Tuesday Tales #9: Hunyang Lahe/Hunyaang Bulaan (Spirit Of The Paddy)

Reading Time: 2 minutes
(This is Tuesday Tales, where we highlight folklores and personal stories from indigenous peoples from all across Borneo. These are stories shared with us. We strive to edit it to the best of our capabilities for your enjoyment. We welcome your feedback at hello@thetuyang.com)

Origin: Kayan communities
As told and written by: Adrian Jo Milang
Edited by: John Wan Usang, Juvita Tatan Wan
Sketch by: Adrian Jo Milang

Long ago, there was an aristocratic lady of exceptional beauty and exemplary behaviour from the Kayan community of Central Borneo, named Hunyang Lahe or Unyaang Bulaan. She was loved and adored by all who knew her for her kindness, humility and grace. 

One day, during lemali (a period when a ritual has been carried out and certain aspects of work or livelihood is forbidden or tabooed), she was sewing,  an  act that was forbidden to be carried out during the lemali. Her mother reminded her to halt her work, but she subtly replied and said she was almost done.

Shortly after, a bad omen struck. 

She accidentally pricked her finger with the needle and it started to bleed profusely until she became weak. Before she took her last breath, she told the people of her village,

“When I pass away, I will be transformed into paddy, which you will plant, cultivate and harvest. When you are having a feast, accompany me in your meal with meat, fish and vegetables, so they become my friends”.

By the end of her words, she drew her last breath. 

Her village then held a funeral in her honour. As they were carrying her to her final resting place, and just as they approached the graveyard, her coffin fell from the shoulders of the carriers. Instantly, volumes of pare (unhusked paddy) poured out to the ground. The folks were astonished to see this supernatural phenomenon. They then divided it equally amongst those who were present.

From then on, the Kayan people had discontinued planting the pare aya’ batong (large sized rice grains) which was more difficult to cultivate and harvest, but had instead cultivated the new rice variety.

To show their gratitude for her, as well as to pray for her blessings for the next harvest, in one part of the rituals during the end of harvest celebration known as Dange, a practice in the ancient belief of the Kayan people known as the Adet Dipui, the dayung (shamanic priest or priestess), would ‘visit’ her in the spirit realm. Bringing with them gifts of adornment and thankfulness in chants and songs of praises for her sacrifice.

Manuk sebarakaangko,
manuk ilaang ulo,
pune ngigit ngige te’ hait barah lulo,
pedarayaak dahin anaak na’ t’ujung ango,
t’ujung awing salung Nulo [?hulo],
taphia’ pawa’ medo
anun Nunyaang Bulaan Silo,
hipui balui huso pare jeno,
so tayo lavuu’ ugaal.”


The bird with slope stripes,
Punai, that pecks the branch of the trees that it alights on the shores,
Lined up with it hatchlings on dried branches,
Illuminated on the empty gravehut,
Of Unyaang Bulaan Silo,
The hipui lady that became paddy,
For planting and cultivation.”

Her salong (grave hut/slab stone tomb) is still around today somewhere in the heart of Central Borneo. Few have been able to find it in centuries.  

Disclaimer : This version of this tale is as told by the elders in the various Kayan communities. As all the versions are very similar except the name of the persona turned deity, do note that this is not a generalised version but we strive to edit it to ease the understanding for everyone.

Note for the sketch: Image recalled from a photo taken of the actual gravehut/ slab stone tomb.

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