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By D’Drift Team
MUKAH, Oct 15: The Lamin Dana Cultural Lodge, a hidden gem nestled among 200 stilt wooden houses in the Melanau village of Kampung Tellian where the ancient Jerunai burial poles and hanging coffins lie, is ready to reopen to restart tourism in the small coastal town of Mukah.
Known as the House of the Living Legend, Lamin Dana is the historical heart of Mukah as the people piously preserved the fascinating heritage, history and culture of ancient Melanau tribe for future generation and make known to the world.
Its resident manager Andrea James said there are still four out of seven Jerunai totem poles that are over 100 years old standing within the village with one near the entrance to the village or a few minutes walk from Lamin Dana.
“The Jerunai is reserved mainly for the Melanau aristocrats or ‘bangsawan’. It is made from Belian (ironwood) trees which are obtained from other places. Before it was erected, the pole was carved with intricate motifs (that symbolise the status of the aristocrat) and an elaborate blessing ceremony was carried out.
“The body of the aristocrat will be left in a hanging coffin for a period of time before its remains were transferred into a Jerunai,” she shared with the D’Drift Team when met.
The Melanaus, she added, were divided by a heredity system of three social classes with their own pagan beliefs that were very intricate.
A relic of the hanging coffin sits right next to the Melanau tall house of Lamin Dana but Andrea said there were no spooky tales as “what is left is only the coffin”.
According to traditions and stories passed down, every aristocrat will bring along two human sacrifices with them into the afterlife, one male slave and one female slave around 12 to 13 years of age.
The male slave will be placed at the bottom below the aristocrat and the female above, both tied to the Jerunai and left to starve to death.
“This tradition is no longer practised as due to passing time, locals have embraced other religions like Christianity,” she added.
But there were beliefs that people would take the tree bark from the Jerunai and use it for drinking and shower in a simple ritual to cure stomach ailment, according to Cecelia Jailah Jana whose house is right next to the burial pole.
“That is why you see there are slash or cut markings at the bottom of the pole.
“Last time, there were a lot of birds living in the Jerunai which has a hollow centre. We would use a bamboo stick and shove it inside the tree, shake it a little to chase the birds away.
“Apart from that, everything is peaceful in the village. We don’t feel disturb or anything. In fact, we are used to their presence like a guardian of our village,” she elaborated.
With such rich, unique and captivating Melanau’s culture and traditions to explore and experience, Andrea said that the homestay has resumed operation and is eager to welcome back visitors after 20 months of Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions that have totally suspended travel and tourism not only in Sarawak but across the world.
“Before the pandemic, our lodge frequently received visits from locals mostly on day trips and foreign tourists who would take up overnight stay packages. There were visitors coming every month and we would normally be full,” she added.
This is the best place for travellers to fully immerse themselves in Melanau’s culture for a more authentic and enriching experience as it offers more than just a homestay.
Apart from a tour around the village for a close up view of the ancient relics of Melanau burial pole and hanging coffins, other activities offered include sampling traditional Melanau flavours especially the “umai” or sliced raw fish with dry sago which Mukah is famous for, boat ride along the Tellian River to experience the riverine lifestyle and nature, hands-on experience of making crafts, baskets and Batik Linut and of course, a unique experience of exploring the sago cottage industry.
“We just started producing Batik Linut, made using fresh sago flour mixed with hot water to create the sticky starch or glue that replaces candle wax in batik-making, in 2019.
“Then production slowed down when Covid-19 hit but we still continue to make and market them online. So we are keen to get back into business and promote our very own Batik Linut to the market,” Andrea explained.
Linut is also a traditional delicacy of the Melanau and Bisaya communities in Sarawak which is normally eaten with sambal or other dishes.
Attractions in Mukah, located about 157 kilometre from Sibu or a two and half hour drive, are not constrained to Lamin Dana as travellers can also visit the Sapan Puloh mini museum (which was closed during our visit) at Kampung Tellian to discover the ancient customs, traditions, cultures and roots of the Melanau.
At the Mukah town centre, travellers can also to check out the 20-metres high old sago factory brick chimney left behind when the sago processing factory closed in the early 20th century, the Chinese temple, the lively market offering freshest seafood and abundant produce of fruits and vegetables and so much more.— DayakDaily