Four more burial poles discovered in Tatau River

The Klirieng at the Belak Besar River, recently discovered by Nicholas Daby and his team from the Sarawak Museum Department. Photo credit :Sarawak Museum Department

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by Calvin Jemarang

BINTULU, Apr 5: Two kliriengs and two kludans, or burial poles, have been discovered in the Tatau River basin.

“There is a kludan in front of his longhouse. So I told Tuai Rumah Gundi recently to search for more of these artifacts in the vicinity,” Kakus assemblyman Datuk John Sikie told DayakDaily, after officiating a Sarawak Museum conservation programme at Rumah Ado Bilong on April 3.


“I suspect there could be a few more in the area,” the Minister in the Premier’s Department added.

Tuai Rumah Gundi made a subsequent discovery of an additional two burial poles in a forest nearby.

“The two burial poles were found near Nanga Biban, downstream of our longhouse,” said Tuai Rumah Gundi when contacted.

Nanga Biban is about half an hour by long boat from Tatau town.

Gundi said one klirieng was found laid on the ground and another, a kludan.

A kludan in front of Tuai Rumah Gundi longhouse at Nanga Biban (Lo’o Bivan), Tatau.

According to Nicholas Daby Henry Atie of the Sarawak Museum Department, during his presentation at Rumah Ado, another klirieng was reported in the vicinity of the Belak River, further south from Nanga Biban.

The klirieng is located at Belak Besar River, on the opposite bank from the five burial poles at Belak Kecil River, commonly referred to as “Rantau Belak” by the local Iban communities but as “Lulau Belak” by the Punan communities.

Historical records show these areas were gradually deserted by the Punan in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

“The influx of Dayak Iban from Rejang and other areas drove us upriver, into where we are today,” said Tuai Rumah Ado Bilong, a Punan Tuai Rumah in the Kakus River.

Tuai Rumah Tayai, in 1961, reported that his ancestors, Lidom and his son Nyipa Lidom, had a longhouse at the Belak River.

Lidom was Tatau Punan paramount chief in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The klirieng at Nanga Biban, discovered by Tuai Rumah Gundi.

Robert Burns, a Scottish explorer in 1848, also reported the existence of Punan communities along the Tatau basin, which he mistook for Kayan. There is no history of Kayan ever settling in the Tatau basin.

The oral history indicated that all the burial poles along the Tatau basin, once scattered from the mouth of Tatau River to Upper Kakus and Anap, were linked to descendants of Saghek, the Punan paramount chief during Brunei rule.

Saghek was the great-great-grandfather of Sikie from his maternal great-grandmother, Ulau, who was Lidom’s sister.

Ulau was married to Basat, a Saribas Dayak circa in the mid nineteenth century. They gave birth to Jinap, Sikie’s grandmother.

This indicated that Datuk John Sikie is one of the many direct living descendants of Saghek.

“I hope Dr Elena Chai, with her expertise as an anthropologist, will conduct a thorough study of all the klirieng sites in the State,” said Sikie.

Dr Elena Gregoria Chai Chin Fern, a lecturer at University Malaysia Sarawak, but currently seconded to Sarawak Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture said she would do her best.

“Sarawak is rich in cultural diversity and this very important asset of the State has not yet been fully tapped into,” she said.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Daby said the Sarawak Museum Department is looking into ways of saving the five burial poles at Rantau Belak.

Datuk John Sikie Tayai flanked by Dr Ipoi Datan of Majlis Adat Istiadat, Dr Elena Chai, and Punan community leader Sanok Magai during the Sarawak Museum Department’s ‘Pemuliharaan Warisan’ programme held at Rumah Ado Bilong, Kakus, Tatau on April 3, 2022.

One of the solutions being explored by the Museum Department is to move the burial pole to higher ground.

One of the burial poles is believed to be containing Ulau’s remains, the great-grandmother of Sikie. — DayakDaily