Aspects of Iban religion


“On the farm-path at no great distance from the village, rude wooden
figures of a man and woman are placed, one on each side, opposite to each
other, with short wooden spears in their mouths. They are called Tebudo,
and are said to be inhabited by friendly hantu, who keep the path clear of
inimical spirits, and woe be to the rash Dyak who wilfully insults these
wonderful logs.” (Chalmers, in Grant’s Tour.)

” Among the tribes of Western Sarawak the priestesses have made for
them rude figures of birds. At the great harvest feasts they are hung up in
bunches of ten or twenty in the long common room, carefully veiled with
coloured handkerchiefs. They are supposed to become inhabited by spirits,
and it is forbidden for anyone to touch them, except the priestesses.”
(St. John i. 188.)

Diminutive Model of Dvak hornbill, with a Kembaia* berry between its mandibles, a monkey and two squirrels — on its tail. Diminutive Woooeh Image o

– Enkeramba
– Kenyali


– Plenty of sampi

Future life

“The Ballaus believe in the existence of a future state in which a
distinction shall be made between good men and bad, but what that distinction shall be does not seem to be very well known. The locality of the
unseen world — which they term Sebaian — is placed by them beneath the
earth, and it is divided into two regions — that of the living or Sebaian hidop
and that of the dead or Sebaian tnati. Sebaian hidop is a delightful country,
with rich soil and luxuriant crops. The stalks of tobacco are as thick as a
man’s arm ; the heads of Indian corn are as big as a man’s leg, and all its
other produce is gigantic in proportion. It has human inhabitants concerning
whom nothing definite is known, and it is likewise the abode of an immense
number of hantus or spirits. Sebaian mati is the abode of the dead, and like
the Homeric Hades, is a gloomy, desolate, and unlovable region. Here the
souls of the departed wander for a certain time — shorter or longer as they are
good or bad — and at length they pass into the region of the air, where they
are dissolved into dew and precipitated to the earth.” (Horsburgh, p. 23.)*^

” The Sibuyows (Sea Dyaks) reckon there are seven semengats, or lives ;
this world being one, after which, if I understand right, there are six more
existences, which every man has to go through. In the first of these after-
existences, those who have sinned are punished. Theft, my informant told
me, is one of the greatest crimes, and there a sort of god of punishment
presides, who finds out the crimes committed here below, and punishes them.
A suspected thief has his hands and feet thrust into boiling water, and, if he
writhe, it is a proof of guilt, and he is forthwith consigned to the tender
mercies of a very satanic personage — an immense hideous sort of pig dragon
— who torments him. From this state of punishment (hell, or whatever it
may be called), a transition takes place to another world, till at last the
seventh heaven is reached, where all is beautiful and perfect, peaceful and
happy. An immense wall, thick and massive, encircles a large Dyak town.
The houses are according to their own ideas as regards arrangement, but
perfect in construction ; the streets are regular, and run at right angles to
each other ; they are clean, and in perfect order, and the people are all alike
happy and rich. Lakes and rivers are there, with prahus on them, and
gardens, flowers, and fruit trees exist in profusion. In the wall is a great gate,
which, divided in two, continually opens and shuts, the two halves running
back in opposite directions, and then closing again ; as the gates open people
are perpetually being admitted. Such is the Sibuyow heaven. The above is
the version of one man, and I jot it down as I recollect it. Others, perhaps,
have different accounts, for their traditions are very vague and uncertain. I
asked my informant whether there were any Malays in this heaven ? He
answered that the Malays have a kampong, or village, some little distance off ;
but in answer to the question whether any white people were in heaven, he
said, * He never heard of any.’

** The Sea Dyaks in general have a distinct notion of a future state which
is often mentioned 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. Their feeling is not fanatic or fatalistic,
as in Mahomedans, and they have a sound appreciation of the blessings of
this life.” (Brooke i. 55.)

*^ ” Here they also describe one hill covered with the poisonous tuba tree where again are united
maidens and their lovers who have committed suicide.” {ibid.)


” The Dyaks are troubled with many superstitions. Days are lucky or
unlucky ; places are fortunate or the contrary; many birds are antu, and their
presence foretells all kinds of mischief to traveller or to farmer who pays no
attention to the warning.

” During a trip up the Rejang river a pangkas (omen bird) was heard on the
right and the people assured me I should succeed in everything I undertook
on this trip; further on we heard a katupong {omen bird) also on our right,
and we stopped a few moments to show our respect by casting it an offering
of betel-nut, and then went on ; finally we heard a tnuntjak as we pulled away
from the landing place.

The Seribas Dyaks’ omen bird Burong Papaw is said to be rare and
is thus described by St. John (i. 67) : Body, a bright red ; wings, black,
chequered with white ; head, black at top, with a beak and throat light
blue; the tail long, a mixture of black, white, and brown ; about the
size of a blackbird ; the beak is slightly hooked. *°

** After feeding off a handful of dried prawns and some rice, I said aloud,
* Ah ! to-morrow we shall have deer’s flesh to eat.’ My Dyaks’ countenances
immediately grew long and serious, and I at once guessed the reason. I had
said something contrary to custom. To name even the word deer when
searching for one is mali or tabooed, and now they thought it was useless my
going to look for them any more. I smiled my mistake away, and told the
old gentleman with me that my dreams were sometimes of a contrary
description to theirs, consequently my conversation differed a little also.
They are most superstitious people, for they listen to omens religiously,
whenever on a hunting or fishing excursion, and never name the animal, for
fear the spirits should carry information to the object of pursuit.” (Brooke ii.

** If the katupong enters a house at one end and flies out by the other it is
an omen. The katupong, according to Dyak belief, is not really a bird, but a
supernatural being married to Dara Ensing Tatnaga, the eldest daughter of
Sin Yalang Durong, the god of war, and takes the form of this bird to warn
Dyaks of approaching danger. When this occurs, flight is instant, men and
women snatch up a few necessaries (mats and rice) and stampede, leaving
everything unsecured and doors unfastened. If any one approaches the house
at night, he will see large and shadowy demons chasing each other through
it, and hear their unintelligible talk. After a while the people return and
erect the ladder they have overthrown, and the women sprinkle the house
with water * to cool it.’ ” ** (Crossland.)

*’ The * birds of night * are consulted about the place at which the year’s
farms are to be made, the locality of new houses, and also concerning matters
in dispute between two people, where there is no certain oral evidence on
either side. The farming consultation is held as follows : — A likely spot is
first fixed upon, and upon this a small hut is built ; at night, the elders who
are appointed to take the omen go and seat themselves in this hut, and one
of them casts into the air a little rice stained yellow, crying aloud, * Hail, O
ancestors ! I wish to make inquiry about this spot of jungle; grant us here
to make our farms, to do our work ; grant that here our paddy, our *jagong ‘
(Indian corn), our vegetables may live ; let them be fat, and good, and
flourishing ; let them be lucky, let them be successful ; grant us long life to
make our farms, to do our work. Fly from in front past us who are here ;
utter your cries, and give us an answer.’ This invocation finished, the response
is waited for. If the birds cry at a distance in front, and then fly past the
hut, and twitter among the trees behind it, the spot may be farmed ; but if
the birds fly, cry, and alight round about, and near the hut, without passing
on, there are many ‘Hantu’ in that place, and to farm there would be to court
sickness, or death, or a bad crop.

“The cries of the owl (boh), the hawk (bouch), and of a small kind of
frog, called * tuniiniy’ if heard at night by those who are on their way to
consult the birds, are an omen of evil, and a warning to desist for that night.
Again, if the cry of the owl or hawk be heard by a party on the war-path, in
the direction which the head-seekers are about to take, they must return, or
shame and loss will be the result of their expedition. Again, if the cries of

Religion — Omens, 227

any of the three kinds of deer found in Sarawak be heard, when starting on a
journey, or when going to consult the birds by day or by night, it is a sign
that, if the matter in hand be followed up, sickness will be the result. Also,
if a newly-married couple hear them at night, they must be divorced ; as, if
this be not done, the death of the bride or bridegroom will ensue. I myself
have known instances of this last omen causing a divorce, and I must say the
separation has always been borne most philosophically by the parties most
concerned, — far more so than we ‘ white men ‘ should feel inclined to bear it ;
in fact, the morning of one of these divorces, I remember seeing an ex-bride-
groom working hard at shaping some ornamental brass wire-work, which Dyak
women are in the habit of wearing round their waists, and he said he intended
to bestow it on a certain damsel whom he had in his eye for a new wife.”

Mr. Dalton (Moore, p. 53), speaking of an omen bird on the Kotei river,
says: ** I have frequently been out shooting when we heard it; on such
occasions they invariably would stop and tremble violently, and immediately
take another road. 1 never could obtain a sight of this bird of ill omen, for
such it is considered ; if 1 attempted to advance a single step nearer the
sound, they took hold of me, and, pointing towards the sky with gestures of
apprehension, forced me a contrary way. The notes are very similar to those
of our blackbird, equally sweet,** but much stronger. Notwithstanding my
becoming brother of the great Rajdh, I always entertained an impression that
I should be murdered if, by mischance, 1 happened to shoot one of these birds.”
Perhaps the savages among whom Mr. Dalton stayed would have so murdered
him, but Capt. Mundy (i. 232) had a different experience: ** Whilst at Padong
one of the seamen shot a red -breasted bird they call the Papow, which the
Dyaks immediately informed us was held in reverence amongst them. I was
sorry for this occurrence, lest it might cause uneasiness, but they appeared
neither shocked nor surprised at it.” Mr. Hornaday’s experience was again
different : He shot ** the celebrated Dyak omen bird {Harpactes rutilus,
Vieill), a sub-genus of the trogons, not at all rare on the Sibuyau. The
Dyaks at the house noticed it at once, and expressed a desire that we would
not kill any more of them, a request to which we readily acceded.” (p. 426.)

** The burong-beragai is esteemed sacred to the Dyaks, and may not be
killed. Its plumage is rich and beautiful.” (Brooke Low.)

” There are other creatures besides birds whose notes of warning they
observe. A cobra crossing the path compels the return of the advancing
party. A rat on the farm the same. A kijang, or wild goat, when heard on
the hill near the farms sends all the people home. A deer crying at night
keeps all at home the next day. A bujang (a kind of grasshopper) sounding
at night is a sign of a healthy house, but should he go on till dawn no one
goes out. A tiger roaring is fearful ; though I myself have never heard the
roar, nor do I believe the tiger inhabits this island. There is a small kind of
panther in some parts.’* (Crossland Gosp. Miss. 1871, p. 165.)

” To hear the cry of a deer is at all times unlucky, and to prevent the
sound reaching their ears during a marriage procession, gongs and drums are
loudly beaten. On the way to their farms, should the unlucky omen be
heard, they will return home and do no more work for a day.” (St. John
i. 64.) The same author also says that ” the croak of a small kind of frog
portends sickness if heard at night and if the design then in hand be
pursued.” {ibid i. 192.)

According to Capt. Mundy (i. 233) : ” Insects have also their influence
on the minds of these deluded people. Two of great authority ; one called
kundingy the other bunsue ; the former with a short note, the latter with a
long one. The kunding heard in front at the early part of the night is the
sign of an enemy, and a Dyak will change his place of rest ; heard in the
same quarter late at night, the sign is good, especially if the long note of the
bunsue be heard high at the same moment. The kunding heard in the rear
is the worst omen ; in war it induces them to retreat to their own country,
without prosecuting any undertaking they may have in view. Beside these
birds and insects, they are also guided by snakes in a certain degree ; and it
shows the sincerity of their superstition, that after burning the jungle, and
preparing a farm, if any animal be found dead upon it they reject the use of
the crop.** The insects of omen are likewise used to point out the quarter
whence a theft has been committed. Their mode of inquiry is curious. They
make up a little ciri, and turning to the quarter they suspect, they throw it
forward and call out for the insect : if the insect respond from that direction,
the theft is charged to the tribe so pointed out ; if it fail to answer, they try
another quarter.”

^ On one occasion the Ven. Archdeacon Perham wrote : ” Everything went on well until after
the cut jungle was burnt, when a dead cobra (a very poisonous snake) was found in the trunk of a
fallen tree. This is considered a very bad omen, and makes the farm ‘ mali,’ i.e. the paddy on it
cannot be eaten by the owner’s family. If it is so eaten, some one or other among them will certainly
die in the course of the year.” (Gosp. Miss. 1874, p. 89.)

Fire seems to be a medium through which an omen bird can be
answered. We are thus told by Mr. R. Burns (Jour. Ind. Arch. p. 147) :
” On another occasion in descending the upper part of the Tatau river, one
of the birds of fate crossed from the unlucky side ; the party instantly halted,
went on shore, kindled a fire and had their accustomed smoke over it, but
were not disposed to move onward, unless one more favourably disposed
towards us should , take its flight from the opposite side ; however, on
reminding them of their belief that fire is efficacious in appeasing the hate
of birds, and that they had observed their usual custom of kindling a fire and
smoking, they were prevailed upon to resume an onward course. The next
day, unfortunately, our boat got swamped at a part of the river much
obstructed with fallen trees and rocks, the river was rapid and much swollen
from heavy rain that fell during the night. The loss of the greater portion
of our stock of provisions and other articles vexed my superstitious com-
panions very much, and taking all the blame to themselves, they were most
profuse in reflecting on the impropriety of their disregarding the ominous
warning of the bird of the previous day.”

” Fire is the medium through which people converse with the spirits and
omen birds, in certain cases, as for instance, should a man hear the cry of a
bird which is a bad omen, he lights a small fire telling it to protect him, and
the fire is supposed to speak to the omen bird on his behalf. Another
instance of the kind in which the fire would be thus regarded is as follows : —
A man has planted fruit trees and when they are in fruit, he places some
round stones in cleft sticks near the trees and then proceeds to curse anybody
who may venture to steal his fruit, calling these stones to witness the
anathema. The curse invoked is somewhat of this nature, * May whoever
steals my fruit suffer from stones in the stomach as large as these stones, and
if necessary become a figure of stone ! ‘ (batu keidi). Now supposing a friend
passes by and wishes to gather some fruit for himself, he lights a fire and tells
the flame to explain to the stone that he is a friend of the proprietor of the
fruit and desires to eat thereof; the fire having explained all this satisfactorily
to the stone, the visitor may safely pluck and eat, but woe betide a man who
is not a friend and yet dares to take the fruit.” (Hose, J.A.I, xxiii. 161.)

ow very strongly the Sea Dyaks adhere to their omens is well described
by His Highness the present Rajah : *’ Many go through the form of their
forefathers in listening to the sounds of omens ; but the ceremony now is very
curtailed, compared with what it was a few years ago, when I have known a
chief live in a hut for six weeks, partly waiting for the twittering of birds to
be in a proper direction, and partly detained by his followers. Besides, the
whole way in advancing, their dreams were religiously interpreted and adhered
to; but, as in all such matters, interpretations are liable to a double
construction. The finale is, that inclination, or often fear, is most powerful.
A fearful heart produces a disagreeable dream, or a bad omen in imagined
sounds from bird or deer ; and this always makes a force return. But they
often loiter about so long, that the enemy gains intelligence of their intended
attack, and is on the alert. However absurdly these omens lead the human
race, they steadily continue to follow and believe in such practices. Faith
predominates and hugs huge wonders, and tenaciously lives in the minds of
the ignorant. Some of the Dyaks are somewhat shaken in the belief in
hereditary omens, and a few follow the Malay custom of using a particular
day, which has a strange effect upon European imaginations. The white
man who commands the force is supposed to have an express bird and lucky
charm to guide him onwards; and to these the Dyaks trust considerably.
‘You are our bird, we follow you.’ I well know the names, and can
distinguish the sounds of their birds, and the different hands on which the
good and bad omens are interpreted. The effect of these signs on myself was
often very marked ; and no Dyak could feel an adverse omen more than
myself when away in the jungles, surrounded by these superstitious people.
Still I could sympathise with the multitude ; and the difficulty lay in the
question, whether my influence would be sufficient to counteract such
phantoms. It must not be thought that I ever attempted to lead the Dyaks
to believe that I was an owner of charms or such absurdities, which could
not have lasted beyond a season, and could never be successful for a length of
time. My desire was always to extinguish such an idea ; but natives
persisted in their belief. A Maia*s (orang utan) head was hanging in my
room, and this they thought to be my director to successful expeditions.”
(ii. 233.)


Mr. Brooke Low says : ” No doubt Sea Dyaks often concoct dreams out of
their waking thoughts to suit their interest, yet they are impHcit believers in
the reality of dreams, and will not spare expense to atone by ceremony or
sacrifice for a bad one. Those who dream of the cobra are lucky.”

Referring to some superstitious beliefs on the Lingga, Sir Chas. Brooke
says: “These people are really truthful, and their incredible stories, which are
brought vividly to their minds in dreamSy are actually credited as having taken
place.” (i. 41.)

” A Saribas boat’s crew in the course of the day were seized with a severe
attack of colic, in consequence of some unwholesome diet, and were now
vomiting. A short while afterwards I overheard a discussion amongst them,
and, when many reasons had been advanced for their sickness, the chief said,

* Children, I will tell you why it is. You know that when we started from
Saribus, I told you my feeling was averse to move that day, as my dream was
bad and not propitious ; and if the boat had been my own, on no account
should I have left the landing-place. Another day you had better pay more
attention to old men’s dreams.’ On the same afternoon a youth of the same
crew offered to fire off a gun, which no one else would undertake. The gun
burst, and sent him head over heels backwards. They sent for me, saying he
was dead; but when I reached the spot he was chattering away at a great
pace, and certainly not in any danger. This was the same lad that had half
his face cut off on the attack of Kabah. He was generally in some scrape or
other. This final calamity was also attributed to the old man’s adverse
dreams. In a conversation the day after with Apai Bakir, who was not
famous for loquacity as many others are, in answer as to whether himself and
people had had good crops this year, he said, * Yes, all my people are well off
this year for padi, because we have paid every attention to the omens of
Bertara (God), and appeased the Antus by taking alligators, killing pigs to
examine their hearts, and we have judiciously interpreted our dreams. The
consequence is a good harvest ; but those who have neglected to do this are
still poor, and must pay more attention in future. The fact is,’ he added,

* that after the continued attacks made on Saribus, the heavens have fallen in,
and require many repairs.’ ” (Brooke ii. 202.)


The old classical system of auguring good or evil from an examination of
the entrails of a particular animal is very common throughout the country.

The following account is given by an officer of H.M.S. Pluto: “After
Tamawan had drunk to our mutual friendship a ceremony took place, quite
new to me. A young sucking pig was brought in by a very pretty girl, and
handed to a Kyan, who bound its legs and carrying it out opposite the
[H.M.S.] Pluto, placed it on the ground ; mats were laid, on one of which
Tamawan stood ; he, after a few preliminary arrangements, commenced an
oration, his voice was at first thick from the potency of his previous draughts,
but warming in his subject, he entered at large on the feelings of friendship
with which he regarded the English, spoke of the wonderful vessel which
came with oars of fire {dayong apt), seized my hand, and gesticulated, pointing
to the pig : after rather a tedious speech, it often struck me it was a prayer,
as he appeared appealing to some one beyond him, he took a knife and cut
the pig*s throat, the body was then opened, and the heart and liver taken out
and placed on two leaves, and closely examined to judge from their
appearance whether our visit would be fortunate for the Kyan nation. Every
chief present felt their different proportions, Tamawan pointed out to me
their various indications. Luckily for our friendship, they found that every
portion portended gocd fortune, and with his bloody hand, Tamawan seized
me by the arm and said all was well. Throwing the auricle of the heart
away, they cut up the rest, placed them in two bamboos and put them to
cook over the fire. Nakodah Godore told me that all was now over. I shook
hands around : and was aboard about half-past three — four hours spent in
this conference. The ceremony of examining the heart and liver is too
classical not to be particularly mentioned.*’ (The Barram River, Journ. Ind.
Arch. V. 683.)

Bishop Chambers mentions the following case : ** I found Muja living in
a hastily constructed house. Asking him why he had abandoned his former
one, which was still good, he told me that, during his absence, his people had
found blood on a mat, which they had concluded to be that of a spirit ; and
so, according to Dyak custom in such a case, they had deserted the house.
Before doing so they had resorted to the u^ual rites to avert the omen, and
had killed a pig, but on inspecting its entrails they were pronounced
unsatisfactory.” (Miss. Field 1867, P- 7^-)

” In killing a pig, which is done at all village festivals, the length of the
animal is carefully measured while it is still alive, and should, after death, he
be found a little longer, as from the distension of the muscles in the dying
agony is generally the case, the omen is accepted as one of prosperity to the
tribe in all its undertakings for the ensuing season ; but if, on the contrary,
the pains of the slaughtered animal should cause it to contract its limbs, the
omen portends misfortunes to the tribe.” (Low, p. 309.)

Mr. Hose supplies us with a very detailed account as to the meanings of the
various signs on the Baram River : ** When they wish to consult the gods as
to whether some event of importance is likely to happen, or to obtain advice,
a pig is brought in tied by the legs, and the chief talks to the pig, for this
occasion, invoking it by the dignified title of * Balli Boin ! ‘ (literally * spiritual
pig ‘) ; he then takes some burning embers and passes them round the back
and sides of the animal, very close to the skin, but not touching it. Then he
adjures the pig to speak the truth, and explains to him it is advisable to take
such and such a step or not. After which the pig is killed, the blood being
caught in a big gong and the carcass cut up and the liver taken out for
inspection. If the liver is blotched or spotted, it is a very bad sign ; if it is
held together strongly by the larger blood-vessels, the position these bear to
each other is considered ; or if the gall bladder is in any way overlapping the
liver, this is also taken as a sign that the omen is unfavourable. But, if the
liver is healthy and free from all blemish then the omen is favourable, and the
pig can be eaten.”

This method of augury is also mentioned by Sir Spencer St. John as
found among the Skarang Dyaks, when a dead animal has been found on a
farm, and they wish to avert evil. ” After their great head feast, they also
examine the hearts of pigs, and their gray-headed leaders surround and look
extremely grave over the bleeding spectacle which they one by one turn over
with the point of a stick to examine the run and position of the veins ; each
as he does it offers some sapient remark ; and the result generally is, that
there are still numerous enemies, but far away ; but however powerful these
may be, they themselves are more powerful, and in the end will overcome
them.’* (i. 64.)

Among the Undups : ** I told the headman that, as long as he lived in
his present house, he would be liable to sickness, since it was placed in the
midst of a swamp. He told me they had twice tried to build a new house ;
the first time, the heart and liver of the pig they had killed gave them bad
news — the house would be unlucky — so this house was abandoned, and a
fresh one, on a fresh site, was begun ; but not only was the heart and liver
against them this time, but the soil prophesied ill luck — one of the posts of
the house gave way. I told him that most likely he had planted his post on
the top of a nest of white ants, and consequently the soil gave way. He
replied — No, the spirits were against him.” (Crossland, Gosp. Miss. 1866, P- 39-).


The common form of ordeal, however, is that of diving. Mr. Crossland
thus describes it in one of his letters: “To-day there has been a grand diving
to try a case. A man was accused of adultery, the only evidence as far as I
could make out being that the husband had a dream about it. So they called
all the chief men together, and had a court. After many sittings it was
decided that the husband and the accused should each stake a jar of the value
of about 12 dollars, and dive. Each of them got a man, and they dived early
this morning. The accused won, as many say ; others say that it was a drawn
affair ; so all these foolish fellows go to court again, and there is no knowing
where it will end.’* (Miss. Field, 1874, p. 544.)

The Ulu Dyaks also practise this : ” I received information of the death
of an Ulu Ai Dyak named Aban of Tepaiong, Delok. He was found dead on
his farm with marks of violence on his hands and feet and some wounds on
the body. The murderer was not known, but suspicion fell upon some people
in the same house, between whom and the deceased there was known to exist
some jealousy about a woman. The relations of the deceased challenged the
suspected party to dive in order to determine whether they were guilty or not.
It was agreed that should the suspected party lose the match, they were to
pay a pati nyawa of six jars to relation of deceased. They dived, lost the
match, still protesting their innocence, but paid up the six jars.” (H. F.
Deshon, S. G., No. 189, p. 55.)

A fuller account of ordeal amongst the Balaus is given by the Rev. Mr.
Horsburgh : — ” When both parties in a dispute have agreed that it should be
referred to the diving ordeal, preliminary meetings are held to determine the
time, place, and circumstances of the match. On the evening of the day
previous to that on which it is to be decided, each party stakes in the
following manner a certain amount of property, which, in case of defeat, shall
come into the possession of the victor. The various articles of the stake are
brought out of the litigant’s room, placed in the verandah of the house in
which he lives, and are there covered up and secured. One man who acts as
a kind of herald then rises, and, in a long speech, asks the litigant whether
he is conscious he is in the right, and trusts in the justice of his cause ; to
which the latter replies at equal length in the affirmative, and refers the
matter to the decision of the spirits. Several more speeches and replies
follow, and the ceremony concludes by an invocation of justice upon the side
of the right. In the meantime, the respondent deposits and secures his stake
with like ceremonial in the verandah of his own house ; and early in the
morning both parties, accompanied by their respective friends, repair to the
bank of the river to decide the contest. Either party may appear by deputy,
a privilege which is always taken advantage of by women, and often even by
men, for there are many professional divers who, for a trifling sum, are
willing to undergo the stifling contest. Preparations are now made ; the
articles staked are brought down and placed on the bank ; each party lights a
fire at which to recover their champion, should he be nearly drowned ; and
^ach provides a roughly constructed grating for him to stand on, and a pole
to be thrust into the mud for him to hold on by. The gratings are then
placed in the river within a few yards of each other, where the water is deep
enough to reach to the middle; the poles are thrust firmly into the mud; and
the champions each on his own grating grasping his pole, and surrounded by
his friends, plunge their heads simultaneously under the water. Immediately
the spectators chant aloud at the top of their voices the mystic, and perhaps
once intelligible, word lobOn-lobon, which they continue repeating during the
whole contest. When at length one of the champions shews signs of yielding,
his friends, with the laudable desire of preventing his being beaten, hold his
head forcibly under the water. The excitement is now great ; lobon-lobon
increases in intensity, and redoubles in rapidity ; the shouts become yells,
and the struggles of the unhappy victim, who is fast becoming asphyxiated,
are painful to witness. At length, nature can endure no more : he drops
senseless in the water, and is dragged ashore, apparently lifeless, by his
companions; while the friends of his opponent, raising one loud and
prolonged note of triumph, hurry to the bank and seize and carry off the
stakes. All this, however, is unknown to the unhappy vanquished, who,
pallid and senseless, hangs in the arms of his friends, by whom his face is
plastered with mud, in order to restore animation. In a few minutes, in spite
rather than in consequence of this treatment, respiration returns ; he opens
his eyes, gazes wildly around, and in a short time is probably able to walk
home. Next day he is in a high state of fever, and has all the other
symptoms of a man recovering from apparent death by drowning.” (p. 17.)

The ordeals described by Mr. Hose (J.A.I, xxiii. 163) are of a very severe
character : ” Amongst the Kayans in former time, certain forms of the trial
by ordeal were in vogue, such as thrusting their arms into a vessel of boiling
water and recovering therefrom a small pebble to prove that their hands had
touched the bottom, but this is now of very rare occurrence. However, they
still very occasionally settle small disputes by the practice of a custom known
as Menyallum (diving). Take the case of a disputed ownership of a fruit tree,
such as the durian, which after the lapse of twenty years from the date of
planting, commences to bear fruit. Probably the original owner, i.e. the
planter, has been dead some years, and no one has paid any attention to the
tree because hitherto it has borne no fruit ; but no sooner is the tree in full
fruit, than several lay claim to the crop. The two principal disputants as
to the ownership of the tree, agree to settle the matter by diving, and call
together their friends to witness, the trial, hundreds of people lining the banks
of the river. The two men take up their positions in about 4 feet of water
and each holds forth to the effect that he is the rightful owner, and prays that
the water may trouble and enter the mouth and nostrils of his opponent,
calling on the birds and animals to witness his testimony. Two sets of
cross-sticks have been driven into the mud at the bottom of the river leaving
sufficient room for a man to get his head through, and on a given signal, each
of the disputants diving into the w^ater places his head under the cross-sticks,
and holds on as long as he can. A friend holds the legs of each and is by
this enabled to tell if his principal is going faint, and should the latter faint
right off, it is the friend’s duty to immediately pull him to the surface. The
man who is able to keep underwater for the greater length of time is declared
the winner, and the loser is not allowed to make any further claim. Some-
times, however, the two men faint off simultaneously, and then the man who
first recovers consciousness takes the prize. Very severe measures are
resorted to to make them recover the more quickly, for in view of the
contingency of both the men fainting a platform has been prepared, and a
fire of shavings being lighted underneath, the half drowned man is placed on
the platform and almost roasted. This rough treatment very soon causes one
of the parties to regain his senses, and he is then held to have established his
claim, and all the time this ordeal is proceeding the wildest excitement
prevails amongst the friends of the rival claimants.”

Besides the ordeals of water and tapers Sir S. St. John mentions the
following (i. 77) among the Sea Dyaks : ** Two pieces of native salt, of equal
weight, are placed in water; that appertaining to the party guilty melts
immediately ; the other, they affirm, keeps its form ; but, in fact, the one that
disappears first proves the owner to be in the wrong. Another is with two
land shells, which are put on a plate and lime-juice squeezed upon them, and
the one that moves first shows the guilt or innocence of the owner, according
as they have settled previously whether motion or rest is to prove the case.
They talk of another, where the hand is dipped into boiling water or oil, and
innocence is proved by no injury resulting.”

A curious effect, of the ordeal method of settling disputes, on the Dyak
mind is related by Bishop Chambers (Miss. Field 1868, p. 222) : ** In the
morning a party of men came up, full of what they had seen on the river on
their way. * Two monkeys were diving one against the other. The winner,
i.e. the one which drew its head last out of the water, immediately strangled
the other.* In deciding grave suits by the water-ordeal, the Dyaks usually
stake something in addition to the matter in dispute. These men imputed
their own customs and feelings to the poor monkeys, and imagined they had
staked their lives, and the winner had exacted the payment of the stake.

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