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Borneo's Dayak culture rebounds through film and pop

Hit zombie movie and singer bring the island's indigenous people to the world

Kuala Lumpur-based singer Alena Murang's new album "Sky Songs," released on April 1, is a musical and linguistic tribute to the people of the Kelabit Highlands of northeast Sarawak. (Courtesy of Alena Murang)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Dayaks -- an umbrella term for the many indigenous groups in the Malaysian state of Sarawak and the neighboring Indonesian province of Kalimantan -- have been largely excluded from mainstream representations of their nations. Thanks to a recent wave of popular music and film, though, the former headhunters from the island of Borneo are bringing their waning culture and languages to the outside world.

A low-budget independent horror film, "Belaban Hidup: Infeksi Zombi" ("Fight for Your Life: Zombie Infection," 2021) by director Ray Lee, has bagged multiple awards at international film festivals with its unusual plot featuring Iban warriors -- also known as Sea Dayaks -- fighting flesh-eating zombies.

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