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Iban olden customary laws against adultery and elopement

Some people call it love, while others call it breaking the adat (custom).

Historically, many cultures consider adultery a very serious crime, subject to severe punishment such as capital punishment, mutilation or torture.

This includes the Iban people of Sarawak.

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According to Iban ethnologist Benedict Sandin, before Sarawak was under Brooke rule, if an Iban stole another man’s wife and he was caught, the woman’s husband had every right to strike him with a club.

He explained, “As a rule, therefore, in order to prevent this from happening, immediately after the incident, it was the duty of the longhouse chief to kill a cock as soon as possible. If the striking with a club had taken place before the cock was killed and the adulterer was killed in the process, his death would not be compensated by the killer. But if it occurred the killing of the cock, the striker would be heavily fined in accordance with the customary law of ‘Malu Mungkal’.

Furthermore, he would be ordered by the chief to pay the ‘pati nyawa’, the compensation for taking a life. The cost of ‘pati nyawa’ is one valuable jar in which the type is according to the rank of the deceased.

Charges for ‘berangkat’ or elopement

Let’s say if it was only an ordinary case of elopement, then both of the accused would be charged with adultery.

Writing for the Sarawak Gazette on May 31, 1964, Sandin stated, “They would be fined 30 catties which was equivalent to $21.60; the man twenty and the women ten.

“If they were to marry they would be charged with berangkat (taking someone’s husband or wife and vice versa). In due course the man would be fined 1 1/2 piculs or $43.20 and the woman one picul or $28.80.”

Meanwhile, the man was allowed to divorce his adulterous wife by paying the ordinary fine of twenty catties or $14.40. If they had children, they would be divided between the parties. If there was only one, according to Sandin, it would be given to the guiltless party.

The Melanau Oya legend of Dayang Tri Kalala you might not know

If you never heard of the Melanau legend of Dayang Tri Kalala, here is a version of the tale from Oya which was published in the Sarawak Gazette on Nov 30, 1953:

Long, long ago, when Sarawak was only inhabited by natives there lived in a small but comfortable house at Sungei Sibu a beautiful Melanau princess called Dayang Tri Kelala or Lazy Princess because laziness was her chief characteristic.

Opposite her house stood an apong palm with its branches sprea out like a huge fan. As the little princess was alone she played each day under the palm.

Time passed and the princess grew into a beautiful woman.

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Dayang Tri Kalala’s change of attitude

One day as she was playing as usual under the palm, she was surprised to hear her name called. Being trained not to answer calls when alone in the jungle, she did not answer at first but looked this way and that. She could see no one. She grew frightened and would have run away had she not heard her name called the second time.

The voice said, “Fear not, young and beautiful lady, for I am your friend the apong palm.”

On hearing this the princess gained courage and said, “Oh, is it you? I am so glad you can talk. From now on I shall have someone to talk to.”

But the palm said, “Go home and fetch a parang with you. With it you shall cut off some of my branches and leaves and make them into a sibuyong (a huge basket) and a slapau (a broom).

The princess did not like the idea of hard work and said, “Please do not ask me to do this because I am too lazy.”

But the palm turned on her in a threatening voice and reluctantly she agreed to start work.

It took her more than a week to finish the sibuyong and the slapau.

When she had completed her allotted task she found herself strangely energetic, whereupon she used the slapau she had made to clean her house, inside and out.

A prince and a tyrant

At that time a very handsome prince lived in Oya. He was unfortunately captured by a tyrant who wanted to marry him to his ugly daughter. This the prince would not do, because he did not love her and furthermore, because he knew that she was very cruel to other girls in the district.

He therefore made up his mind to run away, but the tyrant sensed this and place guards over him, so that it was impossible for him to execute his plan in spite of his loyal friends who tried to help him.

In time the tyrant decided on the marriage feast for his daughter.

The Melanau custom requires that a wedding ceremony to the prince to be performed at night, in order that her ugliness might be concealed.

He insisted that before the ceremony the prince should walk with his bride through the kampung.

The prince who was helpless did as he was told.

But as soon as they came to the place where the wedding was to be held the prince suddenly disappeared and every effort to look for him ended in failure.

The Prince and Dayang Tri Kalala

Dayang Tri Kalala found her sibuyong missing one day and was sad. For a week she searched. One night while she lay restless in bed, she heard a loud knock at her door, and, on opening it found her sibuyong standing on the threshold.

As she was wondering how it had come back to her, she heard a whisper from inside it saying, “Please open the sibuyong.”

No sooner had she done this than out came a handsome young man, dressed like a groom.

Both were speechless as each gazed on the others’ beauty.

The young man at last found his tongue and said, “Well, am I not welcome to your house?” Recovering her poise Dayang Tri Kalala answered, “Yes, indeed, if you despise not my humble abode.”

When they were inside the house the young man began to tell the princess who he was and unfolded to her what had befallen him. He said that the magic sibuyong had brought him to safety and shelter under her roof.

It was destined that she should become his protector and would she consent to accept him as her helpmate for life?

Dayang Tri Kelala shyly replied that she would seriously consider the matter, and in the meantime, invited the prince to stay in her house. He, in turn, informed her that he had hopes that his faithful men who were even then concealed in the forest awaiting an opportunity to overthrow the tyrant, would soon come to his rescue.

The end of the tyrant

They waited thus patiently for about a month without fresh developments.

Then one day as the princess was picking flowers in the forest she heard the beating of gongs from a distance.

As the sound came nearer she ran to fetch the prince who was fishing in the river .

For fear that it might be his enemies descending upon him, the prince armed himself with a sumpit (blowpipe) and hid with the princess behind a huge tree. Soon they were able to spy a group of men and women walking in procession towards them and singing out in a chorus. “Where is our prince? We are men from Oya. We have come to welcome our prince back as the tyrant and his daughter have both been killed.

When the prince heard this he begged Dayang Tri Kalala to come out to the open with him and show themselves.

As the princess hesitated, the prince leap forward and declared himself.

The men soon recognised and they knelt, crying,”Long live our prince.”

The prince, however, ordered them to stand up and to go to the princess to kneel before her, for she had saved his life.

This they joyfully did for the princess was gracious as she was beautiful.

The princess then thanked the prince for the honour he had bestowed on her, and when she was asked again to return with him to Oya as his bride. She willingly agreed this time.

And as soon as they had arrived home safely they were married and lived happily ever after, ruling both Oya and Sibu.

Whenever she had time Dayang Tri Kalala would teach the young women of her tribe how to make sibuyongs and slapaus out of the apong palm. And to this day we still find Melanau women fashioning and using the apong slapau.

What happens during a Melanau berayun ritual

Do you know what is the difference between Melanau berayun and berbayoh rituals?

While both rituals were meant as healing ceremonies, berbayoh is performed for minor ailments and berayun is reserved for more serious cases.

At the same time, both rituals are aimed to get rid of the spirit which caused the body to be sick.

Former Mukah district officer W.G. Morison had never witnessed a berayun ceremony during his tenure as even during the 1940s, this type of ceremony was not widely and publicly performed.

However, he did interview the elders of an unnamed kampung in Mukah.

Here is how the berayun ceremony was carried out in Mukah, according to Morison:

The day before the ceremony is due to take place, green shoots and leaves of all kinds are collected; some of these are made into shapes resembling birds and animals and are used to decorate the place where the ceremony is to be held.

At the same time as the decorations are being made, a bamboo and pinang construction is erected within the house of the sick person.

Between the bamboo and pinang posts the ‘swing’, made of rattan sega, is slung. ( The rattan, which was actually shown to Morison, was about five feet long and an inch in diameter).

Also at this time a rabong and nabun are made. A rabong is a model boat made of sago wood or sago fronds and sometimes covered-in, sometimes not; it is in the rabong that the evil spirit of sickness is carried to the sea after exorcising has taken place.

A nabun is a small model hut made of sago palm bark and constructed under the patient’s house.

Preparing for the ritual

The rabong is placed near the house, and a tangga, or ladder, of nipah palm is made from the rabong to the sick person. Another tangga, made of the same material connects the house with the nabun.

The bamboo posts around the swing are linked up by strands of rattan on which are hung the leaf decorations already referred to, and the mayang pinang. Tied to the top of the bamboo posts around the ‘swing’ is a ceiling or langit, consisting generally of white or blue cloth.

The ceremony itself begins at about 7pm. Before that, however, crowds collect at the patient’s house which is brightly lit for the occasion, and those who have taken part in the decorating partake of a meal.

Off and on throughout the ceremony the bayoh is accompanied by a gong orchestra which consists of two drums and a set of small gongs (chanang and tetawak).

The orchestra arrives some time before the start of the ceremony but does not play until the arrival of the bayoh.

At about 7pm, as the bayoh approaches the patient’s house, the music starts; meanwhile the patient is placed close by the swing in readiness.

The Melanau berayun begins

On arrival, the bayoh starts the ceremony by sitting on the swing himself, at the same time wrapping his head up in a sarong but leaving his face uncovered. He then starts to swing himself gently backwards and forwards, at the same time chanting.

As the ceremony proceeds the orchestra plays louder and quicker; the swinging becomes more violent and the chanting wilder.

Finally the bayoh passes or appears to pass into a state of a semi-trance, and while in this state, he often continues singing in languages foreign to his native Melanau.

During this time the bayoh keeps himself balanced on the thin rattan swing; then he gradually recovers from his trance and stepping down the swing, he dances around his patient, accompanied the while by the gong orchestra.

On completing his dance, the bayoh massages the patient’s body with leaves and the mayang pinang.

Swinging the patient

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Berayun which means to swing. Credits: Pixabay.

After this the bayoh will request assistance from his helpers in the crowd of onlookers. If the patient is able to walk, these helpers then support him to the swing and place him thereon.

At a sign of the bayoh the patient has been swung backwards and forwards several times.

On the last nights of the ceremony, after the patient has been swung, many of the onlookers will join; the orchestra will work up to a crescendo and the swingers will work themselves into a frenzy, encouraged the while by the continuous chanting of the bayoh. When this chanting ends, the ceremony is brought to a close.

The last part of the ritual

The berayun ceremony is divided into a three periods of five, seven and nine consecutive nights. One of Morison’s informants said that his father had been successfully through the three periods nine times during his lifetimes and that he had, in consequence, lived to a great age.

If, after any one of these periods, the patient is deemed to have been cured, he is taken down by boat to the mouth of the Mukah River.

This would be done early in the morning and the now cured person, the bayoh and as many of the former’s relatives as possible get into one boat which is gaily decorated.

Two or three other boats, one of which is reserced for the orchestra, join in the journey down river where the final ceremonies take place.

Also in the bayoh boat is the rabong in which the evil spirit is now incarcerated. Also in the rabong is an offering consisting of eggs, sometimes a chicken and a little sago.

At the mouth of the river the bayoh sets the rabong afloat; he wishes the spirit ‘bon voyage’ but also requests it not to trouble the patient again.

The practice of actually setting the rabong afloat is not usual, being done generally only on the case of insane people.

In most other places it is the custom to set the rabong on a trestle on a bank of the river below the kampong.

I was informed that this used to be done at Mukah also but owing to the excessive stealing of the rabong and their contents in former times, it was decided that they should be set afloat in the river mouth.

Mukah river

Have you witnessed a Melanau berayun ceremony before? Share us your experience in the comment box.

The forgotten history of Travelling Dispensary No. 2 in Sarawak

Since its introduction in 1973, the Flying Doctor Service has been providing basic health services to at least 37,000 patients annually in Sarawak‘s rural area.

The team usually comprises a medical officer, an assistant medical officer and two community nurses.

Covering at least 116 remote locations, these helicopters fly out from Kuching, Sibu and Miri.

Before the existence of the Flying Doctor Service, there was travelling dispensary which used boats to reach out to rural patients.

If you never heard of them, here are five things to know about the history of Sarawak Travelling Dispensary No. 2:

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1.Why is it No. 2, not No. 1?

Well, the Travelling Dispensary No. 2 was based in Samarahan and was the second floating dispensary built by the Sarawak Medical Department.

According to former senior hospital assistant Austin L Reggie, travelling dispensary no. 2 was under the charge of a travelling hospital assistant.

Writing for the Sarawak Gazette on June 7, 1949, Reggie pointed out the areas where the travelling dispensary no. 2 had visited.

“Since the beginning of June 1948, the dispensary has been paying weekly visits to the following places; Goebilt, Muara Tebas, Sambir, Tembirat, Beliong, Tambai, Kampung Baru, Muara Tuang, Kampung Melayu, Tanah Mirah, Segenam, Kanawit, Panchor, Sejingkat, Sebayor and Merdang.

“The Dispensary also visits Bako, Buntal and Santubong every fortnight since February, 1949.

“In March, it made up a trip to upriver villages, calling at Kampung Segedup, Batu Kawa, Rantau Panjang, Batu Kitang, Landeh and Siniawan.”

2.Travelling Dispensary No.1

Travelling Dispensary No. 1 was first started in Sibu in March 1948. The first area it visited was along the Igan river.

Since it was the first of its kind, many came to call it the Travelling Dispensary No.1. Manned by a hospital assistant, an attendant and a boat driver, it did not only serve as a mobile outpatient clinic but also as a river ambulance.

The staff attended to 3,792 patients in the first nine months of the mobile dispensary’s operation.

By 1949, the number of patients had increased to 13, 893.

3.Working on Sarawak Travelling Dispensary No. 2

“Although independent, the life of a travelling hospital assistant is not a rosy one, as some people may suppose it to be; for he is always kept busy administering to the sick during his travels,” Reggie stated.

He often skipped his lunch because he had no time to take it.

When he had attended to all of his patients at one village, he must leave and go to the next where there may be another big batch of sick persons waiting for treatment.

If there were any cases which were beyond his scope of knowledge, he either advised them to go to General Hospital for treatment or brought them using his boat.

Reggie explained, “The treatment is sometimes carried out on board the dispensary and sometimes in one of the kampung houses selected for the purpose by the headmen, especially when women and children present the greater percentage of cases.

The villagers are always willing to help in carrying the boxes of drugs, etc., to and from the dispensary when they are asked to do so.”

4.The villagers’ response

The villagers were well aware of the travelling dispensary’s schedule.

According to Reggie, they called them ‘perahu obat’. They even recognised the sound of the 22-horse-power engine of their boat.

“As soon as they hear the familiar sound of the machine they will come running down to the landing stage with bottles or other containers either for mixtures or ointments in their hands – some carrying sick children or other relatives on their backs for examination and treatment. Those who live on the opposite side of the river and those living some distance away where there are no roads, will come over by boats.”

5.The early effectiveness of Travelling Dispensary No. 2

Since its inception in June 1948 to the end of April 1949, the Travelling Dispensary No.2 had treated 15,498 Malay and Dayak as well as 4,506 Chinese patients.

Within that short period of time, the team successfully reduced the number of scabies, ulcers, ringworm problems and malaria cases in the Samarahan district.

With that, the department looked into having more boats and engaging more medical assistants.

According to an official record, at the end of 1967 there were 43 static and 14 travelling dispensaries serving in Sarawak.

Frank Marryat, the man who gave us the early drawings of Borneo

There were many adventurers who came to Borneo during the 19th century.

While most of them jotted down their experiences in writing, only a few talented ones managed to capture it in drawings.

One of them was Frank Marryat (1826-1855), an English sailor, author and artist. His father, Captain Frederick Marryat was a Royal Navy officer and a novelist.

Captain Marryat is widely known today as an early pioneer of the sea story.

Life of Frank Marryat

Following in his father’s footsteps, Marryat joined the Royal Navy at the young age of 14.

During Marryat’s service on board of HMS Samarang, he drew the places he visited and the people he met.

At first, he planned to publish his drawings without any writing. Eventually, he added some text of his own and from his colleagues’ journals, publishing his first book in 1848.

The book was entitled Borneo and the Indian Archipelago. In the book, Marryat described his life as a sailor from witnessing a piece of history such as the Treaty of Labuan and collecting turtle’s eggs at Talang-talang islands.

Here are some of his notable drawings of Borneo and Marryatt’s description of it:

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“The town of Kuchin is built on the left-hand side of the river Sarawak going up; and, from the windings of the river, you have to pull twenty-five miles up the river to arrive at it, whereas it is only five miles from the coast as the crow flies. It consists of about 800 houses, built on piles driven into the ground, the sides and roofs being enclosed with dried palm leaves. Strips of bamboo are laid across, which serve as a floor.” (Frank Marryat, 1848)
James Brooke’s house
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“The residence of Mr. Brooke is on the side of the river opposite to the town, as, for the most part, are all the houses of the Europeans. In structure it somewhat resembles a Swiss cottage, and is erected upon a green mound, which slopes down to the river’s bank, where there is a landing-place for boats. At the back of the house is a garden, containing almost every tree peculiar to the climate; and it was a novelty to us to see collected together the cotton-tree, the areca, sago, palm, &c., with every variety of the Camellia japonica in a state of most luxurious wildness.” (Frank Marryat,1848)
Mount Kinabalu
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Borneo has but small elevation for so large an island; in the immediate vicinity of Keeney Ballu the country is hilly, but by far the greatest portion of Borneo is but a few feet above the level of the sea. Keeney Ballu is the highest mountain in the island,—its height is estimated at 14,000 feet or more,—and it can be seen at 150 miles distant on a very clear day. It is very singular that there should be a mountain of so great a height rising from an island of otherwise low land. (Frank Marryat, 1848)

Frank Marryat’s Life After Borneo

He returned to England after his adventure in Borneo then proceeded to California in 1850.

Then in 1853, Marryat returned to England and got married. In the same year, he wanted to return to California with his new wife.

Unfortunately, he had contracted yellow fever on board ship.

This forced him to cut the trip short and return to England.

He died shortly before his book Mountains and Molehills or Memoirs of a Burnt Journal (1855). Marryat was just 29 years old.

The notice of Frank Marryat’s death

An unnamed writer wrote Marryat’s obituary and it was published in Life and Letters of Captain Marryatt (1872), a book about his father. The notice summarised his life perfectly.

“It is with the most sincere regret that we announce of the decease Mr Marryat, author of ‘Borneo and the Eastern Archipelago’ and of ‘Mountains and Molehills’, the latter of a work published at the commencement of this year, which has been most favourably received by the reading public.

Mr Marryat died at his residence, Mercer Lodge, Kensington on Thursday, the 12th instant, at noon, after a severe illness of more than six months’ duration.

He was the fourth son of the late Captain Marryat, the eminent novelist, and was born on the 3rd of April, 1826.

Like his elder brother he early displayed an invincible longing for the sea, and was consequently entered a midshipman at the age of fourteen.

Previously to this, he had received as large education as possible- first at Paris, afterwards in a school at Wimbledon.

Happily, in these days, the young midshipman’s education is still carried on, even in matters not strictly professional, and this was the case with young Marryat on board the Vanguard, Captain Sir David Dunn.

In the Vanguard he cruised principally in the Mediterranean, and was afterwards entered in the Samarang, Captain Sir Edward Belcher, ordered on a surveying expedition in the Indian Archipelago.

In his work on Borneo, Mr Marryat has given a very agreeable and instructive account of his four years’ cruise in the Samarang, 1843-1847.

On his return home, he resided for some time at Langham, in Norfolk, with his father, who lost his eldest son in the Avenger.

Captain Marryatt himself died in August, 1848 and his son, by no means tried of a roving life, now resolved to seek fresh adventures.

The field he chose was California, with reference to which he penned his work ‘Mountains and Molehills’, to our mind one of the most delightful books of travel ever written.

He was described as “his manners were most agreeable, and his conversation showed that delicate kind of humour as well as keen observation of mankind.”

Thanks to Marryat’s observation, we roughly have a glimpse of how Borneo looked like in the 1840s.

You can read Borneo and the Indian Archipelago online for free thanks to The Project Gutenberg.

Looking back to a Melanau berbayoh ceremony at Balingian in 1947

The berbayoh ceremony is a type of traditional healing ritual practiced by Melanau pagans.

Since many Melanau have embraced Christianity and Islam, such ritual is rarely in practice.

According to the former Mukah district officer W.G. Morison, the berbayoh ceremony is performed for minor ailments while the berayun is reserved for more serious cases.

The purpose behind these rituals is to cure the sickness by exorcising the spirit which is supposed to have entered the body of the patient.

Even those days, only few Europeans had witnessed a berbayoh ceremony, Morison was one of the few who managed to observe one.

Here is the account of the berbayoh ceremony in which the former district officer witnessed in Balingian:

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A candle is one of the tools needed in a berbayoh ceremony on top of a gendang (drum) and parang. Credit: Pixabay.

A group of relatives of the patient were seated at one end of the room; one of these, a woman, was the drum (gendang) beater who beat her drum in quick time on and off throughout the performance.

At the other end of the room by herself, except for the bayoh and the bayoh’s assistant, lay the patient.

In this case both the bayoh and her assistant were women, as also was the patient.

First of all a candle was lighted and at the same time the bayoh and her assistant knelt down by the side of the patient and moved the lighted candle backwards and forwards over her body searching for the cause of the sickness.

The light was then put down on the floor and the bayoh and her assistant knelt down and sat back on their heels.

Up to the present the drummer had been silent but she now started playing her drum; quickly and softly at first, but getting louder as the movements of the bayoh became wilder.

As the drum commenced, both the bayoh and her assistant started to sway from side to side, at the same time emitting a “hissing” sound through their teeth; this was barely audible at first but increased in volume as the swaying grew more pronounced.

Finally the bayoh, withe her eyes closed, rose to her feet and began to dance round the room, slowly at first but rapidly increasing in vigour and speed.

At the height of the dance the bayoh burst into snatches of wild singing, then suddenly the drums stopped and the bayoh, equally suddenly brought her dance to an end.

Drawing the poisons out of the body

The bayoh opened her eyes and walked slowly over to her patient. Having reached her, both the bayoh and her assistant sank to their knees and began to chant, invoking the spirits to help her exorcise the evil spirit inhabiting the body of the patient. After awhile the chant was brought to an end and the massaging was taken over by the bayoh herself.

The bayoh had apparently now found the root of the sickness for, placing her lips over the supposedly affected part, she started to draw out the poison of the spirit inhabiting the body.

Every few movements she would cease this operation and crawl away to spit out the poison and then return for further efforts.

The whole process from the swaying and hissing, the dancing, chanting and massaging was repeated two or three times.

The use of parang in the berbayoh ceremony

Finally, after one period of dancing, a chopper or parang was produced, the bayoh first held it by both hands above her head (one hand held the blade and the other the handle), then in this manner, she approached her patient.

The parang was then held in the bayoh’s right hand and passes over the patient were made, from the head down to the feet, the handle of the parang being an inch above the patient’s body; at the same time that this was going on the bayoh’s assistant was massaging the patient.

Having done this once or twice the bayoh took up the candle and swathed her head in a skirt or sarong; then, holding the light close to her head, she pulled the sarong down over her face.

This was done twice and then she extinguished the light by putting the flame into her mouth. This ended the ceremony.

The berbayoh ceremony in Mukah

In Mukah the performer is also known as a bayoh. Here the patient may be at a distance from the other people in the house or may actually be surrounded by them.

In Mukah, apparently the bayoh is generally the sole performer- without an assistant and without a drum beater other than himself.

He, or she, starts off by beating the drum in the same quick time as mentioned above in the description of the ceremony witnessed at Balingian.

As the bayoh beats the drum he or she also begins to sing, invoking other spirits to help come and cure the patient.

The bayoh then stops the drum beating and a candle is lighted.

A search is then made of the body of the patient, first with the aid of a candle and then by massaging the body with the hands.

At the same time the spirit causing the sickness is asked which part of the body it is inhabiting.

Having located the source of the trouble the bayoh will then begin to remove the poison from the infected spot by drawing the flesh between his two hands.

As he does this he will make a loud ‘sucking noise’ with his mouth. This operation will continue for a few minutes, after which the bayoh may get to his feet and walk round his patient, sometimes singing but without the accompaniment of the drum.

In Mukah this part of the ceremony does not appear to be essential and is, I understand, frequently left out.

Its inclusion would appear to be entirely a matter for the bayoh to decide.

The next stage of the ceremony is always included and consists of another bout of massaging and smoothing the body over with leaves of tuba, tebwawa and flowering stem (mayang) of the pinang palm.

After this the bayoh may again start his drum to call up further if considered necessary. The whole process may be repeated several times before the ceremony is brought to a close.

Have you observed the berbayoh ceremony before? Share us your experience in the comment box.

Legend of Melanau hero Tugau against the first sultan of Brunei

According to Melanau folklore, Tugau is a demigod chief whose cough could be heard 60km away.

There are several accounts written about this legendary hero. In the Oya Melanau by Stephen Morris, Tugau was said to be the son of Rajah Kiangan, the ruler of the sky. Meanwhile, Tugau’s grandmother was the daughter of the Rajah Yang, ruler of the world below.

He emerged from an egg along with a white fighting cock with one black feather at its tail and a cobra.

A human couple found him by accident and raised him as their own child.

He grew up to be a warrior and the chief of his people in Rutus river, the tributary of Igan.

Here is an article about Tugau by A.E. Lawrence who was the Bintulu resident in the early 20th century.

In this version of the legend, it tells the story of how Tugau went against Alak Betatar. Also known as Muhammad Shah, he was the first sultan of the Brunei Sultanate possibly from 1363 to 1402.

This legend of Tugau was first published in the Sarawak Museum Journal in January 1911 and republished again in the Sarawak Gazette on Sept 1, 1948:

Tugau Batang Igan 1
Batang Igan.

Tugau lived in the Rutus, a large tributary of the Igan. To this day many stories and legends about Tugau and his relations are told by the Melanaus from Matu to Bintulu, especially in those families which are descended from or any other chiefs famous in his day – of his miraculous birth, his size and strength- of his death at the hands of his own people, etc.

Remains of the belian post of Tugau’s house are still to be seen on the banks of the Rutus, and below them, if any man is brave enough to dig there, is hidden an enormous treasure of gold, besides the bones of the slaves sacrificed according to custom when the posts of a new house are erected.

Besiong, a near connection of Tugau, was also a famous person, and had many adventures, miraculous and otherwise.

Besides ruling over his own people at Rutus, Tugau had great influence in many other districts along the coast.

Kedahat, Chief of Oya, was related to him and acknowledged his supremacy. The Mukah chief, Busi whose burial post is still to be seen in the Tillian river, although the run at the pot containing his bones has long since been lost, was married to a near relation Tugau, who could count on the Mukah people following him to war if he required them.

Tutong (currently one of the four districts in Brunei), under its chief Beniban, and Belait (the largest district in Brunei) then ruled by a man named Jam, were also friendly to Tugau, so that he really had a quite a large and powerful, if somewhat scattered, following.

Tugau against Alak Betatar

Thinking that he was strong enough to overcome the rising Brunei power, Tugau sent a message to Alak Betatar demanding tribute and submission from him.

This was refused, and Alak Betatar in return made the same demands from Tugau, with the alternative of war if he did not yield to them.

The answer was prompt enough, as, without waiting for Brunei to take the aggressive, Tugau’s brother-in-law, Besiong, raised Tutong and Belait, and made a raid into the territory.

Here they met a Brunei force under Pateh Berbi and Semaun, also said to be a brother of Alak Betatar, and were repulsed, falling back again on Tutong and Belait.

There the Bruneis attacked and beat them; but Besiong, with a few followers, made his escape by boat, and sailed down coast as fast as he could to get back to his brother-in-law at Rutus, report his failure, and raise the country.

Besiong reached the Rutus safely, but before he and Tugau could collect all their followers or send word to the neighbouring districts, Pateh Berbi and Semaun, who had followed by sea from Tutong with all their people, were upon them.

Thus taken by surprise Tugau was beaten and made full submission to Alak Betatar through his brothers, promising to pay the tribute demanded.

Alak Betatar’s men conquer Mukah and Oya

Mukah river

Having got Tugau into their power, Pateh Berbi and Semaun did not give time for any possible combination of the neighbouring Melanau chiefs, but went straight for Mukah, the most populous Melanau settlement remaining.

There, they were again successful, beating the chief, Busui and receiving his submission also.

These two decisive victorious countries, as Kedahat Oya and several other chiefs submitted without attempting resistance.

Alak Betatar therefore was now ruler, at least nominally, over all the coast districts from Brunei to the Igan, with the exception of Bintulu, the story of whose submission is somewhat different.

It appears that none of the Bintulu villages were very near the sea and it so happened that when Pateh Berbi and Semaun returned to Brunei from their conquering expedition, no Bintulu people were about in their boats off the mouth of the river, so that the Brunei fleet, although on the lookout for other settlements to conquer, did not guess that the place was inhabited.

Alak Betatar conquers Bintulu

Later on Alak Betatar sent an expedition along the coast by sea with express orders to find and subdue any settlement they might come across.

Even then they would have sailed past the mouth of Bintulu river, thinking it uninhabited, but for an accident.

As they passed by, someone saw fresh banana leaves and stems floating out to sea, and called attention to them.

The leaders decided to go upriver and find out who had planted those bananas, and paddling inland for some time, came across on a large Melanau village, finding several more later on.

The Bintulu people would seem to have been shyer and wilder than other coast Melanaus, for whenever the Bruneis came near a village to land, all the inmates took to the jungle.

However, the Brunei people gradually coaxed them back and gained their friendship by presents and other means finally making them subjects of Alak Betatar, and appointing a man to rule over the district, which before had been divided up among several petty chiefs, each holding his own village.

The aftermath

Under the Brunei rule, Tugau, Busui, Kedahat and other chiefs were allowed to go on ruling their own people. However, there were some conditions. Above all, they had to acknowledge Alak Betatar as their supreme ruler and pay him a yearly tribute.

Some time later, Alak Betatar and his country converted to become an Islamic state. Then, the native Melanau chiefs were slowly replaced by the Pangerans (princes) from Brunei who married into the families by the men they superseded.

If it weren’t for Tugau challenging Alak Betatar in the first place, would these areas of Igan and Oya rivers fall under Brunei rule? Or even without Tugau being so ambitious, had Alak Betatar always aimed to conquer the northern coastline of Borneo? Is there really gold buried under the remains of Tugau’s house? We may never know.

Regardless, the areas which Tugau once had influence over continued to be under the Sultanate of Brunei until James Brooke took over in 1860.

Iban childbirth customs recorded by Rev William Howell

Every culture has its own customs and taboos during childbirth.

These customs and tradition mainly have one sole purpose; to protect the mother and her newborn baby from harm.

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Here are Iban childbirth customs as per recorded by Rev William Howell:

When the time of delivery is come and while she is in travail, two or three midwives are called to her assistance to accelerate the birth of the child.

As soon as the child make its appearance into the world, a signal is given by beating a bamboo receptacle with a stick, or a brass gong is struck or maybe a gun is fired to announce that a child is born in the house.

Immediately follows a religious ceremony, a fowl being waved over the heads of all present, including the infant and its mother. The fowl is then killed and the blood is smeared on the foreheads of those present.

After the mother and the child are washed and dressed, the afterbirth is deposited in a plaited bag and hung on a tree either in their cemetery or in their tembawai (the site of their former house). The infant is sprinkled with a compound of pinang (betelnut) and lawang, is bandaged and made to lie on the spathe of an areca palm, a cloth is put round it and a Dayak sheet hung over it.

The husband or whoever takes away the afterbirth to bury or hang on tree is solemnly warned by the mother not to look to the right or to the left as he leaves the room, or the child might squint.

One of the women who assisted at the birth washes the child and cuts the umbilical cord.

She is afterwards with a parang, an entadu plate, and a long piece of the black tina (black split rattan worn around the waist).

The mother is seated with her back against the blazing fire; she drinks freely ginger tea to facilitate her discharge.

The bathing of the newborn

As soon as the umbilical cord has dropped off, the infant, for the first time, is taken to the bathing place.

The man who carries the child takes a fowl with him. As soon as they come to the bathing place the fowl is killed and a wing is cut off.

If it be a male child this wing is tied on with a piece of red thread to a spear, and if the child be the other sex this wing is tied on to an implement used by Dayak women in weaving (lelatan). On the fourth day the spear or the lelatan, as the case may be, is taken to the house.

As the mother sits with her back to the fire in the room holding in her hands the handle of a native adze (bliong) she presses it to her stomach to assist the course of nature.

For twenty-four hours she is not allowed to drink water, but if she does, it must be very little and first warmed lest fever should set in.

Her first food is light and simple. The husband goes out to get certain kinds of fish which is first smoked before it is eaten.

The mother is not allowed to sleep for twenty-four hours after giving birth to a child, not is she even allowed to lie down. One would think that after such a fatiguing time, a rest was most essential and to be deprived of it would be detrimental to health. Strange to say it is not so.

Can you imagine for the woman not being able to lie down or sleep for twenty-hours after giving birth?

Let us know what other Iban childbirth customs that you know more about in the comment box.

Read more about Iban pregnancy taboos here.

What you didn’t know you needed to know about Sarawak’s first ice machine

An ice machine, ice maker or ice generator is an appliance to make ice. Today, you can find a refrigerator in every household in Sarawak to store food and make ice cubes.

However in the olden days, an ice machine was even rarer than an endangered animal.

Have you ever thought who bought the first ice machine in Sarawak?

Here are five things you need to know about Sarawak’s first ice machine according to archivist Loh Chee Yin:

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1.The second White Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke was the first one to make an enquiry of an ice machine.

Charles wrote to the Borneo Company Limited London asking them to make an enquiry about an ice machine while he was in Singapore.

Here is the content of the letter which dated on May 27, 1897:

Dear Sirs,
I should be much obliged if you would make inquiry about an ice making machine for Sarawak capable of making from half a tonne to one tonne a day. Should Mr Ellis the Civil Engineer not have left, he might give you an opinion about such a machine and examine and see one in action, and have explanations how to work it from the makers.

I have long contemplated setting up such a machine to supply ice to the community at as cheap a rate as possible, and as the government have control over water, land, and also have competent engineers, we can do it more reasonably than any other party.

Three days later after writing this letter, Charles wrote another letter to his London agent, The Woodhead & Co.

He wrote, “Would you find out what kind of ice machine would us in Kuching to supply from half to one ton of ice a day. Mr Ellis, if he meets our terms could look out for the best kind and could information about working it, and also could information about working it, also could see it worked. If the Sarawak Government purchase, it would be under his superintendence. Please send a telegraph price etc.”

2.The Brooke government even announced the purchase of ice machine in The Sarawak Gazette.

Apparently, buying an ice machine in the 19th century was such a big deal that it had to be announced in the paper.

This was what was written in the announcement which was published in October 1897:

“The Government have ordered an ice machine from England, which will produce a ton of crystal ice per diem. This machine, which will be a great boon to the community, should be in working order by the end of this year.”

3.Sarawak’s first ice machine finally arrived about A YEAR after it was ordered.

Again, the Sarawak Gazette reported in September 1898 the arrival of the ice machine.

“The long expected Ice Machine arrived on the 26th June and the first tonne of ice was turned out on the 18th August.

The temperature of the brine was 30o at 9.30am on the 18th and 1½ tonnes of ice were made by the same time on the 19th. The machine was running for 28 hours to obtain this result, which must be considered very satisfactory in view of the fact that it was the first run and that, in consequence, several stoppages had to be made for adjusting the machinery. The lowest temperature reached on this occasion 19o or 13o of frost, but, we understand, that later observations show that a temperature of 11o or 21o of frost, was obtained.

Everyone in the country is to be congratulated upon this acquisition, not only for the comfort of having always iced drinks but far more for its invaluable aid in sickness and accident.

This came home to all when its value was seen in the most unfortunate accident which occurred to Mr Gibson, when ice was at once applied to the fractured part and the inflammation and pain of a broken limb very much reduced.”

4.Who maintained the ice machine?

In the beginning, the Public Works and Survey Department was in-charge of the ice machine’s maintenance.

As years passed, there was an increase in demand for ice in Sarawak.

Then, a new four-tonne ice machine was ordered in 1926 and started operations in 1927.

On the Jan 1, 1937, Sarawak Electricity Supply bought the ice plant for $30,000 and took over the ice production.

5.How much did the ice cost?

Ice was sold to the contractor at $1.00 per 100 lbs. In 1933, the figure was increased to $1.05 and again to $1.10 in 1934.

In 1935, the price was $1.13 and $1.19 in 1936. In the meantime, the sale price to the public remained at $1.25 per 100 lbs.

The selling of ice provided for a decent amount for the Brooke government in those days. For example from 1929 to 1933, the government earned $24,296.76 in profit for selling ice.

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Refrigerators for home domestic use were first invented in 1913. However, the world only saw the mass production of refrigerators after World War II. As technology had become more advanced and Sarawakians, including services such as eateries and hospitals, began to afford their own refrigerators, there was no need to have a government-operated ice machine anymore.

The Bidayuh Jagoi legend of Gunung Kapor where people turned to stone

When A.J.N Richards was serving as an administrative officer and magistrate in Sarawak from 1938 to 1964, there was no formal training.

He learned on the job from seniors and local officers as well as leaders.

While doing his job, Richards learned a lot about local cultures and histories.

Here is a petrification legend that he picked up from the Bidayuh Jagoi which was published in the Sarawak Gazette on June 7, 1949:

After the great flood, when there were only a few people living on the land, there was a prosperous village on the bank of the Sarawak river.

In this village lived a man and his wife who had two children, a boy and a girl, and their mother was a healer acquainted with the spirits.

Although life was easy and food plentiful in those days, the time came when the man and his wife grew old and died.

The bodies were burned as the custom is and the pyre was large and dry enough to leave nothing for the pigs, which was not always the case in those days.

A funeral feast was made and because the woman who had died was a great priestess the feasting was prolonged and uproarious.

The people forgot the death of their companions and even laughed and jested at the boy and girl who were left.

The retaliation of the daughter

The girl had learned much from her mother and would not be mocked. She took bamboos and split them at the end; she splayed the split ends and bound them to make a pair of cone-shaped baskets such as are used for nesting chickens.

She gave one to her brother and they wore them as hats. Then she took a cat and went with her brother to the place of the feast.

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The daughter throws a cat in the middle of the celebration and they continue to laugh. Credits: Pixaby.

She cast the cat into the midst of the crowd and uttered a fearful curse against them all. They laughed again.

And the laughter was drowned in the noise of a great storm. The wind blew the rain in sweeping curtains across the land and as the storm passed and died away, there was dead silence in that place.

All the village and the people had become stone, except the boy and the girl who escaped through wearing the bamboo hats.

The village may still be seen. It is called Gunung Kapur by the Dayaks and Boring San by the Chinese, but some of the stone figures have been spoiled by weather and some inquisitive visitors.

Read more about other legends where people turned to stone:

Legends and nature of Fairy Cave Bau

The legend of Batu Puyang in Batang Ai Your Probably Never Heard

Five Sarawak legends about people turning into stones

More legends from Semabang about people turning into stone

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