Long time ago, the Egyptian pyramids were built as tombs for the country’s Pharaohs and their consorts.
Here in the central region of Borneo in the Krayan Highlands, the ancient Lundayeh community built perupun to bury their dead.
Both ancient burial tombs have one thing in common, nobody really knows how exactly they were built.
Perupun in Pa Rupai village
According to an elder from Pa Rupai village near Long Midang Murad Baru, 73, perupun means ‘batu yang dikumpul’ or piled up stones.
It takes about 20 minutes’ hike from the main road to reach the only perupun in his village.
Nobody knows whom the tomb belongs to, but as Murad said, “This man must be a man of wealth and most probably some sort of a leader or a nobleman.”
He further explained, “Since he was without an heir, nobody was allowed to take his wealth, and he was buried together with all his belongings.
“In order to protect his wealth from tomb raiders, or his enemies from taking his head off his body, they piled up all of these stones on top of his grave.”
Murad said his grandparents used to tell him that many noblemen back then did not have any heirs. It was believed they were cursed to die without children to carry on their line by others jealous of their courage and wealth.
Over the years, the stone mound at Pa Rupai has been heavily damaged by thieves. Today, there is still evidence of a gaping hole where thieves tried to dig up the tomb.
Accroding to Murad, the perupun was damaged even before his time but he believed that whoever the thieves might be, they must be living a cursed life.
“Anybody who tries to steal from the perupun will experience misfortune until his death. Back then when I was a child, it was even forbidden for us to visit this tomb. But we became lenient over the years, and now everybody can visit these ancient tombs.”
Building a perupun
“Can you imagine how people in the olden days managed to collect all these more than 100 big stones to build this stone mound?” Murad asked.
They most probably carried these stones from the river about 10 meters away to build the tomb.
Judging by the hole left by the thieves, the perupun could be two meters deep and the stones piled up two meters up from the ground.
“Most probably they took up to two weeks to build it. According to my grandparents, the olden community would come together at this site, cooking here, eating here, while building it.”
Since nobody could inherit the nobleman’s wealth – including his livestock – the villagers would have slaughtered all his livestock and eaten them while building his tomb.
The perupun in Terang Baru village
In Terang Baru village, there are two perupun. Just like the perupun in Pa Rupai, nobody knows whom these tombs belong to. All they know is that they belonged to noble people because perupun are not built for commoners.
It helps that they found beads in one of the two perupun. According to Krayan native Ellias Yesaya, this particular perupun most probably belonged to a noblewoman.
Unfortunately, time and the natural elements have left both perupun in bad condition. The stones have either rolled away or collapsed and are covered in weeds.
A fence surrounds one of the perupun to prevent wandering buffalo from damaging it any further while the other perupun (the one believed to belong to a noblewoman) is located on private property.
Besides Pa Rupai and Terang Baru, perupun can also be found in Long Umung, Pa Raye, Long Layu, Long Api and Pa Kebuan. There are also jar burial sites in the Krayan Highlands which most likely belong to the commoners.
Ellias had two theories on how people in the olden days managed to build these ancient tombs.
“I think our ancestors were way taller and stronger than us. I remember in the 60s when I was still in school, they found bones in old burial grounds. Their bones were very long,” Ellias said.
Another way was that they used their strength in numbers and simply did ‘gotong-royong’ (communal work).
“The community could have come together and built this perupun,” he added.