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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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