Gaining strength from the Dayak’s legacy of Tumbang Anoi


The Tumbang Anoi Peace Accord signed in 1894 ended the conflicts between Dayak sub-tribes, such as headhunting, wars, and slavery throughout Borneo.

DURING the harvesting season 129 years ago, more than 1,000 Dayak leaders from all over Borneo gathered at a place in Kalimantan known as Tumbang Anoi to participate in one of the most significant meetings in the history of Dayak civilization…

While cleaning my office last week, I stumbled upon a book I purchased five years ago in West Kalimantan called ‘Simfoni di Tanah Dayak’ by Munaldus Nerang, the founder of Credit Union (CU) Kumang Keling, and his co-authors Yuspita Karlena and Yohanes RJ.

The book starts with the author’s reflection on standing by the Kahayan River in Tumbang Anoi, which brought back my memories of a field trip almost nine years ago in Central Kalimantan.

My journey began in Palangka Raya, where I met Pak Agus, a local guide and a friend, and we rode up to Gunung Mas district, stopping at various places, including the two main towns of Kuala Kurun and Tewah.

However, we did not venture further into the interior, where many Dayak villages are located, with names starting with ‘Tumbang’, meaning ‘river mouth’ in the Dayak Ngaju-Ot Danum language, much like the word ‘Nanga’ and ‘Long’ in other parts of Borneo. Our last stop was Tumbang Miri.

During the trip, Pak Agus told me the story of Tumbang Anoi, a historically significant place for the Dayak people. Located in the northern part of the district, close to the border with West Kalimantan, it was the site of a crucial meeting in 1894, which led to the ‘Tumbang Anoi Peace Accord’.

The meeting, known as the Tumbang Anoi Peace Meeting, marked a turning point in the history of the Dayak civilisation in Kalimantan. It took place 129 years ago, from May to July 1894, intending to end the conflicts between Dayak sub-tribes, such as headhunting, wars, and slavery throughout Borneo.

The Dayaks and the Dutch colonist

As Pak Agus explained, the period before 1894 was known as the Kayau-Asang era, characterised by headhunting. The Dayaks considered the Dutch colonists their enemies, and this hatred led to war, as seen in the battles that erupted with the Dutch in the 1850s, which inflicted heavy losses on Dutch soldiers and warships.

Dr Anton Willem Nieuwenhuis, a Leiden-trained medical doctor, wrote about his trips from Pontianak to Samarinda in the 1890s. On the first trip in 1893, the team had to stop at Putussibau as they encountered hostility from the tribes in Upper Mahakam. (Note: He eventually made it to Samarinda from Pontianak in 1897.)

The Dutch government was particularly interested in ending the inter-tribal conflicts in the interest of their colonial activities to maintain control over the region. This policy was pursued through both physical aggression and policies aimed at ‘modifying’ the local culture, with political objectives to extend Dutch rule to the Upper Mahakam and Upper Kayan regions and establish peace and security. In 1894, the Dutch government invited all the Dayak tribes in Borneo to hold a peace meeting.

The Peace Accord

Organising such a meeting was a monumental task at the time. Inter-regional access relied primarily on rivers, making it a daunting challenge to gather all tribes in Borneo. Tumbang Anoi was ultimately chosen due to its central location, making it accessible for guests from all regions. Invitations were conveyed verbally through each region’s leaders, and the delegates who attended the peace meeting had to be tribal leaders or chiefs knowledgeable about the customs of their respective regions.

According to the Borneo Institute in Palangkaraya, Damang Batu – the Dayak chief in Central Kalimantan – played a central role in the peace negotiations. He was considered one of the most instrumental figures in the Peace Meeting, as he hosted the three-month-long event at his Rumah Betang (longhouse) and bore the cost. Given Damang Batu’s extensive knowledge of the customs and traditions in Kalimantan at the time, the Dayak chiefs agreed to meet at his residence.

The meeting was held over the harvest season and, according to various sources I read online, involved the consumption of 60 buffaloes, more than 100 cows, and hundreds of pigs and chickens.

As a result, the Peace Accord put an end to the ‘4H’ conflict between Dayak tribes in Borneo, namely ‘Hakayau’ (headhunting), ‘Hajipen’ (enslavement), ‘Hasang’ (invasion), and ‘Habunu’ (killing). Damang Batu became an iconic figure in the history of the Dayak civilisation for his vital role in ending the tradition of hostility between Dayak sub-tribes.

Inspiring visions for future generations

Although the meeting is widely regarded as the ‘dawn of civilisation’ for the Dayak people, there are varying interpretations of the event. Kusni Sulang of the Borneo Institute, in his article for the Kalimantan Review, argued that the meeting was part of the ‘divide and rule’ strategy employed by the Dutch colonists in Borneo to strengthen their colonial grip on the island. This view is shared by other scholars such as Ahim S. Rusan, pointing out the importance of considering a critical perspective on this aspect of Dayak history.

However, it seems that Tumbang Anoi has somehow evolved into a symbol of unity for the Dayak people. In July 2019, the international seminar and expedition ‘Napak Tilas Tumbang Anoi’ attracted more than 5,000 Dayaks from various parts of Borneo, including Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei Darussalam. The event included traditional performances, a Rumah Betang tour, and discussions about the unity and development of the Dayak community throughout Borneo.

While the event in 2019 commemorated the Peace Accord in 1894, it also aimed to find ways to integrate the Dayak community into mainstream development, particularly a more sustainable one.

The importance of education, public amenities, and infrastructure development to connect rural Dayak communities was also emphasised. The significance of the Peace Accord seems to have gone beyond its historical context.

Munaldus Nerang, in his book, mentions how Tumbang Anoi and Damang Batu inspired him to pursue his dream of building a better future and improving the livelihood of his people through his vision of a Credit Union.

He wrote, ‘Bagaimana legacy ini dapat menjadi kekuatan dalam membangun Credit Union di Tanah Dayak?’ (How can this legacy become a strength in building Credit Unions in Dayak Land?) This is another interesting story that I will share in the next article.

Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak!

Dr Goh Chun Sheng is a researcher at Harvard University. He is interested in exploring sustainable development in both Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo.

His book, ‘Transforming Borneo: From Land Exploitation to Sustainable Development’ was recently published by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.