Many similarities between dragons in Chinese and native beliefs, says British anthropologist

Janowski speaking at the BCM Auditorium on March 10, 2024.

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, March 10: British anthropologist Dr Monica Janowski suggests that the ‘dragon’ could be regarded as an emblem uniting Sarawakians.

Janowski said that her studies had prompted the suggestion that the Chinese in Sarawak also had a belief that they are the ‘descendants of sragons’.

She added that based on this Chinese belief and local beliefs about dragons, they have much in common, with stories of dragons often known here as ‘naga’.

“Like the Chinese, the locals here have beliefs that dragons are in the landscape, under mountains, in rivers and the sea and beliefs that dragons are powerful, lucky and benevolent—as well as potentially dangerous,” she said in her talk titled ‘The Chinese dragon (lung) in Sarawak’ at Borneo Cultures Museum (BCM) Auditorium today.

Janowski who is also the Curator of the SE Asia Museum, University of Hull in United Kingdom (UK), noted that over the centuries, jars, gongs, and other objects carrying likenesses of the Chinese lung (dragon) had been treasured here.

“So, the local ideas about what naga looks like have been influenced by how the Chinese lung is pictured,” she opined.

Janoswki has been carrying out research in Sarawak since 1986 where her focus has been the Kelabit people of Sarawak, focusing on their practical and cosmological relationship with the natural environment.

Since 2017, she has been carrying out research on the topic of the water dragon, both among the Kelabit and among other peoples of Sarawak, including the Kayan, Kenyah, Berawan, Penan, Bidayuh, Chinese and Malays.

She has so far, published articles about highland dragons and Iban dragons in the Sarawak Museum Journal; and four articles in the Dayak Daily in the first half of 2023, in a series called ‘The Naga Moves’, which details stories about dragons among the Malay, Iban, Kayan, and Lundayeh peoples.)

Among her publications are The Forest, Source of Life: The Kelabit of Sarawak (British Museum and Sarawak Museum, 2003) and Tuked Rini, Cosmic Traveller: Life and Legend in the Heart of Borneo (NIAS Press and Sarawak Museum, 2014). — DayakDaily