Wednesday, June 17, 2015

When the People of Borneo First Got Together

For many reasons, Borneo remains a mystery. For example, we don’t quite know when people first set foot on the island. The latest archaeological research indicates that modern humans had arrived in northern Borneo by at least 46,000 years ago. Whether some people got there even earlier without leaving a trace is anyone’s guess.

Exactly how those first people got to Borneo is also unclear. Their time of arrival coincided with a time of low sea levels, and Borneo was likely connected to the Malay Peninsula or to Sumatra. In this case, the first people of Borneo probably arrived on foot. Other studies, based on language similarities, however, have suggested that Borneo was settled through Taiwan and the Philippines. These areas were never fully connected to Borneo, which would then suggest that the first Borneans came by boat.

What is obvious from the many studies on human genetics, archaeology, language and culture is that Borneo is a bit of a human melting pot, with people arriving at different times from the Asian mainland, Sulawesi and the Philippines, and bringing along with them their own habits and languages. 

These movements were not just in one direction, as people left Borneo as well. The settlement of Madagascar from Borneo, a minor 10,000-kilometer boat trip to the west, is a well-documented example. Up until now, all Malagasy languages have close similarities to those spoken in the southeast part of Borneo.

Now, these Bornean people didn’t all get along fabulously. Historic accounts and other evidence indicate a relatively violent past for the island’s people, although probably no more violent than people elsewhere in the world. Inter-tribal warfare occurred frequently, and villages were often barricaded to withstand attacks from raiding parties.

It would have been a pretty scary time to live on Borneo, although these dangerous days seem to have benefited wildlife. Some early writers suggested that species like the rhinoceros survived in such large numbers until the early 20th century, because it was pretty dangerous for hunters to be out in the forest. After forests became safer for people, rhinos rapidly declined.

Obviously, reintroducing war into Borneo is not a conservation strategy I would recommend. The constant wars on Borneo were a great source of suffering and a major concern to Borneo’s people as well as the Dutch and British colonial governments.

Intriguingly, these people and governments managed to do something that has rarely been repeated since. They brought together people from all over the island into one location to discuss and settle the issue of ongoing inter-tribal wars.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: When the People of Borneo First Got Together