Tuesday Tales #11: End of Harvest (Part 1)

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(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)

Borneo Indigenous Communities End of Harvest Celebrations

Most of the indigenous peoples of Borneo that plant and cultivate rice celebrate their long and tedious endeavour at the end of the harvest. Here are some lesser known harvest celebrations by some of the smaller communities.

Compiled by: Adrian Jo Milang
Featured image by: Adrian Jo Milang
Jok or Kayo’ Jok (Kayan shamanic altar) at Ledoh celebration,
Uma Nyaving, 2016

of the Punan, Sekapan, Kejaman, Lahanan (Kajang) people

Pesavik is one of the lesser known harvest celebrations of Sarawak minority indigenous communities. It was last celebrated in mid 20th century.

It was only recently revived last year in May at a Punan Bah village in Sungai Asap, Belaga (Sarawak). The Punan Bah stopped celebrating it when they converted to Bungan. The other reason why the practice went to a halt was because it was mainly a celebration for warriors in their triumph in headhunting. 

Back then this celebration was costly, because only those who had acquired an ample amount of harvest, or possessed skulls would celebrate. The occasion wasn’t carried out communally or at the same time in one longhouse, but rather from room to room because of the difference in the harvest rates of each family. It would go on up to four days or even a week, for those who are able to afford the numerous guests. 

During then, harvest rituals are coherently carried out. There is little known about the entire practice, but it is known that a part of it is in “feeding” the human skulls that have been acquired with pig’s blood.

It is said that this is a must, to appease the spirit of the skull or in Punan Bah known as otu utuak. It is also believed that the spirit of the skull bless their owner with good harvest. 

of the Kayan people (in Tubau, Balui, Belaga in Sarawak)

The harvest celebration of the Kayan people of central Borneo, especially in Sarawak is called Ledoh.

The Kayans started to celebrate Ledoh or Lemdoh when they converted to Bungan from Adat Dipui, early in the 20th century. But the practice was abandoned after another wave of conversion to a new religion – Christianity.

But Ledoh was brought back to life in 2015 by the Sg. Asap Kayan. In the days of Bungan – on the day that the celebration begins, the dayong (shamanic priest) would lift an egg on the verandah to tell the spirits to descend and join the people in the human world for the occasion. 

During this time the dayong shamans would spend up to weeks or even over a month, going from room to room (the units within the longhouse) or longhouse to longhouse carrying out private or communal rituals for each family or village.  They would chant and dance from the evening to the break of dawn around the juk (ritualistic offering altar), singing for the blessings of the spirits for their host.

These dayong shamans are then compensated in beads, money or some other mediums for their work. After the nitty gritty part happens, the merrymaking would follow with songs and dances and visits to each other’s room.

A part of the whole celebration none like others is called Melengayo, an exclusively male only practice. The men of the longhouse, young and old alike, would gather on the chiefs verandah then from there march down to a spot where they would be ngaping (cleansing of the soul and being) by the dayong. Back then it would involve hitting a skull with a malat (battle machete) as their hands are assisted by the dayong.

For the younger ones and some of those who are going into adolescence, this was a gesture showing that they “had” taken heads, or in other words, a blessing from the elders for them to do so when they grow up to the age.

Nevertheless, in recent years this part of the ritual has been put to halt.

When the men come back from a successful ‘headhunting’, they are greeted by their womenfolk by having their feet washed with jakan tevo’ (sugarcane wine) as they stomp their feet marching with cheer and war cry their way around the longhouse then back to the chief’s verandah.

From that point on, the boys and men who were involved aren’t allowed to go back into their rooms. Prior to this, a specific space for them would be prepared. Rituals for the melengayo, feasting, sleeping and all are done at this space. The rest of the longhouse folk are strictly not allowed to enter.

Then when dawn breaks, the dayong would lift an egg again for a final prayer to mark the end of the long ritual and the whole celebration, in general. 

Image: Charles Hose, Circa 1912

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