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Kalimantan

Kalimantan comprises roughly the southern three-quarters of the equatorial island of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Despite exploration and development, many areas of Kalimantan are almost untouched by the Western world. Maps of Kalimantan's river-laced interior still excite the imagination. On the political map, the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah and the sultanate of Brunei lie to the north, occupying the top one-quarter of the island. The territory makes a unique travel experience for the more rough and ready traveller.

Tourist facilities are relatively undeveloped in Kalimantan, and visitors are few. Those Westerners you do meet are leftovers from the oil and wood booms of the 1970s, their jobs gradually being taken over by Indonesians. Good roads are found only in the oil and timbering centres and around big coastal cities. Travel is restricted in some areas, as are border crossings into Malaysia. Although travellers may arrive here to visit interior Dayak villages and wildlife reserves, most natives will take you for an expat worker. Expect to encounter officialdom wherever there are navigable rivers, airstrips and roads (though most roads shown on maps don't exist). Good roads run between Banjarmasin and Samarinda and around Pontianak, but rivers are the main transportation arteries. There are airports in the major cities, and airstrips throughout the interior serviced by commercial flights and missionary aircraft.

Most of Kalimantan's population predominantly Chinese and Malays live near the coastal areas. Javanese, Buginese and other Indonesians come here to find work, competing with other Indonesians, and even other nationalities, for skilled jobs. Under Indonesia's massive transmigration programme, tens of thousands of Javanese and Balinese families have been brought in to settle the island's hinterlands. 'Dayak' is a collective name for the 200 or so different tribes that comprise the island's native peoples. Living inland along the banks of major rivers and tributaries, they make up almost half of the territory's population. Each tribe has its own tribal name and speaks its own dialect. Contrary to myth, the Dayak race is light-skinned (resembling the Chinese) with rounded, well-featured faces and slightly slanted eyes. Mountain Dayak tribes are physically imposing, taller than most Asians, heavily muscled and weighing 75 kilograms (165 pounds) or more. Numbering in the millions, the Dayaks have traditionally lived upriver in the hill areas' thriving as hunters, gatherers and, more recently, as slash-and-burn hill rice growers.

Since the 1970s, the government has encouraged them to take up wet-rice cultivation and to produce such cash crops as rubber, pepper and cloves, kerbau, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and a few goats are kept. Recent exposure to the forces of modernization is changing many aspects of traditional Dayak life. The Indonesian government is abolishing multiple-family long houses and replacing them with modern, single-family dwellings, a drastic change in village life. Tattooing, mastery of traditional crafts and the custom of wearing huge bunches of metal ear-rings to elongate the earlobes are all disappearing. Few Dayaks hunt with blow-guns and poison darts or spears these days preferring instead home-made Daniel Boone-style flintlocks. Though there are occasional unexplained decapitations in the more remote regions, the traditional practice of head-hunting has officially ended. Increasingly, young Dayaks leave their villages to work for timber and oil companies or take menial jobs in Kalimantan's boom towns. Children of wealthy Dayaks study engineering, forestry and other subjects in Indonesian and European universities.

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Information provided by Department of Tourism. Government of Indonesia.

 

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