Kayan people (Borneo)

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A Kayan using rattan to "saw" a piece of firewood.
"The Tattooing of a Kayan Married Woman," (c. 1896-98), photograph by William Henry Furness III. Illustration from The Home-Life of Borneo Head-Hunters (1902).

The Kayan are an indigenous tribe from the island of Borneo. The Kayan people are categorized as a part of the Dayak people of Borneo.

Being an indigenous tribe in central Borneo, Kayans are similar to their neighbors, the Kenyah tribe, with which they are grouped together under the Bahau ethnic group.

The population of the Kayan ethnic group may be some 27,000.[1] They are part of a larger grouping of people referred to collectively as the Orang Ulu, or upriver people. Like some other Dayak people they are known for being fierce warriors, former headhunters, adept in dry-rice cultivation, and having extensive tattoos and stretched earlobes amongst both sexes.

They may have originated from along the Kayan river in the Indonesian part of Borneo. They live along the upper Kayan and the middle Kapuas and Mahakam rivers. They seem to have expanded to the south in Sarawak in historic times, generating some conflicts with the Iban that were expanding north at the same time. They have settled in Sarawak on the middle Baram River, the Bintulu River and along the Rajang River, having been pressed back a little during the late 19th century.

Their language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family.

Their basic culture is similar to the other Dayak people of Borneo. Traditionally they live in long houses on river banks. Their agriculture was based upon shifting cultivation techniques and the cultivation of dryland rice. They also cultivate sago, and go hunting and fishing. They are known for good carvings and metalwork.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kayan in the Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved on August 12, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.

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