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How Dayak peacemaking ceremonies were carried out during the 19th century?

Modern day peacemaking usually has some hand-shaking gesture and official announcement in front of the media if it has gathered public interest.

In 19th century Sarawak, peacemaking ceremonies back then were somehow more interesting.

It usually involved some kind of tajau (jar) being exchanged and sometimes even human sacrifice.

Here, KajoMag looks back at how Dayak peacemaking ceremonies were carried out in the olden days of Sarawak:
1.They rip each others’ harvests to the core.

This Dayak peacemaking method was reportedly practiced by people living along the Sadong river.

The first White Rajah James Brooke stated in his personal journal, “When peace is made between them, one tribe visits the other, in order to feast together; and on these occasions, whatever the number or visitors may be, they are at liberty to use the fruits of their hosts without hindrance. At their pleasure they strip the coconuts off the trees, devour and carry away as much as they can, without offence. Of course the hosts in turn become visitors, and pay in the same coin.

“All the Dayaks are remarkably tenacious of their fruit trees; but on the occasion of the feast, beside taking the fruit, the visitors fell one tree, as a symbol of good understanding; of course it is only once that such liberties are taken or allowed. At other times it would be an affront sufficient to occasion a war.”

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A Dayak peacemaking ceremony that could cause another war did not exactly served its purpose. Perhaps that is the reason why the second White Rajah Charles Brooke put an end to this tradition during his reign.

2.They sacrificed a slave as a sign of peacemaking

Well, this is a Dayak peacemaking ceremony that you definitely will never see again.

Resident O.F. Ricketts once described a Murut peacemaking ceremony where a human sacrifice involved.

He wrote, “Occasionally feuds have been settled between two tribes, the aggressors having made full compensation in payment of jars, brassware, and two slaves. It was custom to kill one of these slaves to make up for the relative lost.”

3.They sacrificed some pigs

Charles witnessed many peacemaking ceremonies during his reign. One of them took place between the Ibans from Undup and from Dutch Borneo (Kalimantan).

During the ceremony, both sides agreed that the first to draw their weapon on another in the future must be fined eight jars.

Then they sacrificed some pigs with the blood sprinkled around the ceremony. Some even took the blood home to sprinkle at their houses. This was to wash away any evil tendencies there might be hanging in the atmosphere and to appease the spirits.

4.They exchanged weapons between themselves

Just like the Iban, the Kanowit people also sacrificed a pig during their peacemaking ceremonies.

Spenser St. John recorded, “A pig was placed between the representatives of two tribes who after calling down the vengeance of the spirits on those who broke the treaty, plunged their spears into the animal and then exchanged weapons.”

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The representatives then bit each other’s blades to complete the ceremony.

5.They poured the blood of fowl on themselves

St. John also witnessed a ceremony where two men who were feuding would never look at each other even when they were in the same house.

He wrote, “They refused to cast their eyes upon each other till a fowl has been kill and the blood sprinkled over them.”

The second White Rajah recorded in his book Ten Years in Sarawak that although fowl was involved in the Dayak peacemaking ceremony, no blood was sprinkled over those who were present.

They waved fowls over the heads of the guests for those who came to the ceremony “to conduce to good and friendly feeling and to prevent either party from quarreling and fighting.”

Dayak Festival in a traditional Longhouse, 1846, Dutch Borneo. Illustration by C.A.L.M. Schwaner. Credits: Public Domain.

Regardless of how the signs of peacemaking were made, the ceremony usually ended with festivities.

Do you know any other ways how Sarawakians hold their peacemaking ceremony in the olden days? Let us know in the comment box.

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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