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Tungu Rubi, a Bidayuh reconciliation ceremony

Tungu Rubi is a traditional ceremony organised to reconcile two parties who are in dispute.

Here is an example of how a Tungu Rubi took place in 1953 at Kampung Tapuh in Serian as recorded by R. Nyandoh:

The story went that some women of Tapuh village considered they had been insulted by a group of men.

Hence, the village planned a meeting where the elders would decide whether the men – Ayih, Raseh, Laha, Lunge, Janggi, Kayei and Kihing (aged from 24 to 33) – were guilty, and instructed them to prepare the food fines.

They made a bench to support two large plates of salted pig and fish.

They also hung meat and fish at the side of the bench and carried it to the longhouse veranda. As they carried the bench, the children accompanied them while beating the drums.

Seven elders from Tapuh village and other nearby villages watched while these food fines were hung on a long pole.

R.Nyandoh wrote, “These foods were arranged in order; one whole salted Sirungos fish, salted wild pig with skin and fat intact, more salted pork, one whole salted Semah fish, two complete wild pig skins, another salted Semah fish, some slices of wild boar, and two whole salted Bantah fish.

“The village elders, representing the accused men, discussed the case and decided the case and decided they should first feign ignorance of the whole affair. But if the case went overwhelmingly against the men, they would agree to punishment by fine.”

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Preparing for Tungu Rubi on the the women’s side

Meanwhile, the women, whose names were Kujin, Lain, Luwai, Rantai, Jai, Kuna and Bareng, were also preparing their fines for the Tungu Rubi.

They arranged 18 sticks of pankang (glutinous rice) in three bundles with two more sticks supported on top.

A 5-foot long twist of tobacco was draped over this arrangement. In between the men and women, there were plates of cooked eggs and rice, three kettles of tuak, three jars of tuak and a large dish of pangkang pieces. Additionally, there was a big cockerel which the women had killed and dried.

Six priestesses came to represent the women.

The cause of the conflict

So what did the men do that upset the women?

“Ayih hand made an image of female genitals on the local plank bridge. He later made another image and painted it red with lime and betel nut water. The seven men together had rudely suggested that the concrete block at the bathing place had been broken by female genitals. Also that the water had dried up in summer, the women’s genital organs having drunk it,” R. Nyandoh stated.

Despite the insults, the women had not retaliated. However, they still believed the men should be punished according to the traditional law.

The men tried to defend themselves but everyone present believed they were guilty as sin. Hence, the men agreed to accept the punishment.

The Tungu Rubi ceremony proceeded with the salted pig and fish handed to the women and special rites were observed to show that no bad feeling remained.

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It’s unfortunate that the writer did not detail on how the special rites were conducted. All we know is that the ceremony continued with the men and women dancing together, passing the food back and forth between them while drums and gongs were beaten. This lasted an hour.

Then, the women distributed the men’s food gifts among themselves. Meanwhile, the accused men settled to eating and drinking.

The merrymaking continued with dancing and singing throughout the night.

After the Tungu Rubi ceremony had ended, a taboo on all work and indulgence (including sex) were imposed for four straight nights.

Tungu Rubi, a reconciliation ceremony which ends with a merrymaking feast.

Do you know more about Tungu Rubi or have you witnessed it before? 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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