The indigenous people inhabiting the dense tropical rainforests of Borneo are collectively called the Dayaks, but in fact they comprise many tribes that are diverse in culture as well as in language. The word “Dayak” actually means “inland” or “upriver”, especially where the Indonesian part of Borneo, – called Kalimantan, – is cut by many long and wide rivers as well as many tributaries, that are used as transportation highways.
In Central Kalimantan live the Ngaju Dayaks, the Lawangan, the Ma’anyan and the Ot Danum, known as the Barito Dayaks, named after the Barito river. Among these, the most dominant are the Ngaju, who inhabit the Kahayan river basin by the present town of Palangkaraya. The Ngaju are involved in agricultural commerce, planting rice, cloves, coffee, palm oil, pepper and cocoa, whilst, the other tribes still mostly practice subsistence farming through the slash and burn lifestyle.
Although many Dayaks have modernized and converted to Christianity and Islam, however, the majority still adhere to the original Kaharingan belief, also known as the Hindu-Bali Kaharingan, which is a state recognized faith
Kaharingan belief focuses on the supernatural world of spirits, including ancestral spirits. For this reason, funeral rites and structures are elaborate. Most essential, however, are the secondary funeral rites, called tiwah, when the bones of the deceased are exhumed, cleaned and placed in a special mausoleum, called sandung, which are placed next to their other ancestors. These coffins are normally beautifully carved and adorned. The tiwah is believed to be a most essential ceremony to allow the soul of the deceased finally to be released to the highest heaven.