Read CHAPTER XIII of Children of Borneo , free online book, by Edwin Herbert Gomes, on


Marriages in all countries are occasions of rejoicing, and it is the same among the Dyaks. The principal part of the ceremony is the fetching of the bride from her father’s to the bridegroom’s house. The women-folk of the village, who are friends of the bridegroom’s family, set out in a boat, gaily decorated with an awning of parti-coloured sheets, and with streamers and flags flying, to an accompaniment of gongs and drums and musical instruments, to fetch the bride to her future home.

When the boat arrives at the landing-stage of the bride’s house, they all walk up a gaily dressed crowd and are welcomed into the house. Here they sit down and talk over the future prospects of the young couple, chewing betel-nut and sireh (a kind of pepper leaf) all the time. A portion of these chewing ingredients are carefully set aside to be used later on. The Dyak with his great love for divination, cannot allow such an occasion to pass without some attempt to find out the secrets of the future.

The company all sit down in the long common hall of the Dyak house, and the betel-nut, sireh, etc., specially set aside for the ceremony, are brought forward. A betel-nut is split into seven pieces by one supposed to be lucky in matrimonial matters, and these, together with the other ingredients of the betel-nut mixture, are all put in a little basket, which is bound together with red cloth, and laid for a short time upon the open platform adjoining the house.

The Master of the Ceremonies, who splits the betel-nut, then makes a little speech, telling the assembled guests that if either party should desert the other without sufficient reason, the offending party shall be fined such an amount as has been agreed upon.

The basket containing the split pieces of betel-nut is then brought in and uncovered, and the contents examined to ascertain the will of the gods. Should the pieces of betel-nut, by some mystic power, increase in number, the marriage will be an unusually happy one; but should they decrease, it is a bad omen, and the marriage must be postponed or relinquished altogether. But, as a matter of fact, they neither increase nor decrease, and this is taken to mean that the wedding is one upon which the spirits have pronounced neither a good nor a bad verdict.

This action gives the name to the marriage ceremony. The Dyaks call marriage Mlah Pinang “spitting the betel-nut.”

The contents of the little basket, used to discover the will of the higher powers, is chewed by those present just as other pinang and sireh, and the marriage ceremony is over; the young couple are lawfully man and wife.

For the wedding, the bride decks herself out in all the finery she possesses, or can borrow from her friends. Her wedding-dress consists of a short petticoat of Dyak-woven cloth, which reaches to her knees. Along the bottom edge of this there are sewed several rows of tinsel, and of silver coins, below which probably hang some rows of hawk-bells, which make a tinkling sound as she walks. Round her waist are several coils of brass or silver chain, and two or three belts made of dollars or other silver coins linked together. From her hips upwards, as far as her armpits, she wears a corset formed by threading split cane through a great number of small brass rings, arranged so closely together as to completely hide the cane. To this corset may be fixed two or three bands of silver coins. Her armlets of brass or silver extend as far up as her elbow. As many rings as she possesses are on her fingers, and she wears necklaces of small beads, worked in very beautiful patterns, and finished off with a tassel of beads, or else a large number of big silver or brass buttons strung together round her neck. Her ears are decorated with filigreed studs of silver gilt, with a setting of scarlet cloth behind the filigree work to show them off.

In her hair is a towering comb of silver filigree work, to which are attached a number of silver spangles, which glitter with every movement of her head. She wears her hair in a knot into which are stuck a number of large brass hair-pins, decorated with beads and little tags of red and yellow and white cloth. She possesses a bright coloured jacket of Dyak-woven cloth; but she does not wear it, it is slung over her right shoulder.

After this detailed description of the bride’s dress, it is disappointing to learn that the bridegroom takes no special pains to ornament his person. The men wear a great deal of finery when they attend a feast, or when they go on the war-path, but on the occasion of his wedding, the bridegroom takes no extra trouble over his apparel.


As soon as a man dies, the professional mourner sits on a swing near the head of the corpse and sings a long dirge, blaming the different parts of the house, beginning with the roof-ridge and proceeding downwards, for not keeping back the soul of the dead man.

Then the corpse is carried out into the public part of the house, and is covered with a Dyak sheet. By his side are put his belongings his clothes, his implements of work, his shield, his sword, his spear which are to be buried with him, or placed on his grave.

Early the following morning the body, wrapped in mats, and secured with a light framework of wood, is carried on the shoulders of four men, and, accompanied by their friends, they go to the jungle. When they come to the spot where a tree is to be cut down for the coffin, a halt is made. A fowl is killed, and the blood collected in a cup, and mixed with a little water. Each person present is touched with the blood, to propitiate the gods, and to secure safety from any evil consequences to the persons engaged in the funeral rites. They now set to work to make the coffin. A tree is felled and the required length cut off. This is split in two, and each half is hollowed out. The corpse is then placed inside this rude coffin, the two parts of which are now firmly lashed together with cane.

They then proceed either on foot or by boat to the place of burial. The trees in a Dyak burial-ground are not cut down, so there is nothing to distinguish it from any ordinary jungle. The Dyaks regard a cemetery with superstitious terror as the abode of spirits, and never go to it except to bury their dead, and when they do this, they do not stay longer than they can help, but hurry away lest they should meet some spirit from the other world.

The graves are rarely more than three feet deep. The Dyaks dare not step into the grave to deepen it, because, according to their superstitious ideas, any one who does such a thing will die a violent death. They use no spade or hoe to turn up the earth, but cut the soil with their choppers, and throw up the mould with their hands. They dig the grave as far as their arms will reach, and no farther.

When the corpse is buried, there are placed either in the grave or on it, for use in the next world, various articles of clothing, personal ornaments, weapons of warfare, implements of farm work, and even instruments of music, according to the sex and natural proclivities of the dead. Some of these belong to the departed; others are given by friends as tokens of affection.

When the grave has been filled with earth, it is fenced round, and food and drink are placed in the enclosure, and at either end something is put to indicate the sex and favourite occupation of the deceased. If the grave be that of a warrior, it is roofed and decorated with streamers, and such of his weapons as are not buried with him are hung about, and the ground around is palisaded and spiked. The grave of the hunter is distinguished by his spear, his blow-pipe and quiver, together with the trophies of the chase stags’ antlers, and boars’ tusks. Some articles of feminine attire or work spindles, petticoats, waist-rings, or water-gourds indicate the graves of women.