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An old Bidayuh punishment for murder before the death penalty

If you are found guilty of murder today, the punishment is usually a life sentence in prison or the death penalty.

But how did Sarawakians in the olden days punish criminals who committed murder?

What was the olden day Bidayuh punishment for committing a crime of murder?
Here is an example of Bidayuh punishment recounted by R. Nyandoh in The Sarawak Gazette on Sept 30, 1964:

Sharing the background of the murder case, Nyandoh wrote, “Mungang from Kampung Mayang in the Serian district married a woman from Kampung Engkaroh and they went to live at Mawang Mungang on the Krang river.”

After some time, the couple moved to Simpoh Rawih on the Jimun river. Mungang was a skilled craftsman, known for his talents for carving, boat-building and painting.

Additionally, he could make all kinds of knives and parangs. Even in the olden days haters were gonna hate, and Mungang was disliked by many of his relatives out of jealousy for his skills.

One day, two of his wife’s relatives, Bulo and his grandmother, came all the way from Kampung Engkaroh to visit the couple.

They asked Mungang to sharpen all their old knives, which he kindly did.

Before Bulo headed home, Mungang asked him to tell his two brother-in-laws not to visit him till the new paddy harvest. Due to the poor crop during the previous year, Mungang had no food to offer them if they came to visit.

Misinformation which led to a murder

However when Bulo returned to Kampung Engkaroh, he did not tell his brother-in-laws, Dibong and Bungan, the correct information.

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In fact, he told the brothers that Mungang was getting his knives ready to fight them. Enraged, the brothers set to work to get their own weapons ready to defend themselves.

Several months later, Dibong and Bungan changed their plan. Instead of being on the defensive, they went on the offensive and decided to kill Mungang.

They went to their sister’s house, fixed on their intent to kill Mungang. When they arrived there, Dibong and Bungan found Mungang asleep in the bedroom.

Pushing past their own sister, the brothers stabbed Mungang to death.

The old Bidayuh punishment for murder

Mungang’s wife went back to her own village to report the crime to the headman of Kampung Engkaroh.

The headman then announced that the brothers Dibong and Bungan had to give her a list of items.

In the olden days, the headman of a village also served as a judge to settle any disputes among the villagers.

The fees and punishments for committing crimes might differ as they were according to the headman’s discretion.

As for the murder of Mungang, the headman of Kampung Engkaroh decided that these were the items needed to pay his wife as a punishment:

1.One large brass vessel to replace the head of her husband
2.One string of 30 small bells to replace his eyes
3.Four ounces of gold pieces for the teeth
4.Seven coils of different coloured silk thread to replace his hair
5.Two large silver plates for the ears
6.One large brass tray to replace the hat that belonged to her mother-in-law
7.One whole string of Bidayuh beads to replace her mother-in-law’s beads
8.Two large gongs to replace her husbands’ breasts
9.Two large cannons to replace his legs
10.One Iban loin cloth to replace the mother in-law’s nursing clothes
11.One large jar (Payan Rangkang) to replace his stomach
12.One large jar (Payan Eron) to replace the basket in which her husband had kept his soul

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One top of these items, the two brothers also had to pay the woman two large round gongs called katawak and two small gongs called chanang.

They needed to pay her five kinds of jars namely payan botuh, payan lajur, payan jering, payan mandoh and tandok.

The woman, reportedly after receiving all these items from her brothers, left Kampung Engkaroh for good.

She went to live with her relatives in Kampung Ramun which now lies in Kalimantan, never to be heard from again.

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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