Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods- Part III
The subject is incomplete without a consideration of their burial rites, and
their ideas of eschatology. These I now endeavour to supply.
But first a word about marriage. Birth is not celebrated with any
religious ceremony, and marriage is a comparatively simple matter. The
marriage ceremony consists principally in publicly fetching the bride from her
father’s to the bridegroom’s house, but the Dyak, with his love of divination,
could not allow such an occasion to pass without some attempt, or pretence,
to penetrate the secrets of the future. When the bridal party are assembled
in the bride’s house, and the arrangements for the young couple talked over,
a pinang (betel-nut) is split into seven pieces by some one supposed to be
lucky in matrimonial affairs ; and these pieces, together with the other
ingredients of the betel-nut mixture, are put in a little basket, which is bound
round with red cloth and laid for a short time upon the open platform outside
the verandah of the house : should the pieces of pinang by some mystic power
increase in number, the marriage will be an unusually lucky one ; but should
they decrease, it is a bad omen, and the marriage must be postponed, or
relinquished altogether ; but, as matter of experience, they neither increase
nor decrease ; and this is interpreted in the obvious sense of an ordinary
marriage upon which the spirits have pronounced neither good nor bad. This
action gives the name to the whole ceremony, which is called Mlah*^ pinang —
splitting the betel-nut. When the bride has been brought to her future
husband’s house, a fowl is waved ^ over them, with a hastily muttered
invocation for health and prosperity ; and with this semi-sacrificial action the
marriage is complete.
Death is much more involved with sacred observances. Although the
Dyaks have something of the Moslem sentiment of fate, and commonly speak
of the measure of a man’s life’s, which once reached nothing can prolong, yet
this does not seem to help them to a quiet submission to the inevitable ; for,
even when death is unmistakeably drawing near, they are eager in fruitless
efforts of resistance, and the scene is generally one of tumultuous wailing.
They will shout wildly to the medicine-man to recover the wandering spirit,
and they will call out to the dying — ** Come back ; do not go with the spirits
** who are leading you astray to Hades. This is your country, and we are
**your friends.” The word pulai, pulai, ** return, return,” is reiterated in
piercing, piteous tones. Silence and reverent awe in the presence of death
would be regarded as culpable callousness to the interests of a life trembling
in the balance. And when actual dissolution is plainly imminent, they dress
the person in the garments usually worn, and some few ornaments in addition,
that the man may be fully equipped for the untried journey ; and in violent
demonstrations of grief, the women and younger people wait the end, or
perhaps rush distractedly about in hopes of doing something to delay it. As
soon as respiration has ceased, a wild outburst of wailing is heard from the
women, which proclaims to all the village that life is extinct. The cessation
>• Belah, Malay.— Ed. Journ. Str. Asiatic Soc.
3« This waving of a sacrifice or oflfering is a noticeable feature in the practice of Hindu
exorcists in India.— Ed. Journ. Str. Asiatic Soc.
Perhatn’s Sea Dyak Gods. 203
of visible breathing is with the Dyak the cessation of life ; he knows of no
other way to distinguish a prolonged state of coma from death, and I have
good reason to believe that sometimes bodies have been buried before they
After death the body is lifted from the room to the ruai, or verandah, of
the village-house ; some rice is sprinkled upon the breast, and it is watched
until burial by numerous relatives who come to show their sympathy. The
nearer connections of the deceased will probably be heard shouting out to
some departed relative to come from Hades and take them away also, feeling
at the moment that life is unbearable. At a burial once I saw a woman jump
down into the grave, and stretch herself at full length upon the coffin loudly
begging to be buried with her husband.
Among some tribes there are professional wailers, nearly always women,
who are hired to wail for the dead. One of these is now fetched, not only to
lament the lost, but by her presence and incantation to assist the soul in its
passage to Hades. Her song takes about twelve hours to sing, and the sum
of it is this. She calls with tedious prolixity upon bird, beast and fish to go
to Hades with a message, but in vain, for they cannot pass the boundary.
She then summons the Spirit of the Winds to go, and —
** Call the dead of ancient times,
** To fetch the laid out corpse under the crescent moon,
‘* Already arranged like the galaxy of the milky way.
*’ To call those along ago bent double,
** To fetch the shroud of our friend below the moon,
•• Already a heap like the hummock of the rengguang.^’^
** To call the far away departed,
** To fetch the nailed coffin under the dawn of the rising sun,
** Already like the form of a skilled artisan’s chest.
*• To call the long departed ones,
** To fetch the resak-‘wood coffin below the brilliant moon,
** Already bound with golden bands.’*
The Spirit of the Winds is reluctant ; but, at the solicitation of his wife,
at length consents to do the waiter’s bidding. He speeds on his way through
forests and plains, hills and valleys, rivers and ravines, until night comes on
and he is tired and hungry, and stops to make a temporary resting-place.
After refreshing himself, he goes up a high tree to make sure of the proper
road. ‘*He looks round, and all is dark and dim in the distance : he looks
“behind, and all is obscure and confused: he looks before him, and all is
” gloomy as night.” On all sides are roads, for the ways of the dead are
seventy times seven. In his perplexity, he drops his human spirit form, and
by a stroke of ghostly energy metamorphoses himself into rushing wind ; and
soon makes known his presence in Hades by a furious tempest which sweeps
everything before it, and rouses the inhabitants to enquire the cause of the
unwonted commotion. They are told. They must go to the land of the
living and fetch so and so and all his belongings. The dead rejoice at the
‘•’^ A crustacean which burrows in the earth. (J. P.)
204 H« Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.
summons, and without delay collect their friends, get into a boat and pull
through the stygian waters; and with such force does the boat plough the
lake, that all the neighbouring fish die. Arrived at the landing-place, they all
make an eager rush into the house, “like soldiers who fly upon the spoil ; and
mad like wild pigs they seize the dead one.” The departed soul cries out in
anguish at being thus violently carried off; but long before the ghostly party
has reached their abode, it becomes reconciled to its fate.
Thus sings the wailer, who has now done her work. She has conveyed
the soul to its new home, which it would never reach, it is said, without her
intervention, but remain suspended somewhere, and find rest nowhere.
The climate necessitates a speedy interment ; but there is another reason
for putting the dead quickly out of sight. After life is extinct, the body is no
longer spoken of as a body or corpse ; it is an antu, a spirit ; and to have it
long with them would, apart from sanitary considerations, expose them to
sinister ghostly influences. Some time before daylight, a sufiicient number of
men take away the corpse wrapped in mats and secured with a light frame-
work of wood ; and as it is being borne from the house, ashes are thrown after
it, and a water-gourd is flung and broken on the floor. The graveyard is
generally a small hill, or rising grdtind in the neighbourhood, as unkempt as
the surrounding forest, overshadowed by towering trees, and full of entangled
undergrowth of grass, climbers and thorny rotan. On coming to the cemetery,
the first thing done is to kill a fowl to propitiate the dread powers of Hades,
to whom the ground is supposed to be devoted : and so strong is the need of
this sacrifice felt, that no Dyak, unenlightened by other principles, will dare
touch the ground until it is made. Some now dig the grave ; some cook a
meal, which is afterwards eaten on the spot ; whilst others get a large log
of wood of the required length, split it into two, scoop out the inside sufficiently
to admit the corpse, and thus make a rude coffin, the two parts of which, after
receiving the body, are firmly lashed together with rotan. Sometimes, however,
the coffin is made of planks before proceeding to the graveyard.
With the burial of the body is deposited baiya, that is, things given to the
dead. Personal necessaries, like rice, plates, the betel-nut mixture, money,
and a few other articles are laid with the body in the ground ; whilst spears,
baskets, swords, weaving materials, pots, jars, gongs, etc., are put on the
surface, the jars and gongs being broken to render them useless to any alien
who may be inclined to sacrilegious depredations.*® This baiya, little or
much according to the wealth of the deceased, is regarded as a mark of
affection, and to omit it is to fail in a natural duty. But the custom is really
founded upon the belief that the things so bestowed are in some mystic way
carried into the other world, and useful to the dead — their capital, in fact, to
begin life with in the new stage of existence. And in cases where Dyaks are
killed, or die by sickness, far away from home, the baiya is still deposited in
the family burying-place. A burial without baiya is, in their phrase, the
burial of a dog. A fence round the grave as a protection from the ravages by
wild pigs completes the interment.
^ Compare the observances of the Johor Jakuns, No. 7 of Journal Str. Asiatic Soc., p. 97.—
Perhatn’s Sea Dyak Gods, 205
There is a deeply-seated fear among Dyaks touching everything connected
with death and burial rites. They have, for instance, a lurking suspicion
that the dead, having become the victims of the most terrible of all powers,
may harbour envious feelings, and possibly follow the burying-party back to
their homes with some evil intent. To prevent such mischief, some of them
make a notched stick-ladder,’® and fix it upside down in the path near the
cemetery to stop any departed spirit who may be starting on questionable
wanderings ; others plant bits of stick to imitate bamboo caltrops to lame
the feet should they venture in pursuit, and so obstruct their advance.
Interment is the usual, but not universal, mode of disposing of the dead.
Manangs, or medicine men, are suspended in trees in the cemetery,*® and
amongst the Balau tribe, children dying before dentition has developed enjoy
the same distinction, having a jar for their coffin. Some eccentric individuals
have a dislike to be put underground, and request that after death they may
be laid upon an open platform in the cemetery ; the result of which is that
a most offensive exudation soon oozes from the badly made coffin ; and after
a year or two the posts become rotten, and the whole structure tumbles down,
the coffin bursting in pieces, adding to the already large stock of exposed
bones, which, with broken pots, jars, baskets, and other miscellaneous
articles, swell the property of grim death, and make the place a vast charnel
awesome and gloomy, well calculated to frighten the superstitious Dyak.
Occasionally a man has a fancy to have his body put on the top of a
mountain, and the relatives probably dare not refuse to carry out the wish
through fear of imaginary evil consequences. Among the Kayans, this burial
above ground is the general practice, but they carry it out in a more
substantial manner. The baiya is put in the coffin, but heads of slain enemies
are hung up round the grave. Great warriors have been sometimes buried
for a time and then exhumed, and their relics sacredly kept by their
descendants in or near their houses, or it may be, on the spur of a neigh-
bouring hill, with the object of securing the departed ancestor as a tutelary
Sea Dyaks do not consider burial as the last office which they can render
to the dead, but follow them up with certain after-ministries of mixed
affection and superstition. For three or four evenings after death, they light
a fire somewhere outside the house for the use of the departed ; for in Hades,
^ The tangga samangat of the Johor Jakuns is said* ” to enable the spirit to leave the grave
when required.” Id.— Ed. Joum. Str. Asiatic Soc.
^ Even among the Malays of the Peninsula, this practice of keeping the body of a pawang, or
medicine man, above ground is not unknown. It exists also probably among the Sakai tribes.
Blian tuan is the Sakai name for the original tiger-spirit or man -tiger. A man who has a tiger-spirit
as his familiar is a pawang blian, and may not be buried in the ordinary Malay way, but his body
must be placed leaning against a prah tree, in order that the spirit may enter into another man.
In Perak, it is said that in the time of Sultan J ‘afar there was a pawang of the hantu blian,
named Alang Dewasa. When he died (at Buluh Minyak in Ulu Perak) his relations would not
permit his body to be set up against a tree, but buried it. Soon afterwards the ground was found
disturbed, and since then Alang Dewasa has frequently appeared as a hantu blian, when invoked by
pawangs of that class (See Journal No. 12, p. 224). He comes down in the shape of a tiger, with one
eye closed, the effect of an injury he received when buried, or when leaving the earth to assume his
animal form.— -Ed. Joum. Str. Asiatic Soc.
2o6 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.
they say, fire is not to be procured without paying for it. After burial, the
nearest relation lives in strict seclusion and keeps a connparative fast until
the observance called pana is made. A plate of rice with other eatables is
taken by one of the neighbours to this chief mourner, and from this time he
or she returns to the usual diet, and occupations of life. But this neighbourly
act of the living is the least part of pana, amongst those tribes, at least where
professional wailers exist. It is principally concerned with the dead, to whom
by it food is supposed to be sent. Boiled rice and other things usually eaten
with it, together with Dyak delicacies, are put together, and thrown through
the opening at the back of the house, and the wailer is fetched to effect their
transmission to Hades. She comes again to the house of mourning, not to
lament over the dead — that is left to the relatives to do — but to call upon the
adjutant bird, ** the royal bird which fishes the waters all alone,” to do her
bidding in conveying the articles of the pana to the other world. Among
these are included with some pathos the sorrows and sighs of the living.
** To carry the pana of tears to the departed one
” at the clear mouth of the Potatoe river.
** To carry deep sighs to those sunk out of view
” in the land of the red ripe rambutan.
” To carry pitying sobs to those who have fallen
** unripe in the land of empty fruiting limes.*’
The bird, says the song, speeds on its way, and after taking a rest on the
bacha tree, which bears for flower one dark red bead, arrives in the region of
the departed. There they do not recognize the visitant, and inquire where it
comes from and why: ** Do you come to look at the widows? We have
thirty and one ; but only one is handsome. Do you come to seek after
maidens ? We have thirty and three ; but only one is pretty.” ** No,” says
the bird, ** we have widows and maidens plenty in the land of the living, all
beautiful and admired of men.” ** What is that you have brought with you
so securely covered up ? ” ** Get a basin, and I will pour the contents of my
burden into it.” The basin is brought and receives the pana, and lo ! the
eatables and the tears and the sobs of the living mourners have become gold
and silver and precious stones wondrously beautiful. But neither the men nor
the women know what they are ; and mutual accusations of ignorance and
stupidity are bandied about, and a noisy quarrel is the result. At this
juncture, an ancient native of Hades appears, one, that is, who never was an
inhabitant of this world ;
Dara Rabai Gruda *^
Dayang Sepang Kapaiya.
She chides their unseemly squabbling, and explains to them that the bird has
come from the realms of the living with presents from their friends ; where-
upon they are seized with a passionate desire to return, but are told that this
*^ Garuda, the eagle of Vishnu ? See No. 7 of this Journal, p. 13. — Ed. Journ. Str. Asiatic Soc.
Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 207
** The notched ladder is top downwards.
** Their eyes see crookedly.
** Their feet step the wrong way.
** Their speech is all upside down.”
Their capacities are no longer adapted to the world they have left, and
their destiny is irreversible ; but still they urge their request to accompany
the bird, and all the ingenuity of Hades is called in requisition to devise
means of amusing the souls as yet unaccustomed to their new dwelling.
Meanwhile, the bird takes its homeward flight. Thus far the wailer.
Until this pana is made, say the Dyaks who observe it, the soul is not
thoroughly conscious that it has departed from the world, and Hades will not
give it food or water ; but after this, it is received as a regular denizen of
There is a similar observance called sumping, which is carried out at
a varying period after death. They take the symbols and trophies of a head-
hunting raid, and the wailer is supposed to procure the services of the spirit of
the winds to convey them to the dead, whose abode, before full of darkness
and discomfort, is now, at sight of the trophies, filled with light ; for they
have the satisfaction of feeling that their relations have revenged upon others
their own death ; so henceforth they stand more freely upon their own
This observance, which, according to ancient custom, could not be
performed until the head of an enemy had been obtained, brings out the
darker and fiercer side of the Dyak nature. They would fight with death if
they could ; but as they cannot, they rejoice in taking vengeance upon the
living, whenever a chance of killing the enemies of their tribe offers itself;
so as to be able to say to themselves : ** My relatives have revenged my
death. I am now on equal terms with the evil fate which has sent me
hither.” But in these times, when they live under a strong and civilized
government, it is very seldom that this observance can be carried out in its
fulness ; and therefore it is either slurred over by some mild substitute, or
But the great observance for the dead is the Gawei antu, Festival of
Departed Spirits. No definite period is fixed for the celebration of it, and the
time varies from one to three or four years. The preparation for it of food
and drink and other things is carried on for weeks and even months ; and
sometimes it taxes very severely the resources of the Dyak. When all is
ready, the whole neighbourhood for miles round is invited to partake of it.
It is an opportunity for a general social gathering ; it is a formal laying aside
of mourning ; above all, it is, in their minds, the execution of certain offices
necessary for the final well-being of the dead.
But though it is a feast for the dead to which they are invoked and
invited, yet they pretend to guard against any unorthodox and premature
approach of the departed as full of uncanny influence. When the tuak, a
drink brewed from rice, has been made, an earthenware potful of it is hung
up before the door of the one room which each family of the village-house
2o8 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit, N. Borneo.
occupies, so as to attract the attention of any casual wanderer from Hades.
Such a one is supposed to see the pot, and to go and regale himself from it,
and be satisfied without going any further: and thus his thoughts are
pleasantly diverted from the inner seat of family life ; the room — where, if
permitted to enter, he might possibly, in revengeful spite, carry off some of
the living circle.
The presence of the dead is desired, but only at the proper time and in
the proper way. But how are they to come from Hades in the numbers
desired ? Nothing easier, says the Dyak, send a boat for them : so he
despatches what is called the lumpang, A piece of bamboo in which some
rice has been boiled is made into a tiny boat, which, by the aid of the wailer,
who is again fetched, is sent to Hades. Actually, it is thrown away behind
the house ; spiritually, it is supposed by the incantation of the Availer to be
transmitted to the unseen realm through the instrumentality of the king of all
the fishes, who accomplishes the journey without much trouble. But in
Hades he dare not ascend the great river of the dead beyond the first landing
place, where he leaves the mystic craft together with food and drink. No
sooner is this done than the stream becomes dammed up and overflows its
banks. The curious boat is seen floating upon the swollen waters, but no one
knows what it is. At length a water nymph rises out of the river, and tells
them that the strange craft, which by this time has grown from the size of a
toy to a mighty war-boat, has been sent by their living friends for their
passage across the styx to partake of a final banquet. Great is the joy in
Hades on discovering this.
” Their shouts reach beyond the clouds.
** They incite each other like men preparing the drums.
** With joy they thump their breasts.
** With gladness they slap their thighs.
We shall soon feast below the star-sprinkled heavens.
We shall soon eat where the roaring thunder falls.
** We shall soon feed below the suspended moon.
** We shall soon be on our way to visit the world, and march to the feast.”
With this contrivance, the way is now open for the departed to visit their
old habitations as soon as the feast shall be ready and the final summons sent.
Meanwhile, preparations for the festival advance. Those tribes who erect
ironwood memorial monuments at the graves get them put together. On the
day of the feast, or may be the day before, the women weave with finely-split
bamboo small imitations of various articles of personal and domestic use,
which are afterwards hung over the grave, that is, given to the dead. If it be
a male for whom the feast is made, a bamboo gun, a shield, a war cap, a sirih
bag and drinking vessel, etc., are woven ; if a female, a loom, a fish basket, a
winnowing fan, sunshade, and other things: if a child, bamboo toys of various
The guests arrive during the day, and the feasting begins in the evening
and lasts all night. An offering of food to the dead is put outside at the
entrance of the house. The wailer, of course, is present, and her office now is
Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 209
to invoke the spirit of the winds to invite the dead to come, and feast once
more with the Hving; and she goes on to describe in song the whole imaginary
circumstances — the coming of the dead from Hades, the feasting, and the
return. She sings how numerous animals, one after another, and then
Salampandai, maker of men, are called upon to go to Hades, but none have
the capacity to undertake such a journey ; how the spirit of the winds arrives
in Hades, and urges the acceptance of the invitation by expatiating on the
abundance and excellence of the food their relations have provided for them ;
how they and a great company of friends start, and make the journey hither
in the boat before sent for them ; how glad they are to see our earth and sky
again, and to hear the many voices of the busy world ; how they eat and
drink, dance, and have a cock-fight with their living friends (for they have
brought fighting cocks with them) ; how Hades is beaten (to make it victorious
would be a bad omen) ; how they ask for their final share of the family
property, and a division is made, but here again the dead get the worst of it,
for in dividing the paddy, the Hving get the grain, the dead only the chest in
which it is kept : so, the jars remain with the living, the stand only on which
they are set being given to the dead ; the weapons too are retained, whilst the
sheaths go to Hades, etc., etc. In the very act of professing to entertain
their friends, they must cheat them for fear of conceding too much to Hades,
and so hasten their own departure thither. After this pretended division of
property, the children of deathland make their parting salutation with much
affection and regret and go on their way. Such is the esoteric meaning of the
festival according to the wailer’s song.
The song makes the dead arrive about early dawn ; and then occurs an
action wherein the intercommunion of the dead and the living is supposed to
be brought to a climax. A certain quantity of tuak has been reserved until
now in a bamboo, as the peculiar portion of Hades, set apart for a sacred
symposium between the dead and the living. It is now drunk by some old
man renowned for bravery or riches, or other aged guest who is believed to
possess a nature tough enough to encounter the risk of so near a contact with
the shades of death. This “drinking the bamboo,’* as it is called, is an
important part of the festival.
Earlier in the night comes the formal putting off of mourning. The
nearest male relation is habited in an old waistcloth, or trousers : these are
slit through and taken away, and the man assumes a better and finer garment ;
a bit of hair from each side of the head is cut off and thrown away. In case
of female relations, some of the rotan rings which they wear round their waists
are cut through and set aside ; and they now resume the use of personal
ornaments. This action is represented as a last farewell to the dead.
The morning after the feast, the last duty to the dead is fulfilled. The
monument, if any, the bamboo imitation articles, the cast-off garments, with
food of all kinds are taken and arranged upon the grave. With this final
equipment, the dead are said to relinquish all claims upon the living, and to
go henceforward on their way, and to depend upon their own resources. But
before the Gawei antu is made they are thought to carry on a system of secret
depredations upon the eatables and drinkables of the living, in other words,
210 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.
to come for their share. When sitting down to his plate of rice, a Dyak will
sometimes be seen to throw a little under the house as a portion for a departed
one. And I have been told that in the morning the footprints of the dead are
sometimes visible in the paddy stores from which they have been supplying
themselves under cover of darkness. They are driven to such little foraging
expeditions, it is said, by the necessities of their position ; for the powers of
Hades look with contempt upon any who go thither insufficiently provisioned,
and even quarrel with them. And worse still is said to happen if this feast is
omitted altogether: the dead lose their personality, and are dissolved into
primitive earth. Hence charity to the dead and motives of economy urge the
Dyak to undertake the labour and expense of the Gawei aniu, the preparation
of which seriously hinders the farmwork, and diminishes the following year’s
crop of paddy.
According to ancient custom, this Feast of the Spirits could not be held
until a new human head had been procured, but this ghastly, yet valued,
ornament to the festival has now to be generally dispensed with.
Thus far I have, in the main, followed Dyak thought about death and the
afterstate as it is embodied in their tribal ceremonies and songs; but as might
be expected popular thought is not without its ideas and theories ; and these
supplement what has hitherto been said.
In the borderland, says the Dyak, between this world and the next, is
situated the house of the Bird bubut, a bird here, a spirit there, covering his
identity in human form. Every human spirit in the extremity of sickness
comes to this place : if it goes up into the house, by the influence of the bird
it returns to the body, which thereupon recovers ; but if it avoids the house,
as is more probable, because it is always in a filthy state of dirt and stench,
then it is well on its way to the other world. There is, however, another
chance for it at the ” Bridge of Fear,” a see-saw bridge stretching across the
Styx, and difficult to pass over : if the soul makes the passage successfully, it
is gone past recovery ; if it falls in the water, the cold bath wakes it up to a
sense of its real position, and determines it to retrace its steps.
After this, it seems, the soul has to pass the ** Hill of Fire.” Evil souls
are compelled to go straight over the hill with scorching fire on every side,
which nearly consumes them ; but good ones are led by an easy path round
the foot, and so escape the pain and danger.** This is the only connection in
which I have met with anything which suggests the idea of future retribution
for wrong doing in this life.
Dyaks attribute to the dead a disposition of mixed good and evil towards
the living, and so alternately fear and desire any imaginary contact with them.
As has been said before, they do not speak of taking a ** corpse” to the grave,
but an antu, a spirit ; as though the departed had already become a member
of that class of capricious unseen beings which are believed to be inimical to
men. They think the dead can rush from their secret habitations, and seize
48 «• According to the creed of the Badagas in Tamul India, the souls are obliged to pass by a
column of fire which consumes the sinful, and it is only after perils that they reach the land of the
blessed by a bridge of rope.” Peschkl, Races of Man, p. 284, quoting Baibrlein, Nach und aus
Lndien. — Ed. Jour. Straits Asiatic Soc.
Perham*s Sea Dyak Gods. 211
invisibly upon anyone passing by the cemetery, which is, therefore, regarded
as an awesome, dreaded place. But yet this fear does not obliterate affec-
tionate regard, and many a grave is kept clean and tidy by the loving care of
the living ; the fear being united with the hope of good, as they fancy the
dead may also have the will and the power to help them. I was once present
at the death of an old man, when a woman came into the room, and begged
him, insensible though he was, to accept a brass finger ring, shouting out to
him as she offered it : ** Here, grandfather, take this ring, and in Hades
remember I am very poor, and send me some paddy medicine that I may
get better harvests.” Whether the request was granted, I never heard.
Sometimes they seek communion with the dead by sleeping at their graves in
hope of getting some benefit from them through dreams, or otherwise. A
Dyak acquaintance of mine had made a good memorial covering over the
grave of his mother of an unusual pattern, and soon fell ill, in consequence,
some said, of this ghostly work. So he slept at her grave, feeling sure she
would help him in his need, but neither voice nor vision nor medicine came ;
and he was thoroughly disappointed. He said to me: **I have made a decent
resting-place for my mother, and now I am ill and ask her assistance, she
pays no attention. I think she is very ungrateful.” This belief in reciprocal
good offices between the dead and the living comes out again in those cases
where the remains of the dead are reverently preserved by the living. On
every festival occasion, they are presented offerings of food, etc., in return for
which these honoured dead are expected to confer substantial favours upon
their living descendants.
Their notions of the relationship of this world to the next, and of the
dead to the living, will be further illustrated by the story of Kadawa ; which
may also be taken as a specimen of their folklore.
Kadawa was a great cock-fighter, but had suffered successive defeats
from his fellow Dyaks. Irritated at being beaten in a sport he so dearly
loved, he started off to seek a cock of a particular white and red plumage,
called hiring grunggang, which he believed would bear down all others before
it. But a chanticleer of this peculiar plumage was a ** rara avis ” among
fowls ; and village after village was visited, and neither for love or money
could the coveted bird be got, for the simple reason that there were none.
Nothing daunted, he started off again to go further afield, and determined
not to return till he had succeeded in his quest. He travelled hither and
thither in the land of the Dvaks until he knew not where he was, and at
length arrived at the land of Mandai idup, the borderland between Hades and
this world, the inhabitants of which can visit one or the other as they wish.
Here a long village house appeared in sight. He went up the ladder into it ;
and to his astonishment it showed all the signs of being inhabited, even to
the fires burning on the hearth and the sounds of surrounding voices ; but
not a person could be seen ; so he shouted out : ** Ho, where are you all ? ”
Whereupon an unembodied voice answered : ” Is that you, Kadawa ? Sit
down and eat pinang and sirih. What do you want ? ” “I am come to beg
or buy a biting grunggang, fighting cock.” ** There is not one to be had here,
but if you go on to the next village, you will find one.” So Kadawa trudged
212 H. Ling Roth. — Natives of Sarawak and Brit. N. Borneo.
on, greatly wondering at the strangeness of a place peopled by bodiless
beings, talking, working phantoms of men and women. Soon after, he came
to a populous place, where many village-houses w^ere clustered together —
Mandai mati, the first district of the land of the dead ; but Kadawa knew it
not for it had nothing to remind him of death ; the people moved about,
spoke and had the same form and feature as his own neighbours ; moreover
they recognized and called him by name. They offered to give him a hiring
grunggang, which he gladly accepted. Having now obtained his object, he
was happy, and finding the people sociable and hospitable, he was in no
hurry to return, but remained with his new-found friends more than a year,
oblivious of home and its duties.
But what of his wife and child whom he had left behind in his
house ? She was grieved at his long absence, and at last resolved that he
must be dead, and she wept and bewailed him ; and at length she died of
The time came when the relations made the Gawei antu for her ; and the
wailer was bringing the company of guests from Hades to the feast. Just at
that time Kadawa had determined upon returning, and was securing his
fighting cock and buckling on his sword, when someone called to him to go
on the platform in front of the house, and pointed out to him a procession
marching along the hill opposite the house. Kadawa looked and saw in the
middle of the long train his own wife ; and it flashed upon him that his wife
was dead and he himself within the confines of deathland. Without speaking
a word he caught up his fighting cock, sword and spear and rushed to join
his wife. She repelled him, but in vain. At length they came to the stygian
lake and found a boat lying on the shore, into which they all hurried, trying
to keep Kadawa out ; but he vigorously persisted, and was allowed to embark.
After paddling several hours the boat struck upon a rock, and would not
move : all except Kadawa jumped out to pull her off, but she would not budge
an inch. Kadawa was called upon by his wife to help ; but he refused for
fear of being left behind — says his wife : ” Do you not know I am dead ?
What is the use of trying to follow me ? ” ** Let me die also, I will not leave
you.” ” Very well,” replied his wife, ** since you are resolved to come with
me, when we get to the house, you will find some dried sugar cane over the
fire place : eat that, and you will be able to bear me company. Now get out,
and help to pull the boat off the rock.” He jumped out, and as soon as his
feet touched the rock, boat, people and lake vanished, and he found himself
standing at his own doorstep.
But no pleasure did his return bring him, for he found his friends making
the last farewell feast for his wife. He neither ate nor drank nor shared in
the festivities ; but kept in his own room till all was over when he thought of
the sugar cane over the fireplace. He searched for it, but found nothing
more than a roll of poisonous tuba *® root : again and again he looked but
nothing else was there ; so he concluded that this was what his wife meant
by the sugar cane. He spoke sorrowfully to his neighbours and told them he
♦* Cocfulus indicus, — Ed. Jour. Str. Asiatic Soc.
Perham’s Sea Dyak Gods. 213
should not live long, and begged them to be kind to his orphan boy and give
him his inheritance : then he returned to his room wrapped a blanket round
him and laid himself on the floor chewed the fatal root and joined his wife in
I have thus traced the general belief of the Sarawak Sea Dyak about his
future existence. There are, however, exceptions to it. Occasionally the idea
of metempsychosis is met with. At one time the spirit of a man is said to
have passed into an alligator; at another into a snake, etc., the knowledge of
it being always revealed by dreams. Sometimes a Dyak will deny the
possibility of any future existence ; but only I think to serve the purpose of
an argument. But these, wherever found, are deviations from the general
But it is no gloomy Tartarus, nor is it any superior happy Elysium to
which the Dyak looks forward ; but a simple prolongation of the present state
of things in a new sphere. The dead are believed to build houses, make
paddy farms, and go through all the drudgery of a labouring life, and to be
subject to the same inequalities of condition and of fortune as the living are
here. And as men helped each other in life, so death, they think, need not
cut asunder the bond of mutual interchanges of kindly service ; they can
assist the dead with food and other necessaries : and the dead can be equally
generous in bestowing upon them medicines of magical virtue, amulets and
talismans of all kinds to help them in the work of life. This sums up the
meaning of their eschatological observances which perhaps exceed those of
most other races of mankind.
But this future life does not, in their minds, extend to an immortality.
Death is still the inevitable destiny. Some Dyaks say they have to die three
times ; others seven times ; but all agree in the notion, that after having
become degenerated by these successive dyings, they become practically
annihilated by absorption into air and fog, or by a final dissolution into
various jungle plants not recognised by any name. May be, they lack the
mental capacity to imagine an endless state of liveable life.