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Home » Tanjung Puting National Park » The Hindu Kaharingan Faith of the Dayaks and Local Wisdom to preserve precious Rainforests

The Hindu Kaharingan Faith of the Dayaks and Local Wisdom to preserve precious Rainforests

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Among the many tribes of Dayaks in Borneo, those living in the upper reaches of the rivers in the province of Central Kalimantan are the Dayak Ngaju, the Lawangan, the Ma’anyan and the Ot Danum, known as the Barito Dayaks, named after the large Barito river.


Among these, the most dominant are the Ngaju, who inhabit the Kahayan river basin by the present city of Palangkaraya.  The Ngaju are involved in agricultural commerce, planting rice, cloves, coffee, palm oil, pepper and cocoa, whilst, the other tribes still mostly practice subsistence farming through the slash and burn lifestyle.


Most of Dayaks in Central Kalimantan embrace the Hindu-Kaharingan faith although many have converted to Christianity or Islam.


The term Kaharingan comes from the Old Dayak word “Haring” meaning “Life” or “Alive”. This concept is expressed in the symbol of the faith depicting the Tree of Life. This Tree of Life resembles a spear that has three branches on eitherside, some facing up and some down. At the bottom of the symbol are two receptacles, while at the very top are a hornbill and the sun.


The hornbill bird and the sun represent Ranying Mahalala meaning God Almighty, Source of all life on earth.


The spear and its branches denote the upper world and the afterlife, while the lower part where are the receptacles convey the idea of man’s earthly life. Although both the spiritual world and the earthly world are different, but they are closely connected to one another and are inseparable since they are both interdependent.


The branches where some face up while others face down mean that there is an eternal balance between the earthly and the afterlife. That life on earth is temporary, and that human life is designed for the hereafter.


Altogether the Tree of Life expresses the core of the Kaharingan faith, which is that Human Life must be a balance and kept in harmony between man and his fellow humans, between man and his natural environment, and between man and the Almighty. This is also the basic concept of the Balinese Hindu religion, where in Bali it is known as: Tri Hita Karana.


Therefore, if at first the Kaharingan traditional faith developed independently from the Hindu religion, but since Indonesia officially recognizes only the 5 major religions of the world, namely: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism, it was in the year 1980 that the Kaharingan faithful of the Dayaks in Central Kalimantan finally agreed to establish themselves under the Hindu-Kaharingan faith, thus recognized as an official religion of Indonesia.


This movement was led by the Central Kalimantan hero Major Tjilik Riwut, a parachutist from the Ngaju Dayak, who, together with other Indonesian independence fighters fought against Dutch colonialism over the archipelago. Tjilik Riwut adhered to the Kaharingan faith as did most of his followers. In their fight they also demanded recognition of the tradiitional Kaharingan faith.

In practice the Ngaju Dayaks focus on the supernatural world of spirits, including ancestral spirit. For them, the secondary funeral is most important, usually held after several months or even years after burial. During the second funeral rites (known as tiwah) the bones are exhumed and cleansed then placed in a special mausoleum, called sandung. The spirit of the deceased is then believed to watch over the village. The mausoleums are often beautifully decorated showing scenes of the upper world. An ornate ship of the dead made of rubber is usually placed next to the remains depiciting his entourage that accompany the soul to paradise.


One of the most outstanding features of the Dayak faith is their Local Wisdom and innate concern to preserve the forest and the natural environment. There are strict rules and directives on how to treat the rainforests, what may be done or taken from the forests and what are taboo. The Dayaks’ local wisdom directs that tresspassing these rules will destroy the balance of the forest and animals living in the forest, and so directly or indirectly will adversely damage communities living from the forest bounty.

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Oct 2015

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The Hindu Kaharingan Faith of the Dayaks and Local Wisdom to preserve precious Rainforests


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