took about a week to walk from Ba Kelalan to Lawas, and from the Kerayan to Lawas, it took from 8 to 10 days. When we began our fieldwork in 2003, people still walked from the Bawan to the Kelalan valley. Buffaloes were used to transport fuel drums or to carry trade goods. From Long Midang to Long Bawan, wheelbarrows were used. Then came the motorcycles going back and forth between Long Midang and Ba Kelalan. When a Brunei contractor constructed a rudimentary mud trail between Long Bawan and Ba Kelalan, it allowed vehicles to go all the way from Lawas right up to Long Bawan. These four-wheel drive vehicles became a conduit for change and altered social relations, as, arguably, for the first time those outside the border could participate directly in border trade. Today, trade is no longer confined to border traders.

Air links, although expensive, also connect the two valleys to the outside world. Although the Ba Kelalan airfield was temporarily closed for repairs, the airfield across the border at Long Bawan has frequent daily flights to the coastal towns of Nunukan and Tarakan. Airfares are subsidized at 150,000 to 200,000 rupiah for DAS (Digantara Air Service), but each passenger is allowed to take no more than ten kilos of luggage and sugar is not allowed. Whatever is flown into Long Bawan is expensive even for necessities such as instant noodles which cost about 2500 rupiah per packet. Not surprisingly, it is estimated that 90 per cent of the trade goods at Long Bawan come from across the border. Transportation is easier for residents of Ba Kelalan as goods can be transported by four-wheel drive vehicles along the timber road from Lawas. Consequently, Ba Kelalan has become the supplier for the Bawan Valley of essential goods such as manufactured food, building materials, and fuel.

Daily border crossings are monitored at army camps in Ba Kelalan and Long Midang in the Kerayan. Border passes or pas lintas are needed to cross the border. While individuals may cross over for social or cultural reasons, the major reasons are to trade or work. The flow of people and goods is more from the Kerayan to Ba Kelalan than the reverse. According to the military personnel at the Ba Kelalan army camp whom the researchers met in May 2003, there was a daily crossing at that time of 70-80 Indonesians into Ba Kelalan. The Indonesians bring adan rice to sell and in exchange buy goods like sugar, cooking oil, diesel, biscuits, milk powder and building materials (zinc roofing). Where before one had to walk, it is possible now to use four-wheel drive vehicles or motorcycles for most of the way. Many youngsters have motorcycles which they use to carry rice from Long Bawang to Ba Kelalan, and they can make several round trips daily. The tally of daily crossings would be more if multiple daily crossings of the motorcyclists are taken into account.

From the daily estimated head count of 70 to 80 persons crossing into Ba Kelalan in May 2003, it is possible to estimate the volume of trade. We estimate that each Indonesian brings over 6 gantangs or 21 kilos of rice (1 gantang =3.5 kilos) on one trip. For 80 persons this would work out to be 1680 kilos (1.68 tons) of rice that is brought over daily, excluding Sundays. Of course some people may be carrying less or no rice if their trips are for other purposes such as looking for work. On the other hand, motorcycles carry easily twice (12 gantangs) or even four times (24 gantangs) that quantity.

Although two-way trade can be seen to be beneficial to the border communities, there are two issues that have affected social relationships. From our conversations with the Lun Dayeh, a fundamental issue was the price of rice. The Lun Dayeh felt that they were not getting a fair price for the rice they sold. According to the Indonesians, Ba Kelalan traders set the price of rice, as well as of the goods they sell. One Lun Dayeh we met at Ba Kelalan said the selling price of rice in Ba Kelalan was RM6-6.50 per gantang, while in Bario it was RM 15 per gantang. On the Bario price he was correct, but the Lun Dayeh do not bring rice over to sell in Bario. Even those we talked to in Long Bawan seemed unhappy with the current situation in Ba Kelalan. Some people wanted to sell their rice in Lawas but do not take into consideration the additional transportation costs and the fact that flee trading (free of customs duties and other regulations) is only allowed at the border, for the benefit of the border communities. These were the prices of rice which we have calculated after talking to various people:
Long Bawan RM1.25 a kilo
Ba Kelalan RM1.85 a kilo
Lawas RM2.50 a kilo
Bario RM4.20 a kilo
Miri RM5.10 a kilo
Kuching RM6.50 a kilo
K. Lumpur RM9 a kilo

Border communities trading in rice are very much a part of the market economy, with prices determined by market forces and by transportation and other costs. The level of trading in 2003, much more than in the past, illustrates the high degree of interdependence of border communities. As the level of trading has increased, misunderstandings and misperceptions occur, especially when the Kerayan people feel they are in the grip of the Ba Kelalan traders, subject to rice prices set by the latter. The other complaint is that the Ba Kelalan traders set the price of goods which the Kerayan Lun Dayeh come to buy.

Such feelings on the part of the Lun Dayeh are understandable when they are highly dependent on Ba Kelalan for rice sales. In the Kerayan the cost of shipping rice to the towns of Tarakan (5,000 rupiahs a kilo -2,300 RP = 1RM) and Samarinda (7,000 rupiahs a kilo) is prohibitive, which forces the Lun Dayeh to sell rice in Ba Kelalan. Another historical factor to consider that may be responsible for misperceptions and ill feeling is the fact that before, the orientation of Ba Kelalan was in some way towards the Bawan Valley. In the past, people from Ba Kelalan used to go to Long Bawan "to mule" (obtain supplies in times of shortage), i.e., to buy rice, pigs and buffaloes. Now the orientation has reversed, as the Kerayan Lun Dayeh make more journeys to Ba Kelalan. The Kerayan Lun Dayeh have become dependent on Ba Kelalan in particular as a source of cash income.

Toyota-ization of the Border

Our fieldwork began in May 2003. When we returned to do the last part of our research in September 2004, we found, much to our surprise, that the situation was transformed. We had been informed that in July 2004, four-wheel drive vehicles were now able to drive all the way from Lawas to Long Bawan. The immediate result was to make trading much easier. The four-wheel drive vehicles were almost invariably the reliable Hilux Toyota trucks, leading the researchers to coin the term "toyota-ization" to describe the dominant role these trucks played in transforming the economic and social dynamics of the border. How did the Toyota trucks do this?

Where one had to walk, use a buffalo or a motorcycle in the past, it was now possible to depend on the trucks to do the job much more easily and quickly. The trucks carry goods from Lawas right across the border to Long Midang and Long Bawan. The truck drivers buy the much sought-after adan or Bario rice and enterprising drivers, whom we believe may be acting on behalf of the Chinese traders in Lawas, go to individual houses in the Kerayan villages to buy the commodity. As a result of this development, it is no longer necessary to go across the border on foot as was done in the past. It is estimated that daily walks across the border have been reduced to about 10 per cent, and from our observations we did not see many Indonesians coming across to Ba Kelalan on foot.

The reduced border trade caused the Ba Kelalan traders to suffer a loss of business as they are now being bypassed and one trader told us that he is considering closing his shop and moving to one of the bigger towns in Sarawak. The trucks have also made nonsense out of the 1967 Cross Border Agreement that allowed only limited trading at the border for border residents. There is no agency that makes sure that the Border Agreement is not violated. Malaysian and Indonesian army posts monitor and record details of individuals crossing the border by issuing border passes. The soldiers do not monitor the movement of goods and, faced with goods-laden trucks moving across the border freely, they are unable to do anything about it.

The trucks are a conduit not only for legitimate trade commodities but also for other goods which may bring about undesirable social consequences. Alcohol was described by missionaries as a social malaise in the region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and was banned by the Christian churches. Now, with trucks going up and down the border, alcohol has made a reappearance, much to the consternation of community elders. In September the researchers saw empty beer cans discarded along the way and in rubbish dumps. One trader in Ba Kelalan now sells beer discreetly to customers. The four-wheel drive vehicles may be unwittingly undoing the past work of the churches in keeping alcohol out of the community.

If the past is any guide, the present border trade does not begin and end at the border, but reaches far beyond it. Thus, trucks are bringing back past patterns of trade, but in a more rapid and effective manner.

Labor Dependency

Although there are differences that can drive a wedge between border communities and in the process cause misunderstanding and tension, the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh say they are still one people, speaking the same language and sharing a common culture. Moreover, individuals and families are linked by kinship across the border.

In addition, there is interdependency in rice planting and harvesting, as Ba Kelalan farmers are dependent on labor from across the border. Since the 1950s, Ba Kelalan and Long Semado have had high out-migration due to youths and adults leaving to work in the major towns of Sarawak. The present population of Ba Kelalan and Long Semado is less than 3,000. As a result, the labor force needed for farming is much depleted and extra workers are required, especially during land preparation and rice harvesting. There is a much larger population in the Kerayan, which can supply the needed labor.

Kinship, as we noted, connects people on both sides of the border. Among other things, kin ties are relied upon to recruit farm labor. We administered about 30 questionnaires in the villages of Ba Kelalan and found that almost all households utilize kinship links across the border to recruit laborers to work their fields. Without this labor, most Ba Kelalan farms could not be harvested. For Kerayan youths and adults, such work brings in income. From our discussions on both sides of the border there is much talk about how this perceived unbalanced relationship can be redressed.


As the volume of trade increased between our visits, a tollgate, as noted, was constructed by Ba Kelalan traders and others at Punang Kelalan to take advantage of the situation. Gates on village roads are normally put up to claim land ownership and to prevent wandering buffaloes from going into padi fields where they can cause damage. Individuals passing through a gate are expected to close it after they have passed through. This was the ostensible reason given by the Punang Kelalan villagers for their setting up the tollgate. But what made matters worse was that they levied a charge of RM5 on each motorcycle and buffalo and the communities most affected were those across the border in the Kerayan. Motor vehicles were later asked to pay about RM100-150 per entry. Naturally, these tolls are resented by traders and individuals in the Kerayan.

This matter has been discussed by village headmen on both sides of the border. As the Kerayan community, especially traders, depend heavily on this crossing, the toll collection has been agreed upon at meetings among the village headmen. But in private, the Kerayan traders are unhappy and have voiced their dissatisfaction to the Pak Camat and with the researchers. The Sarawak authorities are aware of this problem, but the official stand, including that of the Indonesians, is to resolve the issue through local mediation without official intervention.

What this particular tollgate episode illustrates is the autonomy of individual actors at the border, who act in response to the border in terms of perceived benefits of border trading. Being at the periphery of state control, individual actors have more autonomy, with government institutions being impotent or unwilling to act. It also appears that normal community channels for mediating conflict may not work in this case. At stake here are economic issues. While social or cultural issues may be easier for community leaders to resolve, with the increasing volume of trade, individuals now have a direct stake in how much they can gain from it and are prepared to ignore ethnicity or even kinship.

Some Kerayan people feel they are at the mercy of Ba Kelalan traders and would like to break their dependence by proposing to bypass Ba Kelalan and go all the way to Lawas to trade. Ba Kelalan traders are opposed to this and have the Border Agreements on their side. The Border Agreements allow for only limited trading at the border and, having been drawn up almost four decades ago, are now outdated. A review of this legislation has to be undertaken by the national governments of both Malaysia and Indonesia to take into account the changed circumstances in which trade is no longer localized, but has expanded well beyond the border.

Within the context of Regional Autonomy in Indonesia there are proposals in the Kerayan on strengthening its governance and infrastructure by having road links from Long Bawan to Melinau; Pa Rayeh to Long Pa'Sia in Sabah; Long Bawan to Ba Kelalan in Sarawak; and Lembubud to Bario in Sarawak. For the proposed link to Melinau, distance is a factor, while the intended link to Long Pasia is more contentious as the road would go through the Kerayan Mentarang National Park. Some politicians from Nunukan have been trying to persuade the Sabah Forest Industries in Sipitang to build a road through the reserve linking the Kerayan to Long Pasia and other coastal towns in Sabah. Going through the national park is an environmental issue that would need the approval of the central government in Jakarta. Individuals in Ba Kelalan, whom the researchers talked to in May 2003, felt that some influential individuals in the Kerayan have been raising the issue of the unfair trading advantage of Ba Kelalan traders so that it would be easier for the Kerayan to lobby to have roads built through the Kerayan Mentarang National Park and to Sipitang, thus bypassing Ba Kelalan.

What these local discussions show is that cross-border issues are becoming more complex and may have to be resolved at higher levels than by the communities themselves. But there is also a likelihood that national and even state governments, far removed from the periphery, may not understand nor appreciate the local issues involved. One common issue that has concerned border communities for many decades is road communications. Without good road communications it is difficult to export and import goods and for people to travel with ease. The subject of road communications in Ba Kelalan has been the topic of policy papers and discussions from the colonial era of the early 1950s right up to the present. At the local level, this is a subject that crops up very often. In Long Bawan, especially with Regional Autonomy, there is a feeling of being neglected by the central government in Jakarta, and that the fruits of development have been denied the highlands. This has led to local resentment, so much so that it was alleged that Kerayan residents sent a petition to Jakarta during the tenure of President Gus Dur requesting that the district secede from Indonesia and join Malaysia!

While the absence of good roads is regarded as a hindrance to development, and to obtaining modern amenities and a higher standard of living, on the other hand, the absence has insulated the highland communities from ill consequences, such as environmental degradation and the "social ills" that plague urban areas. However, the arrival of four-wheel drive vehicles right up to Long Bawan has brought about social change. The question is now how sustainable development can be brought to the highlands, while, at the same time, mitigating the negative consequences of development. These are serious issues that have to be considered on both sides of the border, and getting local views and participation is necessary. NGO initiated activities by the Sarawak Development Institute in Ba Kelalan and by the World Wildlife Fund in Long Bawan are helping the communities to examine these issues and to look at the region as a connected entity, instead of as two sovereign states.

Demographic and Environmental Issues

Over time, two issues which have affected the highlands are migration and the environment. The lack of economic opportunities has resulted in population loss from the highlands and correspondingly, the vacuum, especially in the Kelalan Valley, has been filled by labor from across the border, though not necessarily from the Lun Dayeh. The Bawan Valley in the Kerayan, which also suffers population loss through out-migration, by the same token, attracts immigrants from elsewhere, notably from Java and Flores.

1) Migration

Two types of migration will be discussed here, out- and in-migration. Each has had a different impact on border communities.

Both the Kelalan and Bawan valleys face a common problem of out-migration, especially of youth who do not want to work on the land. Ba Kelalan's population is about 1030, with as many as 400 adults working outside the highlands. The total population of the Kerayan is estimated at 11,000. Outside the Kerayan, the Lun Dayeh are most numerous in Melinau where their numbers are estimated at 30,000. The Lun Dayeh of Melinau include many who have moved from the Kerayan. According to Pak Camat Serphanius in Long Bawan, Lun Dayeh from the Kerayan have also moved to Samarinda, Tarakan, Nunukan, and Tanjung Selor in Kalimantan, to major cities in Java such as Jakarta and Yogjakarta and to Bali. Outmigration from the highlands means a depleting labor force for the rice fields. The problem is especially acute in Ba Kelalan.

While the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh population is experiencing net migration losses, some outsiders from beyond the border have moved in. This is apparent in the Bawan Valley, with civil servants and army personnel, traders and persons seeking employment coming from elsewhere such as Java and the outer islands. In Long Bawan there are civil servants and army personnel from Java and coastal traders from Samarinda, Tarakan, and Makassar. In Long Bawan, which has a population of 1200, it was estimated in 2003 that there were about 124 outsiders, 78 of them married to local Lun Dayeh. Most civil servants return home after their working stints, but those who have married local women usually stay back. There is a small community from Flores in Long Bawan. The men have built a small Catholic church and are married to local women. Some work in timber camps in Sarawak and remit money to their families in Long Bawan, or after stopping work in Sarawak, return to Long Bawan. While there is a small non-Lun Dayeh presence in Long Bawan, the dominant ethnic group is still Lun Dayeh.

With lax immigration controls at the border, Long Bawan has become a gateway for Indonesians from outside the Kerayan to enter Ba Kelalan and other places in Sarawak to work. The army personnel on both sides of the border only record personal particulars of persons who are supposed to cross over into the vicinity of the border as stipulated by the Cross Border Agreement and have no means of monitoring the movements or motives of people crossing the border for other purposes. Once over the Sarawak border, there is nothing to stop the Indonesians from going further to timber camps or to Lawas to work or to visit relatives (which is the commonly cited reason for crossing). On our overland trips from Ba Kelalan to Lawas, Indonesian passengers regularly traveled with us.

In the villages from Long Api to Long Midang, there is a sprinkling of individuals from Flores, Java, Bali, Madura, and even neighboring Sarawak, who have settled there. They have no significant impact on Lun Dayeh-Lun Bawang social relations. Some of them stay on in these villages after working in Ba Kelalan. In Ba Kelalan there are a small number of Javanese workers, estimated at 20 to 30 at any one time, sought after for their skills in working in an apple orchard, in carpentry and house building, and for general farm work. Yagal Paran, who has an apple orchard, depends on Javanese workers for pruning and spraying. He regards the Javanese as diligent and reliable. The late Mika Sigar from Buduk Nur village in Ba Kelalan, who planted cabbages, remarked how he had learned planting skills and pest control from his Javanese workers. Schoolteacher Sang Sigar engaged Javanese carpenters to construct his Swiss-inspired house with steep roofs. Non-border workers from Java and elsewhere are seen as desirable workers in Ba Kelalan because they are more likely to stay for longer periods of time rather than return home after short working spells, as they come from afar. In contrast, Lun Dayeh from across the border do not stay long and can return home more easily.

While citizenship and the notion of statehood may have imposed the idea of permanent domicile, in the past people moved freely and owned land in different areas. There are individuals in Ba Kelalan who own land in Long Midang, and individuals in the Kerayan who also own land in Ba Kelalan and Bario. Citizenship has affected relationships and perceptions, in that Malaysian citizenship is seen as desirable by Malaysians and some Indonesians because of a perceived better standard of life and access to amenities in Malaysia. Marriage between Indonesians and Malaysians does not automatically confer citizenship on the former, and there may be a long waiting period for the spouses. Balang Paren's wife from the Kerayan only obtained Malaysian citizenship after he had retired from government service.

There is the phenomenon of dual citizenship especially among families who moved freely across the border before sovereignty became an issue. At Pa Rupai in the Kerayan near the border, there are individuals who originally came from Pa Lungan in Sarawak and who hold dual citizenship.

2) Environment

Another cross-border issue is the environment. The highlands are fragile and can be adversely affected by development. As noted earlier, wet rice cultivation supports life in the highlands, and indiscriminate clearing of hill slopes and pollution of water sources will have a negative impact on lati' ba, if left unchecked. As lati' ba is an organic farming practice, relying on organic inputs, the introduction of inorganic fertilizers may adversely affect crop production and the quality of rice for which the highlands are well known.

In September 2003, the Sarawak Development Institute organized a workshop on sustainable development for highland communities in Ba Kelalan, which was attended by key individuals, farmers and officials from both sides of the border. This brought to the fore environmental issues. The demand for highland rice, while beneficial to border communities, can lead to environmental problems if traditional farming practices which give the rice its unique taste and texture are abandoned. Advice on the application of inorganic chemical inputs and the introduction of double cropping by well-meaning officials can put the rice crop in jeopardy as has happened in Sarawak. Double cropping has been experimented with in the Sarawak highlands, but failed because the rice stalks grew enormously instead of the grain. While chemical spraying for rice pests like the golden snail has occurred on highland farms in Sarawak, in the Kerayan, traditional but effective methods are used instead. In the Kerayan, sticks are stuck in the rice fields and when the snails cling to the sticks, they are easily removed. Ducks are used as well to eat the snails. The issue of pest control illustrates the ongoing debate about traditional and "scientific" knowledge.

As critical as pest control is the protection of hill slopes in this mountainous environment. At the workshop, two researchers, Hood Salleh and Ibrahim Komoo from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia described geological and socio-economic research on the Kundasang foothills of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah which pointed up the dangers of indiscriminate building projects on hill slopes leading to soil erosion. Tourism, with its hotels, chalets and visitor facilities, has yet to arrive in the Sarawak-Kerayan highlands, but such environmental issues will need to be dealt with if the beauty of the mountains is to be preserved. Visitors' comments on the highlands at the Apple Lodge Chalet at Buduk Nur, in Ba Kelalan, are full of superlative remarks. One typical entry read: "A truly wonderful place, beautiful scenery, peace, tranquillity, the spirituality of nature," Janet and John Le Brun, Ottawa, Canada, 14 August 2002. In fact, the highlands should promote eco-tourism instead of mass tourism, as it would help minimize environmental damage and bring about benefits to the local communities.

Researchers of the SEASREP project observed at first hand environmental damage to rice fields caused by muddied water and by water courses being blocked as a result of wanton hill slope clearing on the road between Long Bawan and Long Midang. In the push towards development there is a likelihood that environmental stewardship may take a backseat. Interestingly, at the workshop, local participants agreed they could play the part of local stewards in thwarting environmentally damaging activities. They are beginning to see the usefulness of environmental stewardship in safeguarding the environment. The issue is not something new. The hill slopes and mountains are a source of sustenance as a watershed for supplying water for human consumption and to the rice fields. In the early 1990s, the people ofBa Kelalan complained against a logging company that was logging in the catchment area of the Kelalan River. A government investigation adjudicated in favor of the community and recommended that "all water catchment areas in the Ba Kelalan area should be conserved and safeguarded against any logging activity" (Jabatan Kerja Raya, Kuching 1993: 6). Indeed, what is of concern to the border communities is the recognition of their customary rights to land and their access to natural resources.

Local communities need capacity building to help face these challenges that may overwhelm them if they are not prepared. Commercial development and interests may otherwise just ride roughshod over the border communities. In the Kerayan, an international NGO, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has been doing capacity building work at the village level to help the villagers understand environmental issues and engage in sustainable livelihoods. In October 2004, as a follow-up to the earlier workshop at Ba Kelalan, a forum was organized to continue the momentum by deliberating on the issue of sustainable development and by setting up action groups on both sides of the border.

A partnership is needed between policy makers, commercial interests, and local communities if the issues of sustainable development are to be adequately addressed. Development in the highlands is inevitable and the challenge for the border communities is how they can cope with the physical and social changes. The Sarawak state government is seriously considering the building of a road from Lawas to Bario and to Ba Kelalan. In the Kerayan where local government at the sub-district and district level has limited power, unanswered questions are how officials will work with the private sector without damaging community interests.

Very much related to the issues of sustainable development and stewardship of the environment is road communications for improving accessibility and communication. The impact of a road link between Lawas and Long Bawan has already been discussed. With improved communications, border interaction will increase and will not be confined only to border communities. Individuals, traders, migrants, outsiders, and officials will converge at the border and interact for a variety of purposes. The ethnic mix is likely to become more complex and the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh will have to interact with "others" to a greater degree than now.


This study examined two inter-related themes, first, the borderland as a region in which ethnic, kinship, and economic ties transcend the national border. Second, the border is examined as a zone where diverse actors and institutions interact. The notion of fixed boundary lines delineating nation states emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a result of colonial rivalries. These arbitrary lines often divided related communities that had freely interacted with one another. In this study, the meaningful unit of research is not the nation state, but the borderland itself with its criss-crossing linkages of kinship, culture and trade.

In Ba Kelalan and the Kerayan, ethnicity and kinship are still important features of crossborder relations. Despite the presence of some outsiders in the area, the population is still largely Lun Bawang or Lun Dayeh. People speak the same language and families and individuals are related. Social organization is similar, as is community leadership, and the church plays a leading role in community life on both sides of the border. While people used to cross the border freely in the past, today special passes must be obtained from army authorities. In the past, people living along the border freely visited their cross-border relatives to maintain kin ties and to keep up with news of births, marriages, and other happenings. Today, visits are made for many reasons; to attend weddings, funerals and church gatherings, to help with farm work (although wages are involved), and to trade. Pelawe ('to visit relatives') is often used as the stated reason to get official permission to cross the border for purposes of employment or trade.

With increasing trade, friction arises, as individuals seek to maximize gains as seen, for example, in the setting up of the tollgate by the Punang Kelalan villagers on the Sarawak border. Despite these problems, the Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh say they are the same people. In other words, there is a fall back to ethnicity when difficult issues threaten the community. Existing social organizations and village institutions appear competent to handle disputes within the village and those involving individuals from either side of the border. However, mechanisms for resolving more complex problems, such as the tollgate, may be ineffective in the face of the increasing cross-border movement of people and goods.

The border communities have been requesting state intervention and as the border is an international issue it will require the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia to step in. There are plans for immigration, customs, and quarantine facilities to be built at Ba Kelalan to monitor trade and the movement of people, and also at Long Pa Sia at the border with Sabah as an additional border crossing point. But as the experience of such government facilities along the long and porous border between Sarawak and Kalimantan has shown, unofficial channels, orjalan tikus ('mouse trails'), where government checkpoints are lacking, will continue to exist. This could well be the case, too, for the Kelalan and Bawan Valleys.

Beyond ethnicity and kinship, common issues that affect communities on both sides of the border are migration, which represents a loss in human resources, and degradation of the environment, which affects the traditional system of farming. Although the borderland communities are still largely Lun Bawang and Lun Dayeh, with anticipated road accessibility, more outsiders can be expected to migrate to the region to trade, work, and live, and this will complicate the dynamics of present-day relations.

In this study of a borderland community, a paradoxical situation was found to exist. First is the phenomenon of borderlessness as ethnicity, kinship, trade, the environment, and labor dependency bring together the borderland community of Lun Bawang in Sarawak and Lun Dayeh in Kalimantan Timur. Second, precisely because there is a political border, it becomes a point of reference for people to lead and order their lives around.

Table 2
Names of lokasi and desa in the Bawan Valley

 Lokasi Desa

Long Midang Ba' Sikur
 Pa' Nado
 Liang Tuer
 Buduk Kinangan
 Pa' Rupai

Buduk Tumuh Buduk Tumuh
 Long Berayang

 Long Api Long Api
 Pa' Sira'
 Wa' Yanud

Long Nawang Pa' Kelipal
 Arur Lingat

Table 4
Marriages across the International Border



Punang Kelalan * 3 -- 3 --
Long Muda * 6 2 7 1
Long Kumap * 3 -- 3 --
Long Langai 8 4 12 --
Long Lemutut 3 -- 3 --
Long Ritan 3 -- 3 --
Long Rusu 5 1 6 --
Buduk Bui 2 2 3 1
Pa Tawing 2 1 3 --
Total 35 10 43 2

* Also collectively known as Buduk Nur. Source: Researchers'
Household Survey in Ba Kelalan, May 2003

Table 5
Lun Dayeh Visitors to Ba Kelalan and beyond

Date Visitor/Village Purpose of Visit

03.04.1968 Dawat Riung of Liang Bua To visit relative Lalang
 Padan of Long Kerabangan

03.04.1968 Paren Semayung of Basuik To visit relative Ruran
 Paran of Long Semado Naseb

03.04.1968 Dayang Mo of Long Peliwan To visit relative Ruran
 Tanid of Long Tanid

06.04.1968 Balang Rapu of Long Peliwan To visit relative Padan
 Lakai of Long Telingan

09.04.1968 Bulan Kaya of Pa Nado To visit relative Ruth Ukab
 of Long Telingan

Source: Cross-border record book kept at Office of Upriver Agent
(URA), Ba Kelalan.

Table 6
Lun Bawang Visitors to Kerayan

Date Visitor/Village Purpose of Visit

02.06.1969 Darias Tagko of Long Lemutut To settle the brideprice
 at Long Kiwan

17.10.1969 Sigar Tawi of Long Talal Buda To fetch buffalo at Long

20.10.1969 Tua Labung of Long Kumap To collect debts at Pa

20.10.1969 Darung Murang of Pa Tawing To buy chickens at Long

15.09.0970 Musa Sigar of Long Kumap To fetch dogs at Basuik

Source: Cross-border record book kept at office of URA, Ba Kelalan.

(1) This paper is the product of a joint research project, "Border of Ethnicity and Kinship: Cross-Border Relations between the Kelalan Valley, Sarawak, and the Bawan Valley, East Kalimantan," funded by the Southeast Asian Studies Regional Exchange Program (SEASREP) of the Toyota Foundation and by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. Preliminary findings were presented at the 2nd SEASREP workshop, "Borders and Borderlands in Southeast Asia," 25-26 March 2004 in Jakarta. We wish to express our thanks to the Research Center for Regional Resources, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Pusat Penelitian Sumber Daya Regional, Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia), for facilitating our research application to SEASREP and to the Sarawak Development Institute for acting as the co-supporting partner.

Research was carried out in 2003 and 2004 in the Kerayan sub-district, Long Bawan, East Kalimantan, and in Ba Kelalan, Sarawak, and in the libraries of LIPI in Jakarta and the Sarawak Museum archives in Kuching. We would like to thank all of our informants in the Bawan and Kelalan Valleys and the many others who assisted us. All interpretations, however, are solely our own.

The present paper is a much abbreviated version of our final study report.

(2) Kerayan is sometimes spelled Krayan. Indeed, the latter spelling appears to be preferred at the present time on the Indonesian side of the border.


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I Ketut Ardhana

Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI)

Jakarta, Indonesia

Jayl Langub

East Asian Studies

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Kota Samarahan, Sarawak

Daniel Chew

Sarawak Development Institute (SDI)

Kuching, Sarawak
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Author:Chew, Daniel
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Date:Jan 1, 2004
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