Sunday, May 18, 2008


The Melanau Calendar (Bulan Melanau)

The Melanau used a lunar-based calendar where Bulan Pengejin, the first month of the year starts in March. During this month, the Melanau celebrate the Kawul (Kaul) Festival, which constitutes both a thanksgiving for a bountiful year past and a prayer for a bountiful year ahead.

The Melanau calendar comprises 12 months, each month consisting of 30 days. The Melanau calendar is guided by the constellations and the way of nature, as is that of their guardian spirits (‘gods’?). Each month is named after the occurrences during the specific month or after events that is supposed to have occurred during that particular month according to legend.The rise and fall of the sun, the moon and the stars determines their time for planting and harvesting, fishing and building as well as other movements, such as travel, marriages and the like.
The 12 months are, namely:

Bulan Pengejin (The Month of the Spirits)

This month coincides with the Gregorian month of March. During this month, it is windy and the rain comes down in light showers in the beginning. The wind will gradually become stronger and the sun will move northerly and the moon will replace the original location of the sun. Fish will be plentiful in the forest and the jungle as they come out to search for food to be eaten and to be stored. After that, they will hide again in their holes. This marks the beginning of the year. This is a time when it is difficult for the Melanau to go out to work because of the strong wind, thus they will spend their time cleaning the tools and equipment of their trades. This is the time that they mark as the beginning of the year, the first month of Pengejin. At the end of this month, they will purify themselves and call the fish out from their lairs, from the beaches and the river mouths. This ceremony is called “KAWULL” by the Melanau. During this ceremony, they would construct the huge swing called “TIBOU” and sing the tibou mantra during its construction, seeking the blessings of their guardian ‘gods’ for plentiful flowers, bountiful harvests of fruits and that there be plentiful fish in the sea for them and that illness and afflictions be removed and all evil to be return to their own place. They will also send offerings called "SERAHENG" out to the sea to appease them and invite them to partake their feast with them. After the feast, all food and drink is left by the shore for the guardians and spirits to take with them. None is to be taken back for it it the feast for the spirits and guardians.

Bulan Pengelawah Ume’(The Month of the Lesser Clear Water)

This month coincides with the month of April. During this month, it is said all the fish will come down to the sea as the sea will turn a greenish hue which is a call from the sea to the fish that it is time for them to surface. This marks the second month. For the Melanau, this is the time for the fishermen to go to the sea to catch fish. This marks the first fishing season for them.(During olden times, the Melanau fishermen are known for their ‘barong panau’, a fishing sailboat which could go out to sea for weeks on end. These boats also double as traveling boats as well as for trading and fishing. Today, the ‘barong panau’ is extinct as there are none left skilled enough to build one. A picture of one can be found on one of the Brooke era postage stamp.)

Bulan Pengelawah Ayeng (The month of the Greater Clear Water)

This month coincides with the month of May. The emerald greenish hue reaches the shore. This marks the third month. This is a time for the Melanau fishermen to catch as much fish to send home as well as store their catch. This is the peak of fishing season. Towards the end of this month, the sea will turn to greenish clear hue and the sea floor will be quite visible from the surface. And as such it will be difficult to trap the fish in their nets or catch them with their hooks as the fish is said to be able to see through the fishermen intent during this time. This marks the end of the first fishing season for them and the beginning of the fourth month, when the winds and rain will hinder all the fishing activities of the people.

Bulan Paka Ume’ (The Month of the Rise of the Lesser Stars)

This month coincides with the month of June. The Seven Sisters appear in the skies. The West Wind blows strong to arrange the stars in the sky. This marks the fourth month. It is time for the Melanau to go to the jungle/forest and begin their work for the planting season. They will start to cut the big trees and vines as well as plant their crops. The farmers will continue their jungle clearing work until the beginning of the next month, Bulan Paka Ayeng (July).

Bulan Paka Ayeng (The Month of the Rise of the Greater Stars)

This month coincides with July. The Seven Sisters rise high in the sky and the Three Stars appear lower in the sky. The wind is of gale force. This marks the fifth month. All farming and fishing activities ceases totally for the whole of this month as it is not possible for them to go out to the jungle or to sea due to the strong winds. This will last until the month of Pelepa’ (August) or the sixth month.

Bulan Pelepa’ (Month of Plentiful)

This month coincides with the month of August. The Three Star takes over from the Seven Sisters and rise high in the sky. The wind drops and the sea is calm. The fish begin to come out and play. This marks the sixth month. It is time for the second fishing season where the catch will be bountiful and the fishermen will enjoy fishing and will have plenty of fish to prepare for the forthcoming monsoon season (suloh), which will be long and when no work can be done due to the wind and heavy rain. This plentiful fishing season will last until the beginning of Bulan Pegalan (September).

Bulan Pegalan (Month of the North Star)

This month coincides with the month of September. The sea will be very calm but there will be little fish to catch as it is the time for the fish to spawn. This month is called the month of Pegalan because this is the time when the Pegalan (North) Star is high in the sky at the hour of six at eventide. This marks the seventh month. Legend has it that this is the month when the Melanau finds it difficult to swallow their saliva i.e. difficult to look for food. During this month, the Melanau would avoid getting married at all cost as the marriage would be cursed in that they will find it difficult to make a living.

Bulan Suwah (The Month of the Waves)

This month coincides with the month of October. During this month, the ground will seem to grow and rise like waves. This marks the eighth month. According to Melanau belief, this is caused by the fish swimming back to the ocean and their fins appear to be like waves swimming out. This is the third and final fishing season for the year for the Melanau. This is also the time for the Melanau to start planting rice and sago palm as well as other crops. In Melanau tradition, they say that such as the earth grows well so will the crops that they plant.

Bulan Pidai (The Month of the Discoloured Skies)

This month coincides with the month of November. This is the beginning of the monsoon season (suloh). Strong winds begin to blow, shifting the location of the sun and the moon. The Melanau calls it the South East Moon (Bulan Tenggara). This marks the ninth month. It is the end of the fishing season for the Melanau. It is the last time that the fishermen can go out to sea for the year and only the brave would dare venture out stealthily to fish. In the morning, the sea will be calm, but by afternoon, waves will be at its biggest, thus any fishermen who dare venture out will have to return before afternoon.

Bulan Penangaih (The Month of Revival)

This month coincides with the month of December. It is a time when the rains come to allow the flowers to blossom and the fruits to bear in the jungle and the forest. This marks the tenth month.

Bulan Pemalei (The Month of Taboo)

This month coincides with the month of January. Legend has it that in ancient times, a great shaman was killed by his wife and his head was chopped off. However, the head disappeared from the house and it became the Taboo Star. This month is named the month of the killing of the great shaman of ancient times. This marks the eleventh month. All activities of the Melanau is tabooed during this month. Marriage is not allowed and so are the activities of livelihood, such as fishing, planting, house construction and everything else. This month is regarded as a month of ill fortune by the Melanau.

Bulan Pengesiseng (The Month of the Gills)

This month coincides with the month of February. The strong wind brings heavy rain and blows the flowers off from the trees as well as uproots the trees. The flood waters bring them to the sea. Logs floating in the sea are pushed ashore by huge waves to the beaches. The strong wind blows the branches and fronds of the coconut and sago palms as well as the leaves of the other trees making them open up to look just like the gills of the fish. As such, this month of strong winds and rain is so named. This marks the end of the year for the Melanau.


Learn Melanau said...

wow amazing. ive stumbled into your blog and all the infos are just amazing. thanks and keep up the good work!
-a melanau living oversea

johan1960 said...

The calendar is a translation from handwritten notes of the ancient calendar given to me by my late father, Godfrid Albert Yaman @ Yaman bin Guan, who was also the founder of the Melanau Associations throughout Sarawak. I hope that I may be able to one day realize his dream to internationalize the Association that he founded to help the Melanau people, not withstanding their creed or religion.

Learn Melanau said...

Good day :)
i would like to ask when exactly in march will the bulan pengejin starts? Will it be the same each year? And moreover on what year the melanau calender will be in 2011? Thanks in advance :)

johan1960 said...

I do not actually know what year of the Melanau calendar 2011 is as the calendar itself was taught to me orally by my late grandfather and I was taught to understand it by him, my father who wrote it in his own handwriting which I still keep and my uncle, who was in his lifetime, a keeper of the adat or traditions, mores and norms of the Melanaus. How old the calendar is is also a mystery to me as they did not tell me of it. The calendar is actually very much like a seafarer's and farmer's journal to be used to tell them the time for things to be done, e.g. when to go to the sea, when to plant and harvest and the like. Pengejin in itself is a month marking the end of the stormy months (better known as suloh in Melanau Mukah or landas as it is known among the people of Sarawak.) Pengejin is marked by the Kaul held from the beginning of the month. Pengejin is in the month of March. The Melanau month is a consistent 30 days and the calculation of the month is something I am quite unfamiliar with. They may coincide with the Chinese Tung Shu. The Melanaus, as I was given to know by my grandfather, have their origins in the north part of the China as it is known today. They were believed to have fled their kingdom during the era of the Warring States. As such, I believe that their calendar may have coincide with the ancient Chinese Calendar. However, I cannot attest to the facts as they are oral history and as oral history is, we can only verify if there are finding to prove or disprove them.

Learn Melanau said...

thanks for your answer. I learn alot from you :) Im really keen to understand melanau cultures since melanau is less studied compare to dayaks. Do please visit my blog about melanau culture and join our facebook group. If you have any unique infos you are very welcome to contribute :)
my blog:
Facebook group

Unknown said...

Assalamu'alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh Bro. Johan...from your cousin ...

johan1960 said...

Wa alaikum salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh, Bro Ridhwan. Ino dengah? Sorry for the late reply. I have been quite busy of late.