Modang - Orientation



Identification. "Modang" is a generic term covering a complex of culturally related groups living in the Kutai Regency of Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia, along the Mahakam River and its tributaries. Outside Kutai proper (i.e., in Doberai or Bulungan), these people are known by the exonyms "Segai" or "Ga'ai." The term "Modang" also seems to have originated over a very wide area (about 63,000 square kilometers) in the province of East Kalimantan, roughly between 0° and 4° N and 115° and 117° E. They are comprised of five river-based groups loosely identified as Dayak: (1) Long Gelat (middle and upper Mahakam), (2) Long Belah (Belayan), (3) Long Way (Kelinjau), (4) Wehèa (TelenWahau), (5) Menggaè (Kelai-Segah, lower Kayan).

Location. Established on the middle and upper reaches of rivers in the lowland areas, the Modang occupy a distinct geomorphic region. It is situated between the rolling hills and mountains bordering the Apo Kayan Plateau and the marshy plains nearer to the river mouths. The Modang subgroups are divided among three drainage basins: Mahakam, Kelai-Segah, and Kayan. They have preferentially settled flat areas along the riverside where good fertile alluvial land is found.

Demography. Judging from field surveys and published census data, the total Modang population does not exceed 5,000 individuals for the five subgroups (1985). Epidemics, intermarriage with other ethnic groups, conversion to Islam, and a low birthrate have all had a negative effect on the population. The Modang Wehèa, the largest group, has a population of 2,100 (1985) concentrated on a relatively narrow stretch of land along the upper Telan and Wahau rivers. It has shown a steady growth (39 percent) in the last fifty years (from 1,266 persons in 1935). Some marriages are taking place between neighboring Modang groups such as the Long Way, Menggaè, and the Wehèa, mostly among aristocratic families. Out-migration to the nearby towns (Tenggarong, Samarinda, and Balikpapan), of temporary nature, is still unimportant.

Linguistic Affiliation. Modang is part of the Kayanic Family within Western Malayo-Polynesian, but it constitutes a discrete language group. The five Modang isolects are still mutually intelligible. It appears that a process of lexical innovation, combined with rare phonological changes, has been going on for a long time. The subgroups have been separated for more than two centuries. The languages spoken by the Punan Kelay and Punan Mahkam in Doberai are part of this group. These isolects form a dialectal chain with about 6,000 speakers spread from Kutai to Bulungan.


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