Most of the ritual practice of the indigenous people in Sarawak in the past was normally associated with certain items especially the wooden structures that were carved to its own significance.
The famous and the most magnificent are those elaborately carved wooden structures, images and masks.
There are two types of structures, the Kelirieng (burial pole) and the Salong (burial hut). A kelirieng is made of a huge hardwood tree trunk, carved from the top to bottom. Nitched up to its sides is a space for the bodies of slaves and followers and hollowed at the top to place the jar containing the chief’s bones.
A heavy stone slab is surmounted on the top of the pole. The size normally is more than six feet in diameter and can be up to 32 feet tall above the ground normally owned by a wealthy family.
The Salong hut is supported either by one or maximum four tall posts. The burial hut is normally owned by an aristocrat family where their bones are placed in jars and then interred in the chamber of the hut which is elaborately decorated with spiral designs and motifs.
The Burong Kenyalang or Hornbill Bird is regarded as the most sacred messenger of all birds. A special festival, the Gawai Burong is often held to honour Sengalang Burong, the Brahminy Kite, the ancestor of Iban. At this festival, the carved hornbill images are displayed and paraded up and down the verandah of their longhouse. It is also adorned with jewellery and food offerings before being placed on top of the poles.
The Melanau traditionally had an elaborate system of ceremonies for curing all kinds of illnesses that are presided over by the spirit doctor or dukun who would attempt to drive or coax the evil spirit out of the victim’s body. The more serious the illness the more complicated the ceremonies.
However, if all of these failed the bayoh spirit medium would perform the berayun ceremony, assisted by carved sickness images. Sickness images would be quickly carved from softwood. They took the form of the spirit suspected of causing the illness. The dukun used the image to extract the spirit causing the illness from the victim’s body, after which the image was set adrift in the river or hidden in the jungle.
As for the Kenyah people, traditional wooden masks were normally used in their harvesting ceremony, elaborately carved with big protruding eyes.