Activist: Bungai Terung symbol belongs to all, but meaning must be upheld

Peter John Jaban

KUCHING, Aug 5: Sarawak indigenous activist Peter John Jaban has come out against claims that the Bungai Terung symbol ‘belongs’ to any single indigenous community in this day but reminded political parties that seek to trade on Dayak iconography for votes to live up to the meaning behind their choice of logos.

Peter, who is a member of the International Indigenous People Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), pointed out that a logo for a political party is a statement of both intent and identity.

“It suggests what that party will stand for. Each party that uses indigenous symbols for their own promotion should think long and hard about their policies and programmes for these communities that they claim to represent, rather than just taking familiar imagery for their own political gain,” he asserted in a statement today.

He highlighted this following the announcement that a newly formed alliance of locally based political groups in Sarawak, Gabungan Anak Sarawak (Gasak), has chosen the “Bungai Terung” as its party symbol which has caused widespread debate this week, leading to a petition on Change.org asking the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to consider the logo’s use in this context.

Elaborating, Peter pointed out the former Barisan Nasional (BN) adopted a weighing scale logo that symbolises equality and justice, but given the events in the High Court last week, voters must decide whether this now disbanded coalition lived up to its emblem.


“Here in Sarawak, in the current climate of autonomy demands, many political parties and coalitions are using indigenous symbols to display their Sarawak identity: a Dayak shield, Dayak motifs and the sacred hornbill bird are all in use.

“In principal, this is not a big deal and there are no laws against this. In many ways, it is a reflection of the importance of the numerous indigenous communities to the political and social life of the state,” he added.

The “Bungai Terung” symbol, he continued, was already extremely popular, both in this country and overseas, with both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples tattooing it on their bodies as a sign of belonging and connection.

“Traditionally, the Dayak identify Bungai Terung with their ‘berani berjalai’ which means ‘to walk in bravery,’ a journey of freedom, knowledge and wisdom.

“Bungai Terung also signifies the beginning of new life and freedom. The coil in the middle of that Bungai Terung is called the ‘Tali Nyawa’ (Lifeline). This coil meant to represent the underbelly of a tadpole which we indigenous people believe signifies new life, or new beginnings and to be united among the communities,” he explained.

Peter thus asked: “Why raise this issue now when this symbol is already universal? Why are certain political parties using other Dayak motifs to their whims and fancy, while others can’t?”

He opined that this controversy could cause more harm than good because restaurants and karaoke bars, tattoo studios and craft houses, cultural heritage and tourism would be affected.

“In Indonesian Kalimantan, the Bungai Terung and various Dayak motifs are used in churches and well mosques. Albeit, millions of Bungai Terung are on human body art and those people would not like their tattoos being directly associated with a political party,” he said.

Peter suggested that perhaps Gasak should consider some adaptation of the Bungai Terung to make it more appropriate to their use instead of simply taking the symbol without any design work on their part.

“In Kalimantan, the Bungai Terung is the symbol of Persatuan Dayak Muslim Kebangsaan but within a larger logo to show the identity of the association. But, in general, the symbol should belong to all of us in Sarawak,” he said.

He thus called on the Dayak communities to respect and allow the symbol’s message of unity to be open to all. — DayakDaily