CHAPTER XXXIV

FUNERAL CUSTOMS OF THE KATINGANS - DEPARTURE FROM KASUNGAN - AN ATTEMPTED VISIT TO SEMBULO - INDIFFERENT MALAYS - A STRANGE DISEASE - THE BELIEF IN TAILED PEOPLE - THE LEGEND OF THE ANCESTOR OF TAILED MEN

When a liao departs through the top of the head and death occurs, gongs are beaten for twenty-four hours. Five or six men set to work to make a beautiful coffin similar to the one already described; this is often finished in a day and the corpse, having been washed, is immediately placed within it. For a man a new chavat of wood fibre is adjusted around the loins, without other vestments. Another day is consumed in the work of decorating the coffin, which is done by men, while women weave diminutive mats, which are left less than half finished and are laid on top of the casket. For three days and as many nights the remains are kept in the house, and, if a man, his duhong (ancient knife), parang, knife, spear, sumpitan, betel box, tobacco container, and much food are placed nearby.

After these matters have received attention, food is eaten by those present. Fires are kept burning within the house and also outside, and after each meal the people strike one another's legs with firebrands in order to forget their grief. Members of the family, who begin to wail immediately after his death, continue to do so constantly for seven days, and they wear no red garments until after the tiwah feast which constitutes his second funeral. The coffin is buried in the ground or placed on a crude platform, and, when this work is finished, thorough ablution in water containing leaves which possess qualities especially adapted to this purpose is the rule for everybody concerned. This is done to the end that no odour of the dead shall linger, thus exposing the living to danger from the bad antoh that is responsible for the unfortunate event which necessitated their recent activities. Later, all partake of tuak, including the children.

After this preliminary disposal of the body the family begins to plan for the second and final funeral, which is considered a compensation to the departed soul for the property he left behind. Caution demands that they be very punctilious about this, for the ghost, though believed to be far above this plane, is thought to be resentful, with power to cause misfortunes of various kinds and therefore is feared. Until recently, when a man of means died, a slave had to be killed and his head placed on top of the coffin. When time for the second funeral, the tiwah, came round another slave was killed and his head hung near by. They are his attendants in the next life, but many more and elaborate arrangements are necessary to satisfy the demands of the liao, and they must be fully complied with on the celebration of the tiwah, the most elaborate of all feasts in Borneo.

When the deceased is well-to-do this observance may follow immediately, but usually years go by and many liaoes are served at the same time. On the great occasion the coffin is put on a big fire for a couple of hours until the flesh has been burned from the bones, which are then collected in a small box and placed in a house of limited proportions especially constructed for this purpose and called sandung. It is made of ironwood, and in these regions the people have a preference for placing it high above the ground, but it may also be put underground in a subterranean chamber also made of ironwood, which may take five or six months to construct and which is large enough to accommodate a family. The feast lasts one week, during which food and tuak are provided. Every night the women dance inside the house, around a tree composed of many bamboo stalks placed together so as to form a large trunk. As elsewhere mentioned, (Chapter XIV), the dancing, which is similar to that which follows the harvest, is for the benefit of the ghost and is distinct from the usual performance.

As soon as the tiwah feast has been decided upon the people start simultaneously to perfect the various arrangements, some looking for a water-buffalo or two, others beginning to make the several contrivances which the occasion demands. Many men are thus occupied for several months. There are experts in the required handiwork, though a skilful man may be capable of performing all the various tasks. In earlier days the different memorials and the box containing the bones were placed in front of the house of the deceased, but of late years government officials have made some changes in this arrangement. When preparing for a tiwah feast it was the custom to close the river for perhaps three months by suspending a rattan rope on which were hung many spears of wood, tail feathers of the great hornbill, and leaves of certain trees. After a head had been secured the impediment was removed, but the government has forbidden the temporary obstruction.

A most important matter is the construction of the device to which the water-buffalo, formerly the slave, is tied when sacrificed. In its make-up it expresses symbolically the rules of behaviour for the widow until after the feast has been celebrated. Its name is panyanggaran, an obscure word which probably may be derived from sangar, which means to kill; the place of killing.