Dyaks and Peacocks

Wallace describes the Dyaks as people of higher morality, intelligence compared to the other Malayan races. He assumes a moral and intellectual high ground by putting himself in the position of a judge. He sees himself and the white man is superior and capable of judging and ranking other races. Yet, while he takes the moral high ground, he fails to realize his own hypocrisy. He equates the Dyak’s participation in head-hunting as something “which no more implies a bad moral character than did the custom of the slave-trade a hundred years ago imply a general morality in all who participated in it” (68). Here, he excused all (in the west) who participated in the slave trade, absolving them of any individual fault. Yet, Wallace condemns the Malay traders for oppressing the Dyaks through slavery (71). Wallace’s own moral judgement is prejudiced, revealing his hypocrisy.

It seems to be that despite the praises that Wallace plies on the Dyaks, he does not really regard them as fellow men. They perhaps comes closest to being a human being, but still closer to a savage. Perhaps, to Wallace, the Dyak and the various Malayan races to him are no more than a specimen of birds/insects etc which he so assiduously collects information on. Just like how he praises the peacock to the most superior of all birds, the Dyaks in this case becomes the most superior of its specimen (the Malayan races). I do not think it is far fetched to argue that Wallace see the Dyaks and the various Malayan races as ‘specimens’. In his description of his journey out of Buitenzorg, he writes, “I had coolies to carry my baggage and a horse for myself, both to be changed after every six or seven miles.” In a single line, he puts coolies and horses in the same category. Animals, coolies, birds and Dyaks all belong to one same category of inferior beings to Wallace!

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