Friday, December 08, 2006

Spooky Burial Rites to Lure Tourists

Spooky burial rites to lure tourists

MUKAH: Sarawak’s largest coastal town and the Melanau heartland are preparing to lure visitors who want to be spooked for a change.

The Melanaus, who are seafarers with their civilisation dating back 1,000 years, at one time practiced pagan burial rituals where slaves were sacrificed to accompany their masters to the next world.

The petrifying ritual, though now part of history, will add a new dimension to the attractions offered by Mukah and its 130,000 dwellers.

Mukah administrative Division deputy resident Dr Anthony Valentine Laiseh hopes to lure visitors with “suspended coffins” and the totem poles, the remnants of the ancient burial custom.

Melanaus in the early days buried their dead in a coffin resembling a boat made of belianwood and placed on a platform suspended about 2m from the ground.
There are about 30 suspended coffins in an old cemetery behind the Lamin Dana Cultural Centre in Kampong Tellian Tengah, about seven minutes drive from the town.

The Melanaus in the early days did not bury their dead. Instead, they were put in a coffin resembling a boat made of belian wood and placed on a platform suspended about 2m from the ground, he explained.

The cemetery had the most number of such coffins at a single site, he said, adding that they were believed to be more than 100 years old.

If visitors find the coffins and the cemetery not spooky enough, the savage legend behind the totem poles of the aristocratic class will certainly unnerve them.

Dr Anthony, himself a local Melanau, narrated that when an aristocrat died, the body would be placed in the suspended coffin but after a year the remains would be gathered in a jar and placed on the totem pole.

The Melanau custom demanded that in erecting the pole, one or two slaves to be crushed to death at its base. Another one or two slaves were to be tied on the pole and left to die of hunger and thirst to accompany the aristocrat to the next world.

However, the British adventurer Sir James Brooke banned this cruel practice when he became the Rajah of Sarawak in 1842. Noted British traveller and historian Sir Hugh Low in his book “Sarawak and Its Inhabitants 1848” also recorded his observations on the practice.

Chong Chin Seng, a former part-time lecturer of Universiti Sains Malaysia in his 1987 book Traditional Melanau Woodcarving (Bilum) In Dalat, Sarawak noted that the Melanaus erected the totem poles in front of their houses.

Usually, they are made of belian wood and can reach the height of about 12m to 15m. Two types of poles have been observed, one carved and called the Kelideng while the other was the Jerunei that looks plain.

Chong further stated in his book that the Kelideng was also used in ancient rituals to ward off disasters. Should the community be threatened, a young maiden was placed inside the totem pole and only given drinking water until she died.

This sacrifice was to appease angry spirits from cursing villagers with epidemic and other natural disasters.

The state has granted a RM10mil grant to bring Mukah’s tourism potential to greater heights. From the total, RM2mil has been allocated for upgrading the Kala Dana Kaul site, RM4mil to transform the Dalat waterfront and RM1mil for a schooner with tourist facilities.

The schooner that is to sail along the Kenyana River will serve as a reminder to the new generation on the sailing prowess of their fearless seafaring forefathers who traded and sailed to the outside world.

“The Kenyana is a breeding centre for high quality Arowana fish. Along the way, tourists will be able to see traditional Melanau villages and observe their way of life.”

Mukah offers visitors a variety of local food especially seafood marinated in chilli, lime and a salt known as umai and sago delights.

“Hopefully, we can revive the traditional boat procession bearing the Serahang – the main offering to the gods – and others like the mask dance.

So why not head for Mukah and get spooked for a change. – Bernama

Source : STAR

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