Introduction / History The Banjarese of Malaysia live in the region of Sabah, which is in the northernmost part of the island of Borneo. Their area was once notorious for smuggling with the peoples of the Philippines and of neighboring Kalimantan, Indonesia. Today, it is a developing agricultural district.
The origin of the Banjarese resulted from the mixing of Javanese and Malay cultures. Long ago, they were united by a ruler who followed Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It was then that the Banjar kingdom grew, and the tribe of the Banjarese originated. Originally located in Kalimantan, the Banjarese gradually expanded to Borneo, probably as a result of their trading and seafaring way of life. Today, Malaysia keeps close cultural ties with Indonesia and is exerting a larger role in Islam.
In general, the Banjarese are friendly and non-threatening. They speak a local Malay language called Banjar, and they easily understand the Malay language.
What are their lives like? The Banjarese traditionally made a living from seafaring and trading, but now they are primarily farmers and fishermen. Plantation agriculture began early in the twentieth century, and the port of Tawau grew to be a center for such agricultural products as coconuts, rubber, cocoa, oil palm, and abaca (a plantain grown for its fiber). The port also exports timber and copra (dried coconut meat yielding coconut oil). The Banjarese have access to an airport and a small road network.
The staple food of the Banjarese is rice, and side dishes consist of all kinds of fish and vegetable curry soups. In everyday life, lunch is the most important meal. Although wet rice farming is predominant, rice must still be imported, usually from Thailand.
The Banjarese are mostly rural people, living in villages located either along the coasts or along roads. Houses are built on stilts four to eight feet off the ground, with roofs made of thatch. Houses of the wealthier Banjarese have plank floors and tile roofs.
Traditionally, the Banjarese were organized into a somewhat feudal social structure, with a distinct division between the common people and nobility. The chief of each district was a nobleman. Class distinctions do still exist today, but the nobility has now been replaced by appointed and elected officials who are subject to the Malaysian parliament.
The typical Banjarese household consists of a husband and wife and their children. Marriage and inheritance are governed by Islamic law. Although a man is permitted to have as many as four wives (according to Islamic law), the majority of the Banjarese practice monogamy (one husband, one wife). Couples are married by registering with the local imam (local Islamic leader). Marriages have traditionally been arranged by the parents.
What are their beliefs? The Banjarese are now almost completely Muslim, having converted to Islam around the fifteenth century. They regularly observe all Muslim holidays. However, a few Hindu-based ideas still linger, such as the belief in "spirits of the soil." Many also look to the medicine men to find relief from illnesses. Islamic rites are predominant, but many practices are actually Hindu-Buddhist, especially wedding customs.
The first major outreach to this people group was conducted by the Dutch during their colonization of Indonesia. As the Banjarese moved from Indonesia to Malaysia, however, the influence of Muslim missionaries converted them to Islam.
What are their needs? The few Banjarese who have become Christians have had to leave their villages and families because of extreme persecution. They are in great need of teaching and encouragement to help them stand firm in the face of such opposition.
The Banjarese are in desperate need of the Gospel of Christ.
Prayer Points * Pray that the Lord will call long-term workers to go to Malaysia and work among the Banjarese.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Banjarese of Malaysia so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will give the small number of Banjarese believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong Banjarese Church for the glory of His name!