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Sepatukng Belontakng statues of the Benuaq Ohookng Dayak and some protective spirits depicted on them.


The Benuaq Ohookng Dayak referred to in this paper live in four villages, namely Lempunah, Pentat, Muara Nayan, and Mancong, all of them situated along the small Ohong River (Okookng in their language) in the Tanjung Isui area in East Kalimantan, Kutai Barat, Kecamatan Jempang. Each village is comprised of a longhouse, plus additional single-family houses built around it. The Benuaq are animists and believe in many kinds of territorial spirits which are thought to roam the environment. These spirits are variously associated with the water, forest, trees, sky, birds, the earth, and the village. Most spirits are benevolent if they are rewarded by the beliatn (shamans) with adequate offerings during periodic guguq tautng rituals. During the guguq tautng, or 'going (through) the year' ritual, the spirits of a longhouse region are collectively invoked, called into the longhouse, and presented offerings by the shamans over a series of weeks, either as an act of thanksgiving for a successful year or to seek release from hardships caused, for example, by an epidemic of illness, major crop failure, or an attack of padi pests. These spirits, however, may also punish people who disregard village adat by causing them to fall sick.

Funerary adat and the great guguq tautng ritual

The Benuaq perform both primary and secondary burial rituals. The body of a deceased person is initially interred following a brief ceremony two to five days after death. The grave in which the body is buried is generally covered by a roofed construction. Some personal items of the deceased and woven textiles are placed on the grave or hung from a beam erected over it because the Benuaq believe that the soul of the deceased is still present in this world. Generally, after some years, the bones are unearthed and a large secondary funeral ritual, called kwangkai, is held. Typically, it lasts at least a week or longer, depending upon the wealth of the sponsoring family. At the end of this period, the soul is guided by the nyahuq bird spirits to join the souls of the ancestors on Mount Saikng Lumut in the other world. In this world, this mountain is represented by Mount Lumut, an actual mountain in Central Kalimantan sacred to many Benuaq Dayaks. The bones of the deceased are enshrined in an intricately carved wooden coffin-like container which is fixed on top of a wooden post, 2-3 meters high. This whole structure is called a tempelaq. Alternatively, the container holding the bones is fixed on two posts and is called a kelerekng. Families who can afford it, also erect a carved sepatukng belontakng statue, or belontakng for short, at the funeral site. The sepatukng belontakng generally stand about two meters tall and depict a human figure, or, in some instances, several figures. These figures generally stand on a tempayan jar (a large antique Chinese jar) and, in the case of those erected at the time of kwngkai, face westward.

During the kwangkai secondary funeral rites these statues become the temporary resting place of the soul of the deceased, and sacrificial buffaloes are tied to them (in former times, probably a slave). After the conclusion of the ritual, the belontakng is left in place as a memory-statue commemorating the kwangkai ritual. During recent decades most families have fallen into the habit of selling their belontakng to antique dealers in Samarinda after the ritual is over in order to recover some of the money they spent financing the kwangkai ritual.

On these statues a protective tonoi (earth or village spirit) is depicted embracing the human figure in the form of a snake. Juata (water spirits) that similarly protect the human figure appear in the form of a crocodile or a fish, mostly attached to the back of the figure, while the protective timang spirit, depicted as a dog-like tiger, generally sits on the head or at the feet of the figure.

Tall belontakng statues are also erected on the occasion of guguq tautng rituals. These statues also show a human figure, but, in this case, mostly that of a beliatn (shaman). These statues, by contrast, always face toward the east and protective spirits are not depicted on the belontakng erected during guguq tautng rituals.

In this paper I try to show some traditional kwangkai and guguq tautng statues which were still in situ at the time I began my work among the Benuaq Ohookng. They are nearly all gone now. They have either been sold or have rotted away.

As we have noted, images of protective spirits are depicted only on the kwangkai statues. They are meant to protect the soul of the deceased from malevolent ghosts during the kwangkai ritual. Terrifying faces on these statues are also meant to scare away malevolent ghosts.

The most frequently depicted protective spirits on the kwangkai statues are powerful timang (tiger) spirits, tonoi (earth or village spirits), and juata (water spirits). The timang spirit is depicted as a dog-like tiger, a tonoi spirit appears like a thick snake, and a juata spirit takes the form of a crocodile or fish. The timang generally sits on the head of the figure or between its legs. A tonoi surrounds the body, visible mostly on the chest, and a crocodile-shaped juata occupies mostly the back of the figure.

The guguq tautng ritual is directed to the world of the spirits. The statues used during this ritual do not bear images of spirits and the figures carved on them face eastward. A buffalo, which will be sacrificed during the ritual, is dedicated to each of these statues.

The belontakng numbered 1 through 7 have only a protective timang tiger spirit, squatting between the legs in No. 1 and No. 4, and sitting on the heads of the other figures, while figure No.8 is additionally protected with a tonoi village or earth spirit depicted as a thick snake on the chest. Several of the belontakng depict two humans, and No.4, three.

Belontakng Photo 9, with a timang on the head of the figure, stands in front of the Lempunah longhouse. The male figure, Photo 10, has a child sitting on his phallus, a timang between the legs and a snake-shaped tonoi on the head (only the head of the snake is visible). Photo 11 is a belontakng meant for a deceased mother with child. The newer belontakng are no longer colorfully painted.




Statue No. 12 has a timang on the head, a crocodile-shaped juata on the front of the body, and a snake-shaped tonoi. The snake's head and front section is visible on the tail of the crocodile, while the rest is coiled around the figure. Photo 13 bears a juata spirit on the back and a timang on the head. Other figures on the statue are not associated with protective spirits. Statue No. 14, photographed by the author at Lempunah in 1976, is a very special one. The mustached male figure is protected by a thick black tonoi snake on his chest and by a trophy skull taken during headhunting at his feet. Because no kwangkai secondary funeral is performed for a headhunting victim, the skull still harbors the victim's soul and can be asked for protection if adequate offerings are dedicated to the skull. Such skulls are called kelelungan merwaaq or kelelungan panyan tuhq and their spirits are considered to be very powerful. The blue eyes of the figure have no special meaning.

Photos 15 and 16 are of an extremely well-carved statue seen here from two sides. A female figure sits at the head of a male figure. A juata (crocodile), a tonoi (snake), and two timang (tiger) spirits protect them. A buffalo head at the bottom represents the kwangkai offering.

Photo 17 shows a kwangkai belontakng statue. The two terrifying faces are meant to scare away malevolent ghosts. The two buffalo heads at the bottom and the two small pig heads on the sides represent the blood offerings made during the kwangkai ritual. At the head of the statue is a timang figure embraced by a tonoi snake. The mask on the chest of the figure is also framed by two tonoi. Another small figure at the side appears to have no special meaning.

Photo no. 18 shows a distant rear view of a kwangkai belontakng facing westward with a light blue juata and a black tonoi on its back. At the forefront is a belontakng from a great guguq tautng ritual depicting a crowned beliatn (shaman) facing eastward with his "leaf sword" in the right hand, its leaves taken from the biowo (Cordyline fruticosa), which enables him to fend off malevolent spirits. In his left hand, he holds a small bowl with two torches.


Photo 19 shows at the left side a statue from a guguq tautng ritual facing eastward. The exceptional human figures are symbolic offerings to the spirits to gain special blessings. The other belontakng is from a kwangkai funeral and faces westward.

Photos 20 and 21 show statues from guguq tautng rituals, both facing eastward. They are equipped with biowo leaf swords, which they use to fight off evil spirits. Because the guguq tautng ritual is dedicated to the world of the spirits, these figures are not accompanied by protective spirits. The sacrificial buffalo is bound to them by a rattan rope.

Photo no. 22 shows the head of a portrait-like ironwood kwangkai statue. It depicts the late Kepala Adat (Customary Chief) from the Lempunah longhouse. His belontakng was set up on the occasion of his kwangkai ritual in 2009 (Photo 23). His photograph (Photo 24) was taken in 1985. He had adopted the author in 1978 because he had no son. Therefore, the adoptive son had to contribute to his kwangkai funeral. In the distant past, a headhunting raid was executed following the death of a chief and a severed head was placed in a hole in the ground into which the belontakng was inserted. In 2009, a young chicken had to suffice, as shown in Photo 25.





Protective spirits depicted on Benuaq textiles

The Benuaq Dayak weave ikat textiles using the fibers of the doyo, or Curculigo latifolia, plant. These fabrics are called ulap doyo. They weave more than twenty different ikat motifs. Most of them depict a simplified image of a protective spirit. The spirit is meant to protect the wearer of the vest or skirt.

Photo 26 depicts a crocodile on an ikat fabric which is a symbol of the protective juata water spirits. Fish also symbolize these spirits. The water spirits create the rainbow and protect women during pregnancy and delivery. They also cause diarrhea. A juata fish motif on a woman's ulap doyo skirt, as in Photo 27, is meant to protect her during menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth.




Photo 28 shows a vest with many ikat bands depicting tonoi snakes. The wearer is thought to be protected by these village or earth spirits. The tonoi spirits also protect Dayak heirlooms, like antique Chinese antaakn jars (tempayan), genikng (old gongs), kentangan (sets of six small gongs), traditional mandau (inherited swords), and blowpipes along with poisoned darts in a quiver.

Besides ikat cloth, the Benuaq also produce wrap-around skirts made from cotton, called ulap tumbal. The front of these skirts is adorned with individually designed embroidery using colorful yarns. The skirt in Photo 29 shows two fish symbolizing helpful juata water spirits, and on the ulap tumbal in Photo 30 two blue snakes probably stand for protective tonoi spirits. Women wearing these garments feel well protected. (Objects depicted in Photos 26 through 30 are from the author's personal collection).


All photographs were taken by the author.



Relevant writings by the author on Benuaq textiles

The "palang" design on ceremonial Indonesian textiles and its cultural-historic background represented with archaeological monuments. The International Conference on the Diversity of Nusantara Ikat Weaving: 29-46. Jakarta Museum Nasional, 2003.

Traditional ikats and textiles of the Dayak Benuaq and some indigenous bark cloths. Textile Society of Hong Kong: 2009, vol. 17/1: 6-11. Hong Kong.

Die Fasern einer Russellilie liefern die traditionelle Bekleidung der Benuaq Dayak und ihrer Geister in Borneo. KITA 2/2009: 78-87.

Traditionelle Bekleidung aus Fasern der Russel-Lilie (Curculigo latifolia) der Benuaq Dayak in Borneo. Der Palmengarten 2/2009: 132-135.

Herwig Zahorka
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Author:Zahorka, Herwig
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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