By Francis Siah
Former Sarawak deputy chief minister Daniel Tajem, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82, left behind a legacy for which he will long be remembered: Dayakism.
Yes, that pride at being a Dayak is his greatest legacy to the community.
Tajem died at his home after a short illness, leaving behind his wife Ivy, three children – Mervyn, 50; Raymond, 47; and Angeline 44 – and seven grandchildren.
Born on March 15, 1936 to a poor family in Sungai Tanju near Kuching, Tajem exemplified what a true Dayak leader should be: principled and honest. He was a magnanimous victor, defiant in defeat but never a sore loser.
A lawyer by profession, he joined the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) in 1973, won the seat of Lingga the following year and successfully defended it in 1979 and 1983.
In 1981, he was appointed as deputy chief minister. Then followed months of acrimony. Young Dayaks insisted that SNAP, a Dayak-based party, must not be led by a non-Dayak.
The year before, a dispute had arisen over who should succeed president Dunstan Endawie when he resigned. The most likely candidate was then-SNAP No. 2 James Wong, a Chinese.
But young educated Iban members like Tajem and Leo Moggie insisted that a Dayak should be president and lead the party. Thus, Dayakism was born.
Unfortunately, the young Dayak team lost the SNAP contest three years later. Tajem and Moggie, who were expelled from the party, formed Party Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), and Dayakism spread far and wide into rural Sarawak.
With Moggie as president and Tajem as his deputy, PBDS became a race-based party much like Umno, MCA and MIC in Malaya.
“If Umno speaks for the Malays, MCA for the Chinese and MIC for the Indians, let PBDS speak for us Dayaks,” Tajem had said at the birth of the party.
With the Dayak population being the majority in Sarawak, Tajem saw PBDS becoming a major player in Sarawak politics.
In the weeks that followed, PBDS drew many Dayak politicians into the party. Among them were James Masing, Edward Sandah, Edmund Langgu, Gramong Juna, Ambrose Gramong, Edwin Tangkun, Joseph Mauh Ikeh and Harrisson Ngau Laing.
Dayakism was here to stay.
Throughout the history of PBDS until its demise in 2004, the party stood for everything Dayak: native customary rights to their land, Dayaks in the civil service, Dayaks in business, Dayaks in higher institutions of learning, etc.
At one time, Tajem was even labelled as “an extreme Dayak” mostly for things that he never said.
He was “an extreme Dayak” all because he was perceived as such.
But the community needed a leader in Sarawak, and Tajem was that person because the PBDS president was based in Kuala Lumpur, serving as a federal minister.
By the time it was all over, Tajem left the political scene as president of PBDS, and the party was deregistered on Oct 22, 2004.
Many Dayaks were saddened by the demise of PBDS, but Tajem told his close friends on the evening of Oct 22, 2004: “I have never felt prouder of being a Dayak. PBDS has gone, and I know it leaves behind many sad Dayaks.”
Tajem probably knew his passing would leave many Dayaks sad, but proud to be Dayaks.
The funeral service will be held at St Thomas’ Cathedral here at 9am on May 30. He will be interned at the Nirvana Memorial Park, Bau.
Francis Siah is chairman of Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS).
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.