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Traditional riziculture practices and beliefs of the Dusuns of Bukit Udal and Ukong, Tutong district, Brunei.


These notes comprise a record of rice cultivation as it was remembered by older Dusun informants in the mid-to-late 1980s. The inroads of modernization have been described in E.M. Kershaw (2000) and E.M. and R. Kershaw (2007) in relation to Dusun religious institutions and to animal, bird, and dream omens, respectively. Far-reaching change in both these areas can be linked to a decline in the rice-growing economy. However, neither of these two studies supplied basic ethnographic data on the practices and beliefs more specifically associated with rice itself and its cultivation. The present paper attempts to fill this lacuna, while making available material which may prove of comparative interest in relation to similar material from other parts of Borneo and indeed the archipelago. [My main informants were: Narak (Bang Diok), Pangan (Bukit Udal) and Burut (Rambai)]. (1)

Field preparation and crop propagation

The cultivation of rice

Every Dusun household until the 1970s attempted, I believe, to grow enough rice to feed the family during the year and often beyond, and largely succeeded in this. Some even managed to trade milled rice (agas) with coastal Dusuns in exchange for fish, prawns and salt. I was never made aware, however, that rice farming in itself ever represented the same "measure of a family's social worth" within a Dusun comunity, as within those of the Saribas Iban (Sather 1980:70). But there is no doubt that anyone aspiring to become the tetuo of a settlement had to produce sufficient rice to entertain frequent official guests and on occasion hold lavish feasts.

As acquisition of new land became restricted, while more salaried jobs were becoming available, rice cultivation was increasingly reduced or was abandoned altogether. By the mid-eighties, few Dusuns in the Ukong and Bukit Udal area were planting enough rice for their own consumption. Those needing rice for ritual purposes (E.M. Kershaw 2000: 114-117), continued to grow sufficient rice for that. A further small number of people returned yearly from their urban domiciles to grow small quantities of rice for purely sentimental reasons.

Dusuns in the past used the "pioneer" (Sather 1977:152) slash-and-Burn method, combined with dibbling (nugal) or sowing into water (nabur) as the two propagation techniques. Until the second decade of the twentieth century, when the British began to introduce land administration, the Dusuns enjoyed unrestricted access to climax forest. Consequently, fields were not used for more than one season, after which they were considered as being more or less exhausted (mumput) and unfit for cultivating again immediately. Once climax forest was no longer available, the Dusuns still strove to have two or three areas available for cultivating rice, as too many weeds would take hold of the original fields, threatening to smother any rice if it were grown there the next year (ala gama rumput). A fallow period of two to three years, preferably five, was in fact thought to be necessary to restore the land to fertility, as well as to its original purity and pest-free condition (onjop na penyakit). The shrubs and trees had by then grown tall enough to be burnt once more, and the land could be redibbled or resown for another season. If, on the other hand, land had to be used for more than one season in succession, a change to wet rice cultivation (nanom) was necessary. During the three years of Japanese occupation (1942-45) Dusun rice growers were once more able to return to the "pioneer" method. The Japanese officials openly expressed approval ("'odongpeduli, rauwon gala "don't worry, just go and plant your rice") of renewed opening up of virgin forest, even within the Forest Reserve (utan simpari). Most Dusuns, foremost the coastal people of Telisai, welcomed this change and enjoyed three seasons of very good harvests.

After the Japanese left, no further inroads into the jungle were permitted. Forestry officials (lama foris) were said to be on the lookout for offenders. It was further believed that anyone reported or caught in the act would be summonsed (saman), and were he to put up any resistance, a six-month jail term (jil onom bulan) and a fine of $600 (ukum gi onom ratus) would be imposed on him. The prospect of such harsh sentencing was enough to deter most Dusuns from any further attempt to cut down more climax forest. The questions asked were: "how would you find the money?" (imo isu barai?) and if you were put into jail, "who would feed the children and wife at home?" (mun bajil, uno kanon anak sawo dalai o). However, as no one was ever fined, despite some violations of the new orders, (2) people concluded that these apparent measures were mere threats and scares (tajo do nalolou).

It might be useful at this point to deal with the Dusun terminology relating to the cultivation of rice. There are three major lexemes:

ngarau or ngararair: it encompasses the entire process of rice production from start to finish, or more specifically the pre-sowing or planting phases, such as clearing the land, or felling and burning trees;

ngaratw: describes the three methods of cultivation, viz. nabur: to sow into water; m/gal: to dibble; and nanom: to grow rice by transplanting seedlings (although older farmers such as Narak tended to exclude the third when referring to ngaratu); ngatu: to harvest.

Selecting a jungle site (nggium tana mok ntalun)

Pangan described in detail how his father, the headman (tetuo, or penguin) of the Bukit Udal mukim, decided where to open up new forest land. Once he had selected a suitable site he informed the villagers of his choice ("tana iti moncoi rauwon": "this spot is suitable for growing rice") which, after a communal inspection, was invariably accepted (pakat nio). Each such site was to be used by several families; three or four were the smallest number to begin with in the first year, others joined them subsequently. Each farmer was allocated enough land for his needs. Such jungle cultivations were to be used for one season only (ngincan rarau). (3)

The first concern prior to commencing the preparatory work on a field was to be sure that there were three working days available, i.e. days without any ritual restrictions (adau pantang). During these initial three days, set aside for the preparation, an omen (angai) was sought either by an individual farmer working his own field independently, or by the headman on behalf of the community. (4) If, however, an unfavorable omen was met, the work could not be carried out on that day. And if unfavorable predictions persisted for three days, another field had to be used at least for that season. These warnings could also be conveyed to the headman or individual farmer in dreams (nupi). After a bad dream (nupi raat), a second person might attempt to have a dream. And if his was good (nupi moncoi), it would cancel the bad dream. (5) Other bearers of omens were birds, mainly the teguru: the name given to any woodpecker that drums, little spiderhunter (sasat) and tailor bird (jiriot), in this order of importance; or a healthy tree or large branch of it (kayu moncoi) unexpectedly crashing down in front of the omenseeker, barring his way (mbabar diri). (6)

On each of the three days the fanner would go to the field (nyaub ngarau) to slash with his slashing knife (dangol) two or three times along the ground, to "test" the field (nginyam rarau). He would not rest or linger in it, to avoid meeting a messenger of omens which might be unfavorable, such as a bird, perhaps, or worse, a mousedeer crossing the field (planok temalib mok rarau). The latter was taken to predict problems in the field (siti aro penyakit) so serious (pantang gayo) that it was wise to abandon it. All restrictions were lifted on day four, and the main work could then commence. Once the test days were past and work was in progress, any kind of omen was seen merely as a call to take care throughout the operation. Seldom did anyone feel a need to postpone his activity for two or three days to render the omen harmless (gon mabas).

Narak elaborated on how the spiritual status of the selected jungle area could be judged in a divination ritual (ndaki), in which a person with known magical powers (lama balimu, lama dukuri) consulted with the resident spirit (isi ntalun) as to whether it was willing to release the land (E. M. Kershaw 2000:71-72). If the answer were positive, cultivation could take place; if not, land elsewhere had to be sought. For this test the dukun used a slashing knife (dangol), thrust it into the ground and addressed (nanong) the spirit with the following words: "mun muyon naak ntalun Hi, kuo tarns dangol ti tibason kit te seralom tana lull. Kalau onjop, sambuto muyon" ("If you are willing to surrender this jungle stretch, let this slashing knife penetrate the ground without any hindrance. If you refuse, obstruct its passage."). Or he might use a simpur stick (Dillenia spp) of about two yards' length (saropo), hold it up completely straightened out (maii pating) and invite the spirit to respond like this: 'jikalau kou takan ntalun id manat kou, jikalau andi takan mu jimolok kou" ("If you will let us have this jungle area, elongate it, if you are unwilling, shorten it"). Should the answer be "No," the stick, after being washed (pupuon jati), would be visibly shorter. (7) Thus: "Andi naak no" ("The isi is not prepared to hand it over"). An isi ignored was likely to harm the farmer (kasauon isi o) by possibly stirring up strong winds (mikit longos), causing trees to fall over prematurely (mulok kayu) pinning the farmer beneath them (kebaan lama)', or by making him stumble and fall (meratu) or injure himself (ndamat) with his slashing knife. It might, however, happen that the isi had agreed to make way for rice cultivation in the first season, but then changed its mind for the following one. The farmer suspected this when finding himself confronted by sudden, unexplainable, and dangerous situations. He then had to return to the dukun requesting him to ban the troublesome spirit from the field once more, so that it wouldn't harm him any further (ngalap andi io ngasau). (8)

The felling of large trees (nagad kayu ga-gayo)

Where very large trees had to be felled prior to burning, work started as early as April and had to be completed by July. (9) The felling of big trees has always been dangerous. Some malevolent earth spirits (isi tana) were certain to be on the lookout to cause death or injury. Knowing the appropriate magic formula (gon nanon, gon ndaki ya petua), coupled with adequate care, was a sure way to find protection and safety (andi uno-uno mun rarau moncoi). Only a foolish and reckless man would tempt fate and place himself beneath a large tree that he was felling (nyisip nagad).

Women accompanied their husbands at the beginning of clearing an area of jungle, to help with removing the smaller trees (those with trunks of no more than one foot in diameter). Anything larger was left to the men, who in turn left the largest trees to the end. Axes (kapak), imported from China, Singapore, or Kuching, were used for cutting down trees. Brand names like 'cap makota,' 'cap belong' were valued for their toughness and durability (io aro taan). Axes with handles of about one yard, i.e. half a ropo, (10) were common when felling the very large trees. After using them on the hardest of trunks the blades were all used up (naii nerumpong gama kayu kodoii), but as these could not be replaced during the Japanese occupation, the Dusuns once more had to take up their original hatchets (penaa). (11) However, as these were poor substitutes, work proceeded very slowly.

Pyamo, a complex of four special star-constellations (bintion pyamo) which guided the Dusuns in cultivating rice

It seems appropriate to present the practice of celestial divination at this point, because while it had very little role in the timing of clearing climax forest, for all other activities related to rice cultivation (except the harvest) it was considered indispensable. (12)

The four constellations making up the pyamo and consulted by the Dusuns for guidance in their rice cultivation were: punt, mo, salang, and latek. The order in which these star groupings climb the sky--from the eastern horizon in this latitude, and late in the night from June to October--is puru, 'a bunch' (as of fruit, i.e. a grammatical classifier); mo, 'jawbones;' salang (no meaning, though the circular shape of the constellation may evoke the similar-sounding salong, 'a torch,' or the round rattan berakai, the 'torchholder'); and latek, 'a snare.' (13) Punt in terms of European nomenclature is instantly recognizable as the Seven Sisters; mo as Hyades. Salang, a somewhat uneven circle, consists of four stars located roughly on a line connecting Aldebaran to Rigel, forming its upper arc. The right and left sides, extending northwards, are faint, but the lower arc includes Gamma Orionis (Bellatrix). Salang nicely fills out the space between mo and latek, which is part of Orion. The shaft of the snare, pointing westwards, is perceived in the three stars of Orion's Belt, while the spring is traced southeastwards in the form of a short adjunct of three more stars, pointing towards but not including Kappa Orionis (Saiph).

Puru reaches the zenith (temampak) in August, wo in September, salang in October, latek in November.

Regarding this "real pyamo" (pyamo honor), when latek, the last of its constellations begins to slant (gincal), the pyamo as a whole, like a human soul, after the death of its host, is believed to embark on a journey to another realm, whereby after crossing the stream dividing the human world above from the world below, it emerges on the other bank as the pyamo of ghosts (pyamo lamatai), where it will reside during the months when it is hidden from our view. Older Dusuns living in the 1980s liked to quote the epithets given in the past to each of the four constellations during their absence from view. Punt with its numerous stars becomes a wasps' nest (mpalan penyingot); roo a hatchet (pira or pira patok) for hollowing out tree-trunks; salang an excavated, round well (kaut)\ latek the trunk of a coconut tree (batang piasau) (the part of Orion which in "real pyamo" is perceived as the spear-head (orob) of the snare now becomes the tree's roots). For further clarification of this thinking we should add that the ghosts are commonly attributed with living in a topsyturvy world, where not only the names for things but reality in general are turned upside down. (14)

Every farmer in the past was reported to have had a pretty accurate idea when to start looking out for the pyamo honor appearing in the pre-dawn sky, therefore anyone could theoretically perform this function, but as most field-related activities were executed by either the extended family or communally, the most experienced person, often an elder, was entrusted with looking out for the pyamo, and subsequently deciding the moment to start the growing season (mpak ngararau). He would descend from the house just before dawn (nyari) when the sun was about to rise (jangka mato adau kan semilau). The correct moment (jangka hints) was announced by the sound of tree-roosting chickens stirring prior to leaving their perches (turn manok), that is, at about 05.00-05.30 modern time. The spot he generally selected for his observation was one of the house comers (trap), where raindrops dripping from the roof had over time left visible depressions in the ground (kuo akas suat iipu aig), and there he would erect a pole (turuson na kayti), to mark the precise spot from which the sequence of observations was to be carried out. (15) He would remain there, often seated on the ground, until the stars in the sky were eclipsed by the rising sun (lama ngintong pyamo, pundok-pundok saboi pyamo no melosod).

Once punt had come into view, he would announce it to the household or community by saying "punt suda nerangkat" (punt has already come up); likewise when punt was straight above the erected pole, being now at the zenith, with the words "punt temampak suda" (puru is already in its zenith); and finally, when all four constellations had emerged, by "pyamo suda sanabud" or "pyamo sabudan te"("all the constellations have completely emerged/been revealed"). (16) By the sixth month, when all four constellations had nerangkai (come up), the felling of trees should begin (to no rati o suda lama nagad), as the preliminary work could take up to three months to complete.

If the observer were to get it wrong (sala intong), being either too hasty (kediok intong), or too early (pukul apat ka: at 4 am), the future rice would be almost certain to be plagued by insects or maggots (suda jadi na giok parai te).

Puru, the first star constellation, was used either for the initial preparatory phase (ngarau, ngararau), or if for the following one (ngaratu), then to start sowing into water (,nabur). For this the descending puru was preferred, to avoid large numbers of muniafinches (mpirit) descending on the ripening rice (jikalau angat awal honor io no kanon mpirit). One further requirement was that the stars in puru had to be steady, like the rays of a lamp (tatap, masam iangsulu). If they were flickering (kilop-kilop or risom-risom), any work had to be postponed for at least another day. Unsteady stars predicted wind in the sky (longos sawat) with a drying sun and too little water for the rice to succeed (parai andi jadi).

Roo, the second star constellation, could similarly be chosen for either the first or second cultivation phase. The stipulated moment for starting was when roo was slightly past the zenith, already slanting a bit (gincal kediok). In relation to the observer it had just reached one of his own ears (mpak telingo). The time was now lawan, (17) i.e. 'optimum.' When at the zenith (temampak) it might expose the later rice to attacks by insects (io no kanon giok parai no), or worse, the rice might get caught (metaphorically) between the celestial jaws and be chewed up (sapawon roo kalau suat lam roo), leaving the farmer no more than a meager amount to harvest (lagas parai). This danger passed, however, once roo had begun its descent (magiging). (18) Another reason why the farmer chose roo in preference to puru was that even if there should be sickness in the rice, it could be treated. Burning incense, or charms (malap tagon ngunun, tagon nawar), were thought to be adequate to combat the malaise.

Within the pyamo progression there was one further precise moment for commencement of dibbling or planting (io no sodong ngaratu parai), which might be chosen in preference to others, namely the exact time "in the middle of the four" (olot apat) at the end of September, with two constellations already on the descent, two still on the ascent (suda duo te da mulus seriba, tinggol o duo te).

As salang, the third star configuration, is also equated to a dug-out well (kaut), when in the zenith its upright position guarantees, as it were, that it will retain all the water in it, which means that no rain will fall (andi rasam, sabab io andi mulus): hence an excellent time for burning! Conversely, an ascending or descending salang heralds rain. Moreover, in its imagined torch guise, it would be prone to splutter and spatter burnt oil. These flying sparks (tadis pagit) would foretell their own transformation into rice-eating insects (tadis jadi giok). Salang, thus, is the one constellation perceived to be totally inauspicious for sowing, dibbling, or planting: "andi bole isu, onjop no lawan, penyakit gala" ("it cannot be used, it is no good, there will be nothing but pests").

The last constellation to rise, latek (in October), in contrast, is lawan for the entire month. It is good for burning, dibbling, (19) and also swamp-rice cultivation. The danger of pests is minimal throughout (bua parai no lakas, andi na ampa). (20) Once latek has concluded its progress through the sky, however, any rice dibbled or planted this late will produce stalks, but miserable ears (batang no jadi, maus no bua).

Burning (nyuncul) between July and September

There were no official days of prohibition for burning fields in the lunar month.

Family units, working single independent fields, would decide themselves when to Burn, whereas the starting time for contiguous fields was decided by headmen or elders, with every field owner accepting the decision. (21) Burning was always deferred to a date close to the intended sowing or dibbling, to prevent unwanted weeds from getting reestablished. In the case of dibbling, late burning would additionally ensure that no wind would carry off the highly beneficial ashes left on the ground. (22)

At the end of intensive burning, just as the fire was about to be extinguished (jangka apui o te manpisok), but with smoke still rising from the ashes (kakalgi lisun), it was not uncommon to hear some strange distant noises (katab aga), sounding like bees in the top of trees (katab mntet untu-untu). These sounds, however, were believed to be of horseflies (pangat) descending from on high into the ground covered by warm ash below (mandauu mok awo te kama) to lay their eggs (tail, temaii). Work was not resumed for the next three days, to allow the eggs to break open and hatch (mabak) into ndangot (fly maggots). For the farmer who was about to sow or dibble, this omen-like sequence of events could mean no less than that his future rice was in danger of becoming a target of ndangot, giok, or some other pest (penyakit). Fie would heed this warning (rati o andi kamono no) appropriately. (23)

There are accounts of Dusun farmers using magical powers to harness the wind by calling upon the spirit controlling the wind (the golop) to assist them with their burning (tagon o nigi), making the sparks fly in circles, rapidly devouring the vegetation on the ground (longos bulat, apui temulud, sing-pusing). Even low-lying wet fields posed no problems. (24)

Other farmers, however, might express a sense of caution by calling on any unknown, residing, or itinerant, spirit to watch out for the burning about to happen, and not obstruct it but move aside. ("Jaga, nyuncul ku iti korojo ku te, odong muyon ntalop, maleo lagi muyon mun am somok").

Yet the one truly inhibiting factor for individual farmers in deciding when to burn, was if the last year's rice in a nearby field had not yet been ritually freed. The possibility that your flames might be carried across by the wind, singeing any of the remaining rice stalks in the adjacent field, was real (andi kasa kanon apui batang ono). To avoid such an event, everyone was expected to have performed the ritual by the end of the eighth month, leaving the ninth month free for burning (see E. M. Kershaw 2000:142). Equally, to infonn a neighbor of one's intention to burn was seen as a basic rule of courtesy, no matter whether his rice had been ritually freed or not. Anyone going ahead and burning his field without his neighbor's knowledge, might be called upon by the headman to Burn, in addition to his land, that of the neighbor, too.

How field boundaries (gelitan) were established, and their importance

Where hill rice was grown, commonly on slopes of varying gradient, and always without any natural or man-dug ditches (parit), tree tmnks were placed (babar kayu) soon after the felling of trees to mark the boundaries between individual fields. Wider boundary demarcations (plot gelitan) were made where they also had to serve as walkways (alan manau). Otherwise, boundary markers were kept to a minimum, in order not to lose valuable arable land. (25) However, in wet-rice fields (parai gapu), a distance of at least three feet was the norm to allow ditching (baparit) if so desired.

It stands to reason that when the time came for ritually freeing the rice (lan makan parai) of any field separated by merely a tree-trunk, the farmers on either side had to join up once more so as to prevent one family mistakenly eating the yet unfreed rice or inhaling the scent of it from the neighboring field.

Sowing into water (nabur)

This method in the past appears to have been secondary to dibbling, as it required both a newly burnt ground and sufficient water into which to sow. And as all the rice varieties available for it took between five and six months to ripen, the constellations of puru and roo had to be the starting points. Once punt was at its zenith, the farmer could begin with the sowing, unhindered by any other considerations. In roo, however, as mentioned above, the farmer had to await the moment when the constellation had reached one of the observer's ears (mpak telingo), i.e. just beyond the zenith. The reason for delaying, as perceived, was that the observer, and future sowers, had to be at a distance from the front of the jaw (resting on the ground, as it were), because if at any time it fell open (in the direction of Aldebaran), it could swallow the rice (sapawon roo), leaving the farmer no more than a meager amount to harvest (lagas parai). (27)

It took little time to sow, as a farmer could spread as many as twenty gantang (28) of seeds in a single day, using two gantang for an acre (saekar).

Dibbling (nilgai)

If started early, the starting-point was, as with nabur, when roo was slightly past the zenith (in the first week of September). Another favorite moment was olot apat (at the end of September). Dibbling for one family lasted between two and four weeks. Small fields were worked by one household alone. For large fields, additional labor (ngguyung or ngarumo) was provided by neighbors or people from other settlements. (29) These helpers might number as many as forty and between them dibble up to twenty gantang of seeds in one day. They received no payment in either money or goods. Good food and jovial company, therefore, had to be sufficient recompense for the hard labor required. Cold water, tea and coffee had to be available at all times and in great quantities--not an easy task where no well or stream was in the vicinity of the field. Water might have to be carried over a fair distance and older children were usually used for this. Fermented sweet rice wine (burak) was commonly offered when the sun was hottest, to make the heat more bearable (ngalap andi sadar lasu). Moreover, the slightly intoxicating effect of burak was said to speed up the men's dibbling (lama numbok te pun saka ni).

Rice was served wrapped in leaves (nubur klupis) and cooked in large cooking-oil tins, alongside the "side-dishes": vegetables, consisting either of jungle plants or tapioca (ubi kayu); if possible, the meat of chicken or wild boar (the latter was hunted on the previous day or the day before that); and fish (if available from a nearby stream). Fishpaste (blasan) and lime (oncom) were never missing. A meal like this was considered a treat, otherwise only known on special occasions. The participants ate on a raised platform in a hut erected for this purpose. They were sheltered from the sun by thatched roofing (taap ram ambio). Below the platfonn were tree trunks arranged in twos to provide seating for the post-prandial rest (duo nggombor lan ngkuku), taken to escape the intense midday sun. Dibbling then resumed until it was too dark to make out the blackened, and possibly still hot, tree trunks strewn about the field, and risk colliding with them.

Dibbling was always a concerted effort by both sexes. Boys and men dibbled (numbok, menumbok) with a dibble stick (tumbok), girls and women dropped the rice seeds into the holes (nyuang). As dibbling takes longer than seed-dropping, and if there were not more men than women, the latter could sit down from time to time until a new row of holes were ready.

With seemingly total ease the women dropped each seed into its hole from a slightly bent position. (30) But when a grain did finish up on the edge of the hole, a foot would quickly push it into the opening (nguir). If it had been left on the ground, a munia-finch would soon have picked it up. Dibblers and sowers each formed rows and moved as such in unison across the field (baduyun). After dibbling, wind could be expected to blow the ashes of the field into the dibbled holes and cover the grains. Rain then closed the holes altogether. The growing rice plants in dibbled fields received their support from stumps, roots, branches or even partly burned trunks left on the ground.

Where individual house holds did the dibbling, they competed among each other as to the amount of grain they were able to drop into the ground per day. Pangan (31) managed two gantang of seeds a day, dibbling with one hand, and dropping the seeds into the hole with the other. As his total amount of seeds dibbled was nearly eleven gantang, he finished the task in one week. Children accompanied their parents to the rice-field from an early age and acquainted themselves with the work by watching their parents. Although encouraged to try their own skill, they were allowed to stop whenever they felt tired or hot. They gradually increased their contributions, until they were able to take their full place in the dibbling process (baru io ngarwno honor).

Planting wet rice (nanom)

The Dusuns started to grow wet rice only where land had to be used over several years. The planting took place last, starting around I0lh September, occasionally overlapping with dibbling, and might continue right into latek, the final constellation in November. Where a large area of ground was used by several families, each plot was demarcated by a ditch. Each plot in turn was subdivided, with one part being worked, the other left fallow for one season.

To obtain good results, buffaloes had to be employed to plough the ground (ngarujak), (32) allowing weeds and remaining roots to rot away below the surface. Only in this way could a field be used for 4-5 years, even 6-7, if the soil were particularly fertile. But following the years of planting, an equal period of fallow was thought necessary to maintain the same yields.

Conversely, a farmer without buffaloes, who had to plough the land himself and afterwards level it with his feet (heaving a heavy load onto his shoulders to increase his weight!), could rarely cultivate the field for more than one season, due to the excess of unburied weeds and lack of fertilizing agents in the ground. Such was reliably indicated by the absence of earthworm heaps (tail ngguang). When buffaloes were used for ploughing and leveling or harrowing, two or even four buffaloes were lashed together (in pairs) to prevent them from breaking loose. One of them was mounted by the ploughman. The first ploughing proved the most difficult, as roots and tree stumps were still abundant on the ground. Whipping was often the only means to keep the buffaloes moving. The task became progressively easier in the following years. But care had to be taken that the carpet of weeds now covering the field was ploughed in properly (tebalek), to act as fertilizer (baja) for the new crop. Burning the ground was not an effective substitute.

The wet rice planting itself was either carried out individually, or by a couple working together on their own, the husband, as with dibbling, making the hole in the ground (niwar), the wife inserting the rice seedling (nanom). Unlike mi gal and nabur, nanom was labelled "dirty" (mpilo), because mud not only covered the clothes, but splashed right into the face, too (pancltan tana, maii rabas te). If swamp rice was the only rice a family could grow, eight to ten gantang sown into seed beds (nyamai) were adequate for one household.

The central trial area (puun) (33)

The stars were the guide to when starting the rice cycle was at its most propitious. After this, another source of divination had to be found. Thus, the center of a field (puun) was selected as the indicator of the state of health prevailing in the rest of it, and was commonly referred to as dato (leader) or raja (king). The puun was cultivated first, and it was here that the first signs of trouble or infestations were expected to manifest themselves before affecting the rest of the field. Any such indication required immediate intervention by some magical cure (ndaki). A person possessing magic (limit) and able to pronounce the necessary spell to overcome the problem (nawar) was entrusted with the undertaking. If the puun could be cured (nguru), the field was saved, as the rice in it was sure to take its lead from the center (nyugut parai ono).

The puun in dibbled fields was mapped out by four tree-trunks forming a square (nsagi apat) with each corner marked by a yam stick (keladi) and a bamboo cane (bulu) or a palm leaf (raun cuncum) (Salacca affinis) if no bamboo was available; and the middle by a stalk of wild lemongrass (gumou). (34) These were firmly pushed into the ground. In water-sown fields there could be no treetrunks, only the four comers would be marked out. (35) Once dibbling or sowing of the puun was complete, the rest of the field could follow immediately.

The area was carefully watched throughout the growing time, but the first decisive moment was when the center rice (parai puun) was about one foot high (at roughly one month after dibbling, later for sowed rice). If the plants were healthy then, they were likely to remain so for the entire season. But if the puun area at any stage during the growing season was affected by disease, requiring treatment by magical powers, a three-day curfew might be imposed on the field, sign-posted by a stick being pushed into the ground, its cleft holding fresh leaves (kayu gon nurus, aro raun tandu o) as a warning to anyone not to venture there. (36)

Caring for a rice field

After planting, the fields were regularly weeded (ngarikut). (37) They also had to be protected from monkeys, usually the short-tailed monkeys (gabok) which pulled up the plants to reach the roots, and wild boar (ramo) digging up the growing plants. Up to the rebellion in 1962 Dusuns were able to fire shotguns at them. In some areas, such as Belait and Bukit Sawat, blowpipes were used to control the animals.

Farmers generally erected a field hut (tadong) in the field. Its size depended on the intended use. If the field was accessible from home, the hut merely had to serve as a shelter for anyone working in the field during the day. The hut had four major posts (tancok) holding up a platform, usually of bamboo and big enough to allow the workers to stretch out for a nap. The area below the platform could then be used during harvest time for storing the gathered rice. A roof of folded and stitched palm-fronds (taap raun ambio) spanned the platform, above it, to keep both rain and sun rays out. If, on the other hand, a farmer could not return home at night, he and often his wife stayed in the field for up to three months until the harvest was completed. The Dusuns felt more secure away from home after the arrival of the Japanese, who introduced harsh penalties if anyone was caught disturbing the peace of others, including those living temporarly away in a field hut.

Rice and salt were brought from home, vegetables gathered in the vicinity. At night the husband went hunting, mainly for wild boar, and rarely had to venture far, as hungry animals came up to, or even into the field. Every person old enough to have still experienced life in a field hut would speak in the 1980s with some nostalgia of the time there and how tasty (nyaman) the food was after a long and exhausting day's work! The house, children and domestic animals left behind were looked after by older relatives.

Prohibitions relating to the cultivation of rice

There were nine days in every lunar month to which some restrictions (adau pantang) were attached. All prohibitions affected the work in the rice-field, with a few applying to other activities, too. For the growing of rice, it was mainly the initial stages that fell under these restrictions. (38) Once the rice was fully grown and ripened, and therefore out of danger of spoiling, there was less need for further interdictions. But whether these prohibitions relating to the cultivation of rice were followed or not, was up to the individual farmer: none carried any fines (onjop aro ngukum). They were simply recommendations and precautions for safeguarding the livelihood of the individual (pantang lama sendiri). Unless any of his action had some bearing on the well-being of the community as a whole, choosing to ignore the advice was purely at his own peril. (39)

The days of a lunar month which carried restrictions were:

day 1 bulan agu (new moon)

day 8 katang iau (katang can mean 'an expanse'; iau means 'alive')

day 13 tian planok (stomach of a mousedeer)

day 16 kalam tikus (kalam--possibly from Arabic, meaning 'obscure;' tikus is a mouse in Malay)

day 17 mpagas (cognate with lagas = bare, bua lagas: 'with empty grains')

day 18 keduo mpagas (second mpagas)

day 23 katang matai (matai = dying, dead)

day 24 awok kaut (awok = depression, kaut = a well)

day 25 telikud (likud = behind, past)

day 28 awok bawang (bawang = river)

day 29 tolak mati (tolak [Malay] = avert, mati [Malay] = dead). It has no meaning that Dusuns can attribute to it, but the fact that the moon is "dead" at this turning-point between the months is more than implied.

If in doubt as to what day of the month it was, old Dusuns only needed to consult the shape of the moon.

New moon (bulan agu): The moon on the first night, even on the second on cloudy days, cannot be seen in the interior of Brunei, and therefore by the Dusuns of the past. In order to determine the beginning of a new month, they observed the last stages of the waning, or descending moon (bulan ndauu). (40) Otherwise, the day could be roughly determined or confirmed by features of the shape of the moon, as follows:

Day 8 pating bulan macam piasau = having a perpendicular left-hand side, like a half coconut; (41) bulan macam sparu = the moon looks as if halved

Day 13 aro gi pipi kediok = a bit flat on the edges, otherwise round (dongol)

Day 14 panu honor, io bulat suda no, andi gal gayo = fully round but not yet at its biggest

Day 15 panu honor, bulan damar = fully round, say a no sukup = of maximum brightness

Day 16 panu honor, onjop kurang; agak ni lain no = fully round, not a bit missing, but in appearance a bit different (i.e. less bright than on day 15)

Day 17 kurang da kediok = already lesser, masam mopod talu kemaii no, aro pipi kediok = like day 13 somewhat flat on the edges

Day 18 kin diok, kurang bo; ramping io = smaller, thinner, no longer fully round

Day 23 masam barit bua piasau, na tanduk no rompod o = like the slice of a coconut, with pointed edges

Day 24 kuat io melupok = very hollow

Day 25 telikud = in deep decline (likud = behind, past)

Day 28 kin-kin kediok no = very, very thin.

The content of the restrictions, and their reasons

Bulan agu: When the new moon is sighted, no field preparation (ngararau, or ngarau) nor seeding (ngaratu) (42) was done the following day, to avoid the rice getting spoiled (mamis) (43) by any number of pests. Burning (nyuncut) was exempt from this ban.

Katang iau (day 8): On this day ngararau was not recommended (with the exeption of burning), nor ngaratu in the morning (sambut lama andi korojo) when the moon was still faintly visible in the sky. In fact, it was usually late afternoon when the work was resumed, continuing until dusk (suda dop adau korojo io). Flouting this restriction might again result in the rice getting spoilt (mamis) due to caterpillars (kuat kanon giok), or rice-weevils (kanon bubok), with no likely cure at hand (andi malap ruon).

Tian planok (day 13): Discouraged on this day was cutting down trees (nagad), sowing (nabur) and dibbling (nugal). Carrying out any of these tasks was thought to be wasted effort (lala kou manau baparai), for even if you were to work until your feet blistered (saboi mpanok atis mu), you might not receive any reward. Burning (nyuncul) was exempt from the ban. The position of wet rice planting (nanoni) was somewhat ambiguous.

Kalam tikus (day 16): Burning was certainly allowed, but everything else was "not recommended." Roaming mice, as the name suggests, were a real threat (lowou nkajou), along with wild boar (ramo) and many other forms of pests (satur suang), if someone broke this rule.

Mpagas and keduo mpavas (days 17 and 18): Both these days were of dubious quality for all work in the field; they could possibly end with lagas parai (ears with little grains).

Katang matai (day 22): This day carried a severe warning (pantanggayo) against any activity other than burning. Not only did you risk exposing your rice to raging illnesses (penyakit parai rantang-rantang), but you yourself might die before the harvest was to commence (jati matai, andi karoso ngatu), or before being able to taste the new rice (andi sampat makan). Equally if you were injured, the injury too would be extreme (jikalau medamat io ni te rantang medamat no). Examples of such demise through improvidence were still very much in people's memory.

Awok kaut (day 23): This was another day when any work related to rice should be avoided, including harvesting. Both awok (a depression) and kaut (a well) suggest hollowness, without content (luang, onjop na isi), meaning that your rice ears might have hollow grains (bita parai meluok), resulting in the farming family having empty bellies ("ngarawok tian"). (44) A person working on awok kaut, especially if felling trees, might suffer injury and sustain deep cuts (meluok ni bal ndamat no), spilling blood onto the ground (tana suat raa). Even walking beneath the rice-store (nyisip sauu durong) was best avoided, as this might mysteriously diminish the stored rice inside (bakwang rezeki). But burning the field when the sun was out was good, as everything in it would be consumed on the first attempt (awok ngasi no, ngincan no makan apui), including the tree trunks, splitting open easily in the fierce flames (maii mukat batang).

Awok bawang (day 24): Very few informants thought that this day posed any threat to rice; it was maintained that only the most cautious people in the past refrained from working in the field.

Telikud (day 25): Any work in the field on this day might force the worker to abandon his field through death (alan pantang rarau kajun do deranan no matai), so both field and crop are lost to you ("behind you") (rezeki likud no, rarau no likudari).

Palak mati (day 29): The danger perceived for anyone working the field on this day was that of falling unconscious or becoming delirious (molok mato). The caution was purely for self-protection, and not for the well-being of the rice (pantang inan, or pantang diri). (45)

Further restrictions implicating the community or other members of a family:

The day after a member of a village had died, no one residing within the boundary of the settlement (46) was to work a field, out of respect for the deceased. Close kin of the departed person also refrained from attending to their fields before the sun began its descent, at about 1 p.m. on the wake days (makan salong) three, seven and fourteen, sometimes even on the 40th day.

If the owner of a field was killed or died in his field (deranan matai) his family could carry on working it for the rest of the season, (47) but not in subsequent years. This rule extended to the families of his children and other close kin (waris o andi bole ngararau dono). The land was no longer considered safe for them (andi kasa). Disregarding the warning might result in further death (waris nyugut). But any unrelated person was free to use the field. (48) Swapping fields was seen to be the answer to this problem.

If a farmer died at home before he had had the chance to eat from his new rice (matai dalai andi gi pakan parai), the field again would be worked for the remaining season, but shunned by all relations in the following years. (49) Ignoring the advice would invite a similar fate, with the person cultivating the land dying, too, before tasting the new rice (lakak lama ngarau gi matai, andi sampat makan). If the dead man left a widow who could not tend to the field herself after his demise, the community came to her assistance and worked it until the harvest was completed (mongo). And when the owner of a field within a larger communal area (rarau lama samo gelitari) died, the community had to rally (ngarumo) and cultivate the field. The harvested rice again went to the widow.

Common rice pests (penyakitparai) and how they work

Pasisang bangkeng for nsisang bangking): a small blue-backed insect (giving off a strong bad smell when crushed), which attacks both the roots and the ears.

Paiis: the caterpillar (giokpaiis) attaches itself to the leaves of the rice plant, causing them to shrivel (mongolus) and die (matai).

Sembilang: its caterpillar (giok sembilang) can be seen hanging from the rice leaves, eagerly consuming them.

Bidai: the caterpillar (giok bidai) is regarded as the deadliest of all caterpillars (indu giok = mother of caterpillars): it also attacks the leaves, until finally the entire plant is destroyed.

Pasuk, or pasok. the caterpillar (giok pasok) clings to the young rice plants (jimokon puun puno).

Mpirit: Munia-finches.

Examples of past cures for rice pests

If the rice plants in the trial area (puun) had been attacked by pasisang bangking and their leaves (raun parai) had turned red (meragang), indicating that the plants were dying, people collected off the ground the central veins of stripped or dying areca palm leaves that had turned red, and pushed these into the ground close to the affected plants. If the areca veins began to turn black, the affected rice plants, too, changed for the better. An alternative cure could be obtained from fallen areca-palm leaves (raun pinang) tied together with wild mangosteen leaves, Garcima sp. (raun ongos), into small bundles and buried in the affected area. Further leaves were burned among the rice plants in the trial area, enabling their smoke to envelop the sick plants.

If the same insect attacked the rice-ears (makan bud), thwarting the growth of the grains (mampa), shoots of both the tall telasai grass (pusok telasai) and the simpur plant (Dillenia spp.) were chewed together, and spat over (batabur) the plants. Following this, one pasisang bangking was caught and addressed as follows: "idu kou, iton kawan mu sengaii!" ("leave quickly and take all your fellow [weevils] along with you!"). For good measure two more insects might be commanded to leave in the same way.

Giokpasuk attacking the shoots were dealt with by someone moving from the center of the trial area outwards, holding a smouldering jungle creeper (tagon ngunun). (50) The smoke (lisun), accompanied by incantations, was believed to have cured the plants faster than any modern pesticide could do. This process was then repeated on two more days.

Where the rice of two adjoining fields had been affected by any pest, each owner had to carry out his own exorcism. However, the plants, leaves, etc., needed for the operation were collected by whoever knew where to find them. The gatherer shared them with anyone needing them. Once again the virtue of virgin land was extolled, as it was free of all rice pests, including mice and birds.

Rice varieties used for dibbling (parai tugal), as remembered by Pangan (51)

parai adul: good yield, tall stems, but not appreciated for taste (Iain roso, andi moncoi)', parai bangang

parai ganduk

parai pidut ikair. with soft grains (lami), long-lasting, but giving a smaller yield than parai adul

parai pusu

parai sebujang

parai senia

parai tidong: good yield, short stems (tangkai riba), ears with abundant and firm grains (hua sapou), but not as hard as Thai rice (agas kina). (52) The most used were parai tidong, parai bangang and parai adul

Rice varieties used for water-sowing (parai tabur)

parai adul

parai katulang

parai radin

parai tambas

Wet rice varieties (parai payo, parai tanom)

parai katulang: poor yield (katu onjop): you got little (paya kou ngalap)--but the flavor was good (moncoi roso)

parai kepauu: poor yield, but fine taste (moncoi roso)

parai lamba

parai pulut: soft grains, not widely used

parai radin: good yield (moncoi katu), but unpleasant taste (andi moncoi roso o) parai serangga

parai tambas: produced lots of shoots, with a good yield; good for gruel (aig nubur); hardened when cold (kodou suda sagit)--almost as hard as before the cooking (macam agas kanduo balek), but Pangan did use it.

Wet rice production in around 1950

A couple with three to four children needed between eight and ten gantang of seeds (bani) a season. Most families, however, used a good many more. As much as thirty gantang was quoted as a possibility. In less fertile areas such as Bukit Udal one gantang of seeds might only yield twenty to fifty gantang of rice in a bad year, and seldom more than one hundred gantang in a good year, whereas people of Lamunin could harvest as much as two hundred gantang from one gantang of seeds. To obtain as much as one hundred gantang of rice in Bukit Udal, a field of one square rantai (one rantai = 66 feet) was requisite. One acre (three square rantai), required four gantang of seed when seedlings were transplanted from seedbeds into wet fields, but only two gantang of seed for the same area if the seeds were scattered directly into water, as this type of sowing was done more sparingly (sadu panau o).

Government involvement in rice production

During the pre-war British administration the headmen were required to report (mesuarat) to the authorities when their people intended to start planting rice. The stated date had to be observed for all communal rice growing, or a fine could be imposed. Individual fanners working alone continued to detennine their own starting dates, but all, with few exceptions, followed the date stipulated by the headman for the communal activities. These exceptions often became legendary, as was the case with Pangan's grandfather, who persistently refused to accept the Pengulu's directive, and postponed burning until the ground was already knee deep under water. As reported above, thanks to fabulous magical powers, the fires he kindled were fierce enough to burn large tree trunks in record time, enabling him to catch up with the rest of the community and plant his rice!

Each field was expected to be used for up to four seasons. Any extension had to be licensed, but as 3-4 years' use of the land was considered to be the maximum time it could feed a family adequately, few licenses were requested. If possible, the land was even left fallow each alternate year, producing only two yields in four seasons. Once rice land was exhausted, it was largely used for intensive sago cultivation.

More recently the Agricultural Department, in an attempt to promote more rice growing, has started to hire out machinery such as mechanical ploughs. In 1986 as part of a new Five Year plan, it offered to buy any surplus rice at the price of $4 a gantang. No Dusun appears to have taken up the offer, as few people had any rice to spare, and one could easily sell a surplus within the Dusun community itself. There was also the promise of financial assistance for fertilizers and pesticides, and where ditches were needed, the government offered to help, but in what form that may have been was not known.

Rice as cultivated in the 1980s

Where rice was still grown, it was almost totally wet rice. Fields were generally used for 4-5 years in succession. Planting was carried out between 10 September and 10 October. Ploughing was done mechanically. This method was frowned upon by the older Dusuns, as leaving the ground too compact to grow rice successfully (kamas), despite the added fertilizers. Moreover, weedkillers, although effective in controlling weeds, were believed to deprive the growing rice plants of the support from some weeds as props (sadai mok sakot), without which they tended to be pushed over by the wind. Once this had happened, the ears now on the ground were likely to rot in wet seasons.

Most of the old prohibitions relating to rice were ignored. Awok kaut was the only day mentioned as being still observed at Rambai, possibly because the risk of personal injury remained as before, but all other problems affecting rice in the past could now be overcome by pesticides and fertilizers. Narak wryly remarked that laziness is what activates prohibitions today ("Bila malas ganauwo, pantang! Pantang malas! " "When you don't feel like working, you take the day off and call it 'prohibition.' But that is the prohibition for the lazy man!"). He, Pangan and Burnt attributed the relatively poor harvests to disregard for the old rules (to no alan andi io pandai kalapparai ngalanggar da undang).

The amount of rice seed used in 1986 in Ukong district by the eight families still growing wet rice (nanom) varied from 1 gantang to 15. But few of them expected to harvest sufficient rice for their own families. Only one family sowed 5 gantang of rice seeds direct into water (nabur); one other family less than 1 gantang; the remaining six families, none.

The only dibbling (nugal) session I observed was Narak's in 1985. His intent was to have rice of all three production categories represented in the following major harvest ceremony (temarok parai).

Harvesting in the more distant past (1930s-1950s) and as practiced in the mid-1980s

As described above, if in the past a Dusun farmer cultivated land in total isolation from any other cultivated land, it mattered little at what point during the pyamo season he began to plant his rice. But where the plots were grouped together, or close to each other, planting was carried out at the same time.This meant that all the rice ripened at the same time--an important factor if the fields were no longer virgin land, and already discovered by birds, usually munia-finches (mpirit), thus requiring erection of birdscares (kalating). (53) These were operated, usually by women, throughout the ripening period, with each woman in turn tugging at her string/strings and chasing the birds from one field to the next, until they finally left the area exhausted (ujong lala o) and still hungry. If on the other hand farmers had planted their fields individually, as was often the case in the 1980s, with some starting under the sign of punt (August), others later, birds could concentrate in the harvest season on selected areas according to the ripening stage of the rice there, making the work of chasing harder for each farmer. Harvesting was again mainly done by women and generally lasted for up to one month. No star constellation (pyamo) needed to be consulted for the starting date. When the rice was ripe, the time to cut it had come.

The rice spirits (lamatai parai) (54)

Among the spirits associated with man's livelihood (lamatai rezeki) are the lamatai parai which are known to be present in the rice field at least for the duration of the harvest, in order to reap alongside the reapers and help themselves to some of the rice (tiap-tiap parai mancak memang soro aro dono, kiro maya ngatu, maya makan). They claim a primordial right to receive part of all harvested rice. If the Dusun farmer acknowledges this right appropriately in the ngogot parai (binding the rice) ceremony, he can expect the rice spirits to accord him their benevolent assistance. Their whereabouts at times other than the harvest is uncertain, but they are believed to live adventurous, free-roving (andi tatap) existences--a clear male (nyanai) characteristic, which they share with all other lamatai rezeki, albeit when being called upon to bestow fertility on the harvest Narak addressed them by "Du", (55) 'Mother' or 'Grandmother.'

The ceremony of binding the rice (ngogot parai)

If the owner feels competent to petition the lamatai parai and commands the necessary magical formula (petua), he carries out the function himself, as Narak did. If, on the other hand, he is uncertain of his skills, he delegates the task usually to a related person, known for his expertise in the matter (pandai petua rezeki), as Pangan did. On a day close to the start of the harvest, the person performing the ceremony takes a piece of recently removed bark (56) smeared with resin, now named the utut, lights it, and takes it, walking counterclockwise (like belian do) from west to east, to all four comers of the field. (57) At each corner he thrusts a simpur stalk (Dillenia spp) into the ground, gets hold of three rice-plants with fully-formed ears, ties them as a bunch to the simpur stalk at the bottom, middle and top (seriba, tanga, sawat), with roughly equal distances between each ligature, and calls upon the relevant spirit with a supplication that it be content with its share of the harvest and render the family generous cooperation: "Ati dijun 'Du Ukong' [or Du Abang-Abang', 'Du Auwi', 'Du Uncun'] bagian mu. Odong no kou ngintong parai jail mok tanga te, ijun suda aro bagian mu. Tago suang rezeki jail alap." ("Du Ukong [etc.], here is your share. Do not eye my rice in the middle, for you have been given what is yours. Let me enjoy an abundant harvest.") This request is to fix the lamatai parai securely in the four comers, so that they are not tempted to stray (mincud) into the center of the field. It is further hoped that well-pleased lamatai parai may, during their stay, even position themselves in their comers "like soldiers on watch" over the rice in the field (io aro jaga macam sujar). Non-cooperation by the rice spirits is believed to have an effect on the volume and fecundity of the harvested rice similar to the effect of the absence of the rice soul. (58) Obviously these four bunches, because they belong to the lamatai, cannot be reaped, but must be left in the field.

The rice soul (lingu parai) (59)

Beside man, only rice possesses a soul. Both souls are unbound and can be, at will, either inherent or extraneous to their host. Both share a fearful and sensitive nature. And just as the absence of the human soul endangers a person's well-being, so the absence of the rice soul stunts the growth of individual rice plants and diminishes the strength and nourishment which the harvested rice can provide to the farming family. (60) The field is quickly harvested (lingkas no ngatu) and the rice store (durong), even if superficially full, rapidly exhausted, as if it contained but empty grain (parai ono andi smokot; mikir pun panu durong, lingkas jati makan, macam parai mampa: the rice then will not stick, even if the store seems full we eat it quickly as if the rice grains were merely empty husks). Dusun parents of the past therefore instructed their children, from a very young age, to show the rice soul the respect and courtesy it deserves and expects, explaining that a rice soul which does not receive it might withdraw its continuous presence and benevolent cooperation during the rice-growing and harvesting periods, as well as during the following months when the reaped rice has to feed both the children and the rest of the family. (61) Additionally it was pointed out to the children that the rice soul's presence was not confined to the rice field (rarau) and rice store (durong), but that it regularly took up a position on the roof beams, listening to what was said below. Whatever the subject or object of the conversation, harsh or impolite words would be likely to put it to flight and make it withdraw its help from the household. Moreover, this non-cooperation might not be temporary, but could extend to the following season or seasons. Thus the children were made aware that the rice soul was not merely the provider of the family's most important sustenance, but also acted as a critic of social behavior and norms.

Yet, in addition, there was a seemingly contrary but firm belief among the Dusuns that the rice soul could be retained in the rice field and rice store by magical powers (limit, petua), whereby someone with powerful limit might even steal and abduct the lingu parai of someone or from somewhere else. It follows that making one's lingu parai work and retaining it thereafter was of prime importance. And in order to frustrate any attempt by one farmer to abduct another's rice soul, the targeted farmer's limit had to be equal to that of the potential thief, so that the latter could not drag off his lingu parai (kalau samo-samo ya limit, io andi kalap ngodong). Magical power was seen as ensuring abundant livelihood (lama pandai limit, io lama ya rezeki). Magical power could also be applied to rice already stored in the durong, either by making one's own last longer (parai andi pandai kurang, andi pandai mail), or by adversely diminishing the quantity or quality of someone else's rice.

Pangan recounted the talc of two farmers A and B. A, although not possessing limu, had beautiful rice growing in his field. The rice of B in the adjacent field did not succeed (parai o andi jadi). A began to tease B about his lack of success, saying that if the appearance of the rice was anything to go by, there would be little [to harvest] (mun bal parai ono, andi berapa o), upon which B marshalled enough magical power to entice A's lingu parai over to his field. Come harvest time, it was he who reaped a very great deal (andipandai maii katuon). A, on the other hand, got little rice (onjop suang). The moral of this was: never make fun of anybody's apparent lack of success (odong andi tantu nyeluru), as you may risk having your rice attracted away from you by the person thus slighted (kuo parai ijun kanon o, io no melonjop mok ijun). (62)

But possession of petua, although enabling a person to attract a lingu parai, or to rally it for greater action, does not exempt such a person from observing the rules vis-a-vis the rice soul. On the contrary, it places even more stringent obligations on him if he wants to be sure of the effectiveness of his powers: a clear sign that the lingu parai, although allowing itself to be influenced by the limit of a human being, remains at all times independent and free to act as it pleases. And despite its involvement in reinforcing socially approved behavior, it passes no moral judgement on the person it associates, or teams up, with. For example, it can keep company with a thief, as long as he acts with courtesy and deference towards it!

Respect and consideration for the rice soul is what makes it contented (maraii io diri) and supportive (sokot o). Petua can merely increase its cooperation, not bring it about.

But if at any time the rice soul has become dissatisfied or alienated (sadu ganauwo lingu ono), it may leave the field, as it surmises that the owner does not really care for it ("mpuan ku andi nduli jaii").

The cutting of three rice stalks (ngotob tain tangkai)

After the four lamatai parai have been given their share of the rice, the householder, or his proxy, selects three of the finest rice ears from anywhere in the field, cuts the stalks just above the kernel (ugong) using the traditional rice-harvesting hand knife (isau kujang), and with any of the following leaves: raun latu, (63) raun kuab (64), raun teribu, (65) raun tangang, (66) raun teratus, (67) wraps (mobod) them into a simpur leaf (Dillenia spp), before taking the bundle to the open field hut (tadong). There he fans smoke from either the smouldering piece of bark, the utut, or from incense in half a coconut shell, onto the bundle, and hangs it ears downwards from the roof beam, its new home. The rice soul is then addressed in the venacular, as follows: "did no gadong mu, did no maligai mu, odong no kou kajou-kajou, did no kou" ("Here is your new abode, your palatial home. Do not absent yourself, but stay"). All the rice in the field is believed to be guided by these three rice plants (io no suguton do, kuo parai suang te). The bundle will be left hanging in the field hut until its natural demise. (68) Where the field is close to the owner's dwelling, he might dispense with a field hut (tadong). The bundle would in that case be taken straight to the rice store (durong) and hung up there in the same fashion.

Tying three further rice stalks (ngogot tain tangkai or bongkos tanga) (69)

At the outset of the harvest, the chief reaper once more goes in search of an area towards the center, where the rice plants look their best (dono io alus), (70) selects three of them, ties them at three levels to a simpur stalk (bongkos talu tangkai bagombor mok batang simpur), and once again fans this bunch with incense (tangas ya kemayan). These three rice plants should be touching, with the stems exactly lined up (one plant above the next), giving the impression of hugging each other (batamu, gaya macam cium). From now on this threesome will serve as the focal point during the entire harvest. It will preside over the field like a ruler (raja) or venerable elder (beliau). It will be the last to be cut and lifted (nanggang, batanggang). And for the duration of the harvest it commands that all unharvested parts of the field remain connected to it by a lifeline. The grains of the three rice ears will later be carefully collected and as "indu bani" (mother seeds) put aside with the rest of the seeds for the coming season. (71)

Commencing the harvest (mulo-mulo ngatu)

After the chief reaper has selected the focal point, the field is ready for the initial stage of the harvest. One or three members of the household are the first to start. On day one each one of them loosely fills three small open baskets (uyud or sungkad). (72) If there are three people harvesting, they fill the nine uyud required for completing the initial stage on the very first day. If one person alone (as was the case with Narak), harvests on the initial day, collecting three uyud, two more days are needed to make up the nine baskets. Before leaving the field on the first three days, one reaper censes the three tied-up rice plants, imploring the rice soul of the field as a whole, anew, not to abandon the field: "dong kou mincud, diti no kou,, odong mincudV' (do not wander off, stay, and do not wander!). The fragrant scent of smoke (owou lisun) is to please the rice soul and charm it into staying. All rice gathered so far is deposited first of all in the field hut.

Restrictions and prohibitions during the initial stage of the harvest (pantang mulo ngatu)

If three people collect the first nine baskets, needing only one day, the restrictions apply to this day alone. If, however, one person harvests all nine baskets in three days, three days come under the prohibition rules. These rules apply to every farmer, whether farming land on his own, or fields grouped together in a collaborative arrangement. In the first case, the farmer is advised to announce the start of his harvest and number of persons involved in it, in order to alert others to the presence of restrictions. Some of these affect only the reapers, others encompass the farmer's family as well. (73) The restrictions are:

1. No rain must fall on any of the reaped rice. Should there be rain, the harvesting must immediately be halted. The sole reason for this rule during this initial period (one or three days) is that no other activity than reaping can take place; therefore, no wet rice may be spread out to dry in the sun (andi malap nggadau no). Also, there must be no thunder (guntor) in the sky during this initial reaping. To avoid hearing a thunderclap, reaping has to be carried out in the morning, when this is highly unlikely.

2. No person may enter the rice field during the initial reaping, other than the reapers. This was to avoid unnecessary trampling of any rice plants (mau andi njamak suang), possibly offending the rice soul.

3. Equally, no basket, not even an uyud, can be taken into the field during the time of prohibitions, by someone other than the harvesters. When one enters a field with a basket, it should not appear to be empty. (74) A sageng's or lasuk's mouth was therefore covered with a cloth (batakup), the kiba's gaps (sian mato kiba) with leaves or other material. Any basket used during the prohibition period is left in the field hut, generally on the open platform and must not be touched by anybody other than its user.

4. Most importantly (in no pantang gayo), no reaper may shout or call loudly to someone else (andi malap ngadimi) while gathering the initial rice, for fear of frightening the rice soul and making it take flight (lan io terkajut, io midu no).

5. The farmer's family may not give anything away during the pantang period (andi malap naak di-rumo barangjati). A single farmer would therefore announce in advance when he intends to start with the harvest, to discourage anyone from visiting his house. Nevertheless, should someone help himself or herself to something belonging to the family without asking for it, no harm is done! Some oyster shells (kulit timong) could be left as a replacement or token of payment (basambi na kulit timung isu ku mali dijun).

Dusuns of the past thought it best to wait with the initial harvest until day three or four of the month (counting thirty days in the previous month). Starting on new moon (bulan agu) might make the rice grains lose their content (onjop aro isi o) or be attacked by weevils (parai te kanon bubok). However, it was commonly believed that the beginning of the harvest should not be postponed beyond the 15th of the month, i.e. the waning moon (bulan bakurang).

Although there were generally no more adait pantang (restriction days) after the first one or three days of harvest, some restrictions were thought to be prudent on the following days in a month: katang iau (day 8), when harvesting could begin after the sun was on its descent (past 1pm) (adau suda samosop); katang matai (day 23), when no harvesting was advised, for the reapers' own protection; and awok kaut (day 24), seen as possibly the most dangerous day for harvesting (pantang gayo). The rice might get affected by water (suat asa awok), losing its fecundity (melonjop rezeki no), only little of the rice remaining (parai no andi pa tinggol o), with the grains becoming meluok (hollow). For this reason no rice store should be opened, nor any rice be taken out of it (andi malap ngaun), nor anyone walk beneath it (sanisip sauu durong).

Other prohibitions and recommendations during the harvesting period were:

1. As on days one to three, no one in the field should raise his or her voice during the entire harvest so as not to startle or frighten the rice soul, and unkind or coarse language had to be avoided at all times in the field. Young people, especially, had to be cautioned.

2. No one was to climb onto remaining tree stumps, as this might make the lingu parai dizzy (ngalibong). No one was to walk across or around the rice field without any purpose (manait andi tantu), and should always walk in a measured way (manait alus-alus, plaan-plaan), taking care not to kick (panau pak-sipak), push aside (nyiar parai), or step onto a rice plant (rujak parai), or drop grains (odong mitpit bua parai).

3. Baskets used for and during the harvest had to be handled with particular care. During the harvest, the reaped rice is transferred from the uyud to a lasuk. Only when completely full may the latter be taken to the field hut. If, however, the lasuk was not filled by the end of the day, it had to be covered and left in the field, to be filled and carried to the hut the following

   day. (75) No baskets were to be stacked (nyusun) anywhere in the
   field or under the field hut. And if a basket containing rice was
   pushed over by accident (matumbang), or a strap broke (guis mukat),
   emptying the contents onto the ground, the basket had to be
   ritually cleansed and reinstated with incense (kemayan), fanning it
   onto the basket, or holding the latter over the smoke to attract
   back the rice soul because it was startled and had jumped out
   (sebab lingu terkajut, tamindak o). When carrying or lifting a
   basket filled with rice, no one was to describe the load as "heavy"
   (magat), as this could cause the rice soul to feel sufficiently
   embarrassed (mikum) to leave, making the basket's content "light"
   (ngalap gaan) by withdrawing its inherent nourishment (menjadi
   ampa). "Maloba" was the preferred description for a weighty load,
   in reference to the wild loba palm (Eugeissona utilis Becc), whose
   stem is particularly light (papa loba gaan-gaan).

The worst that could happen during harvesting was when the field hut would collapse (matutur) under the weight of people or rice, or if all or part of the hut's floor slipped down (jimolok) after a bamboo cord that lashed it to the stake snapped, causing all or part of the stored rice to tumble to the ground. Such accidents, which endured in folk memory, were certain to chase the rice soul away, depriving the owner of the whole crop the following year, or possibly two seasons. Nothing could mend the misfortune, no amount of incense could restore the rice soul to the owner. (76)

Harvesting in earnest

The all-important consideration of all reapers (often women rather than men) had to be to ensure that the lifeline (tali) to the three bound rice plants was not severed (odong gala mukat). Severing the line was equated with "severing the year" (mun mukat, masud "mukat taun") i.e. removing any prospect for a yield the following year (andi kalap taun kanduo). (77)

Tying of the stubble (mbagos rami)

At the end of each harvest day the most senior reaper ties several handfuls of recently harvested rice stubble into a bundle (mbagos rami). These must be recently cut plants, ones cut as late as the previous day cannot be used for this purpose (andi tapat). Tying is done for two reasons: 1. to indicate how far the workers had advanced in the field, facilitating the next day's start. 2. more importantly, to make clear that the harvest had not yet been completed. If there was no tying of stubble, the harvest was logically "complete" (bila andi mbagos, maii katuo).

Severing the lifeline by mistake (mukat tali o)

Cutting through the lifeline to the three bound rice plants certainly did happen, when several people were reaping at the same time, crisscrossing the field in search of ripe plants (mile bua ancak). In this case, the cut-off area had to be harvested the very same day, by moonshine or torchlight if necessary (basulu ya ugan). Moreover, all rice in the affected area had to be harvested, ripe or unripe (andi kasa mun andi katuon sengaii). Where possible, additional helpers were drafted. But if a cut-off area was too large to be harvested the same day, the only option was to designate the area as a field on its own. This could be achieved by creating a new focal point with three new mother plants (indu o) bound together (bogot talu tangkai). But this action had severe repercussions for the owner of the new field who was under the tutelage of a belian (which was almost universal among the Dusuns in the past). The harvested rice of this field could no longer be ritually freed for consumption with the rest of his new rice, but had to be freed separately (ale-ale noyo akan o). (78) If someone, for whatever reason, needed to ritually free part of his field's rice earlier, possibly even before the conclusion of the harvest as a whole, then the creation of an entirely separate new field, with a new center, was the only way to achieve it.

Plants which had not ripened with the rest (bua ladun) could be left standing, and be reaped later (ngaladun). But as this unripe rice, too, had to remain connected to the lifeline until harvested, these clumps of bua ladun had to be sufficiently large to justify such a course of action.

The importance of the positions and boundaries of rice fields in the past

If one field was shared by two separate farmers, with each section having tree trunks marking the boundary between them, both fanners could prepare their part of the field for the following season whenever they wished to do so. But when one of them wanted to Burn his field after he had ritually freed his rice (narok), he could not start burning unless his neighbor had likewise freed his, to forestall sparks flying across into the other field and singeing any remaining rice stalks there (kanon apui batang ono).

Or if one farmer's field lay upriver (dan duud), and the other farmer's field downstream (dan saba), the rice of the upstream field had to be freed first. Otherwise, unfreed grains might fall into the water, and float downstream (melulun), or vapor (owou) of the unfreed rice could drift down to the other field and mix (kelait) with the freed rice. Fields on low-lying ground (mok gapu) were more likely to have larger, or large, gaps between the fields, (79) or ditches (parit), so the danger of rice grains falling from one field into the other was largely eliminated.

Helping with harvesting (ngusul)

If, in the past, news of a wealthy person (lama am) still having a lot of unreaped rice reached a neighboring village, which itself had already concluded the harvest, the headman (tetuo) might decide to call his men together and as a group go to conclude the yet unfinished harvest (ngusul). The group came with or without prior notification. When the headman did alert the owner of the field, he might state it in the following terms: "kuji manau ngusul parai mu no. kuji ngarumo ngatu, odong kou susa" "I'll be coming to reap your rice, I'll get my people to harvest it for your convenience." The addressee could hardly refuse the offer. But he was expected to provide the food for the duration of the helpers' (tukang ngatu) stay, which amounted to two meals on the first day, possibly breakfast the next morning, even another lunch if the work could not be concluded before noon on the second day. Tradition demanded that no payment be made, nor any of the rice handed out to the men (andang-andang adat lama laid, tolong menolong: that was the old rule for helping out). The farmer might send the following message, stating how many men were needed to complete the task in one day: "parai ku no, kalau limo ngopod inan cukup ngatu" ("if there are fifty men, they could harvest my rice.") (80)

The group often set out in the dark, using torches (ugan), to reach the field not later than six in the morning. On arrival they fired a gun to alert the owner. They brought their own baskets along and immediatedly set about harvesting. The men were highly organized into reapers (tukang ngatu), carriers of harvesting baskets to the large collecting basket (tukang nyubu), and turners of the already spread-out rice on the platform of the field hut, where it was to dry (tukang nyuncang).

The targeted farmer was expected to slaughter a small buffalo, and possibly some chickens for the occasion. Should he be unwilling to do so, by either stating that he had tried to stop the group from coming altogether, or by just ignoring them, he would discover that they had made provision for this eventuality too by bringing along a cook (tukang masak), who simply demanded all that was needed to provide food for the "guests."

Conclusion of the harvest by lifting the three bound center plants (nanggang talu tangkai)

The farmer first had to decide what form of ritual freeing he wished or needed to perform for his new rice. (81) If it was to be a major harvest ritual (temarok makan parai), the three bound plants had to be lifted. For a minor ritual, or for passing the new rice at someone else's temarok, the three plants could be left uncut for a little longer, or at least until some still unripe rice was harvested.

In Rambai, at the point of lifting the three rice plants, three reapers grab one stalk each and loudly call out "yu-yo." This is to put the lingu parai at ease. It may otherwise feel exposed and embarrassed (mikum). At Ukong, children, as many as ten, do the shouting (tagon mesiou). (82) Otherwise, a discomfited rice soul, like a frightened one, is likely to call out: "iti incan te suang-suang ku; taim dapart te mayon tantu andi kalap, mikum ganauwo ku" ("this once I accorded you a lot; next year you'll get nothing at all, for you make me feel ashamed!")

After uttering a relevant incantation (nanong), the simpitr stalk is pulled up (nanggang) along with the three bound rice plants, and cut with one stroke very close to their roots. The lifting has to be completed before the sun begins to slant, i.e. before 1 p.m. If the harvest did not finish by midday, the lifting had to be postponed until the following morning. Nor could it be done in the bulan laid (waning moon) phase after day 15. A waning moon signifies waning livelihood (bulan ndauu, rezeki jati ndauu). After the lifting, the three rice plants are straight away taken to the rice store (durong). All stubble is left in the field to decompose by itself (mpasa). It is not used for straw.

There was one last rule to be observed by the person who lifted the three middle rice stalks (usually the owner of the field): he or she had to be the one to thresh the first new and ritually freed rice (ngunu, or njamak: io lama ngotob, io no aal unu, njamak nggaran o). (83) A simple handful of rice was enough for this purpose. (84)

Restrictions imposed on a community by the death of a member

If someone within the village boundary dies, (85) no work is done in the rice field on wake days (days three, seven and fourteen), unless rice is needed for the wake itself. Any field, either belonging to the bereaved family or to someone else, may be harvested for this purpose, provided its rice had already been ritually freed. If the rice of the former is to be used, villagers perform the task (lama kampong ngarumo), as the family is barred from working in the field for the fourteen day wake period.

Collecting seed grains (bani)

As mentioned, the grains from the three bound plants form the basis of the seed grain. For the rest of his seed the farmer selects the area with the finest, well ripened (tagon loko) plants, with ears bent by the weight of their grains (mpikol), and earmarks it for seeds. He instructs the other harvesters not to touch them. The farmer or his wife then performs this task. An auspicious day is chosen for it, and no other rice is harvested at the same time. There must be no rain or thunder. Thunder resembles the noise of wild boar moving through undergrowth (macam katab barud ramo), indicating that your future rice was likely to be ravaged by wild boar. The lunar days inauspicious for collecting seeds are: bulan agu (new moon), katang iau (day 8), and all the days of the waning moon. (86)

All seed grain is separately stored in the durong, but no special ritual or attention is afforded to it. Before use, the seed grains are carefully dried in the sun (bagadau alus-alus) to extract any moisture (andi malap masa, kala-kala--a prerequisite for successful germination (Jo moncoi suni).

Harvesting, like earlier dibbling, could inspire some to compete with one another as to who was the fastest reaper. Yudun managed over forty sungkad (87) a day. Pangan, in comparison, accomplished twenty-five at best. Yudun achieved his record by grabbing four to seven stalks at once with one hand, then cutting the bundle with the other, using the isau kujang. The average amount harvested by one person in a day was ten gantang.

Storing and keeping the harvested rice

Unlike the Iban, Dusun farmers never used the lofts of either their communal house, or their later individual family dwellings (Sather 1980: 82). They erected stores on stilts (durong), initially with walls of bark or woven bamboo, under a palm-frond roof, but later replaced by wooden walls and a zinc roof. The most common size was one cubic ropo, holding about one thousand gantang of rice (ears plus about 6 inches of stalks as initially harvested: parai ya ruman), if carefully stacked. With less care (buagan gala, just emptying it out of the basket), the same store would take five to seven hundred gantang. Smaller durong, holding five to six hundred gantang of rice, were regarded as adequate for an average family of five to seven.

With a bamboo pole, the uwai asu, the amount of rice could be worked out, by 87 attempting to push the pole through the stored rice, from one end to the other. The distance achieved, as measured on the pole, gave the density of the stored rice, and therefore roughly the number of gantang in the durong.

Rice can be stored up to four years provided the grains were not removed from their ears (munu). Grains in their ears are protected from rice-weevils (bubok). Once rice is taken out of the store, it has to be put out to dry in the sun for a short while (nggadau ntogol), to restore the firmness of grains (wni kodou, andi mancur) before they are ready to be threshed (ngunu), pounded (nutu) or milled (nginggin).

As we have already seen, the rice's fecundity could still be influenced after it had been stored in the durong. Lack of respect for the rice soul by the farmer or his kin, or powerful petua employed by an enemy, might yet dispel it, just as the farmer's limit could help filling his rice store and not merely retain the nutritious goodness of the rice within, but also make it go further (parai andi pandai mail); (88) but no special ceremony, incantations or incense were employed during the stacking of rice in the store or afterwards.

Should at any time threshed rice be returned to the store for later use, there was always the possibility that a thief might take advantage of a moonless night and help himself to the threshed rice. Unthreshed rice with stalks was safe, as transporting it was too cumbersome.


In the 1980s little rice cultivation of any kind could still be observed. Only Rambai heeded the call from the agriculture department to produce. The drive was part of a diversification strategy for Brunei's oil-based economy, even aiming for food self-sufficiency. Naturally, mechanization, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides were key elements of this. One effect on the cultural side was that any farmers who were still active were heard to proclaim proudly that they were now using "akal bo, utok o" (intelligence and brains) for their rice production! Only in order to obtain rice seeds (bani) did older rice-growers still choose to follow traditional rules.

But more fundamentally, most young Dusuns did not take part at all. Thus almost without exception they had no knowledge of cultivating rice, nor, concomitantly, of any spiritual aspect or rituals relating to it. Islam had also taught them that the people of the past were quite wicked at times (lama laid raat tabiat), as for instance when abducting someone else's rice soul, manifestly sinful in young Dusun eyes (lama adau iti ingat baduso ngalap diri rezeki rumo). In this way, Islam, in the modernist guise which the Sultanate has espoused (at least until recently), has legitimated the application of science, in a relationship of mutual reinforcement with Islamization which serves the absorption of the Dusun people as Malays.


The stages in the development of a rice plant

When a farmer was asked how far his rice had grown ("mana urai dijun?") he might well respond as follows:

1. "Njarum like a "needle," i.e. the rice plant is still without leaves, having just emerged (nnilo samuni).

2. 'Wo raun tunggal. " or: "no raun duo "with one leaf," or "with two leaves," etc., to the point when the leaves are large (i.e. fully developed) (saboi raun da gayo).

3. "Barayang": "With side shoots." I.e. these are already on either side of the central mother stem (am anak kid sabila, indu o tanga).

4. "Mumpung anak": "With several side shoots." I.e. positioned already around the main plant (suda anak o keliling).

5. "Tian mbulong ": "The stem is swelling." I.e. like being pregnant, but equal all around (suda na tian bal o, andang dongol batang no).

6. "Tian babas": "The swelling beginning to split open." In other words, grains) are already beginning to be visible (maii suda semilau do no kediok).

7. "Taman turun ": "The tip is beginning to bend"--this being due to a little weight (io na and suda kediok).

8. "Melantur tangkai": "The stem is already bending"--having already some heaviness (da io nganci gayo kediok), and being quite firm (kodou io no).

9. "Mampar urai": i.e. the ears "are fully formed."

10. Ancak rompod": i.e. the ear "tips are ripe."

11. "Ancak bua "The grain is ripe."

12. "Ancakpulau-pulau": The field is "ripe in clumps."

13. "Ancaksengaii": "Everything is ripe," i.e. ready to be harvested (ngotob, ngatu).

The components of a rice plant (tangkai or batang parai):

bua        ear, bua parai
umi        grain, saumi parai or sangumi parai: one grain of rice
uwas/uas   stem
raun       leaf/leaves
puun       base, here the section at the bottom of the stem with the
ugong      kernel
amut       root/roots emanating from the ugong

Figurative and anthropomorphic representations accorded to a rice plant, as remembered by Narak:

The rice is addressed with, or referred to by "Dang" [= Dayang: Brunei Malay for "Miss"], and described poetically by: "Dang raun melambai angin": "Our little Miss is swaying her leaves in the wind," i.e. they are being rocked by the wind (Jangka maguyang longos).

"Dang munting"Our little Miss is with child," i.e. the stem is round, being with child (dongol o batang, io na tian suda).

"Dang kamuning": "Our little Miss is on the point of bringing forth," i.e. because the tip of the ear is ripe (jikalau suda aro mancak rompod).

Some major vocabulary relating to rice growing:

ngarau   or ngararau to clear and prepare a site (from rarau a field).
ngaratu  nabur (to sow into water), nugal (to dibble), nanom
         (to grow wet rice).
         [Nanom was largely excluded by older persons when explaining
ngatu    to harvest, but "ngotob " (to cut with a sharp instrument)
         was used in the past (sabit lama laid) for "to harvest."
lagas    empty, bua lagas: empty grains, also bua mampa.
lakas    abundant.
ngunu    to thresh (commonly used for any way of threshing).
njamak   to thresh by treading with your feet (njamak: to trample).
ngumil   or nginggin, to threshparai mechanically (sumil: a mill;
         enggin a motor-or driven appliance).
nyri     to winnow by shaking the tray from side to side.
ngatap   to winnow in straight up-and-down movements, tossing the
         grains into the wind (commonly nyri first, followed by
nganos   or nganus, to winnow by pushing the rice grains in the tray
         round in circles, with tray tilted.
nulai    to winnow in circular movements.
ninting  to winnow with small movements up and down, to discard chaff
         or empty grains over the rim of the tray.
mior     to winnow into the wind (usually in the field, using the wind
         to discard the empty grains, e.g. mior ngisu longos: to
         winnow using the wind by tossing the grains up into the air,
         letting the wind carry off the chaff.


Kershaw, Eva Maria 2000 A Study of Brunei Dusun Religion. Ethnic Priesthood on a Frontier of Islam. Phillips, ME: Borneo Research Council (Monograph Series No. 4).

Kershaw, Eva Maria, ed. 1994 Dusun Folktales. Eighty-eight Folktales in the Dusun Language of Brunei with English Translations. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i at Manoa: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies (Southeast Asia Paper No 39).

Kershaw, Roger 1998 Brunei-Dusun omen birds and the rice-sowing Zodiac: some ambivalent portents for authochthonous research. Borneo Research Bulletin 29: 2956.

Kershaw, Eva Maria and Roger Kershaw 2007 Messengers or tipsters? Some cautious though concluding thoughts on Brunei-Dusun augury. Borneo Research Bulletin 38: 50-96.

Sathcr, Clifford 1977 Nanchang Padi: symbolism of Saribas Iban first rites of harvest. JMBRAS 50, Part 2: 150-170.

1980 Symbolic elements in Saribas Iban rites of padi storage. JMBRAS 53, Part 2: 67-95.

(1) The location and chronology of my research has been described in the introductory pages of E. M. Kershaw, ed. 1994 and E.M. Kershaw 2000. The presentation of the present article has benefited from discussion with Roger Kershaw, who, in addition, contributed the piece of political sociology in the final sentence. My material is drawn from over 70 audio-cassette recordings of interviews in the field dating from 1986-93 and 1998. The subject of rice cultivation was one prominent, though not exclusive, focus of these interviews. Another vital phase has been the digitization of all the tapes by the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS, London, which I then accessed, for transcription purposes, through the "Transcriber" software.

(2) E.g. a certain bachelor disregarded the order and continued to clear bits of forest land. He was questioned (marisa) by some officials but not charged, and carried on felling trees for several years (buai io nggadan).

(3) According to Pangan, at Tamandas the number of users swelled from three the first year to twenty in ensuing seasons, at Kukub Hill (bukedKukub) to more than forty.

(4) It was he who performed, on his own, the initial three days of nominal slashing.

(5) "Bad" in a dream could be if someone is seen losing a fight, or running away; "good" could be if a contest is won, or an opponent is seen fleeing, but especially favorable for cultivating rice is if a child is being looked after in the dream, if the dreamer encounters a pregnant woman, or sees a person bringing gifts to him. And when the child in the dream is a boy, the dibbled rice will do especially well; if a girl, the wet rice will do well..

(6) Eagles or hawks are normally not used as omen birds for rice cultivation. One exception is kaniu alap-alap (from ngalap, 'to get, obtain'), proclaiming fertility if seen on the left.

(7) It might be as much as two inches less than before (saboi duo inci te singkat). "Where did it go?" (Li dumbo no nelonjopl) pondered Narak.

(8) Yet forcing the spirit again out of its home (ngisu kuat), by commanding it to move on ("li hat kou]"), might result once more in a merely temporary displacement (memang io balek) with a renewed attack on the farmer or his family. The ferocity of an angered spirit was illustrated by Narak in the following episode: after a dukun had moved an isi onto a piece of jungle, Narak and two brothers attempted to clear the land without the isi's pennission. Both brothers were struck down by unexplained illness and died. Narak too fell ill, but was saved by hastily seeking the help of an old and experienced lama manju, who performed a life-saving ceremonial purification (manju) on him.

(9) When all four pvamo constellations had come into view (merangkai) at dawn.

(10) This being the distance from the tip of the middle finger of an outstretched arm and hand to the center of the chest.

(11) A hatchet with a handle (uting) made of kayu tambilek (Alstenia sp); the immediate, short blade-shaft (paung) also of kayu tambilek covered in sambhur deer skin (kulit tambang) and fastened with rattan (likely to be uwai mputong)\ and a steel blade (and basi).

(12) There was less certainty about how to apply this type of divination to wet-rice fanning (where the sowing is followed later by transplanting). There are ample signs that it was a form of cultivation introduced in quite modern times--including the lack of precision in the word ngarujak, mentioned in note 32, below. The enterprise of identifying the star constellations was shared by Roger Kershaw, who admits to having been intrigued, and to some extent initially fired up, by error in research by Dusuns at the Brunei Museum, on both constellations and omen birds (on both arts, and for his critique of the Brunei Museum, see R. Kershaw 1998; for more advanced work on all Dusun omens, see E.M. and R. Kershaw 2007).

(13) Cf. E.M. Kershaw, ed. 1994: 28-33: "Asal pyamo" (The origin of constellations).

(14) Two tales: Kisct anak lamatai nggiad (The tale of the tearful spirit child) and Turan lamatai purok Danau" (The spirits of Danau Hill) in E.M. Kershaw, ed. 1994, respectively pp 36-39 and pp 38-41, allow a glimpse into the perfectly recognizable, yet upside-down world of the lamatai.

(15) Pangan compared this with modern road surveying by someone using a theodolite.

(16) These are the completive and passive forms of the verb nyabud, 'to come up,' 'to appear.'

(17) Lawan normally means 'to be contrary, against something.' Why lawan, with the opposite meaning of being 'opportune,' was chosen, is not known any more.

(18) Roo= a triangle; with the closed mouth (at the point of the triangle) able to fall open at any time. If that were to happen when in the zenith, any rice the observer/sower sowed in the future would land straight in it and be swallowed.

(19) But too late for nabur (sowing into water).

(20) Whereas the lawan period of the other three constellations merely lasts seven days.

(21) Pangan despondently explained that in the past Dusuns conferred (ngisu pakat), and accepted sugestions put forward by the headman (dumbo kajun tetuo, io novo no). They worked as units (sembaya). Today, each one is his own master (adau iti ngisu kuasa ndiri).

(22) And on previously farmed land, intense burning killed off any pest harbored in the ground (tiap sorob onjop penyakit).

(23) Again, this will seem metaphorical from a modern scientific view, not least because the rice-tobe has not yet even been sown or planted. At any rate, the perceived "descent of the flies" is taken as a warning of future pest attack (penyakit) for the ripening rice, possibly in the form of ndangot (horse-fly maggots) or caterpillars, if noted.

(24) One such talked-about case comprised a certain Panglima, who when all the rest of the settlement had completed their field clearing (naii nepongo), had barely started. The tallest trees he retained to be felled last, "to feed the fire" (lapon no kuo sumad apui) he exclaimed. And indeed, no sooner had he set fire to a freshly cut down tree, amazingly, the flames leapt up and quickly dried any moisture in and around it (aig no maii kasakari), consuming the tree in the process (nesorob o sengaii).

(25) Amusingly, in the case of the rather narrow tree trunk boundaries, it could happen that a dibbler of one field inadvertently punched some holes on the other side of the trunk.

(26) Not only can seeds be unwittingly transferred from one field to the other when they are so close, but also the wind-borne scent of the ripened rice (owou o) can move freely.

(27) As was adumbrated in footnote 18, above.

(28) A gantang is equal to a gallon or 6 2/3 lb.

(29) For Bukit Udal as far as Ukong, about 6 miles. It was said that on at least one occasion, men who had offered their help to a well-to-do but miserly farmer, who had refused, just turned up in strength early one morning and had to be accommodated.

(30) The seeds were carried in a small woven basket, the uyud or sungkad, holding one gantang and worn round the waist.

(31) Having to dibble and sow on his own one year, as Kasip, his wife was confined to the house after giving birth.

(32) This term did not seem to differentiate between the ploughing and the levelling.

(33) Described in E.M. Kershaw 2000: 140.

(34) Lemongrass was chosen, as the noun gumou or gumo could be associated with the verb ngarumo, 'to be of company to someone or something.'

(35) There was no consensus as to whether swampy rice fields should have a puun. The decision seems to have been left to the individual fanner or group.

(36) The panggal benih (seed pillow) of the Saribas Iban as described by Sather (1977: 156) resembles the Dusun puun inasmuch as it is similarly "guarded by the family with charms and protective magic."

(37) Unlike today, where little attention is afforded to a field once it has been planted.

(38) There was one such reported exception when in Sukang a nugal session was halted when a rainbow appeared in the sky, for fear that it might touch (suat) someone in the field.

(39) Very few, and mostly single men, were ever reported to have dared to ignore the prohibitions. They were still (in the 1980s) the object of mirth.

(40) When, in the morning, the moon can be seen above the crown of trees (apar untu kayu), like a thin sickle, you know that the moon has reached its end and will no longer be visible that evening and night (bulan mail, aii bulan). The next day will be the first day of the next moon (bulan agu), but it will not be visible to the naked eye, even in a bright sky. If on the evening after that, you hold up a piece of a white cotton sheet against the moon in the sky (tagon nyulo na libun purak), you may well see a sickle moon (makito baril o), and you are already into the second day of the waxing moon period. But this was merely confirmaton of what the Dusuns knew to be a fact anyway. For some time past, the modern Dusuns have in fact been using the Chinese method of calculating the new moon. It particularly suits the priestesses (belian) who have persons living away from home in their ritual care, and need to be certain of a perfect coordination with regard to the freeing of certain foods for the month ahead (E. M. Kershaw 2000: 116).

(41) On both the 8th and the 23rd day the moon is compared to the inner part of a ripe coconut split into two.

(42) Originally referring to dibbling and sowing into water.

(43) Mamis in everyday speech means 'to be sweet, sugary.' Again in this context it appears to have the opposite meaning.

(44) Ngarawok is a term specially coined for this occasion. Ngarawok tian = hollowing out your stomach.

(45) Burnt of Rambai stated categorically, that apart from awok kaut: "nanom jami andi pantang," "we do not have any restrictions for wet rice."

(46) Boundaries were demarcated by a river, a brook or crossroads.

(47) But if the area where the death occured had not yet been planted, it was left fallow, thought to belong to the deceased (bagian diso). If, on the other, hand rice was already growing, plants on the spot where the person had died, likewise were his and could not be consumed by the living for fear of incurring the dead man's curse.

(48) This was the practice quoted for Ukong and Bukit Udal. But Burnt from Rambai reported that in the village of Rambai any field where someone had died was never used again.

(49) This rule also applied when the owner of a field died after completing the harvest, but before the field's rice was ritually freed for consumption. No member of his family could use it anymore.

(50) The actual plant used was no longer remembered.

(51) Parai tugal was still favored over wet rice for producing white and well-formed grains.

(52) Although all imported rice was from Thailand, the Dusuns generally stuck to the old term kina because the rice in shops was sold by Chinese.

(53) They were either strings fastened at each end of the field and held up by intermediate wooden poles, short pennants being attached to the strings; or the kalating tunga where a bamboo pole was mounted horizontally on top of two vertical wooden posts. When the string attached to one end of the bamboo pole was pulled, the other end of it knocked noisily against the wooden pole at that end, to which it was loosely fixed.

(54) Cf. E.M. Kershaw 2000: 139 on lamatai rezeki (spirits associated with man's livelihood).

(55) Short form of indu or yadu.

(56) Any bark will do, but the most commonly used trees are: kayu tees (Norrisia maior Soler), kayu tembagan (Artocarpus sp) or kayu tadu (Dalbergia parviflora Roxb). The bark is lightly pounded and dried to make it burn.

(57) The utut is less likely to get extinguished (bole taan, andipisok) than the otherwise employed coconut shell filled with incense.

(58) Cf. "The Scurvied Boy goes tilling" (E.M. Kershaw, ed. 1994:22-25), a tale illustrating the beneficial as well as disastrous results which the involvement of the lamatai parai had on two sets of cultivators.

(59) Cf. E.M. Kershaw 2000: 137-138.

(60) Dusuns, in contrast to the Saribas Iban, do not perceive the rice in a field or in the store as containing "multitudinous individual souls" (Sather 1977:156) but rather, a pervasive single presence, in both places. [Editor's note: This formulation may, I think, be a bit misleading in regard to the Saribas Iban. The Iban term semengat (soul) is notably polysemous and may refer to both an aggregation of souls and an individual soul. For the Iban, virtually everything has semengat, not just rice and human beings, although these are the semengat of greatest concern. Even longhouse entry ladders, harvest baskets and mats have semengat. In regard to rice, individual plants have a semengat, hence the concern that harvesters move in a continuous circuit as they reap so as not to leave any of these behind, but conduct them all to the 'seed pillow' near the center of the field where they can be safely removed and ritually conveyed to the longhouse. But the term semengat may also be used to describe, in aggregate, the soul of the rice growing in a particular field or stored after harvest in a bark-bin granary. Caring for this aggregate soul is, equally, a matter of ritual concern.]

(61) Even when people ate both rice and sago for a meal, sago had to be taken first, leaving rice as the main dish, to please the lingu parai.

(62) Even in the 1980s there were still persons thought to fill their rice stores through petua, and thus, rice harvested from a modest field in one season could feed a large family for two years. A certain Yabau of Rambai was believed to be able, by the power of his magic, to sway the lingu parai to double the feeding power of his rice.

(63) Chosen for the proximity of its sound to ngatu (to harvest), the tandu ngatu (harvest emblem).

(64) Kuab is cognate with meruab to rise, increase, leading to the thought that: katu no meruab your harvest increases. Both latu and kuab grasses are more or less obligatory, and often the only ones added to the rice plants.

(65) Lygodium.

(66) A creeper.

(67) Eurycoma longfolia Jack.

(68) As the mbagan, a soulless body without grains, only stalks (umi da onjop, tangkai gala).

(69) This ritual resembles the nanchang padi rite of the Saribas Iban (Sather 1977; 158) in its outward form, but the purpose of the bongkos tanga is, as shown here, markedly different.

(70) This may be the puun area which was planted first, and during the growing season had acted as a barometer for the entire field.

(71) This invites a comparison between the lifeline and the umbilical cord.

(72) Uyud, a term used in Ukong, sungkad in Bukit Udal. It holds one gantang, and is made of raun bamban (Donax canniformis), raun nipa (Nipa fruticans), ox raun ambio (sago palm) and is worn about the waist, with its sash slung over one shoulder, or both straps tied around the waist.

(73) Reapers here included anyone harvesting the first nine baskets. However, rules relating to the farmer's family only applied to the owner of the field.

(74) Sageng: the most used medium-sized back basket; lasuk:a larger back basket; kiba: the largest carrying basket, made of bark, usually carried by men.

(75) A lasuk holds 10-15 gantang. Surong, a farmer from Bukit Udal, known for his disregard for personal rules, regularly took half-empty baskets to the field hut. The fact that nothing happened to him did not invalidate the rule. Surong was seen as a foolish freak pushing his luck. If good fortune had not protected him, starvation would certainly have been the punishment for his daring defiance.

(76) The same fate awaits the owner of a rice store (durong) if it collapses while there is rice in it.

(77) Thus, when I was harvesting, I was instructed to keep at all times close to Ruput, my hostess. Similarly the Saribas Iban took care "not to isolate uncut plots of grain" (Sather 1977:167), albeit for a different reason.

(78) On all aspects of freeing new rice cf. E.M. Kershaw 2000.

(79) About three feet.

(80) One reaper could be expected to harvest around ten gantang a day.

(81) Cf. E.M. Kershaw 2000: 140-141.

(82) The word mesiou (to shout) is substituted with musor if the lingu parai is likely to overhear it.

(83) Njamak. 'to step onto, trample.' This alludes to the old method of threshing rice with one's feet.

(84) Cf. E.M. Kershaw, ed. 1994: 278-281: "Lagawou saksian" ("The enchanted bird") for the account of when, in the distant past, enchanted baskets dibbled, seeded, and reaped the rice for the Dusuns.

(85) After a death in Ukong there was no harvesting as far as Bang Diok. Bukit Udal and Buked were not affected.

(86) Mpagas (day 17), for instance, is associated with empty husks (lap lagas parai).

(87) A sungkad or uyud holds one gantang.

(88) Sather 1980: 86 and 91 describes similar beliefs and attitudes to stored rice by the Saribas Iban.

Eva Maria Kershaw

Parish of Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland
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Author:Kershaw, Eva Maria
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:9BRUN
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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