Speakers at an intellectual discourse on whether the term ‘Dayak’ should be retained has unanimously resolved that it stays for good.
To drop the term ‘Dayak’ would give rise to more negative implications, they said yesterday at a forum on the 9th Floor of Crown Towers, Jalan Pending.
One of the five speakers at the Dayak Forum: ‘Should the term ‘Dayak’ be retained?’ even went further to say that dropping the term would be a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ because the identity of the Dayaks would be wiped out.
The speakers were Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) publicity chief Dr John Brian Anthony and Sarawak Dayak Iban Association president Sidi Munan who represented the Iban; deputy president of Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association (SDGA) Dr Elli Luhat and radio presenter, talkshow host and motivational speaker Mering Wan (Orang Ulu) and former Malaysian Ambassador to Myammar, Venezuela and Mexico Datu John Tenuwi Nuek (Bidayuh).
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Faculty of Social Sciences Associate Prof Dr Andrew Aeria was the moderator at the forum organised by The Borneo Post, thesundaypost, Utusan Borneo and BorneoPost online, in collaboration with SDNU.
“Dropping the term ‘Dayak’ would be a step backward from a political, economic, and social standpoint. The term is in fact a ready brand name even overseas. The terminology serves us well in a globalised world simply because it is already there,” said Tenuwi when brushing aside talks that the term connoted being uncouth, backward, low class and uncivilised as well as derogatory.
He pointed out that dropping ‘Dayak’ would impoverish the society as a whole.
The term ‘Dayak’ is also a uniting factor and solidarity will provide the community with a bigger voice and greater confidence in fighting for their rights as well as shares in the economic cake.
John Brian said the term is mentioned in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and therefore the community has as much right and say as other races in important matters like scholarships, grants, businesses and even promotions in the civil service.
Sidi said since the White Rajah recognised the Dayaks some 170 years ago, it would be a myth to perceive that they are uncivilised, uncouth and low class.
It may be a fact that some Dayaks are uncivilised and uncouth but it would not be fair to generalise and stereotype the whole community based on a few bad ones, he said.
“Dropping the term would have legal, political, and social consequences that we can do without,” he said.
Sidi pointed out that one Dayak tribe in Indonesia interpreted the term ‘Dayak’ to actually mean ‘suka memberi’ (generous).
“Dayaks are basically generous people even though some may be stingy,” he said when arguing that there should be no good reason to erase the term from the face of the world.
Both Sidi and John Brian said they thought it would not be easy just to change the name Dayak to something else because that would contribute to a constitutional crisis.
To do so, they said, the parliament will need to have a two-third majority vote.
Dr Elli was quite emotional when delivering his presentation on the theme that he cried halfway through it.
He said he was proud to be associated with the Dayaks after one experience overseas when he presented a cultural performance.
After the show, the audience rushed to him and hugged him making him feel proud and honoured.
That experience suggested that foreigners recognised the existence of Borneo as well as the Dayak people, he said.
He said he was perplexed when the suggestion to drop the term ‘Dayak’ suddenly cropped up recently.
He urged local politicians to ensure that other people, especially in West Malaysia to be more aware of the existence of the Dayaks, their needs and challenges rather than singing along with others to ignore them directly or indirectly.
Dr Eli said he believed state leaders and MPs were the ones who should be intensifying efforts to upgrade the dignity of the Dayaks.
He said for politicians to harp on changing the term ‘Dayak’ would be their ‘political suicide’.
Dr Elli likened the erasing of the word ‘Dayak’ as a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
There are two ways to perform ethnic cleansing — one is to physically kill all Dayaks and the other, to wipe out their identity, he pointed out.
Mering also agreed that the issue at hand related to the question of identity.
“To drop the name ‘Dayak’ will kill off the Dayak identity. It is dangerous to change names just for the sake of changing,” he warned.
The forum was opened by KTS Holdings managing director Dato Henry Lau.
Among those present were former assistant minister of Agriculture and Food Industry Datuk Ramsay Noel Jitam, Bengoh assemblyman Dr Jerip Susil, organising chairman Aden Nagrace and Regional Editor-in-Chief of The Borneo Post, thesundaypost, Utusan Borneo and BorneoPost online M Rajah.
The organisers received encouraging feedback and response from the floor.
The organisers also received a suggestion that a follow-up should be held soon.
For detailed information and orders for the video presentation in respect to yesterday’s forum, members of the public are advised to contact the organising secretariat on 082-485111 (ext 503 - Chong).