Monday, March 24, 2008

KAUL -A thanksgiving and a prayer

Kaul - celebrated in the Melanau month of Pengejin to thank the Ipo' (spirits/guardians) for a bountiful year past and a prayer for a good year ahead. The Melanaus belief is animistic and they believe that the world is protected and guarded by the various spirits, such as Ipo' Guun (the guardian of the jungle), Ipo Talun (forest), Ipo' Sungai (rivers), Ipo' Pangai (wind), Ipo' Daat (sea), etc. During this time, they would honour them for what they were given for the year and ask them for their good will for the coming year. They would sing their praises and thank them for the harvest given to them in the past and pray that they would grant them protection and give them a bountiful harvest in the year to come. The Father of the Kaul (Bapa Kaul) would sing them mantras to that effect to start the Kaul(KAWUL). Then they would celebrate them in a grand feast where all the people would bring with them food and drink to eat at a huge picnic by the river mouth and the beaches. They would build huge swings or 'tibou' for them to play with the spirits. They would also send offerings in the form of 'seraheng', an arrangement created with the leaves of the sago palm, the staple food of the Melanau. They would play all sorts of games on the beach during the for the whole day. They would leave whatever food that is left on the beaches and the river mouth for the spirits to feast upon at the end of the day when the festival is done for the day. It is taboo to bring the food back as it is for them who have guarded them and provided for them all their lives. otherwise, they would be cursed.

Bulan Pengejin or the month of the spirits, is the month where they honour the spirit and be close with them before they harvest the gifts of these guardians for them from the sea, the land and the air.

There are 12 month in the Melanau calendar which is based on the lunar system.

Introduction to the Melanau

A state once ruled by the now tiny Brunei Sultanate, once a mighty empire built on the sweat and blood of its people and destroyed by the greed and bickering of the aristocrats and their family. One by one they fall as they falter, Sultans replaced Sultans and brothers deposed brothers for the might of the empire that slowly crumbled under their feet until it finally became what it is today. Once the seat of their mighty empire, Sarawak is now but a state in Malaysia. Once mighty aristocrats in the vast empire, most of them now live as fisherman and farmers in the coastal regions of the state. Some now call themselves Malays by virtue of religion, others keep to the pride of their once proud race, a race of kings and king makers, the Melanau. Undefeated in the days of old, they reside mostly within the reaches of their little kingdom, Mukah, although some have migrated to the seaside towns and cities as well as the hinterlands, inter-marrying with the locals tribes and races and some finally losing their identity. Today, they seem to still retain the king-making skills of old. Taib, the leader of the Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) party which remains as the mainstay of the National Front in Malaysia. Today, the Melanaus still reign in their little kingdom now known as Sarawak.

However, sadly it seems that the people with a once rich culture, is now on the verge of losing their culture to the modern world. Sad indeed for a once proud culture who live by their wits and retain their power by their caste system now slowly loses its identity. Today, the people of my generation and the ones who come after us have slowly but gradually begin to lose our language, culture and identity and begin to adopt that of occupiers and religious rites of those who came to spread religion to us. l am not against religion but l am adamant against the slow disappearance of this once rich and proud culture of warriors. The language spoken now is mainly Malay with some Melanau intertwined in between. The language of the upper caste is all but lost.

I am here only to write of my people of our culture and of our history, the history of an ancient mercenary people who travel the world protecting their masters who pay for their services and were granted their protection. I am here to tell the story of a tribe of seafarers and wanderers who travel the world and settled in places and absorb their cultures. I am here to tell you of the wives' tales and the system of the once proud people, not unused to hardships and neither unused to fame and fortune but never have they really ruled for they were people who ruled by proxy. I was born an aristocrat in a disappearing culture which I am now trying to preserve and I pray I will succeed.