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The Siang of Indonesia

[IMAGE] The Siang belong to a larger ethnic group known as the Ot Danum. The term ot danum literally means "people who live in the upper regions along rivers." It covers a number of sub-groups who share a common mythical origin and speak dialects of the same language. Four major sub-groups of the Ot Danum can be found living on the island of Borneo, located in the Indian Ocean just southwest of the Philippines. They occupy a 180 mile belt that stretches from the upper Melawi River to the upper Barito River.

The legend of their origin says that there were two brothers and two sisters who descended from the skies on a golden palangka, or altar. The brothers made their way down the Kahayan River, and the sisters journeyed down the Barito River. While hunting, the brothers saw human tracks, which they traced to the two women. There they married. One of the couples went back to the Kahayan and their descendants became known as the Ot Danum.

What are their lives like?
The Ot Danum belong to a larger group of peoples known collectively as the Dayak. This term is refers to non-Muslim peoples who live along the banks of large river systems, growing rice and collecting forest products such as resin, rubber, ironwood, and animal skins.

Like other Ot Danum, the Siang live near rivers and practice "slash and burn" agriculture. Rice is their staple crop; maize, sweet potatoes, and various other vegetables are also grown. Fishing and hunting provide other important food sources. Between seasons, forest products are gathered and sold. The Siang are known throughout the central Kalimantan region for their plaited hats, baskets, and mats. Farming and hunting tools are also made locally.

Villages range in size from 100 to 400 people. Their homes are rectangular and stand six to fifteen feet above the ground on wooden posts. Dogs, pigs, and chickens are kept as domestic animals, and cows are kept to eat at major festivals. Water buffaloes are herded, but only at a distance because they easily turn wild and can be dangerous to villagers.

The land surrounding each village (for about a two mile radius) is considered to be village property. Each villager has the right to sell his land if he chooses, but only to a fellow villager. Land that remains fallow for more than five years may be claimed by anyone in the village. Neighbor relationships vary from group to group. However, those speaking the same dialect maintain the most peaceful relations.

Cross-cousin marriages are preferred among the Siang. When an agreement has been reached by a couple's parents, the groom's family gives a symbolic gift to the family of the bride. A second gift is given when the engagement is announced. After the marriage has taken place, a bride price is paid.

The Siang typically wear light, loose clothing. Loin cloths are often worn for informal events, while wrap-around skirts are worn on formal occasions.

What are their beliefs?
The Siang are animists (believe that non-living objects have spirits). They are also polytheistic (worship many gods). However, their religious practices revolve around two main deities. One is represented by the hornbill (a type of bird) and the other by the water snake. Religious rituals can range from simple events to lengthy feasts. The people look to shamans (witchdoctors) for treatment of their illnesses. Shamans may be either male or female, and are often possessed by evil spirits.

What are their needs?
In past times, the Dayak populations were abused by bordering Malaysian rulers. They lost much of their land as a result of headhunting raids. Today, some of the people still have a "slave complex" as a result of this long history of exploitation.

Today, only 1% of the Siang population has accepted Jesus as Savior. Unfortunately, no missions agencies are currently targeting this group. Prayer is the key to reaching them with the Gospel.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that the doors of Indonesia will soon open to missionaries.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up people who are willing to go to Indonesia and share the love of Christ with the Siang.
  • Pray that the Siang will grow weary of serving many gods and will begin searching for the one true God.
  • Ask God to give the Siang Christians opportunities to share the Gospel with their own people.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Siang language.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Siang so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Siang bound for many generations.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Siang.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Siang
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: Siang
  • Population: (1990) 71,200
    (1995) 77,000
    (2000) 82,900
  • Largest religion: Ethnic religionist 98%
    Muslim (Sunni) 1%
  • Christians: 1%
  • Church members: 770
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: None
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: [14,600 (19%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 5,400 (8%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 9,200 (11%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 62,400 (81%)
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Population: (1990) 182,811,600
    (1995) 197,587,700
    (2000) 212,730,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Javanese 26.2%
    Javanese Indonesian 10.7%
    Sudanese 10.6%
    Madurese 10.7%
    Sudanese Indonesian 3.1%
    Han Chinese 2.6%
  • Major religions: Muslims 43.7%
    New-Religionists 35%
    Christians 13%
    Ethnic religionists 2.6%
    Hindus 1.9%
    Nonreligious 1.9%
    Buddists 1.0%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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