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How paddy came from a girl’s body according to a Dayak Taman legend

The Dayak Taman people is a small indigenous group found in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

There are roughly 30,000 people in this ethnic group. Apart from the Embaloh language, the Taman language is not close to other languages in Borneo.

However, like any other Dayak groups in Borneo, the Taman people have many legends and folklore of their own.

Here is how the Taman people discovered paddy:

According to researcher Victor T. King in his paper “Main Outlines of Taman Oral Tradition”, before the discovery of paddy, the Taman people were nomadic like the Bukat and Bukitan. These two are also Dayak groups found in Borneo.

They had no knowledge of rice cultivation and lived simply off sago, jungle fruits, vegetables and fish.

So how did they discover paddy?

King, who went to a field trip to West Kalimantan from July 1972 to September 1973, interviewed a Taman elder named Bau.

Bau revealed to King a common legend known by most people of his tribe of how their people started rice cultivation.

Once there was a young girl who was an only child. One night her father dreamed that a spirit came to him and told him that his daughter must die.

It was to be the father’s job to kill her.

The spirit said that when her body disintegrated, it would became paddy and that if the father planted the paddy, it would grow and he would always have a plenty of food.

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Just as in the Old Testament where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, the man’s decision echoed Abraham’s own.

The next day, the father called the girl to have a morning breakfast. He asked her, in a sad voice, to wear her best clothes, and after she finished her food, he asked her to lay down on a rattan mat with her eyes closed.

Killing the daughter

Paddy. Credits: Pixabay.

The girl did not share the same fate as Isaac in the Bible.

The father then proceeded to cut his own daughter in half using a parang.

Her body started to decay and transform into paddy grains, which he then planted it in his field. However as time passed, nothing happened.

Then one day, he caught sight of an old, white-haired woman carrying a basket full of rice over her shoulder.

The old woman told him that the rice would not grow by itself.

Since it derived from a human being who has a spirit, the paddy too had its own spirit that must be pleased.

One had to perform various rituals to ‘feed’ and coax the rice.

The old woman, whose name was Piang Ambong, then taught the man different kinds of paddy ceremonies.

Since then, the Taman people have always offered gifts and prayers to paddy spirits so that they will be blessed with plenty of rice.

Read more:

Legends of how paddy came to Sarawak

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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