Dayak is a name of tribes that identifies the various indigenous peoples on the island of Borneo by the Indonesian part known as Kalimantan. They are divided into about 450 ethno-linguistic groups. Despite some differences, these group share physical features, architecture, language, an oral tradition, customs, social structure, weapons, agricultural technology and a similar outlook on life.
Dayak population estimated at about four million spread over the four Indonesian provinces in Kalimantan / Borneo, the Malaysian territories of Sabah and Serawak and Brunei Darussalam. In Sabah, the Dayak are known as Kadazandusun.
Most Dayak art was, and to a large extent remains, intimately associated with religion and social hierarchy. Funerary structures are the most obvious extant examples. These include raised coffins and carved poles to which the animals - formerly, slaves - are tied before being sacrificed in the ritual. Among the Ngaju, the Out Danum and other groups, the coffins-really ossuaries or mausoleums-were (some still are) adorned with elaborate carvings. People of wealth and status, the aristocrats, received the most elaborate funerals, and pecial motifs were reserved for their coffins. The aristocrats were more powerful than other men on earth were, and similarly their spirits were more powerful in the afterworld. But among certain groups, all of the deceased required a "secondary burial", an additional ritual treatment of the remains to send the soul on its way.
The human body was believed to house two souls. One stayed with the corpse until the flesh decomposed. The other remained in the area of the village until the rituals were performed that would help send the soul on its dangerous journey to the land of the dead. This afterworld was a heavenly abode often associated with unusual mountains. This concept is generally adhered to, with numerous local variations. In preparation for the secondary ritual, the body is buried in an urn or coffin with a hole in the bottom so that the fluids will drain. It is then stored in a home or shelter for a few months until the process of decomposition has taken place and until a propitious time is reached. Then the bones are exhumed from their container, cleaned, and placed in an ossuary or mausoleum, in the context of a huge ceremony that, for a noble, may last for weeks and involve the slaughter of a dozen water buffalo and a hundred pigs.
In the past, anthropologists described the Dayak as the "legendary natives of Borneo" who lived in longhouse and engaged in head-hunting. Today, they form a small minority, the loser in an era of swift change and modernization.
The original Dayak identity their cultural, economic, religious and political life has been preserved through their oral tradition. Experts agree that there are many basic affinitives in the legends of the various Dayak groups. Sadly, though, all the original elements of Dayak life as described in the legends have suffered significantly from external elements.