Savage Culture: Wallace’s Dyaks and Modern Sarawak

It was interesting reading about Wallace’s view of Sarawak’s indigenous people in light of the trip I made to Kuching some months ago. Although I’m not entirely sure exactly which tribe Wallace is talking about (my guess would be the Bidayuh “Land Dayaks”) he portrays them as honest, simple people with great potential. He laments that they are cheated by the Malay and Chinese traders and is impressed with their social advancement and pleasant companionship. The faults he puts upon the “Dyaks” are that the men are idle while the women are allowed to slave like “beast[s] of burthen,” and concludes that the European example could be beneficial and not make the Dyaks “demoralized and finally exterminated, by contact with European civilization.”

Interestingly enough, Sarawak appears to have done just that: although it still embraces its natural heritage above all else, the White Rajah is shown to be a good part of their history. At the end of this past May, the Sarawak Museum in Kuching had an exhibit on the general history of Sarawak. There was an entire gallery dedicated to the White Rajahs and their lives, painting a positive picture of colonial rule that served to help the people of Sarawak.

Included in this are the indigenous people of Sarawak; contrary to Wallace’s attempted hierarchy of the people of the area, Sarawak appears to embrace all aspects of its heritage equally, including the colonial rulers.

At least from my own observations, Wallace’s optimism seems to have come true to a certain extent: European influence may have been a beneficial force on the people of Sarawak. They certainly seem to hold the same opinion of Sir James Brooke as Wallace.