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Appeasing the gods
by Peter Sibon. Posted on November 18, 2010, Thursday
KAPIT: The grandest of the Iban ‘miring’ ceremonies, ‘muja menua’, was held yesterday at the mouth of Sungai Melatai, a tributary of the Baleh River, to appease the gods whose anger was believed by locals to be the cause of the massive debris-jam that clogged the Baleh and the Rajang rivers early last month.
MAKE PEACE WITH THE GODS: Nabau takes the lead in the ‘miring’ ceremony. — Photo by Chimon Upon
A ‘miring’ is a traditional Iban ceremony held to atone for wrongs committed by humans against nature that caused the spirits to punish them through disasters or sickness.
So massive was the recent debris-jam that the Ibans in the upper reaches of the Rajang and along Baleh River decided that only a ‘miring muja menua’, the mother of all miring, could calm the gods and ward off any more retribution from them.
This miring could only be performed by a high ranking priest, and Nabau Tutong, 85, of Entawau was chosen to lead the ceremony.
“The unusual occurrence is perceived by the Ibans as manifestation of the wrath of the gods towards humans for their disrespectful manners while harnessing their natural resources.
“To the Ibans, this is a warning to humans to be more respectful to their environment when exploiting the natural resources like timber,” said Minister of Land Development Dato Sri Dr James Masing.
The muja menua was held on both banks of Sungai Melatai and after the rituals had been performed no one was allowed to use Melatai River, from the mouth to the source near the Indonesian border, for the next three days.
“Whoever disobeys this warning will be fined RM100,000 by the local community and they will be cursed by the spirits whom we have invoked during the ceremony because if they do it, whatever we do today is nullified,” said Nabau.
The muja menua was held early yesterday morning before sunrise to avoid bad omens brought by certain birds crossing the path of the ceremonial party going to the site of the rituals.
“Should there be ‘bad’ birds crossing our path then the whole ceremony will have to be cancelled,” stressed Nabau.
Two adult male pigs were sacrificed by Masing and the priests.
The heads of the pigs were buried on both sides of the banks where its blood was believed to appease the anger of the gods and the carcasses were thrown into the river to cleanse it from sins against nature committed by men and to revive the waters of the rivers and streams.
“We pray to the gods to fill our rivers again with fish of all kinds and our jungles with animals,” said Nabau, adding that the logjam had wiped out the entire fish population in the rivers and harmed the animals in the area.
Prior to this main ceremony, another miring was performed on Tuesday evening to start the ‘muja menua’.
“Since we started the opening miring ceremony, it has been raining heavily. The rain is truly a good sign as it is a blessing from the gods whom we have been praying to.
“This muja menua will not be performed again as long as there no disaster of the same magnitude befalls us,” said Nabau.
To complete the ceremony, 30 plates on bamboo holders were placed on each bank of the river.
“Today we have 60 plates. Normally we only have seven. From this, you can tell the magnitude of the ceremony,” Nabau said.
The ceremony was attended by more than 200 longhouse chiefs living along the Baleh River and 52 longboats were used to ferry them to the Melatai river mouth.
Ulu Sungai Melatai had been identified as the main source of the debris-jam on Oct 7.
Deputy Minister of Land and Regional Development Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun, Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office John Sikie Tayai, political secretaries, Temenggong Dato James Jimbun, heads of departments and community leaders were among those present at the ceremony.