04 June 2010

Separation Ritual (Death Ritual)

Once upon a time, the Dusuns conducted a separation ritual for a widow. I sat with an elderly aunt-in-law and listened to her fascinating recount of the ritual. This is her point of view:

"Now you would think that it is because of sadness that a widow turns mentally unstable. But we used to think that it was because the separation ritual wasn't conducted properly, thus the spirit of the spouse kept coming back to her. To us, the living and the dead cannot mix. That would bring harms- in the form of illnesses. That is why it is very important to have this ritual conducted immediately after the burial."

The dead was buried as soon as all the family members were gathered. If it was inevitable that the family had to wait for any family members who came from a distance, a wake would be held. Somebody had to stay awake near the coffin the whole night long. They took turn to sleep. No music was allowed. The only sound allowed was an incessant gong beat for a few minutes, immediately after the person died, to announce the death to all the villagers.

The family of the dead had to provide meals for the visitors. If the family was well-off, they would slaughter a buffalo. Otherwise, they would just slaughter chickens. The meal provision lasted till after the burial.

When the dead had been buried, the separation ritual for the widow would be done. A momolian (bobolian, bobohizan) "wise woman"/"shaman" would perform the ritual. (Unfortunately, the aunt had so much to tell me we didn't have the time to go through the step-by-step of the ritual). She would command the spirit of the spouse to stay in his new world, and not come home to their spouse anymore, for death separated them, and the bond they once had was severed. After the ritual, the spouse was expected to go on living a normal life.

The mourning period was three days. For three days, none of the family members was allowed to work or leave the house. They were expected to cry and got over it within that period so they can move on after.

Tough. The Dusuns do not like wallowing in sadness, much less self-pity. They are supposed to do a one off expression of sadness session and move on. This leads me to one question: with regards to sadness, how Dusun am I?


TataJane said...

sometimes maybe psychology juga tu kn..i mean, the belief on must do the ritual makes them mcm klu tida buat they feel like they will sick, cannot go on an so on..

once they do the ritual, they will be so much confident to go on living a normal life..

GladysDavid said...

That's exactly what happened when my grandfather died in 2008. Relatives gathered from near and far and the siblings (my grandpa's children) stayed awake, recounting old stories and mapping the family tree.

LAMyers said...

Hi, I'm sorry, this isn't actually a comment on your fabulous blog. I'm an unpublished author working on some short stories and have set one in Sabah. I could use some sanity checking, if you are at all inclined. I couldn't find any other way of contacting you. my website is www.lamyers.com.au if you would like to look at that in considering your response. Thank you.

azamain said...

It has become a tradition,a way of expressing what was felt about the gone loved one for the Dusuns and it somehow manage to control the grief during the period. It changes somehow,in recent decades by way of having educations but it thrived with adaptations. I personally think it should be continued for the purpose of conveying what the Dusuns has in facing situations in life. There are a lot more,I presume, that is not in my knowledge.....:)

Verone said...

tata, gladys, and azamain- yes, I think it's kind of psychological. There have been a lot of changes through the years apparently. And I'm only starting to realize this myself...for example, at least three phases have occured in the burial ceremony since the 1930s: breaking one's floor so that the dead body fell on the ground and be left there to 'rest', burial by jars, and burial by coffins. We have a lot of work to do to unearth all these :-)
Lamyers- will drop by :-)