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The UNDP equator prize ceremony (Nui Ulung Agung) at long Pa'sia, Sabah, and beyond.


At the 12th Annual Meeting of FORMADAT, (1) the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo, held at Long Pa'Sia, Sabah on November 29, 2016, we were pleasantly surprised when it was announced that the members of FORMADAT from Long Pa'Sia (2) had decided to hold an nui ulung ceremony the next day in honor of FORMADAT having been awarded the United Nations Development Program's Equator Prize in 2015. (3) We were told the specific name of the ceremony was nui ulung agung.

A nui ulung ceremony requires a decorative wooden post (ulung) and an earthen monument. The latter may be formed in one of three shapes: as an earthen crocodile called an ulung buayeh, a serpent called an ulung darung, or a gong, called an ulung agung. The ceremonies are named, more specifically, for the particular kind of monument used in performing them.

The ancestors of the people of Long Pa'Sia performed in the past at least two of these ceremonies on a regular basis judging from the evidence of crocodile and serpent mounds in the area. Bilcher Bala and Baszley Bee B. Basrah Bee (2010), who carried out an ethno-archaeological investigation in the villages of Long Pa'Sia and Long Mio, in the Upper Padas, found at least ten crocodile mounds from past ulung buayeh ceremonies performed by the ancestors of the people of these two villages. Ipoi Datan (2015:131) mentions one serpent mound in the Long Pa'Sia area, the remnant of a ulung darung ceremony. I must admit it was not really a surprise that members of FORMADAT from Long Pa'Sia had decided to perform an ulung ceremony to celebrate the UNDP Equator Prize, and so, in doing so, revive a long-abandoned tradition.

Varieties of Nui Ulung Ceremonies

Ancestors of the Lundayeh of the Upper Padas in Sabah and their cousins across the border in Krayan, as well as the Lun Bawang of neighboring Sarawak observed several varieties of nui ulung ceremonies. The most important were ulung buayeh and ulung darung.

Both the ulung buayeh and ulung darung were originally headhunting ceremonies. When a group of warriors returned from a successful headhunting expedition they would hold either a nui ulung buayeh or a nui ulung darung ceremony. Prior to the ceremony a huge image of a crocodile or serpent was constructed out of mud. Once the image was completed the soil was pummeled to harden it for durability. Pebbles were placed on its body to represent scales and eyes. One or two decorated poles (ulung) with spiral wood shavings hanging at the top were erected flanking the earthen reptile.

The ceremony began with the leading warrior making cuts from the tail to the head of the earthen crocodile or serpent; each cut representing a single head trophy and the sum total of cuts, the number of heads the warrior had taken in various expeditions. He then indulged himself in an ostentatious boast (nengadan) (4) about his prowess. Following him came the other warriors who made similar cuts in the effigy and uttered their boasts. After the completion of the boasting, a group of women and men led the warriors to walk around the effigy mound, singing (pekuab) a praise song, or kuab. (5) The kuab was sung by an accomplished kuab singer, a female, who composed the lyrics impromptu, with the rest of the people in the procession joining her by singing the chorus. Celebration continued into the night with an irau nui ulung (night of festivity). The night's events included dancing, singing the kuab song, eating, drinking, and perhaps more boasting.

Not much is known of the ulung agung. It is not entirely clear for whom or on what occasion the ceremony was held in the past. In a short briefing given to members of the FORMADAT delegation from Bario, Ba Kelalan, and Long Semado, on the morning of Wednesday, November 30, 2016, the Long Pa'Sia headman, Mudin Sia, explained:
In the past economically well-to-do individuals would hold an ulung
agung ceremony to leave a mark on the landscape for posterity. An ulung
agung ceremony was also held in conjunction with a wedding ceremony for
couples whose parents were wealthy or well-known in the area. A
villager who journeyed far beyond the village boundaries to seek a
fortune in distant lands and upon his return brought back valuable
items such as beads, jars and buffaloes, as well as knowledge of the
outside world would hold a nui ulung agung ceremony as a way of sharing
his experience, thereby enhancing his status in the village and beyond.
These were the occasions when an ulung agung ceremony was held in the

The last known ulung agung ceremony in Long Pa' Sia is said to have been celebrated by a man named Belawan Igur at a small stream known as Arur Pog Merit, a true left tributary of the Matang River, close to the Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo border. The people in Long Pa'Sia can no longer remember the year of the ceremony or why it was held. (6)

In a conversation with Liwi Gala, head of FORMADAT for Krayan Selatan and Krayan Induk, North Kalimantan, in 2015, he told me that their ancestors in the Krayan River area, Krayan Seiatan Sub-district, kept a tradition of performing the ulung agung ceremony. (7) The tradition of performing the ulung agung seems to have also been kept by the Lun Bawang of Upper Trusan. Ipoi Datan (2015:131, 141) mentions of the existence of a gong mound on the hill slope at Buduk Balud in the Long Semado area. However, Agung Bangau of Long Bawan told me that he had never heard of an ulung agung ceremony having been performed by the ancestors of the Lundayeh of the Lutut and Bawan valleys. (8) Their ancestors performed ulung buayeh ceremonies and boasted and bragged about their exploits like other headhunters in Borneo, but did not perform the ulung agung.

One other ulung ceremony that ancestors of the people in the Bawan and Lutut valleys practiced, but which was not observed by Lundayeh elsewhere, was raising (nui) only a decorated pole without an earth monument. They called this ceremony simply nui ulung, literally, 'to raise the ceremonial pole (ulung).'' Such a ceremony was held to mark the completion of work on a canal (ngabang abpa) to bring water to the rice fields; cutting a gap (kawang) in a mountain range; or to commemorate a milestone in the life of an important leader. The person sponsoring the event did not boast or brag about all that he had done, but simply thanked the people for their support and cooperation. The rhetoric was left for others who would speak after him and pay glowing tributes to his deeds and sacrifices.

Like all other ulung ceremonies, they walked around the ceremonial pole, singing the kuab song. In the evening an irau (festival) was held, also sponsored by the same person, to complete the event. Like all pre-Christian irau, there was a lot of borak (rice wine), and many people got intoxicated.

Ulung Agung Ceremony at Buduk Kelinang, Long Pa'Sia

As we have already noted, the ulung agung ceremony is not well known, even among the Lundayeh who practiced the tradition in the past. According to headman Mudin Sia, (9) a gong-shaped structure was carved out of earth. This took, depending on the number of workers involved in its construction, two or three days to complete. Other workers went into the forest to cut saplings, each measuring about six feet. These were shaved to produce spiral shavings as decoration and were erected around the earthen gong structure.

A group of knowledgeable individuals went into the forest to look for a suitable tree from which to fashion the ulung (decorated pole). This was painted or carved in appropriate traditional motifs and its top adorned with wood shavings as decoration. The pole was erected at a prominent spot. When all the work was done the ceremony began.

The sponsor of the event would explain the purpose of the ceremony. Unlike the ulung buayeh, people did not normally boast at an ulung agung ceremony. However, depending on the personality of the person, he might subtly, through figurative language and metaphors express himself in a manner others could interpret as boasting. On the other hand, he might take a humble position and praise the community rather than himself.

Events such as an ulung were expensive affairs to undertake, and only well-off individuals could afford to organize them. Individuals sponsored such events in the past as a way of enhancing their standing in the community.

The ulung agung ceremony held at Long Pa'Sia on 29 November 2016, as explained earlier, was a way to express the community's gratitude for the UNDP Equator Prize awarded to FORMADAT, the Alliance of local communities comprising the Lundayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa'ben peoples living along both sides of the international border between the Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo (see Map 1).

After an early lunch we walked to the Long Pa'Sia's old abandoned rural airstrip located on the true left bank of Pa'Sia River. The Pa'Sia and Matang combine to form the Padas River and the airport is slightly above their confluence, while the village is below and is on the Padas River. We crossed the Pa'Sia River, and climbed up a small hill called Buduk Kelinang (Gong Hill) where the image of the gong was constructed out of soil (Plate 1).

Several sticks with shaved curls were erected around the earthen gong structure and the hill to enhance the beauty of the area. There was no decorative wooden pole. Instead, a bamboo pole, with a plain cloth flag at the top, was planted in the ground right on top of the gong structure as a temporary substitute.

The community of Long Pa'Sia intends to make the structure permanent as a showcase to display their cultural heritage and perhaps as a tourist attraction. The bamboo pole will be replaced with a durable belian wood post, with a carved FORMADAT logo. It took almost two weeks for the five active Long Pa'Sia members of FORMADAT to construct the gong structure out of soil on the Buduk Kelinang hill.

Buduk Kelinang or Gong Hill is strategically located between the Pa'Sia River on the left and the Matang River on the right (Map 2). From the hill one gets a good view of the valley below: the old abandoned rural airstrip across the Pa'Sia River, the village below the confluence of the Pa'Sia and Matang Rivers, wet rice fields on the opposite bank of the Padas River from the village, and finally the blue mountain range in the distance bordering the Krayan Induk Sub-district of the Nunukan Regency, North Kalimantan.

The ceremony began with a short address by Mudin Sia, the Long Pa'Sia headman (Plate 2), explaining the purpose and meaning of the event. He positioned himself in the middle of the crowd, standing on top of the earthen gong. The address was written in Lundayeh, but delivered in Malay for the benefit of non-Lundayeh participants. Below is the Lundayeh version (10) of the address, immediately followed by an English translation:

Bang aco luk rayeh ilung kuan pupuh Lundayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang idi
Sa'ben luk tudo Patar Dita Borneo (lukpekalai tau naten bang buri' Lun
Mebuda 'Heart of Borneo), ui pian ngegala' lawe idi liung luk ruen tau

Tau nui ulung nih ku awang niat pupuh tau luk tudo Patar Dita' Borneo
bang Pusu' Borneo luk nepimaran Equator Prize ratnan United Nations
Development Program (UNDP) bang lak 2015. Tau nepimaran peruan ini
ngaceku tueh idi ileh tau ngimet ulun tau, ngasa' tana' tau, pulong
tau, idi abpa' tau maya' lakan tana' arang Malaysoa idi Indonesis bang
Pulau Borneo.

Tepun tau mon pekalai nui tuda'-tuda' ulung, kudeng ulung buayeh,
ulung darung, idi ulung agung.

Ulung buayeh idi ulung darung ruen tepun tau mon nui kareb ideh muli'
rat munu' nguit uluh lun luk kileb deh.

Ulung agung ruen tepun tau mon kareb sebuleng lun naru' irau rayeh do'
pana' irau aweh anak lun do' idi mebala. Tau nui ulung agung luk
nekini ngaceku peruan Equator Prize luk bire UNDP netau luk nengikit
tinudo tau bang arang pupuh baken bang Malaysia idi Indonesia, do'
pana' bang aput tana'.

Agung sebuleng rat arang binaweh luk meraga luk itin tepun tau mon.
Iah tetegken ku naso idi ngawang niat tau. lah tetegken ngapu' nelun
muli' rat ngarang bawang mado nguit binaweh luk meraga kudeng bau,
rubih, tabu' idi kerubau kuan uang tatek deh, do' pana' ileh luk ilap
neh rat bawang mado. lah tetegken kareb inan sakai ngikak bawang tau
nguit bala luk ngepicet rurum. Iah tetegken kareb inan irau rayeh
bawang ineh do' pana' irau aweh, ngelagan awang niat deh.

Inan tuda'-tuda' teteg kuan tuda'-tuda' kareb: teteg kareb mawang
niat; teteg kareb susa' niat kudeng kareb inan ate; idi teteg kareb
inan luk ketot.

Teteg kareb inan susa' niat balen tau ngukor. Mawar mepani' teteg deh
nguit uni luk dat niat pedingaren. Kareb lun ninger uni kukor ineh,
ideh petacu nacan anun-anun luk ruen deh, petacu ame' nelun luk nate
ineh, ngegala' picet rurum bawang ineh, mare aie kuan lun luk nate
ineh, do' pana' kuan uang ruma' luk kuan ate ineh, idi mare anun-anun
tulong kuan dawa' ngeruma'.

Kareb bang ulun munu' mon, idi kareb inan baweh macing, tawak ineh
tetegken nawar nelun luk kuan bawang ineh muli' ratnan anun-anun luk
ruen deh do' pana' ruma' kadang baken ame' ngeruyung ngelawan baweh
ineh. Uni tawak ineh miak ngepicet niat deh ngelawan baweh ineh.

Tawak ineh tetegken tepun tau mon kareb inan barui rayeh idi puret, ku
ngagka' barui idi puret ineh. Inan lun merar tepun tau mon mileh
ngubuk barui ineh na ngebarui, idi nngubuk puret ineh na upug.

Amung luk pangeh bila ku ini ngegala' Hung agung, do' pana' Hung ulung
agung luk tinaped deh mon, kuan tepun tau mon.

Tau nui ulung agung luk reuen tau nekini ku ngegala' awang niat tau
pangeh nepimaran peruan Equator Prize ratnan UNDP luk ruen tau
ngeraga. Na tau nui ulung agung ini ku ngesido' netau. Tau nui ulung
agung ini ku ngetueh netau ngasa' tana' tau, ngasa' pulong tau, ngasa'
abpa' tau, idi amung-amung luk mulun bang tana' tau, bang pulong tau,
idi bang abpa' tau. Amung-amung ini ruen tau kuan tau, kuan anak tau,
kuan mupun tau, nan tau mulun, nan anak tau mulun, nan mupun tau
mulun, idi inul tau mulun muci.

Maya' do rangung uni agung tana' luk pinudut tau ku tana' ini, ui pian
ngacing bala awang niat kuh idi teteng kuh, kuan among-amung kanid
Lundayeh bang Krayan idi Sabah; kanid Kelabit idi Lun Bawang bang
Sarawak; idi kanid Sa'ben bang Krayan idi Sarawak Do'tau sedengpupuh,
seterawe, selawe, naan bawang tau, ngasa' tana' tau, ngasa' pulong
tau, ngasa' abpa' tau, nan tau mulun, nan anak tau mulun, nan mupun
tau mulun. Mawang niat, Tuhan ngeperuan.



After the address, the headman handed the hand-written Lundayeh version of the speech to me, which I translated into English as below:
On this special day for the Lundayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa'ben
peoples of the Highlands of Borneo in the Heart of Borneo (HoB), I
wish to explain the purpose and meaning of the nui ulung agung or the
raising of this gong pole ceremony that we are about to witness.

We perform this ritual to celebrate the UNDP Equator Prize to FORMADAT
in 2015. We were given this award for the strong resolve and diligence
that we have shown in maintaining our sustainable way of life and
conservation efforts to protect our land, our forest, and rivers along
the international border between the Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo
in the Heart of Borneo (HoB).

Our ancestors used to raise different types of ritual poles, such as
those associated with earthen crocodile, earthen serpent, and earthen
gong mounds.

Ritual pole ceremonies associated with earthen crocodile and earthen
serpent mounds were held to mark the homecoming of warriors from a
successful headhunting expedition, bringing with them head trophies.

Our ancestors used to hold ritual pole ceremony associated with
earthen gong mound when a villager held a big feast or in conjunction
with the wedding of a couple whose parents were economically well-off
or famous. We hold this ritual pole ceremony associated with earthen
gong mound today to show our appreciation to the UNDP Equator Prize
which raised our standing as a group in Malaysia and Indonesian as
well as internationally.

Gongs are among items of value that our ancestors highly treasured as
heirlooms. They were beaten to produce music for entertainment and to
while away the time. It was beaten in the old days to announce the
homecoming of a villager returning from a long journey to distant
lands bringing valuable items such as beads, jars and buffaloes into
his household as well as knowledge of the land beyond the village
boundary. It was beaten when there are visitors to the village on a
friendly mission to strengthen relationships. It was beaten when there
is a big festival or a lavished wedding involving a couple whose
parents were well off and famous.

There are different beats for different occasions: happy occasions,
sad occasions, and times of emergency. The sad beats are called
ngukor. The beats are fast, flat and monotonous. When a person dies,
the gong is given fast, flat, monotonous beats. When the villagers
hear the drumming, they immediately leave whatever work they are doing
and rush to see the person who has just died as a show of village
solidarity and to offer their condolences, support and help to the
bereaved family.

During headhunting days when enemies attacked, the gong was beaten in
a special way to call villagers working in the fields as well as
friendly villages nearby to come and fight. The drumming united and
inspired the villagers to fight.

Before the Lundayeh converted to Christianity, the gong was beaten
during a thunderstorm to calm it. An expert elder would utter words of
invocation to appease the spirit of the thunderstorm to calm it.

All that I have just said is what the gong, as well as the gong ritual
pole ceremony, meant to our ancestors.

The gong pole ceremony that we are about to witness is a way we
express our gratitude and happiness to the UNDP Equator Prize that we
highly value. We perform this ceremony not to boast. We perform this
ceremony as a way of reminding us not to abuse our land, misuse our
forest, and pollute our rivers. We perform this ceremony to strengthen
our resolve to take good care of our land, our forest, our rivers, and
all that live in them. We do all these so that we have good land to
cultivate, clean rivers to give us clean water to use and drink,
healthy forests to provide us all our needs, and those of our
children, our grandchildren and future generations.

Through the beautiful music this symbolic earthen gong that we have
shaped out of soil is capable of producing, I extend my warmest
greetings and future hopes to my Lundayeh cousins in Krayan, Kelabit
and Lun Bawang cousins in Sarawak, and Sa'ben cousins in Krayan and
Sarawak. Let us stick together as one people in one thought, one
journey to maintain our sustainable way of life, to take good care of
our land, our forest, and our rivers, for us, our children, our
grandchildren, and future generations. Thank you and God bless.

As the headman was about to end his speech, an eagle soared above us as if wanting to be part of the ceremony. The local leader of FORMADAT in Long Pa'Sia, Pengiran Selutan, recognized the eagle and uttered a short invocation in plain Lundayeh (Plate 3).
Oh kanui
Ini ui
Ngadan kuh Pengiran Selutan
Lun ngimet FORMADAT
Long Pa'Sia, Sabah
Na ui nih lun mebala
Na ui nih lun ben bala
Ileh kuh na meriput
Ulun kuh mangud
Na ui nih tinutun te'
Iamo ui lubpi kuh geriguen
Yapeh amung muyuh?
Kanid Lundayeh, kanid Kelabit
Kanid Lun Bawang, kanid Sa'ben
Serurum tau ngibpang bawang
Serurum tau ngibpang ulun
Serurum tau ngibpang tana'
pad iah na ruen ngerumu'
Serurum tau ngibpang pulong
pad iah na ruen nuso
Serurum tau ngibpang abpa'
pad iah na ruen ngelutut
Iko agung tana'
Do ranging uni
Iten muh bala kinih
Kuan pupuh Patar Dita'
Lundayeh, Kelabit
Lun Bawang, Sa 'ben
UNDP nemare peruan netau
Titen Equator Prize
Ku ngetueh netau
Ngasa' tana'
Ngasa' pulong
Ngasa' abpa'
Bawang Patar Dita'
Bawang tepun
Bawang tau


The invocation was short, simple, uttered in plain language. The message was also plain, simple, and clearly stated. Below is the English translation:
Oh eagle
I am here
My name is Pengiran Selutan
I am the local leader of FORMADAT
Long Pa'Sia, Sabah
I am not famous
My words do not carry any weight
My knowledge is limited
I am still young
I've not been tested
But I am overflowing with enthusiasm
Where are you all?
My Lundayeh cousins, my Kelabit cousins
My Lun Bawang cousins, my Sa'ben cousins
Together let us protect our land
Together let us protect our way of life
Together let us protect our land
lest it is destroyed
Together let us protect our forest
lest it is misused
Together let us protect our rivers
lest they are polluted
You earthen gong
You produce beautiful music
Carry this message of mine
To the people of the flat Highlands
The Lundayeh, the Kelabit
The Lun Bawang, the Sa'ben
UNDP gave us an award
Equator Prize
To empower us with resolve
To protect our homeland
To guard our land
To guard our forest
To guard our rivers
Our Highlands homeland
Our ancestral homeland
Our very own homeland


Immediately after the short invocation, a group of young ladies performed the traditional long dance around the earthen gong mound to the tune of the Krayan Lundayeh pop song "Peruan kuan Lundayeh," or "Blessings for Lundayeh." The men then walked behind the dancers, around the earthen gong a number of times (Plate 4). The lyrics of the song are as below, with an English translation.

Peruan Kuan Lundayeh (11)

Lundayeh, Oh Lundayeh
Peruan kuan muyuh
Seruked neh

Lundayeh ineh ngadan pupuh tau
Inan bala idi ayu luk mepiteb
Niat neh do' mekatu metaga te'
Amung ini penudut (12) Tuhan (13)

Lundayeh, Oh Lundayeh
Idi bang niat, sembayang kuh
Lundayeh, Oh Lundayeh
Peruan kuan muyuh seruked neh

Pupuh Lundayeh lukpenu 'ku bare (14)
Mula 'luk baken riput-riput gio te'
Pupuh Lundayeh nekusag yapeh-yapeh
Amung ini ngaceku katu (15) Tuhan

English translation
Blessings for Lundayeh

Lundayeh, Oh Lundayeh
Blessings are yours

Lundayeh is what we are
Delightful in speech and appearance
Polite, generous and good-looking
All these are God's gifts

 Lundayeh, Oh Lundayeh
 You are in my thoughts and prayers
 Lundayeh, Oh Lundayeh
 Blessings are yours forever

Lundayeh are showered with abundant blessings
In every sector of endeavor
They are scattered everywhere
All these are God's will

The sky was beginning to get dark with thick clouds. The dance stopped and everybody rushed to the village to avoid the rain. The ceremony was short and simple, but delightful.

Consistent with the tradition of ulung ceremonies, a big irau was organized in the evening. One buffalo (16) and two pigs were slaughtered. The cooked rice was laid on a table in the shape of a gong (Plate 5), surrounded by long slices of cooked pork fat. Practically all members of the village, including visitors were invited to the irau as well as the soldiers stationed at the old rural airstrip.

The village Pastor was invited to say grace. After the grace, members of the FORMADAT delegation were invited to cut the gong-shaped rice to declare the irau open (Plate 6).

Once everybody had eaten, the head of FORMADAT for Sarawak and Sabah, Penghulu George Sigar Selutan, was invited to brief the community on the activities and achievements of FORMADAT. FORMADAT representatives from Bario, Ba Kelalan, Long Semado, and Long Pa'Sia were also invited to share their experiences and thoughts on a number of issues facing them and the future of the Highlands. Delegates from Krayan Induk and Krayan Selatan were sadly missing. They were unable to attend the annual meeting for various reasons. November was a busy month for a number of FORMADAT members. Rice in the fields was ripening and people were busy preparing for the coming harvest. Some school children in the Krayan were writing important examinations and their parents had to be at home to give them confidence.


The villagers gave a short but lively cultural presentation of dance and music. By 10:30 pm, the event was given over to local pop songs and karaoke, an anti-climax to what was otherwise interpreted as a revival of a traditional of nui ulung ceremony. Conspicuously missing from this kind of traditional irau was borak (rice wine), the community now being Evangelical Christians.


Nui ulung or raising the decorative pole was an important ceremony the Lundayeh and Lun Bawang people observed in the past. As mentioned earlier there were four types of ulung ceremonies. The most important of these were the ulung buayeh and ulung darung, which Ricketts (1963:177) refers to as "feasting of a new head" ceremony. Several writers have written about ulung buayeh and ulung darung and mapped the locations where these ceremonies took place through the remnants of crocodile and serpents mounds in the landscape (Ricketts 1963; Meechang Tuie 1995; Sellato 1999; Hoare 2002; Topp 2004; Bilcher Bala and Baszley Bee B. Basra Bee 2010; and Datan 2011,2015).

As ulung buayeh and ulung darung were associated with headhunting, the Brooke administration in 1885 banned these ceremonies in the Trusan valley following the annexation of the region into the state of Sarawak under Brooke rule. The ban was extended into the Lawas river basin in 1905 following its incorporation into Sarawak, also under Brooke rule. Despite the ban the Lun Bawang in the Trusan valley and the Lawas river basin continued to perform the ulung buayeh and ulung darung, albeit without the knowledge of local Brooke officials. By then the purpose and meaning of these ceremonies had been modified, although the original names, ulung buayeh and ulung darung, were maintained

The first of these ceremonies took place in mid 1900 following the Brooke expedition against Okong Kelupan (17) of Upper Trusan between April 29 and May 22, 1900 (Ricketts 1900: Edwards and Stevens 1971). Okong Kelupan and his brother Dayong Kelupan performed the ulung darung ceremony at Long Periwan, located between the modern villages of Long Kerabangan and Long Beluyu (Datan 2015:31). Dawat Tubu, a powerful ally of Okong Kelupan, performed an ulung buayeh ceremony on the slope of Buduk Balud, a prominent hill visible to all the seven villages in Upper Trusan. The slope location was close to where Vyner Brooke scanned the valley below with a telescope for signs of the enemy. The local people call this place Natad Tuan, or the resting place of the 'White Chief,' and it is now an historical site.

The two ceremonies were performed to commemorate the escape of the three leaders, Okong, Dayong and Dawat from being killed or captured by the Brooke expeditionary force. In a sense these two ulung were thanksgiving ceremonies.

Shortly after these ceremonies, Okong's son, Liau, led a delegation from the Upper Trusan to Fort Florence, at Trusan Town, near the mouth of the Trusan River, to pledge their loyalty to the Brooke government, keep the peace, and to pay their taxes (Cox 1900:177). The three leaders, Okong, Dayong and Dawat, decided not to lead or join this delegation.

Another ulung buayeh ceremony was performed at Tepasak, off Jalan Lawas Damit, Lawas District in 1921 as a peace-making event between two groups of people from the same village (Datan 2011:26). A member of one group was accidently killed by a member of the other. To prevent the aggrieved party from taking revenge, a nui ulung buayeh ritual was performed and the person who caused the death provided tued (18) (compensation) to the family of the deceased in the form of a piece of land. Members from both sides took an oath (pebulung) on the earthen crocodile effigy not to pursue the matter further.

In 1952, a village headman by the name of Itai Lakai of Long Tuma in Lawas Damit, held an ulung buayeh ceremony. He invited people from all the villages under his jurisdiction to attend the ceremony. Other than a photo of the event in Datan (2011:141) we have no information regarding its purpose. We can only assume that it was organized to celebrate Itai Lakai's appointment as a Penghulu (area native chief). (19)

In 1957, the community of Ba Kelalan held an ulung buayeh ceremony to commemorate the visit of the third colonial Governor of Sarawk, Sir Anthony Abell, to the Kelalan valley. (20) They decided that this was the highest form of respect they could give to a visitor befitting his status of head of state. As the Governor and the District Officer, Lawas alighted from the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) light plane that flew them to the highlands, Penghulu Panai Abai, the area chief of the valley, greeted and led them to the decorative pole erected beside the airstrip where a large number of people lined up to receive the important visitor. Friendly and down-to-earth, Sir Anthony Abell, enthusiastically joined the group of kuab singers to walk around the earthen crocodile effigy. Knowing the Governor as a good social drinker, a villager volunteered to brew borak for the occasion, but the Native Officer who traveled up to Ba Kelalan earlier to make arrangements for the visit advised against it as a gesture of respect to the Borneo Evangelical Mission whose plane was used to fly the Governor. Speaking in retrospect, Padan Labo, suggested that had the Governor been served borak as he alighted from the BEM plane, he would have had more fun walking around the earthen crocodile mound with the kuab singers.

A similar ulung buayeh ceremony was held in 1970 at Long Tengua in the Lower Trusan to mark the visit of the post-colonial Governor of Sarawak, Tuanku Bujang bin Tuanku Othman. (21) Two decorative poles were erected flanking each side of the earthen crocodile effigy. The structure was erected on the village playground. Tuanku Bujang was born into a renowned Malay family in Sibu and joined the Sarawak Civil Service in 1934 with the rank of Native Officer. As a Native Officer he was familiar with indigenous traditions. Thus the ulung buayeh was not something unfamiliar to him. Knowing that this was a ritual given to honor his status as Governor of a now independent state, he joined the group of kuab singers to walk, with dignity around the effigy.

With regard to the Lundayeh of Krayan, North Kalimantan, and Upper Padas, Sabah, ulung ceremonies, especially ulung buayeh and ulung darung were abandoned when they converted to Christianity in the 1920s through the work of the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA), made up of missionaries from Canada and the United States.

Australian missionaries obtained permission from the Brooke government in the 1930s to work in the interior of the Limbang Division, then known as the Fifth Division, through the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) (Southwell 1999:93-102). The Lun Bawang and the Kelabit people adopted Christianity through this mission a decade later than their Lundayeh cousins in then Dutch Borneo. Conversion brought a number of restrictions (Crain and Pearson-Rounds 2011:5) including a ban on performing ulung ceremonies. As will be discussed later, these restrictions, especially on performing the ulung ceremony, were sometimes ignored by sections of the community.

In the early 1970s a revival movement spread over the highlands starting with school children in the Kelabit Highlands, who experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit (Bulan and Bulan-Durai 2004:7-14). A small but significant number of evangelical adherents in Trusan and Lawas were influenced by this Pentecostal movement, also experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. This small but significant group suggested that the crocodile and serpent mounds spread over the Lundayeh and Lun Bawang landscape were the manifestation of the Devil and should be destroyed. (22) Words did not translate into action, and none of the mounds were destroyed.

In one of the June 1st cultural irau in 1998, the Lun Bawang National Association of Sarawak, amidst criticism from evangelical fundamentalist group, erected an ulung pole and erected the figure of a crocodile as a way of showing part of their cultural heritage to the other communities invited to celebrate the occasion (Crain and Pearson-Rounds 2011:14). The display not only attracted the interest of other communities and visitors, but also Lun Bawang themselves who were not aware that they had such a tradition.

In the 1990s big companies with commercial interest began eyeing native customary land for development. Fearing company encroachment onto their land, Lun Bawang in Sarawak and Lundayeh in Sabah began to realize the significance of the remnants of past ulung buayeh and ulung darung ceremonies scattered over the landscape as proof of their rights to the land that they and their ancestors have occupied throughout history (Datan 2011:28).

Ulung buayeh and ulung darung structures were erected at various locations. They were erected at former longhouse sites (ruma tican), in farmland (amug) that had reverted to secondary forest fallow set aside for future use, and fruit orchards (bubpun bua). These structures were normally associated with particular individuals who played a leading role in their construction, but as markers of territorial domain, these structures belonged to the local community. Today they are considered as important cultural heritage by the communities that own them. Villagers in the highlands are now mapping these structures as cultural sites of significant historical value and, more importantly, as markers of territorial ownership.

Woefully, very little is known about ulung agung. Alison Hoare (2002), who studied the Lundayeh communities of Long Pa'Sia and Long Mio, briefly mentions on page 26 of her Ph. D. dissertation "crocodile mounds (ulung buaya) and serpent mounds (ulung darung)" but says nothing about gong mounds (ulung agung). Her map, Figure 2.2, indicates locations of ulung buaya and ulung darung, but there are no indications of ulung agung. Lene Topp (2004) provides a brief but comprehensive narrative of ulung buayeh in Long Pa'Sia, but does not say anything on ulung agung. Bilcher Bala and Baszley Bee B. Basra Bee (2010), who conducted an ethno-archaeological research between 2007 and 2009 in Long Pa'Sia, tell us that ulung agung is a variety of ulung ceremony. However, they do not identify a physical location nor provide a narrative or description of the tradition. Ipoi Datan (2015:13) briefly mentions a ulung agung ceremony performed by Dawat Tubu in conjunction with an ulung buayeh ceremony on the slope of Buduk Balud in 1900. He shows the existence of the mound in a photo (Fig, XV on page 141 of his 2015 article).

The people of Long Pa'Sia insist that the ulung agung was practiced by their ancestors. When I asked them for a physical evidence of an ulung agung ceremony they could only remember the place, which I mentioned earlier, as Arur Pog Merit in the headwater of the Matang River, where Belawan Igur performed the ceremony.

Headman Mudin Sia's address at Buduk Kelinang, mentioned earlier, gave the impression that ulung agung was performed on a regular basis by the ancestors of the Lundayeh in Upper Padas. However, we find it difficult to locate physical evidence of locations where these ceremonies were held, and oral narratives associated with the practice are also not readily available. It was suggested that images of a gong, being a relatively flat musical instrument, might be easily obliterated by changes in soil formation and undergrowth, making it difficult to recognize. However, there is also a lack of oral narratives about the tradition.

Mudin Sia, after the ceremony at Buduk Kelinang, informed me that what he said in his address about the ulung agung ceremony was based on information he had obtained from his parents, grandparents, and elders in the village of Long Pa'Sia. Ulung agung, he said, was not as exciting a topic as ulung buayeh and ulung darung and therefore not much was mentioned about it by the elders. The headman said that he found it interesting that despite their strong Christian belief, ulung buayeh and ulung darung, which were originally associated with headhunting, still spark their imagination. Towards the end of our conversation, he said that they decided to hold an ulung agung ceremony rather than ulung buayeh or ulung darung precisely because not many people know about its existence and, most importantly, it has value worth preserving.

Concluding Remarks

Ulung ceremonies have survived the test of time and change. We have noted examples of ulung ceremonies being performed in the Trusan and Lawas Rivers of Sarawak well into the 1990s, albeit modified and with new meanings, ignoring official restrictions as well as criticism from the more fundamentalist members of the established Evangelical Church of Borneo.

In recent times the Lundayeh of Upper Padas have revived the practice of ulung ceremonies, also, giving them modified structures and meanings. In 2008 they made replicas of crocodiles, serpents, and brass gongs for ulung buayeh, ulung darung, and ulung agung ceremonies for a Radio-Television Malaysia documentation and as a showcase of their cultural heritage.

At wedding festivals in Long Pa'Sia and Long Mio it is now normal to prepare a big crocodile out of cooked rice for the couple to cut at its throat so as to symbolically draw strength from the animal. In 2002, when the Danish Prince Henrik made an official visit to Long Pa'Sia, a big crocodile shaped mound of cooked rice was prepared for the village irau (banquet) in honor of his visit. The Prince was invited to cut the white crocodile at its throat with the symbolic idea of drawing strength from this powerful creature (Topp 2004).

Not to be outdone by the custom of presenting cooked rice in the form of a crocodile, the organizers of the ulung agung irau for the FORMADAT annual meeting prepared the rice in the shape of a gong and the headman led the FORMADAT delegation to ceremonially cut the rice gong.

On a hopeful note, we were told that the bamboo pole would be replaced by a durable belian post carved with the FORMADAT logo, subject to the availability of funds. The villagers also plan to plaster the gong structure with a cement coating to prevent if from disintegrating. A small hut is planned as an information center.

This earthen gong has a value worth keeping. For the Lundayeh it represents their cultural past; a cultural heritage worth sharing with other communities through tourism. From the perspective of highland communities, the structure symbolizes solidarity among the Lundayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa'ben, despite the political boundaries that separate them. It should be kept as a reminder of FORMADAT's struggle and aspirations to maintain a sustainable livelihood in the highlands and protect the integrity of the land, rivers, forests and mountains.


Bilcher Bala and Baszley Bee B. Basra Bee

2010 The ethno-archaeology of the ulung buayeh tradition among the Lundayeh people of Sabah. Paper presented at the International Seminar on Borneo Archaeology, Miri, Sarawk, Malaysia.

Brooke Johnson, H. C.

1900 The Punitive expedition against Okong, Sarawak Gazette vol. zxxx No. 413: 110-111.

Bulan, S. and L. Bulan-Durai

2004 Bario Revival. Kuala Lumpur: HomeMatters Network.

Cox, E. A.W.

1900 Trusan, Sarawak Gazette XXX No. 416, p.177.

Crain, J. B. and V. Pearson-Rounds

2011 Place, person and power: Lundayeh/Lun Bawang pre-and post-Christian narratives, Sarawak Museum Journal (New Series) Special Issue No. 8 (Centenary Issue) vo. LXIX No. 90 (New Series): 1-22.

Datan, I.

2011 Traditional earthen crocodile effigies of the Lun Bawang in Sarawak: functions, origin and significance, Sarawak Museum Journal Special Issue No. 8 (Centenary Issue), vol. LXIX No. 90 (New Series): 23-42.

2015 The ulu Trusan expedition 1900: review from a local perspective, Sarawak Museum Journal vol. LXXV No. 96 (New Series): 121-143.

Edward, L. and P. Stevens

1971 [1969] Short histories of the Lawas and Kanowit districts. Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

Ganang R., J. B. Crain and V. Pearson-Rounds, compilers

2008 Kemaloh Lundayeh-English Dictionary. Borneo Research Council Reference Series No. 1, Phillips: Borneo Research Council, Inc.

Hoare, A. L.

2002 Cooking the wild: the role of the Lundayeh of ulu Padas (Sabah, Malaysia) in managing forest foods and shaping the landscape. Ph. D. dissertation, University of Kent at Canterbury.

Hong Kong Telegraph

1900 Trouble in Sarawak. From "Notes and Comment" in the Hong Kong Telegraph May3, 1900, reprinted in the Sarawak Gazette vol. XXX No. 413:116.

Meechang Tuie

1995 Masyarakat Lun Bawang Sarawak: suatu penganalan. Kuching: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Ricketts, O. F.

1963 [1894/1895] The Muruts of the Trusan River, In: Anthony Richards, ed., The Sea Dayaks and other races of Sarawak, (from Contribution to the Sarawak Gazette between 1884 and 1930). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau, pp. 367-78.

1900a Report of the expedition against Okong and Dayong, Sarawak Gazette vol.

XXX No. 413: 111-112.

1900b Expedition against Okong and Dayong in the Upper Trusan (DAIRY)" Sarawak Gazett vol. XXX No. 413 pp. 113-115.

Southwell, C. H.

1999 Uncharted waters. Calgary, Canada: Astana Publishing.

Topp, L.

2004 The Lundayeh of Long Pasia and Long Mio: their history and legends. WWF-Denmark and Persatuan Kebudayaan Lundayeh Sabah.

Jayl Langub

Institute of Borneo Studies

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

(1) FORMADAT is an acronym for Rorum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo, or the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo, comprising the Lundayeh of Sabah, Malaysia and North Kalimantan, Indonesia, the Kelabit and Lun Bawang of Sarawak, Malaysia, and the Sa'ben of Krayan, North Kalimantan, Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia. In 2015 FORMADAT was awarded the UNDP Equatorial Prize in recognition of its efforts toward sustainable development and conservation across both sides of the international border between the Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo, in the Heart of Borneo.

(2) Long Pa'Sia is been variously spelled as 'Long Pa' Sia' (pa'=river, sia=red, thus Red River), 'Long Pasia' and 'Pa'Sia'. I have adopted here the later spelling.

(3) The Equator Prize, organized by the Equator Initiative within the United Nations Development Program, is awarded biennially to recognize outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

(4) Nengadan is the verb for boasting and tengadan (boast) the noun.

(5) Datan (2011) and others mention either ukui or siga' as the song sung at nui ulung ceremonies. Padan Labo of Ba Kelalan (conversation with author December 16, 2016) and Agung Bangau of Long Bawan (conversation with author December 17, 2016) informed me that kuab was the normal praise song sung by their ancestors at nui ulung ceremonies. Kemaloh Lundayeh-English Dictionary (2008) p. 178 defines kuab as "a song sung around the ulung when men returned from a headhunting expedition"; fekuab, "a community celebration welcoming the return of a victorious headhunting expedition. This involved the erection of an ulung around which the kuab was sung by women and replied to by shouts of victory by men."

(6) Interview with Pengiran Selutan, head of FORMADAT, Long Pa'Sia at the Village Resource Center, Long Pa'Sia, November 30, 2016.

(7) Personal communication with Liwi Gala, head of FORMADAT Krayan, North Kalimantan, at Long Tanid, Lawas, Sarawak October 27, 2015.

(8) Personal communication with Agung Bangau, the retired grand chief of Krayan Induk, at his house in Long Bawan, December 17, 2016.

(9) Excerpt from ulung agung briefing by headman Mudin Sia, November 30, 2016.

(10) I adopted the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) Lun Bawang orthography used in the translation of the Bible into the Lun Bawang-Lundayeh language.

(11) I adopted the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) spelling system for the Lundayeh lyrics of the song.

(12) Literally, the line Amung ini penudut Tuhan should be translated as, 'All these are God's creation,' but looking at the song as a whole, it makes more sense to translate the line as 'All these are God's gifts.'

(13) Tuhan is a Malay word for Lord or God.

(14) Bare=gift or fortune, but I choose 'blessing.' I translate Pupuh Lundayeh lukpenu 'ku bare as 'Lundayeh are showered with abundant blessings,'

(15) Katu=generous (or generosity), grace. Literally the correct translation of Amung ini ngaceku katu Tuhan should be 'All these are God's grace or generosity'. Looking at the song as a whole, it makes more sense to translate the line as 'All these are God's will.'

(16) A Muslim soldier from the Malaysian Army platoon based at the old rural airstrip as border guard security slaughtered the buffalo. The soldiers were invited to take part in the irau.

(17) For detailed account of this expedition against Okong Kelupan see O. F. Ricketts "Report of the Expedition against Okong and Dayong," Sarawak Gazette vol. XXX No. 418, June 1, 1900, pp. 111-115. The expeditionary force comprised 400 Iban from Batang Lupar under the leadership of Dana and Lengedang, 150 Iban from the Rejang under Ulak and Tukik, 120 Iban from the Batang Rejang under Chaung, 100 Rangers, 80 Malay, and an indefinite number of Lun Bawang from Lower Trusan. The expedition was led by the Rajah Muda, Charles Vyner Brooke, accompanied by O. F. Ricketts, Resident, Limbang; E. A. W Cox, Resident, Trusan; and R F. Cunnynghame, Resident, Brooketon (modern day Muara, Brunei). The able-bodied men under Okong numbered no more than 300.

(18) There are two aspects of tued: compensation in terms of monitory value or kind, and ritual propitiation provisions in terms of a pig sacrifice, 1.8 meter of white cloth (sedepeh beracu) to cool feelings (pinaneb), and one ceremonial sword (karit ilang) for soul strengthening (ngetueh burur). The ritual provisions are an act of expiation or atonement.

(19) Ipoi Datan included a photo of the ulung buayeh ceremony held at Long Tuma in 1952 in his article "Traditional earthen crocodile effigies of the Lun Bawang in Sarawak: functions, origin and significance" published in the Sarawak Museum Journal volume LXIX No. 90 (New Series), 2011, page 41, Plate V. Other than an assumption that the ceremony was an installation ritual and thanksgiving ceremony, he was not sure as to the real purpose of the event.

(20) Personal communication with Padan Labo of Buuduk Nur, Ba Kelalan, December 16, 2016. Padan Labo was one of the artists who painted the pole in traditional motifs.

(21) Personal communication with Ipoi Datan, December 30, 2016. See also Datan (2011) "Traditional earthen crocodile effigies of the Lun Bawang in Sarawak: functions, origin and significance," Sarawak Museum Journal, vol. LXIX No. 90 (New Series) Plate VI, page 42.

(22) Personal communication with Padan Labo, December 16, 2016.
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Title Annotation:RESEARCH NOTES
Author:Langub, Jayl
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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