‘Adat Gawea Sowa’ of the Jagoi-Bratak community fading away

The 'Pinguguoh' offering a live chicken at 'Motak Ngilaga', the River Ritual to invite the 'Eiang Podi' and ancestral spirits living in the nearby woods to follow the river to come to the river altar, called the 'Selangan'.


(Credit for all photographs go to Evangeline Thian / Into The Wild Borneo 走进婆罗洲 https://www.facebook.com/intothewildborneo/)

THE ‘Adat Gawea Sowa’ or ‘paddy thanksgiving ritual’ that took place at Kampung Jagoi Serasot in Bau from June 28 to July 1 may be the last one to be witnessed by the Jagoi-Bratak people, a sub-Bidayuh tribe.

This annual spectacle is coming to an end as virtually all the locals have embraced Christianity. Due to this switch, there are very few pagan worshippers left.

The latest edition of this ritual featured Kampung Tugag resident Pa Migen as the ‘Pinguguoh’ or high priest. The role of ‘Pinyigar’ or ‘Pingadoup’ (assistant priest) went to Pa Dering from Kampung Jagoi Serikin, Pa Doris from Kampung Raso and Pa Rita, also from Kampung Jagoi Serikin.

Similar to the ritual, the trio is probably the last of the Jagoi-Bratak priests.

There were also ‘Dayung Bolih’ or priestess, and their assistants are called ‘Pinginang’. The four ‘Dayung Bolih’ were Sino Jotim from Kampung Par, Sino Jono (Kampung Opar), Sino Redan (Kampung Serasot) and Sino Liza (Kampung Duyoh). The two ‘Pinginang’ were Sino Doris (Kampung Opar) and Sino Jipis (Kampung Serikin).

The four-day ritual started on the evening of June 28, with offerings such as live and cooked chickens, bamboo rice (pogang), paddy (podi) and a pig. A ‘Bawal’ or ‘Bawar’ (main altar) of about 170cm high and 160cm wide was built in front of the ‘tonju’ (verandah) of the ‘Boli Gawea’ (House of Gawea).

The ritual got going with the ‘Dayung Bolih’ chanting the ‘Ayun Bolih’, which is a mixture of prayers, incantations, recitations and story-telling. The chant relates how the community came about and they establish ties with their ancestors through the ritual. The session was also a journey of sorts for the priestess involved as they crossed over to the spiritual realm.

The aim of the ‘Ayun Bolih’ was to summon and invite the spirits of the ancestors and the ‘Eieng Podi’ (paddy deities) to come and join the gathering.

The next day, the ‘Pinguguoh’ performed a ritual called ‘Motak Ngilaga’ by the stream in the village. For this ritual, a small altar called ‘Silangan’ was set up facing a forest and by the stream. The ‘Silangan’ has two levels. Offerings were placed on its top level, while a piece of white cloth with rice, rice wine and water from the stream were placed on the level below.

The ‘Pinguguoh’ then circled the altar and invoked the spirits of the ancestors and paddy deities residing in the forest. The ‘Dayung Bolih’ followed him. The spirits were summoned to use the stream to get to the altar and to stay in the white cloth.

The ‘Dayung Bolih’ chanting by the stream, calling for the ‘Eiang Podi’ and ancestral spirits to the ‘Selangan’.
The ‘Pinguguoh’ bundles up the white cloth, believed to contain the ‘Eiang Podi’ and ancestral spirits that came from the woods.

After that, the ‘Pinguguoh’ dripped dry the stream water and rice wine. He then bundled the white cloth and placed it inside a rattan basket called ‘Jumuok Simongi’. With that done, the spirits were now believed to be residing inside that piece of white cloth.

The ‘Pinguguoh’ then brought the basket to where the ‘Bawal’ is located. Chanting continued as the ‘Pinguguoh’ and the four ‘Dayung Bolih’ circled the main altar, with the basket in hand. Once the chanting ended, the basket was placed on the main altar.

At this stage, the ‘team’ took a breather before continuing with the ritual.

On Friday evening, the four ‘Dayung Bolih’ again chanted the ‘Ayun Bolih’, but they did it on the ‘Ayun’ (swing) in the Gawea House and in front of the offerings, which were placed on a long shelf on the wall.

Dayung Bolih sitting on the swing, performing the ‘Ayun Bolih’ ritual in Gawea House.

It was crucial for all the four ‘Dayung Bolih’ to be present and to be supportive of each other when performing this aspect of the ritual. They were required to sit on the swing in a row and while they ‘ngayun’ (swing) away slowly, they have to a recite a mantra that was handed down to them through oral tradition.

According to a local, the mantra was as long as a book, and the four ‘Dayung Bolih’ had to memorise them. They were not allowed to miss any part of the mantra. In the event they committed a mistake, these priestesses need to start all over again. With four, they were allowed to take over from each other at anytime or to remind each other of the following verse. This helped ensure they did not miss or mix up any portion of the mantra.

The ritual continued on Saturday with the slaughtering of a pig. In the afternoon, a ritual called ‘Nyigar Ma’an Ieng’ was performed. Here, the priests and the ‘Dayung Bolih’ sat together and feasted with the spirits in the basket by opening up basket.

The ‘Nyigar Ma’an Ieng’ — feasting with the ‘Eiang Podi’ and ancestral spirits or deities.

At about 3.30pm, the team moved to the house of one of the ‘Dayung Bolih’ for a ritual called ‘Sadih Rasang’. It is a form of prayer in front of the ‘Rasang’ (a wooden structure made in the image of a Borneo Peacock. It symbolises the selected Dayang Bolih’s family in another realm) to request for protection and blessings for the whole household.

The ‘Sadih Rasang’ also involved reciting and chanting around the ‘Rasang’. Once completed, it was brought to Gawea House and wrapped in a piece of red cloth. More offerings were placed at the foot of the main altar, and more chanting and dancing around the altar and the ‘Rasang’ ensued.

‘Nyigar Rasang’ —the offering to the Borneo Peacock-pheasant.

Once the ritual past midnight, another round of offerings followed. At about 3.30am, the highlight of the whole ritual called ‘Nyigar Nguguoh’ started.

The ‘Pinguguoh’ chanted and made recitations while the ‘Dayung Bolih’, holding offerings known as ‘Ajang’, circled the ‘Bawal’ 16 times.

‘Pinguguoh’, ‘Penyidar’ and ‘Dayung Bolih’ circling the main altar called ‘Bawal’.

After that, the ‘Pinguguoh’ pulled a piece of flag-like cloth that was hanging on the altar. When that happened, all the ‘Dayung Bolih’ fell into a trance and passed out. Anticipating it, some women folk had earlier placed themselves behind the four ‘Dayung Bolihs’ and caught them by their arms from the back to prevent the priestesses from falling and hurting themselves.

The ‘pinginang’ then breathed gently into the ears of the ‘Dayung Bolih’, one by one. Once the priestesses regained consciousness, the ritual was over.

‘Dayung Bolih’ holding offerings while dancing around the ‘Bawal’ before they fell into a trance and passed out.
‘Pinganang’ trying to wake the ‘Dayung Bolih’ who passed out after falling into a trance.

When the ‘Dayung Bolih’ woke up, the offerings that were wrapped in leaves or ‘Dowon Manah’ and placed at the foot of the altar, were opened. Extra objects such as hair, nails, string and rice grain were among the offered items. The extra objects were believed to be gifts from the ancestral spirits or paddy spirits that came to participate in the ritual.

After ‘Nyigar Nguguoh’, the offerings wrapped in corn leaves are opened and foreign objects such as hair, nails and paddy seeds were found. In the photo, the extra object is hair.

Following this, a ‘Nyigar Biramak’ was held. Outsiders joined in to share the success of the whole ritual and they had a fun time dancing around the altar.

Holding hands, the ‘Pinguguoh’, ‘Penyidar’ and ‘Dayung Bolih’ dance around the ‘Bawal’ during the ‘Nyigar Birawak’ ritual.

(Credit for all photographs go to Evangeline Thian / Into The Wild Borneo 走进婆罗洲 https://www.facebook.com/intothewildborneo/)

— DayakDaily