Raga Sebayan.




Ditulis maya niang Benedict Sandin nyadi Research Assistant, Sarawak Museum. This contribution was prepared with the Curator, to accompany new material received from the Saribas and put on show jn Kuching as part of a special Malaysia Day exhibit 1963. Benedict Sandin has already described the main rites in detail (S.MJ. X 1961 17: 170-191). The present notes explain about aad elaborate on the very special role of the Garung baskets—a complete series has probably not previousiy been assembled except at an actual ceremony.

Gawai Antu

Gawai Antu (the feast of the departed spirits) is the greatest of all Sea Dayak feasts, celebrated iu honour of those who have died since the last feast was held. There is no fixed date for this celebration. It takes two years or more to prepare for the ceremony financially, and the feast itself may occur only once in fifteen—at best ten—years. During this period of preparation, the feast-chief (Tuai Gawai) decides whom he wishes to invite to drink the most sacred libation, Ai Garung, offered to the spirits of the dead. This top-ranking rice wine is essentially linked with—and named for—the Garung baskets.


The two men invited for this Ai Garung libation must have taken at least one head each (bedengah) from the enemy in battle. This head also must have been honoured during the separate. feast called Enchaboh Arong. OnIy then can the killers qualify to drink the Ai Jalung Timang, which must be taken as the stage before they are entitled to drink the Ai Garung wine.

The difference between the holy rice-wines—all of which taste the same—can be summarised briefly:

(i)                 The ai Jalung Timang is a holy wine offered to brave men who have killed enemy in battle. The wine has been praised by the singers (lemambang) the whole night Iong. Then one of them hands it to a woman of rank and good character, who wlll in turn offer it to the brave man. This is the initial wine of honour to the warrior.

(ii)               The sacred Ai Garung is only taken and handled by the moi who have many times taken the Ai Jalung Timang; or by a man who is inspired to do so in his dreams; or by the descendant of the Ai Garung drinker, even if he has not killed an enemy in battle yet qualiftes in respect to his deceased kinsman. That is, he qualifies in life through another in death. . .

(iii)             The Ai Garung spiritually represents the Ai-beru-sebayan -the juice of the decomposed body of a dead man.  The substitute rice-wine is taken instead or actual corpse juice drunk by the dead —so that the blessing of the feast may be received in the living man so honoured.

For the hosen pair to drink it, the sacred Ai Garung wine mtist be put into bamboo containers, themselves carefully placed inside the Garung basket of the correct sort (as listed below). These baskets are made of bamboo. They are very finely woven into various, standard shapes and sizes by the elderly women of unblemished character. Each has its own name.


Some baskets and related articles are not of full Garung status. These, totalling 25 in all are the ones made for younger people who have died at various times. They belong to the Gawai Antu rites, but precede the significant step-up of Garung and the important belief related to these.

(1)   Gadai – A basket measure equal to four gallons, i.e. the ancient name of gantang (gadai).

(2)   Baya Bepapa – The  capacity of the crocodile mouth.

(3)   Mudor Ruroh – Over ripe fallen mudor palm (wild) fruits.

(4)    Ranyai Ensebam – Very  thick foliage of nibong palm (thatching palm).

(5)   Tikai Burit – Stern  mat of rotan (seat-mat).

(6)   Limau Rangan and Melanjan Ruat –The plentiful fruits of lime and melanjan trees.

These continue through to:

(25) Basong –A  woven basket for carrying clothes.

Specimens of each sort are on display in the new exhibit, but are not the main interest of our present observations,_namely, the true Garung baskets for the holy wine.


The rest of the baskets are woven for mature adults only: and for those who had given truly meritorious service in battle especially. These are:

(26)  A basket known as Gelayan, specially made for any married man or woman; or anyone else dying above the age of twenty, without qualifying for full Garung honours.

(27)  If the deceased was rich and fortunate in alI his works, while he was still Iiving, (and especially if he had bought a valuable jar, tajau) he was given by his family a Garung Tunggal basket,—a basket in which a bamboo wine container was placed for the brave living man to drink the sacred wine in honour of the deceased.

(28)  If the deceased was a leading warrior (manuk sabung) he was entitled to be given by his family a Garung Ranggung Dua basket (two cylindrical baskets joined together), also known as Jugam—bear due to its black colour. He was one who had done more valuable works than the man awarded Garung Tunggal (no. 27).

(29)  If the deceased was a leader of small wars (tau kayau) he became entitled to a Garung Ranggung Tiga basket (three cylindrical baskets joined together), also known as Lebur Api—meaning fire, due to its red colour. It showed that the deceaseds heart, while still Iiving was as effective as fire. This basket was also heavily decorated with the hair of enemy scalps.

(30) If the deceased was a great and famous war-Ieader (tau serang) he was honoured with a basket called Ranggung Lima (five cylindrical baskets joined together) or Sangkutan. This was also decorated with the enemys hair to commemorate the dead mans bravery in battle.

(3 1) The Garung basket known as Garung Ranggung Tujuh or Entugin (seven cylindrical baskets joined together) was only given to a man honoured with second Gawai Antu festival. No one could normally be so honoured as his first Gawai Antu, whatever the achievement (cf.(b) below). –

(32) The Garung basket which was known as Garung Ranggung Semilan or Engkeruruh (nine cylindrical baskets joined together) was given to a deceased—mentioned in .no31 above: when honoured with a third Gawai Antu east (cf. (c) below). It was the custoin if the community could afford it, at their next Gawai Antu festival (celebrated about fifteen years later) to re-honour their dead with a further elevation thus:

(a)   If a man had been honoured by two cylindrical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Dua, during the first Gawai Antu celebration, at the second feast he was entitled tq three cylindrical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Tiga. Finally at a third and Iast Gawai Antu feast, he was entitled to five cylindrical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Lima.

(b)    If a man who had been given by his family three cylin- drical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Tiga, in the first feast in his honour, at the second feast he was entitled to five cylindrical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Lima. In the third and Iast feast he was honoured with seven cylindrical baskets Garung Rangung Tujuh.

(c)    If a man who had been given five cylindrical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Lima, in the first feast, in the second he was entitled to be honoured with seven cylindrical baskets joined together, Garung Ranggung Tujuh; in the third and last feast, nine cylindrical baskets, Garung Ranggung Sambilan.

All these dead were given such baskets at each Gawai Antu feast, to accord with the tradition taught long ago to Serapoh by the spirit Puntang Raga, traditional originator of headhunting and most of the present death rites in Sea Dayak lore (including Gawai Antu).

It was for this reason that Dayaks in the past generations tried by all manner of means to work very hard, so that they could afford to buy o!d jars and to be honoured in the Gawai Tajau and Gawai Antu feasts. In these attempts, literally thousands of lbans were lost and vanished for ever in foreign lands, including Malaya, Thailand, Sumatra, Java, Celebes the Philippines and New Guinea, from 1870 onto the First World War years.

Again, in order to earn bravery and honour—so that after their death they would still be honoured with Garung baskets,— all these Dayaks who follow the old adat custom still always show themselves war-like even today,—such as those who have joined the Trackers in Malaya, the Sarawak Rangers, the Field Force and then in 1963 the new Border Scouts  and already with hundreds of Iban volunteers in the Second Division.


After the whole night of Gawai Antu feasting, at day-break the morning meal is served. After the meal, some of the most reliable old men will be asked to release the widows and widowers from their vow of not marrying before their sacred promise has been religiously removed from them, in accordance with the custom of Ngambi Tebalu Mansau.

While the old men are thus freeing the widows and widowers, those who have been appointed to serve the holy A i Garung wine start to shape and fit the bamboo containers for the baskets, inside which they wilI be placed.

When this is done, the feast-chief waves his cockerel along the verandah, to announce the procession of Nganjung Garung. Shortly after this, those who have drunk the Ai Jalung Timang offered by chosen women assemble again (see (i) above).

In the first procession through the long-house, the feast- chiefs family will take precedence before alI others. Each pro- cession must be Ied by a brave man (warrior) who has drunk the Ai Jalung Timang wine. As he walks in front, he holds the Garung basket in which the holy wine is placed. Behind him walk men and women in fulI ceremonial dress. After a second and then a third

procession, the brave warrior finally hands the Garung wine to the man who drinks it. As he hands it, he shouts and acts as if he has just killed an enemy. Similarly, the man who receives the wine raises his sword, to show that he too is brave and is ready to defend himself from any attack. After the honoured man has drunk the wine, the procession ends its journey just before noon.

Immediately after the Nganjung Garung ceremony, a meal is served to the guests. Then Beranggap starts; in this the hosts present to the guests various kinds of cakes, buns and money, as their provisions when they return home.

As the Beranggap lasts till mid-afternoon, so there is no time for the hosts and their relatives to erect the Sungkup (secondary built hut) in the cemetery that day. They simply take the pieces of the hut and move these from the longhouse tanju (drying platform) to the open space (tengah laman) along the front.

Early next day, the household and those close relatives and friends who have not yet returned home, erect the Sungkup and other monuments in the grave yard. When these have been properly erected, aIl the Garung baskets are either hung from the wings (pemanjar) of the Sungkup or from a specially made curved pole called Tiang Jegada, originated by Selamuda, who married the Swine Goddess, Dayang Manis Muka, more than nineteen generations ago in Saribas genealogies. Nowadays a Tiang Regang may be used instead in some places. This is a modern word which means. Cross and is derived from Christian influence in recent years.


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