Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods – Part I

In order the better to elucidate his subject Archdeacon Perham incident-
ally describes the marriage and funeral rites, &c., of the people, but as these
rites differ in almost every river among kindred people the accounts I have
given of these subjects, under separate headings, will not, I venture to think,
be deemed superfluous. The other notes which I have collected from various
sources, relating to the omens, ordeals, sacrifices, will, perhaps, be best
considered in the light of supplementary notes to Mr. Perham’s papers.

PETARA, OR SEA DYAK GODS.^

By the Venerable Archdeacon J. Perham.

I.

Petara, otherwise Betara, is, according to Marsden, Sanskrit, and adopted
into Malay from the Hindu system, and applied to various mythological
personages ; but whatever be its meaning and application in Malay, in Sea
Dyak — a language akin to Malay — it is the one word to denote Deity. Petara
is God, and corresponds in idea to the Elohim of the Old Testament.

But to elucidate the use of the term, we cannot turn to dictionary and
treatises. There is no literature to which we can appeal. The Sea Dyaks
never had their language committed to writing before the Missionaries began
to work amongst them. For our own knowledge of their belief, we have to
depend upon what individuals tell us, and upon what we can gather from
various kinds of pengap — long songs or recitations made at certain semi-sacred
services, which are invocations to supernatural powers. These are handed
down from generation to generation by word of mouth : but only those who
are curious and diligent enough, and have sufficiently capacious memories,
are able to learn and repeat them ; and, as may be expected, in course of
transmission from age to age, they undergo alteration, but mostly, I believe,
in the way of addition. This tendency to change is evident from the fact
that, in different tribes or clans, different renderings of the pengap, and
different accounts of individual belief may be found. What follows in this
Paper is gathered from the Balau and Saribus tribes of Dyaks.

A very common statement of Dyaks, and one which may easily mislead
those who have only a superficial acquaintance with them and their thought,
is that Petara is equivalent to Allah Taala, or Tuhan Allah. ” What the
Malays call Allah Taala, we call Petara ” is a very common saying. And it is
true in so far as both mean Deity ; but when we investigate the character
represented under these two terms, an immense difference will be found
between them, as will appear in the sequel. What Allah Taala is, we know ;
what Petara is, I attempt to show.

I have not unfrequently been told by Dyaks that there is only one Petara,
but I believe the assertion was always made upon very little thought. The
word itself does not help us to determine either for monotheism or for
polytheism, because there are no distinct forms for singular and plural in Sea

7 From the Jour. Straits Asiatic Soc. Nos. 8, lo and 14.

Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 169

Dyak. To us the word looks like a singular noun, and this appearance may
have suggested to some that Dyaks believe in a hierarchy of subordinate
supernatural beings with one God — Petara — above all. I have been told,
indeed, that, among the ancients, Petara was represented as: —

Patu^ nadai apai
Ettdang nadai indai.

An orphan, without father.
Ever without mother.

which would seem to imply an eternal unchangeable being, without beginning,
without end. And this idea is perhaps slightly favoured by a passage in a
pengap. In the song of the Head Feast,® the general object of the recitation
is to ** fetch,” that is, invoke the presence of, Singalang Burong at the feast,
and certain messengers are lauded, who carry the invitation from the earth to
his abode in the skies. Now these are represented as passing on their way
the house of Petara, who is described as an individual being, and who is
requested to come to the feast. There may be here the relic of a belief in one
God above all, and distinct from all ; but this belief, notwithstanding what
an individual Dyak may occasionally say, must be pronounced to be now no
longer really entertained.

The general belief is that there are many Petaras ; in fact, as many
Petaras as men. Each man, they say, has his own peculiar Petara, his own
tutelary Deity. ” One man has one Petara, another man another ” — Jai
orang jai Petara. ” A wretched man, a wretched Petara,’* is a common
expression which professes to give the reason why any particular Dyak is
poor and miserable — ** He is a miserable man, because his Petara is miserable.’*
The rich and poor are credited with rich and poor Petaras respectively, hence
the state of Dyak gods may be inferred from the varying outward circum-
stances of men below. At the beginning of the yearly farming operations,
the Dyak will address the unseen powers thus : kita Petara kita Ini Inda
— ” O ye gods, O ye Ini Inda J” Oi Ini Inda I have not been able to get any
special account ; but from the use of Ini, grandmother, it evidently refers to
female deities ; or it may be only another appellation of Kita Petara. Now,
little as this is, it is unmistakeable evidence that polytheism must be regarded
as the foundation of Sea Dyak religion. But the whole subject is one upon
which the generality of Dyaks are very hazy, and not one of them, it may be,
could give a connected and lucid account of their belief. They are not given
to reasoning upon their traditions, and when an European brings the subject
before them, they show a very decided unpreparedness.

The use of the term Petara is sufficiently elastic to be applied to men.
Not unfrequently have I heard them say of us white men: “They are Petara.*’
Our superior knowledge and civilization are so far above their own level, that
we appear to them to partake of the supernatural. It is possible, however,
that this is merely a bit of flattery to white men. When I have remonstrated
with them on this application of the term, they have explained that they only
mean that we appear to manifest more of the power of Petara, that to

8 Straits Asiatic Journal, No. 2, p. 123. (J. P.)

170 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.

themselves, in what we can do and teach, we are as gods. Mr. Low, in his
paper on the Sultans of Bruni,* tells us that it was the title of rulers of the
ancient kingdoms of Menjapahit and Sulok. It is not uninteresting to
compare with this the application of the Hebrew Elohim to judges, as vice-
regents of God. (Psalm Lxxxii. 6.)

But some of the pengap will tell us more about Petara than can be got
from the conversation of the natives, and the first which I lay under
contribution is the pengap of the Besant, a ceremony which is performed over
children, and less frequently over invalids, for their recovery. It is much in
vogue amongst the Balaus, but seldom resorted to, I think, by the other clans
of Sea Dyaks. Like all Dyak lore, it is prolix in the extreme, and deluged
with meaningless verbosity. I only refer to such points in it as will illustrate
my subject.

The object of the Besant is to obtain the presence and assistance of all
Petaras on behalf of the child — that he may become strong in body, skilful in
work, successful in farming, brave in war, and long in life. This is about the
sum total of the essential signification of the ceremony. The performers are
manangSf medicine men, who profess to have a special acquaintance with
Petaras above, and with the secrets of Hades beneath, and to exercise a magic
influence over all spirits and powers which produce disease among their
countrymen. The performer then directs his song to the Petaras above, and
implores them to look favourably upon the child. Somewhere at the
commencement of the function, a sacrifice is offered, when the manangs sing
as follows : —

Raja Petara hla ngematay
Seragendah hla meda,

Ngemeran ka Subak tanah long.
Seragendi bla pneda^

Ngemeran ha ai mesei puloh grunong sanggang.
Seleledu hla meda^

Ngemeran kajumpu mesei jugu bejampong lempang.
Seleleding bla meda,

Ngemeran ka tinting luru’s mematang.
Silingiling hla meda,

Ngemeran ka pating sega nsluang.
Sengungong hla meda^

Ngemeran ka hungkong mesei henong balang.
Bunsu Retnbia bla meda,

Ngemeran kajengka tapang bedindang,
Bunsu Kamha bla meda,

Ngemeran ka bila maram jarang.

King of Gods all look.

Seragendah who has charge of the stiff, clay earth.

Seragendi who has charge of the waters of the Hawkbell Island.

Seleledu who has charge of the little hills, like topnots of the bejampong bird.

Seleleding who has charge of the highlands straight and well defined.

» Straits Asiatic Journal, No. 5. pp. 1-16. (J. P.)

Pcrham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 171

SelingUing who has charge of the twigs of the sega rotan.

Sengungong who has charge of the full-grown knotted branches.

Bunsu Rembia Abu who has charge of the bends of the wide-spreading tapang

branches.
Bunsu Kamba equally looks down, who has charge of the plants of thin maram.

All these beings are entreated to accept the offering. And these Royal
Petaras are by no means all whose aid is asked. Others follow : —

Bentata Raja Petara bla ngelala sampol nUik,

An retnang rarat bla nampai ngijap, baka kempat kajang sahidang.

An pandau banyak^^ bla nampai Petara Gtiyak baka pantak labong palang.

Art pintau kamarau sanggaUy bla ngilau Petara Radau baka ti olih likau nabau

bekengkang.
Art dinding art bla nampai maremi Petara Menani, manah mati baka kaki long

tetukang,
Ari bulan bla nampai Petara Tebaran, betempan kaki subang,
Ari mata-ari bla maremi Petara kami manah mati, baka segundi manang begitang.
Arijerit tisi langit bla nampai Petara Megit, baka kepit tanggi tudong tentelang.
Ari pandau bunya Petara Megu bla nampai meki langgu katunsong laiang.

The Royal Petaras having eyes, all recognise, altogether look down.
From the floating cloud, like an evenly cut kajang, they all look and wink.
From the Pleiades”, like the glistening patterns of the long flowing turbans,

looks also Petara Guyak.
From the Milky Way^^ like golden rings of the nabau snake, Petara Radau is

observing.
From the rainbow** also, beautiful in dying like the feet of an opened box,

Petara Menani is looking and bending.
From the moon, like a fasting earring also, Petara Tebaran is looking.
From the sun beautiful in setting, like the hanging segundi}^ of the manangs,

our Petara is bending down.
From the end of heaven, like the binding band of the tanggi, Petara Megit is

looking.
From the evening star as big as the bud of the red hibiscus, Petara Megu is

looking.

Odd and ludicrous as this is, in its comparison of great things with small,
its teaching is very clear. As men have their personal tutelary deities, so
have the different parts of the natural world. The soil, the hills, and the
trees have their gods, through whose guardianship they produce their fruits.
And the sun, moon, stars, and clouds are peopled with deities, whose favour
is invoked, whose look in itself is supposed to convey a blessing.

But these Petaras are very human-like gods ; for they are represented as

1^ This word is probably a comparatively late importation. Maioh is Dyak for ‘ many.’

Q.P)

” Literally : “the many stars,” i.e , many in one cluster. (J. P.)
” Literally : ” the high ridges of long drought.” (J. P.)

” ” Dinding ari,” •• protection of the day,” is a small part of the rainbow appearing just above
the horizon. The whole bow is called ” Anak Raja.” (J. P.)

i« ” Segundi.” a vessel used by the manangs in their incantations on behalf of the sick. (J. P.)

172 ^ H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.

making answer to the supplications of the manangs — ” How shall we not look
after and guard the child, for next year** you will make us a grand feast of
rice and pork, and fish, and venison, cakes and drink : ” — carnal gods
delighting in a good feed, such as the Dyaks themselves keenly appreciate.

In this way the attention of these Petaras is supposed to have been
aroused, and a promise to undertake the child’s welfare obtained. At this
point, according to the assertions of the manangs, the Petaras from some
point in the firmament shake their charms in the direction of the child : —

** Since we have looked down,
Come now, friends.
Let us, in a company, wave the medicine charms.**

And so they wave the shadow of their magical influence upon the child.
But there are still more Petaras to come : —

Pupas Petara kebong langity
Niu Petara puchok kaiyu.

Having finished the Petaras in mid-heavens.
We come to the Petaras of the tree-tops.

And they sing of the gods inhabiting trees, and among these are monkeys,

birds, and insects, or spirits of them. From the trees they come to the

land : —

Pupus Petara puchok kaiyu y

Nelah Petara tengah tanah.

Having finished the Petaras of the tree-tops.
We mention the Petaras in the midst of the earth.

In this connection, many more Petaras are recounted.

But the Besant tells something more than the number and names of gods.
The whole function consists of two celebrations, the second of which takes
place at an interval of a year, and sometimes more, after the first. In the
first part, the Petaras are ” brought ‘* to some point in the firmament, or it
may be, to some neighbouring hill, from which they see the child. In the
second, they are ** brought ** to the house where the ceremony is being
performed, in order to leave there the magic virtue of their presence. A large
part of the incantation is the same in both ; and at a certain part of the
second the Petaras are represented as saying : —

” Before we have looked down.
Now a company of men are inviting us to the feast.**

And in compliance with the invitation, they prepare for the journey
earthwards. The female Petaras are described, at great length, as putting on
their finest garments and most valuable ornaments — brass rings round their
bodies, necklaces of precious stones, earrings and head decorations, beads
and hawkbells, and everything, in short, to delight feminine taste and beauty.
Then the male Petaras do the same, and equip themselves with waist-cloth,

‘» This refers to the concluding half of the ceremony which is performed at some subsequent
times. (J. P.)

Perham^s Sea Dyak Gods. 173

coat and turban, and brass ornaments on arms and legs. A start is then
made with several of the goddesses, renowned for their knowledge of the way
as guides, to lead the way ; but these prove to be sadly at fault, for, after
going some distance, they find the road leads to nowhere, and they have to
retrace their steps, and go by way of the sun and moon and stars ; and from
the stars they get at some peculiar grassy spot, where they find a trunk of a
fallen tree, down which they walk to our lower regions. Here they sing how
these Petaras from the skies are joined by all the Petaras of the hills and trees
and lowlands, and by Salampandai : and then all together, in one motley
company, they wend their way to the house where the Besant is being made.
Just as a Dyak would bathe after coming from a long walk, so these gods and
goddesses are described as bathing, and their beauty descanted upon. Their
approach to the house I pass over, but just before going up the ladder into it,
the elder Petaras think it necessary to give a moral admonition to the whole
company : —

Ka obi Yumah anang meda ;

Unggai ka ttgumbai ngiga serenti jani.
Ka galenggang anang nmtang ;

Unggai ka ngumbai ngiga iugang manok laki.
Ka ruai anang nampai ;

Unggai ka ngumbai ngiga laki.
Ka bilik anang nilik ;

Unggai ka ngumbai ngiga iajau menyadi,
Ka sadau anang ngilau ;

Unggai ka ngumbai ngiga padi.

To the space under the house do not look ;

Lest they should think you seek a pig*s tusk.
To the henroost do not sit opposite ;

Lest they should think you seek a tail feather of the fighting
cock.
To the verandah do not cast your eyes ;

Lest they should think you are seeking a husband.
Into the room do not peep ;

Lest they should think you are seeking a jar.
To the attic do not look up ;

Lest they should think you are seeking rice.

After this they are supposed to enter the house, of course an invisible
company ; and to partake of the good things of the feast together with the
Dyaks, gods and men feeding together in harmony. After all is over they
return to their respective abodes.

It is a miserable, low and earthly conception of God and gods ; hardly
perhaps to be called belief in gods, but belief in beings just like themselves:
yet they are supposed to be such as can bestow the highest blessings Dyaks
naturally desire. The grosser the nature of a people, the grosser will be their
conception of deities or deity. We can hardly expect a high and spiritual
conception of deity from Dyaks in their present intellectual condition and

174 H* Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo,

low civilisation. Their’s is a conception which produces no noble aspirations,
and has no power to raise the character ; yet it has a touching interest for
the Christian student, for it enshrines this great truth, that man needs inter-
communion with the Deity in order to live a true life. The Dyak works this
out in a way which most effectually appeals to his capacities and sympathies.
I turn now to a sampi, an mvocation often said at the commencement of
the yearly rice-farming ; in other words, a prayer to those superior powers
which are supposed to preside over the growth of rice. First of all, Pulang
Gana is invoked ; then the Sun, who is called Datu Patinggi Maia-ari, and his
light-giving, heat-giving influence recounted in song. After the Sun comes a
hird, the Kajira ; then the padi spirit {Saniaug Padi), then the sacred birds,
that is, those whose flight and notes are observed as omens; all these are
prayed to give their presence. Leaving the birds, the performer comes to
Petara ** whom he also calls, whom he also invokes.’* ** What Petara,’* it is
asked, **doyou invoke?*’ The answer is: *^ Petara who cannot be empty-
handed, who cannot be barren, who cannot be wrong, who cannot be
unclean; ” and thereupon follow their names : — Sanggul Labong,Pinang Ipong,
Kling Bungai Nuiying, Laja Bungai Jawa, Batu Imu, Batu Nyantau, Batu
Nyantar, Batu Gawa, Batu Nyanggak, Nyawin, Jamba, Pandong, Kendawang,
Panggau, Apai Mapai, Kling; each from his mythical habitation ** come all,
come every one ; without stragglers, without deserters.” And this call of the
sons of men is heard, and the Petaras make answer : ** Be well and happy,
ye sons of men living in the world.”

** You give us rice,
*• You give us cakes ;
** You give us rice-beer,
** You give us spirit ;
** You give us au offering,
** You give us a spread.

** If you farm, all alike shall get padi.

If you go to war, all alike shall get a head.

If you sleep, all alike shall have good dreams.
**.If you trade, all alike shall be skilful in selling.
** In your hands, all alike shall be effective.
** In just dealing, all alike shall have the same heart.
** In discourse, all alike shall be skilful and connected.”

Then, leaving this company of Petaras, the sampi proceeds to invoke in a
special manner one particular Petara, of whom more is said than of all the
preceding. This is Ini Andan Petara Buban — Grandmother Andan, the grey-
haired Petara. Her qualities are complete. ” She has a coat for thunder
and heat ; she is strong against the lightning, and endures in the rain, and
is brave in the darkness. To cease working is impossible to her. In the
house her hands are never idle, in talking her speech is pure, her heart is full
of understanding. And this is why she is called, why she is beckoned to,
why she is offered sacrifice, why a feast is spread. She can communicate
these powers to her servants. Moreover, they would obtain her assistance as

Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 175

being the chief-keeper of the broad lands and immenses, where they may
farm and fill the padi bins ; the chief-keeper of the long winding river, where
they may beat the strong tuba root, as chief-keeper of the great rock, the
parent stone, where they may sharpen the steel-edged weapons ; as chief-
keeper of the bee-trees, where they may shake the sparks of the burning
torches.” But to watch over the farm and guard it from evils is her special
province ; and for this her presence is specially desired.

** If the mpangau ^* should hover over it, let her shake at them the sparks of
fire.

** If the bengas^’^ should approach, let her squeeze the juice of the strong tuba
root.

•* If the ants should come forth, let her rub it (the farm) with a rag dipped in
coal-tar.

** If the locusts should run over it, let her douch them with oil over a bottle
full.

“If the pigs should come near, let her set traps all day long.

** If the deer should get near it, let her kill them with bamboo spikes.

** If the mouse-deer should have a look at it, let her set snares all the day long.

** If the roe should step over it, let her set bamboo traps.

** If the sparrows should peck at it, let her fetch a little gutta of the tekalong
tree.

** If the monkeys should injure it, let her fix a rotan snare.

** That there may be nothing to hurt it, nothing to interfere with it.**

Id answer to their entreaty, she replies in a similar way to the Petaras
before – mentioned, and pronounces upon them her blessings of success,
prosperity and wealth, and skill, as a return for the offering made to her.
And thus the Dyak thinks to buy his padi crop from the powers above.

Ini Andan, as she is preparing to take leave of her worshippers according
to the sampif bestows some charms and magical medicines, mostly in the form
of stones, and afterwards gives a parting exhortation : —

** Hear my teaching, ye sons of men.

** When you farm, be industrious in work.

** When you sleep, do not be over-much slaves of the eyes.

” When people assembler do not forget to ask the news.

** Do not quarrel with others.

** Do not give your friends bad names.

** Corrupt speech do not utter.

” Do not be envious of one another.

** And you will all alike get padi.

** All alike be clean of heart.

** All alike be clever of speech.

** I now make haste to return.

” I use the wind as my Jadder.

•* I go to the crashing whirlwind.

** I return to my country in the cloudy moon.”

i« A kind of a bug. (J. P.)
^^ A peculiar insect destructive to the young padi plants. (J. P.)

176 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit, N. Borneo.

m

Traditionary lore and popular thought thus tell the same tale ; the latter
imagines the universe peopled with many gods, so that each man has his own
guardian deity ; and the former professes to put before us who and what, at
least, some of these are. The traces of a belief in the unity of deity referred
to at the beginning of this paper, is at most but a faint echo of an ancient
and purer faith ; a faith buried long ago in more earthly ideas. Yet even
novv Dyaks are met with who say that there is only one Petara ; but when
they are confronted with the teaching of the pengap, and with unmistakeable
assertions of gods many, they explain this unity as implying nothing more
than a unity of origin. In the beginning of things there was one Petara
just as there was one human being; and this Petara was the ancestor of a
whole family of Petaras in heaven and earth, just as the first man was the
ancestor of the inhabitants of the world. But this unity of origin does not
amount in their minds to a conception of a First Great Cause ; yet it is an
echo of a belief which is still a silent witness to the One True God.

It has been said that ** every form of polytheism is sprung from nature
worship.” It is very clear that Dyak gods are begotten of nature’s manifold
manifestations. Ini Andan seems a concrete expression of her generating
producing power. The sun and moon, stars and clouds, the earth with its
hills and trees and natural fertility, are all channels of beneficial influences
to man, and the Dyak feels his dependence upon them ; he has to conduct
his simple farming subject to their operations ; his rice crop depends upon
the weather, and upon freedom from many noxious pests over which he feels
little or no control — rats, locusts and insects innumerable ; he gets gain from
the products of the jungle, and loves its fruits : high hills surrounded with
floating clouds, and the violent thunder storms, are regarded with something
of mysterious awe ; he must invoke these powers, for he wants them to be on
his side in the weary work of life’s toils, and the struggle for existence ; and
thus he imagines each phenomenon to be the working of a god, and worships
the gods he has imagined.

I must now refer to three beings which have been mentioned before, and
which occupy a peculiar position in Dyak belief, as holding definite functions
in the working of the world. These are Salampandai, Pulang Gana, and
Singalang Burong,

Salampandai is a female spirit, and the maker of men, some say by her
own independent power, some by command of Petara. The latter relate that
in the beginning Petara commanded her to make a man, and she made one of
stone, but it could not speak and Petara refused to accept it. She set to
work again and fashioned one of iron, but neither could that speak, and so
was rejected. The third time she made one of clay which had the power of
speech, and Petara was pleased, and said : ** Good is the man you have made,
let him be the ancestor of men.” And so Salampandai ever afterwards
formed human beings, and is forming them now, at her anvil in the unseen
regions. There she hammers out children as they are born into the world,
and when each one is formed it is presented to Petara, who asks : ** What
would you like to handle and use ?*’ If it answer : ** The parang, the sword
and spear,” Petara pronounces it a boy ; but if it answer ; ** Cotton and the

Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 177

spinning wheel,” Petara pronounces it a female. Thus they are determined

boys or girls according to their own choice.

Another theory makes Petara the immediate creator of men and of all

things : —

** Langit Petara dulu mibit,

*• Mesei dungul manok banda,

** Tanah Petara dulu naga,

** Mesei buah mbawang blanja,

‘^ At Petara dulu ngiri,

** Mesei linti tali besara,

** Tana lang- Petara dulu nenchang,

*^ Nyadi mensia.

** Petara first stretched out the heavens,

** As big as the comb of the red-feathered cock.

** The earth Petara first created,

** As big as the fruit of the horse mango,

** The waters Petara first poured out,

” As great as the strands of the rotan rope.

** The stiff clay Petara first beat out,

** And it became man.*’

But here Petara may be any particular being, and may include a
multitude of gods. There are other theories of creation or cosmogony, but
they cannot be examined here.

There are no special observances in direct honour of Salampandai. In
the Besant, she is brought to be present along with the Petaras. But this
, great spirit, never, I presume, visible in her own person, is supposed to have
a manifestation in the realm of visible things in a creature something like a
frog, which is also called Salampandai, Naturally this creature is regarded
with reverence, and must not be killed. If it goes up into a Dyak house,
they offer it sacrifice, and let it go again, but it is very seldom seen. It is
one with the unseen spirit. The noise it makes* is said to be the sound of
the spirit’s hammer, as she works at her anvil. So intimate is the connection
that what is attributed to the one is attributed to the other. The creature is
supposed to be somewhere near the house, whenever a child is born : if it
approaches from behind, they say the child will be a girl ; if in front, a boy.
In this case we have an instance of direct nature worship, and it is not the
only one to be found amongst the Dyaks.

Pulang Gana is the tutelary deity of the soil, the spirit presiding over the
whole work of rice-farming. According to a myth handed down in some
parts, he is of human parentage. Simpang-impang at her first accouchement
brought forth nothing but blood which was thrown away into a hole of the
earth. This by some mystical means, became Pulang Gana, who therefore
lives in ,the bowels of the earth, and has sovereign rights over it. Other
offspring of Simpang-impang were ordinary human beings, who in course of
time began to cut down the old jungle to make farms. On returning to their
work of felling trees the second morning, they found that every tree which
had been cut down the day before was, by some unknown means, set up

N

178 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.

again, and growing as firmly as ever. Again they worked with their axes,
but on coming to the ground the third morning they found the same
extraordinary phenomenon repeated. They then determined to watch during
the following night, in order to discover, if possible, the cause of the mystery.
Under cover of darkness Pulang Gana came, and began to set the fallen trees
upright as he had done before. They laid hold of him, and asked why he
frustrated their labours. He replied : ” Why do you wrong me, by not
acknowledging my authority ? I am Pulang Gana, your elder brother, who
was thrown into the earth, and now I hold dominion over it. Before
attempting to cut down the jungle, why did you not borrow the land from
me ?” ** How ?” they asked. *’ By making me sacrifice and offering.’*
Hence, Dyaks say, arose the custom of sacrificing to Pulang Gana at the
commencement of the yearly farming operations, a custom now universal
among them. Sometimes these yearly sacrifices are accompanied by festivals
held in his honour — the Gawei Batu, and the Gawei Benih, the Festival of
the Whetstones and the Festival of the Seed.

In the Dyak mind, spirits and magical virtues are largely associated with
stones. Any remarkable rock, especially if isolated in position, is almost sure
to be the object of some kind of cultus. Small stones of many kinds are
kept as charms, and I have known a common glass marble inwrought with
various colours passed off as the ** egg of a star,” and so greatly valued as
being an infallible defence against disease, &c. The whetstones, therefore,
although made from a common sandstone rock, are things of some mysterious
importance. They sharpen the chopper and the axe which have to clear the
jungle and prepare the farm. There is something more than mere matter
about them, and they must be blessed. At the Gawei Batu, the neighbours
are assembled to witness the ceremony and share in the feast, and the
whetstones are arranged along the public verandah of the house, and the
performers go round and round them, chanting a request to Pulang Gana for
his presence and aid, and for good luck to the farm. The result is supposed
to be that Pulang Gana comes up from his subterranean abode to bestow his
presence and occult influence, and a pig is then sacrificed to him. In the
Gawei Benih, the proceeding is similar, but having the seed for its object.

Pulang Gana is, therefore, an important power in Dyak behef, as upon
his good-will is supposed to depend, in great measure, the staff of life.

Singalang Burong must now be mentioned. His name probably means
the Bird-Chief. Dyaks are great omen observers, and amongst the omens,
the notes and flight of certain birds are the most important. These birds are
regarded with reverence. On one occasion, when walking through the jungle,
I shot one, a beautiful creature, and I asked a Dyak who was with me to
carry it. He shrank from touching it with his fingers, and carefully wrapped
it in leaves before carrying it. No doubt he regarded my act as somewhat
impious. All the birds, to which this cultus is given, are supposed to be
personifications and manifestations of the same number of beings in the spirit
world, which beings are the sons-in-law of Singalang Burong.^^ As spirits

^8 It should be stated that Singalang Burong has his counter-part and manifestation in this
world, in a fine white and brown hawk, which is called by his name. (J. P.)

Perham^s Sea Dyak Gods. 179

they exist in human form, but are as swift in their movements as birds, thus
uniting man and bird in one spirit-being. Singalang Burong, too, stands at
the head of the Dyak pedigree. They trace their descent from him, either as
a man who once lived on the earth, or as a spirit. From him they learnt the
system of omens, and through the spirit birds, his sons-in-law, he still
communicates with his descendants. One of their festivals is called, ” Giving
the birds to eat,” that is, offering them a sacrifice.

But further, Singalang Burong may be said to be the Sea Dyak god of
war, and the guardian spirit of brave men. He delights in war, and head-
taking is his glory. When Dyaks have obtained a head, either by fair means
or foul, they make a grand sacrifice and feast in his honour, and invoke his
presence. But it is unnecessary to enlarge upon this, for some account of
the Mars of Sea Dyak mythology has already appeared in the Straits Asiatic
Journal. (No. 2.)

Now, what with these beings, and with the Petaras, it is no wonder that
the Dyak, when brought face to face with his own confessions, acknowledges
himself in utter confusion on the whole subject of the powers above him ;
that he owns to worshipping anything which is supposed to have power to
help him or hurt him — God or spirit, ghost of man or beast — all are to be
reverenced and propitiated. When inconsistencies in his belief are pointed
out, all he says is, that he does not understand it, that he simply believes and
practices what his forefathers have handed down to him.

But it is to be observed, as significant, that in sickness, or the near
prospect of death, it is not Singalang Burong, or Pulang Gana, or Salampandai
(which by the way are not commonly called Petara) ; it is not Kling, or
Bungai, Nuiying, or any other mythological hero that is thought of as the life-
giver, but simply Petara, whatever may be the precise idea they attach to the
term. The antu (spirit) indeed causes the sickness, and wants to kill, and so
has to be scared away ; but Petara is regarded as the saving power. If an
invalid is apparently beyond all human skill, it is Petara alone who can help
him. If he dies, it is Petara who has allowed the life to pass away by not
coming to the rescue. The Dyak may have groped about in a life-long poly-
theism, but something like a feeling after the One True Unknown seems to
return at the close of the mortal pilgrimage. The only thing which implies
the contrary, as far as I know, is, that very occasionally a function in honour
of Singalang Burong has been held on behalf of a sick person, but it is
exceedingly rare.

Although the whole conception of Petara is far from an exalted one, yet it
is good being. Except as far as causing or allowing human creatures to die
may be regarded by them as signs of a malevolent disposition, no evil is
attributed to Petara. It is a power altogether on the side of justice and right.
The ordeal of diving is an appeal to Petara to declare for the innocent and
overthrow the guilty. Petara ** cannot be wrong, cannot be unclean.*’ Petara
approves of industry, of honesty, of purity of speech, of skill in word and
work. . Petara Ini Andan exhorts to ** spread a mat for the traveller, to be
quick in giving rice to the hungry, not to be slow to give water to the thirsty,
to joke with those who have heaviness at heart, and to encourage with talk

i8o H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit, N. Borneo.

the slow of speech ; not to give the fingers to stealing, nor to allow the heart
to be bad/’ Immorality among the unmarried is supposed to bring a plague
of rain upon the earth, as a punishment inflicted by Peiara. It must be
atoned for with sacrifice and fine. In a function which is sometimes held to
procure fine weather, the excessive rain is represented as the result of the
immorality of two young people. Peiara is invoked, the offenders are banished
from their home, and the bad weather is said to cease. Every district
traversed by the adulterer is believed to be accursed of the gods until the
proper sacrifice has been offiered. Thus in general Petara is against man’s
sin ; but over and above moral offiences they have invented many sins, which
are simply the infringement of pemale, or tabu — things trifling and super-
stitious, yet they are supposed to expose the violators to the wrath of the
gods, and prevent the bestowal of their gift ; and thus the whole subject of
morality is degraded and perverted.

The prevailing idea Dyaks commonly entertain of Petara is that of the
preserver of men. In the song of the head feast, when the messengers, in
going up to the skies to fetch Singalang Burong down, pass the house of
Petara, they invite him to the feast, but he replies : ** I cannot go down, for
mankind would come to grief in my absence. Even when I wink or go to
bathe, they cut themselves, or fall down.” Petara does not leave his habita-
tions, for he takes care of men, and as far as he fails in this, he fails in his
duty. So in an invocation said by the manangs, when they wave the sacrificial
fowl over the sick : —

Laboh daun huloh^ When the bambu leaf falls,

Tangkap ikan dungan ; And is caught by the dungan fish ;

Antu kah munoh. And the antu wants to kill,

Petara ttaroh ngembuan, Petara puts in safe preservation.

Laboh daun buloh, When the bambu leaf falls,

Tangkap ikan mplasi ; And is caught by the mplasi fish,

Antu kah munoh^ And the antu wants to kill,

Petara ngaku menyadi, Petara will confess a brother.

Laboh daun buloh, When the bambu leaf falls,

Tangkap ikan semah ; And is caught by the semah fish ;

Antu kah munohj And the antu wants to kill,

Petara ngambu sa-rumah. Petara will claim him as of his household.

Laboh daun buloh. When the bambu leaf falls,

Tangkap ikanjuak ; And is caught by Xhejuak fish ;

Atitu kah munohy And the antu wants to kill,

Petara ngaku anak. Petara will confess a child.

When human life droops as a falling leaf, and the evil spirits, like hungry
fish, are ready to swallow it up, then Petara comes in and claims the life as
his, his child, his brother, and preserves it alive. The ceremony of the Besant
is an elaboration of this idea, an idea to which, above all others, the Dyaks
cling ; for the world is full, they think, of evil spirits ever on the alert to
them, but the subject of these antus opens up a new field of thought which
cannot be entered now.

Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods, i8i

Petaras are not worshipped in temples, nor through the medium of idols.
Their idea of gods corresponds so closely to the idea of men, the one rising so
little above the other, that probably they have never felt the necessity of
representing Petara by any special material form. Petara is their own shadow
projected into the higher regions. Any conception men form of God must be
more or less anthropomorphic, more especially the conception of the savage.
He ** invests God with bodily attributes. As man’s knowledge changes, his
idea of God changes ; as he mounts the scale of existence, his consciousness
becomes clearer and more luminous, and his continual idealization of his
better self is an ever improving reflex of the divine essence.” ^®

http://www.archive.org/stream/nativessarawaka01lowgoog/nativessarawaka01lowgoog_djvu.txt

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