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In 1956, a pan-Dayak association called Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) was formed with Edward Jerah as President and Benedict Sandin as Secretary.(17) The aims were and largely still are (as mentioned in the SDNU constitution): to promote and maintain goodwill and harmony with all other ethnic groups in Sarawak; to foster and safeguard the social, cultural and economic welfare of the Sarawak Dayak; to promote and encourage recreational activities and mutual aid; and to promote the "educational progress" of the Dayak.
As the SDNU aimed to unite all Dayak groups, its early leaders tried to get the Bidayuh National Association to merge with the SDNU, but they were unsuccessful.(19) According to Leo Moggie, in 1964 the Bidayuh National Association agreed in principle to affiliate with SDNU,(20) but this did not come about, and the tendency has been for different Dayak groups to form their own organizations.
The Kesatuan Melanau Melayu was formed earlier than the SDNU, and represented an early attempt by Malays and Melanau to unite politically.(22) Kesatuan Melanau Melayu was founded by a Christian Melanau,(23) but the co-operation between Christian Melanau and Muslims (both Melanau and Malay) did not last long.
By 1970, the Iban already had the SDNU as their communal association (even though it was in theory an association of all Dayak groups), the Bidayuh had the Dayak Bidayuh National Association, and the Orang Ulu had OUNA.
While the Iban are part of the SDNU, and the Iban-led Dayak party called Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) formed in July 1983 played a major part in communal politics, the Iban eventually felt the need for an association to articulate specifically Iban interests.
The general communal associations like the SDNU and OUNA have many branches, while the communal associations of smaller ethnic groups which concentrate in certain areas, have fewer.
The SDNU and the OUNA have particularly active and assertive women's sections.
The Dayak Bidayuh National Association is active in this respect, as is the Sarakup Indu Dayak Sarawak, the women's association of the SDNU. Communal leaders (for example, of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, the Lun Bawang Association and the Persatuan Bisaya Sarawak) have also called upon the government to provide more scholarships for their respective communities.
This situation occurred in the SDNU during the 1980s when the association was dominated by leaders who were prominent figures in the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak.
The SDNU and the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association are examples of communal organizations which made critical statements and whose leaders were involved in opposition politics.
I first came to know Dato' Sri Tra Zehnder in the early 1960s when I became a member, as well as the Secretary-General, of the Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU).
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