Monday, October 20, 2008

Funerary Art of Borneo II

Among the Ngaju, and other Dayak groups that were influenced by their culture, the long, complex rituals of the secondary burial required elaborate carvings. The mausoleum, called a sandung, is an intricately carved "house" that rest on one to five pillars, the whole structure standing about 2 meters high. The bones of the deceased are placed in a compartment in this carving. The sandung was
covered with carvings, including the hornbill bird, symbolizing the upper world, and a dragon/snake, standing for the lower world. At the climax of the ceremony, the priest enacts the reunion of the deceased with his spirit, and at this moment a water buffalo tied to a sepunduq-the sacrificial post-is speared to death by the relatives of the deceased. Pigs are also sacrificed. In earlier times, a slave would have been used rather than the animals. The sepunduq were often the finest examples of the woodcarver's art, and depicted demons with fangs, huge protruding tongues, and long noses. The highest, most complex carving associated with Ngaju funerary ritual is the Sengkaran, a 6-meter (20 ft.) pole that supports a carved hornbill bird flying over a forest of spears, which are stuck like a fan into the back of a dragon. The dragon rests on an heirloom Chinese jar.

This carving represents a cosmos, or a tree of life. Particular to Ngaju culture are the ships-of-the-dead, small model sailing ships manned by a crew of benevolent spirits, and designed to help a soul on its way to the after-world. Today, these soul shops are constructed out of gutta-percha for sale to tourists. The cultural diffusion of many of these Ngaju funerary rituals large areas of central Borneo began before the arrival of the Europeans. The recently named and officially recognized kaharingan faith of the Ngaju also has been at least partially assimilated by several Dayak groups in East and West Kalimantan. This religion incorporates a secondary funeral called tiwan, which requires much of the artwork mentioned above.


Juliana Dewi Kartikawati said...

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Sheri Fresonke Harper said...

Fascinating, I hope to visit some day and find every aspect of society's practices interesting to read about. Consider a blog post to
:) Sheri