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A Bidayuh legend of seven blind brothers and the origin story of Gawai Timpijog

Here at KajoMag, we love folklore and legends that people hardly ever heard of. Here is one about the story from the Bidayuh community about seven blind brothers:

Once upon a time there were seven brothers named Patu, Laja, Rangan, Tungulino, Bunga Nuing, Buku Tabu, and Mamang, the eldest.

They were all born blind, and to poor parents who found it a problem to provide for them.

Much of the time, they had nothing to eat. However, despite these hardships, they grew up fit and strong.

When the brothers felt able to start working, they each made a string, then joined the pieces together, coming up with a string that stretched up to more than 1 km. This they used as a guide-line to help them find their way back after going out into old jungle.

The seven blind brothers and an orangutan

Orangutan. Credit: Pixabay

One day, they decided to go on a ‘tuba’ fishing expedition (tuba the plant with poisonous roots, not the brass instrument).

They tied the end of the string to their house and set off with their tuba roots, reeling out the string as they went. Upon reaching a stream, they threw in the roots, waited for the fish to die, and later gathered and cooked their catch.

Unbeknownst to them, an orangutan joined in their feast, eating the fish as it was served. The brothers, being unable to see, blamed each other for stealing the fish but could not decide who was the culprit.

Eventually one brother grabbed the orangutan’s hands.

Figuring out what had actually happened, with the help of his other brothers the orangutan was squeezed to death.

The brothers then prepped the orangutan for cooking and it was thoroughly enjoyed by them all.

The blind brothers gain their eyesight

At the end of the meal, one brother accidentally swallowed a bone which stuck in his throat. He gave a hard gulp, and to his surprise, his eyes opened and he could see. He told his brothers to swallow the bones too; to their delight they also were able to see.

The brothers decided to go on a wild boar hunt now that their sight was restored. They went into old jungle and killed many boars, which they smoked over a fire. Some of the meat was preserved.

Each day one brother in charge of the cooking would stay by the camp, but was frightened by daily visits from a huge wild man.

The brother would run into the jungle as soon as the visitor appeared, abandoning the smoked and preserved boar to the wild man.

The other brothers got very angry on returning to the camp and finding their meat already eaten.

Each declared he would fight and kill the wild man if he appeared again. So they took turns at guarding the camp. But all felt afraid at the visitor’s approach and ran away.

Mamang and the wildman

Then it came to Mamang’s turn to be on guard. He collected plenty of rattan vines and began to plait them in preparation for making a trap.

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When the wild man appeared, he asked for some smoked pig but was diverted by the sight of Mamang plaiting his rattan. He sat close to Mamang and asked what he was doing.

Mamang replied he was tired from boar hunting and hoped the plaited rattan tied around his knees and elbows would cure him. (It was common in those days for aching knees and elbows, even wounds, to be covered with plaited rattan.)

He explained he had often used this treatment and found it most effective.

The wild man said he too was tired and asked to be treated. Mamang replied that such treatment deserved a good reward or the cure would not be a complete success.

Hence, the wild man offered the choice of one of his granddaughters in marriage.

Not wanting to be cheated, Mamang wisely said he must see the girls first before treatment started, so they together went to the wild man’s house.

Mamang’s choice for marriage was the youngest girl, whom he marked and covered in soot and charcoal.

The ‘treatment’ on the wild man

Back at the camp, treatment commenced with plaited rattans being fixed around the wild man’s knees and elbows. Mamang then put pieces of wood across the knots, and when the wild man complained of being hurt, he said this was part of the treatment.

The patient was eventually tied so thoroughly that he lay immobile on his back. Mamang then searched for a wooden club and used this to beat the man.

After a short struggle, the wild man lay dead. With the corpse pulled behind the camp, Mamang went to rest.

Later that evening the brothers returned with two pigs. They saw Mamang fast asleep, but as the smoked boar was safe, they could not accuse him of lazing around.

The pigs were cleaned and some were smoked over a large wood fire. When the fire burned low, Mamang told his brothers to fetch more logs from behind the camp. They were horrified to find the wild man’s corpse there, and ran back to ask him how it had been done.

Meanwhile, Mamang did not bother to tell them of the killing. Instead, he told them about the granddaughters they had been promised as wives.

He said they were all beautiful, except the youngest whom he described as filthy and ugly.

The last one to claim his bride would end up with this girl, he warned.

Seven brothers taking new wives

Next morning they set off to the wild man’s house, Mamang at first taking the lead but later falling back.

The brothers rushed into the house to take their choice. Mamang, being last, found only the blackened one left for him.

Before long they all had a wash, and then it was revealed that Mamang’s girl was the most beautiful after the charcoal was washed off.

Her name was Dayang Nion. The two were married and lived in the wild man’s house, while the rest of the couples made their homes nearby. Later the parents and then the whole village moved to the new site, and found life very pleasant there.

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Patu lusting over his brother’s wife

Several months passed before Patu, who dearly loved Mamang’s wife, Dayang Nion, said he wished to make an exchange. She did not agree with this so Patu decided to kill Mamang.

Patu told the people he was sick and asked Mamang to go out and get certain pig and fish delicacies for him to be found only in very dangerous country.

Thankfully, Mamang survived the dangers. But when the cooked foods were offered, Patu said he had no appetite.

Next Patu asked his brother to trap pheasant, again in dangerous jungle, and once more refused to eat the birds when they were served. Finally he asked Mamang to collect mushrooms from a certain tree which he pointed to.

Dayang Nion knew of Patu’s evil intentions and warned her husband that the tree was old and unsafe.

However, he went ahead; the tree gave away under the man’s weight and Mamang soon lay dead on the ground. The body was buried and Dayang Nion mourned her husband for the customary five days.

Dayang Nion searching for her husband Mamang in the afterlife

When the five-day no-work taboo and grieving period was over, the widow set out from her home through old jungle determined to follow Mamang into Sibayan, the underworld, despite her mother in-law’s advice to the contrary.

She walked for several days and nights, and met eight kinds of freshwater fish. There were ikan bantah, ikat pait, ikan dungan, ikan puteh mpahat, ikan siluang, ikan buhing, ikan toman and ikan limpasih.

From these fish, Dayang Nion asked news of Mamang. Each said they had seen him pass, the ikan limpasih saying he had just gone by.

Dayang Nion quickened her pace and suddenly came upon Mamang watching a cockfight with people of the underworld.

Dayang Nion brings her husband back

Wanting to get her husband back from the underworld, she asked Tayung Kamayuh’s advice. She was an old woman who always helped those in need.

Unfortunately, Tayung Kamayuh said nothing could be done.

Dayang Nion went back to the place where she had last seen Mamang and called for him to return with her to the real world. He replied that he did not wish to return; people living on earth were bad, and anyway he was enjoying himself.

Tayung Kamayuh took pity on Dayang Nion in her sorrow and suggested she make several kinds of cake from rice flour. These were to be put on the roof of the old women’s outer verandah and would look like starlight. She said Mamang usually came to rest on the outer verandah, and if he saw the cakes, he would stop to count them.

Dayang Nion was told to seize Mamang while he counted and not be frightened if he transformed into a snake, centipede, dragon or other animal. Only if he changed into an egg was she to show fear.

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Dayang Nion tried to remember the instructions most carefully as she was anxious to rescue her husband.

Next evening, Mamang came as expected to shelter on Tayung Kamayuh’s outer veranda, being tired after cockfighting.

He saw the cakes shining on the roof and began counting them, unaware of Dayang Nion until she seized him.

Mamang changed in turn into various animals as the old woman had warned, but Dayang Nion held tight. Only when Mamang finally turned into an egg did she show fear. She took the egg to Tayung Kamayuh.

Mamang coming back from the dead

On the following day, the old woman asked Dayang Nion to kill a young chicken and together they held a small ‘makan selamat’ (thanksgiving) dinner.

Dayang Nion’s next instruction were to fall six times on her way home, taking care not to break the egg as it now held her husband.

On the seventh fall, she was to put her full weight on the egg and Mamang would appear, although he would be unconscious. She was to bless him with a live chicken, at the same time saying this prayer:

Indi, duwuh, taruh, mpat, rimuh, inum, ijuh, tampa sua, tampa basa. Aku itih masi ihang Mamang massu tanah samar tanah dakus, tanah Sibayan mada nuh maring asla maring indih, mada nun marui missia lagi.

This means:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,

Oh! God Almighty, God of the religious,

I here bless Mamang’s soul,

Let it return to the beginning from the wasted and dirty places,

From the spirits of the underworld,

And become man again.

These instructions were to be remembered carefully. Dayang Nion then set off homeward with the egg and did exactly as she had been told.

After the seventh fall and recital of the prayer, Mamang did indeed come to life. Dayang Nion told him their adventures, for he thought he had been merely deeply asleep.

Mamang returns from the dead

They continued homeward together to be met at the village by overjoyed parents. A special feast was celebrated for Mamang’s return from the underworld, called the Gawai Timpijog.

Everyone in the longhouse had a good time dancing, singing and eating. Patu persuaded Mamang to dance with him but Mamang had planned revenge. While dancing, he pierced his brother’s throat with a bamboo tuak wine container and Patu fell down dead.

Nonetheless, this incident did not deter the party as they continued to enjoy themselves. The Gawai Timpijog lasted for three days.

When it was over, Patu was buried with respect. People suggested his wife should try to regain her husband from the underworld, as Dayang Nion had. However, she declined saying he had been killed with good reason.

Thus was the Gawai Timpijog inaugurated and it is to celebrate the passing of a person’s spirit to the underworld.

This legend was recorded by R. Naen and R. Nyandoh and was published in the Sarawak Gazette on Jan 31, 1965.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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