Who are the Banjar?

The southern and eastern coast of Kalimantan is home to the Banjar people, who live along the rivers from the interior rainforest to the coastal cities. Most Banjar live in Southern Kalimantan, but there are also significant Banjar populations in East Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, Riau Province, and Malaysia. The Banjar language and speech is difficult for other Indonesians to understand. However, a person can quickly learn the marketplace language because it is always used in daily life in Southern and Eastern Kalimantan.

Although the Banjar are devout Muslims and are known for their strong Muslim identity, the Banjar proudly trace their origins to a Hindu kingdom, the Nagara Dipa. Contemporary ethnic cultural traditions developed from a combination of Java, Malay, and Dayak cultures. Buddhism, then Hinduism, and finally Islam were introduced from Java into South Kalimantan. In 1526, Banjar Prince Samudera accepted Islam and took the name of Sultan Suriansyah as a condition of receiving help from a Javanese army in overthrowing his uncle.

What are their lives like?

Banjarmasin, the capital city of South Kalimantan, is located 22 kilometers from the Java Sea. Since portions of the city are below sea level, the city rises and falls with the tides. Lanting (houses on stilts) line the multiple waterways, which crisscross the city. Taking a small klotok (motorized boat) around the rivers and canals shows a wide variety of activity: people bathing, washing laundry, and buying fruit, vegetables and fish from female vendors in small canoes.

The Banjar people seldom move to other areas of Indonesia. They tend to marry and settle near their parents or other relatives in Kalimantan. Most find their livelihood through farming or plantation work near the rivers. Trade, transport, and mining are also prominent occupations. Many Banjar work in traditional manual sawmills, but are reluctant to work in plywood factories because of the unhealthy conditions.

What are their beliefs?

Islam influences every aspect of individual and family life in Banjar society. Religion is the primary force in controlling crime, such as thievery and gambling. Banjar identity is inseparable from the Islamic religion. At the same time, traditional animistic beliefs prevail. These beliefs teach that certain supernatural powers reside in objects such as stones, trees, and mountains.

The Islamic celebrations and month-long fast of Ramadan are rigorously observed. The most famous building in Banjarmasin is the Agung Sabilal Muthadin Mosque, located in the center of the city. Since the period of Dutch colonialism, the Banjar have looked suspiciously on government schools as attempting to secularize their children. Modern Islamic schools claiming identity as government schools have been developed since independence.

What are their needs?

The Banjar do not look positively on modern methods and technologies nor do they mix much with other groups. This isolation has limited their development of education, health care, and water purification. In the interior, villages have a limited infrastructure for distribution of crops and goods. The proliferation of coal, diamond, and gold mines has also created tension throughout Kalimantan.

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