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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Seventeen Years Among The Sea Dyaks of Borneo by Edwin H. Gomes

The first half of the 20th century would seem to be the most prolific period for publications on the native people, land and culture of Borneo. This came after an earlier period of 50 years or more of exploring, ruling and Christianizing a country inhabited by these tribal races.Borneo: The Land of River and Palmwritten by Eda Green (1911) was aimed at promoting Christian mission work in Borneo.
 One of the missionaries who were in Borneo during this time and who, unlike Eda Green, lived among the natives of Borneo was Edwin H. Gomes. This book is an accumulation of seventeen years of first-hand life experiences among the Sea Dyaks in Sarawak with each chapter dedicated to a particular aspect of their life.

Christian missions had been working to spread the word of God among the indigenous population in Sarawak since the late 1800s. With limited manpower, their missionaries had to travel great distances to preach and set up churches to cater to the new converts. It was a monumental task as the traditional lifestyle of these people were so steeped in superstitions, taboos and customs so alien to any “civilized” foreigner to the country. To earn their trust, and open their hearts to new ideas and concepts, required an understanding of who these people really are. The author’s observations and views of these native tribes are categorized neatly into twenty-four chapters describing their lifestyle, character, social life, beliefs, feasts and folklore. His personal experiences give an indication of how they are perceived by the outside world where progress and modernization had changed traditional living in western societies.

The indigenous peoples of Sarawak had been living here for thousands of years before any of their personal history was written down. This book presents a valuable insight of who, or what, they were like when the world began to take notice that there were more exotic attractions in Sarawak than its trading commodities. The black and white photographs featured highlight the untamed beauty and grace of these people who, at the time this book was first published in 1911, was going through a period of dramatic changes during the rule of the White Rajas. This book is a must for those interested in the cultural heritage of Sarawak as it gives a renewed understanding of how they perceive and assimilate their surroundings, natural and spiritual, into their life history.

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