Christmas With the Dyaks of South Borneo: 1893

Christmas With the Dyaks of South Borneo.  

We can not be too thankful, my young friends, that we live in a Christian country where the people are wise, temperate, and rational, and jealously guard the beautiful institutions of the past and, prevent them from being corrupted.

 I am now going to tell you about the Dyaks of South Borneo, who are, perhaps, the most degraded race of savages in existence, and to tell you how they spend their Christmas, so that you may be thankful that you live among a happier and wiser people.

These ignorant savages almost ruin themselves every time that Christmas comes round, by indulging in a horrible custom which they call “Giving Presents.” Every Dyak feels it incumbent upon himself or herself to give presents to every one of his or her family, even to the remotest branches; and no matter how little the giver may be able to afford it, he or she must give — or lose social position. Upon their children, in particular, they lavish costly gifts, presenting them with elaborate and delicate toys which can only mar and break, and from which they can derive no enjoyment. They also give to their children a peculiar native product called “Candy,” which destroys the digestion and ruins the teeth.

Another horrible practice of the Dyaks is called “Gathering at the Old Home.” People who have left their home in early childhood, and who have had every reason for so doing, and none whatsoever for returning, profane the sacred day that should be set apart for harmony and good-will toward men, by reassembling under the ancestral roof in an unhappy body of relatives inspired with a profound and thorough sentiment of mutual hatred. Thus they make what should be an occasion of gladness and merriment a day of unpleasantness to themselves and each to the other. You would think, would you not, that people whose tastes do not lead them to meet oftener than once a year would know enough to keep away from each other? Well, the Dyaks of Borneo know no better than this.

Let me tell you one more thing about the Dyaks of Borneo, and you will see how completely they manage to spoil this beautiful crown of all the year’s holidays. They fix for these horrible gatherings an unusual and inconvenient dinner-hour, generally arranging it so that they are obliged to wait an hour or two beyond their usual time of taking food. Thus, when they do sit down to their meal, they eat too much, and become stupid and uncomfortable, as well as cross to each other.  

Are you not glad that you live among a wise, temperate, sensible people, who know how to enjoy their blessings rationally, and not among benighted savages like the Dyaks of Borneo, who have such a disagreeable Christmas?—Puck.

 The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 5 December 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that you have been blessed with families more sensible and more agreeable than the aforementioned tribes.  It is shocking, is it not, to find that the same complaints about the expense and familial discord of the holidays persist even today?



8 thoughts on “Christmas With the Dyaks of South Borneo: 1893

      1. davekingsbury

        Aha, my mistake – I assumed you had erred in calling me Mrs D on account of my Gravatar – a subsequent perusal of your excellent blogsite has cleared the matter up for me, though it is surely only a matter of time before I commit some further inexcusable faux pas …


  1. chriswoodyard Post author

    Mrs Daffodil has been in service to noble households long enough to overlook such trifles. She recollects a position she once held as lady’s maid to a spoilt young American who had married a Duke. The young Duchess persisted in calling her “Wilson” as it tired her to say “Daffodil.” Of course, she came to a thoroughly bad end.



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