Culture

What happens in the afterlife according to various Dayak traditional beliefs?

Patricia Hului

What happens in the afterlife? There are so many various ideas to explain what takes place in life after death.

One of the most common belief systems is that the dead go to a specific place or realm after death based on divine judgement based on their actions when they lived.

Another common belief is that the dead start a new life but in different forms after death. This concept is what we know as reincarnation.

As for the Dayak people of Borneo, what happens in the afterlife really varies according to each ethnic group.

Each Dayak community has its own interpretation of where the dead goes after the soul leaves the body.

With that, here are some of the Dayak beliefs on what happens in the afterlife:

1.Iban

James Brooke in his diary stated that, “The Sea Dayaks in general have a distinct notion of a future state which is often mention in their conversation. There are different stages before reaching it – some agreeable, and others the contrary and their final abode, or as it appears dissolution, is a state of dew. Their burial rites all tend to support the idea of a future state; but oral traditions being so liable to alteration, there is now no very clearly defined account, as different people give different statements, but nevertheless agree in the main points, and fully expect to meet each other after death.”

2.Kayan

According to Spencer St John, the Kayans believe in a future state and in a supreme being -Laki Tengangang.

He stated, “When the soul separates from the body, it may take the form of an animal or a bird, and as an instance of this belief, should a deer be seen feeding near a man’s grave, his relatives would probably conclude that his soul had taken the form of a deer, and the whole family would abstain from eating venison for fear of annoying the deceased.”

Charles Hose in his paper Mount Dulit and the Highlands of Borneo (1893) explained even further about Kayan people and their afterlife.

“There is another strange ceremony at which I was once present, called ‘Dayang Janoi’, in which the dead are supposed to send messages to the living, but to describe it would take too much of this paper. It proves, however, that spiritualism is of very ancient practice among the Kayans, but it would perhaps be interesting to mention the various abodes of departed spirits, according to Kayan mythology. ‘Laki Tengangang’ is the supreme being who has the care of all souls. Those who die a natural death, of old age or sickness, are conveyed to ‘Apo Leggan’, and have much the lot as they had in this world.

‘Long Julan’ is the place assigned to those who die a violent death, e.g., those killed in battle or by accident, such as the falling of a tree, etc. Women who die in child-bed also go to ‘Long Julan’, and become the wives of those who are killed in battle. These people are well-off, have all their wants supplied; they do no work and all become rich. ‘Tan Tekkan’ is the place to which suicides are sent. They are very poor and wretched; their food consists of leaves, roots, or anything they can pick up in the forests. They are easily distinguished by their miserable appearance. ‘Tenyu Lallu’ is the place assigned to still born infants. The spirits of these children are believed to be very brave, and to require no weapon other than a stick to defend them against their enemies. The reason given for this idea is that the child has never felt pain in this world, and is therefore very daring in the other. ‘Ling Yang’ is the place where people go who are drowned. It is a land of plenty below the bed of the rivers, and these are the spirits upon whom riches are heaped in abundance, as all property lost in the waters is supposed to be appropriated by them.”

3.Melanau

Meanwhile, the former Baram resident Claude Champion de Crespigny (1829-1884) had this recorded about the Melanau people’s afterlife.

“The Melanaus believe in another world which is like this, having rivers, seas, mountains and sago plantations. There is one supreme deity named Ipu. All people who had met with a violent death, except those just alluded to, had their paradise in different place from that which constituted the abode of those dying naturally, a country further back. The Melanau believe that, after a long life in the next world, they again die but afterwards live as worms or caterpillars in the forest.”

4.Dayak Embaloh

According to Victor King, a professor in Borneo studies, the Embaloh people are a subdivision of that complex of peoples which their close neighbours the Iban and the Kantu call ‘Maloh’ or ‘Memaloh’ and ‘Maloh’ is derived from the word ‘Embaloh’.

They inhabited mostly the Upper Kapuas region of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

As for their belief in the afterlife, King explained, “Embaloh believe that every human being has a main spirit or soul (sumangat) which is usually thought to reside in the head. People say that this spiritual essence cannot be seen, although they know it is there while a person is healthy, awake and working. A person becomes sick when the soul leaves the body and wanders abroad. If it should reach the Land of the Dead (Telung), then the person will almost certainly die.

“The soul leaves the body during dreams, and at this time it is very susceptible to being enticed away be evil spirits (antu ajau), which usually inhabit caves, uplands, tree-trunks and jungle. It is the task of the village medical expert to retrieve this lost soul in order to cure sickness.”

5.Dayak Modang

Modang is a generic term covering a complex of culturally related groups living in the Kutai Regency of Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia, along the Mahakam River and its tributaries.

They are comprised of five river-based groups including Long Gelat, Long Belah, Long Way, Wehea and Menggae.

When Norwegian explorer Carl Bock (1849-1932) visited Dutch Borneo from 1878-1879, he had the opportunity to visit the Dayak Long Way.

This is what he recorded about their afterlife in his book The Headhunters of Borneo.

“Immediately after death the spirit goes to a certain tree called Patoeng, or Wateng Ladji, resembling a carved idol, which lies in across his path. Going on further, the spirit comes to a kampung, the head of which is a woman named Dijon Ladji. Proceeding still further, the departed comes to another village, where the chief is also a woman, named Dikat Toewan Ballang. Still wandering, the dead arrives at the third village, the name of whose chief, also a female, is Longding Dakka Patai. On the spirit goes to another kampong, whose chief is named Kapung Lunding Dakago, and again to a fifth village, where another female chief is met, by name Longding Dahak.

“We have followed the departed through no less than five villages or kampungs. The scene now changes to a river running from a mountain called Long Mandin; this stream is of course sacred and is guarded by two women, one named Talik Bong Daong, the other Sasong Luing Daong. The country where the river runs, and wherein all these kampongs are situated, is known by the general name of Long Luing. As the confused story here ends, I presume the dead is now lodged in Paradise.”

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