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How the Serian community reclaimed their paddy spirit from the Japanese post-WWII

After the Japanese surrendered on Aug 15, 1945, most of the occupied countries took a long time to repair the damage brought about by the war.

According to reports by British Military Administration (BMA), almost all of the coastal townships in North Borneo and Labuan were destroyed.

Meanwhile, Bintulu was deserted and the airstrip had been entirely destroyed. Other towns such as Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), Sandakan and Sibu were severely damaged.

Kuching, apart from minor damage in the bazaar area, was practically untouched.

Besides the destruction of infrastructures and buildings, the population in Borneo also suffered from widespread malnutrition and disease caused by acute food shortages.

Besides the loss of loved ones, their freedom, and sources of livelihood, the Japanese forces were also accused of taking a community’s paddy spirit.

Taking back the paddy spirit

A story published in The Sarawak Gazette Apr 1, 1947 was cited from an annual report of Serian District.

The district office reported it as “an interesting little bit of folklore” while the then Serian district officer described it as “obviously a new practice.”

The Dayak community in Serian back then claimed that during the Japanese occupation the Japanese government stole the paddy spirit.

The Japanese then kept the spirit in the district office, thus causing poor harvests and pest ridden crops in the area.

“In order to induce the paddy spirit to return to the Dayaks, after seeking permission from the District Office, they held a procession with gongs and drums and bearing food and drink around the inside of the office,” the report stated.

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It continued, “The procession was led by the Dayong Narumboi (Priestesses) of the kampong chanting prayers and incantations.”

After the procession, a parcel of paddy was left overnight in the office.

Thankfully, the paddy spirit was reportedly pleased with the music and prayers. It entered into the parcel of paddy which was then brought back to the kampung the following day.

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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