A Tumon Dayak Burial Ritual (Ayah Besar): Description and Interpretation of Its Masks, Disguises, and Ritual Practices. (Research Notes)

By Zahorka, Herwig | Borneo Research Bulletin, Annual 2001 | Go to article overview

A Tumon Dayak Burial Ritual (Ayah Besar): Description and Interpretation of Its Masks, Disguises, and Ritual Practices. (Research Notes)


Zahorka, Herwig, Borneo Research Bulletin


The settlement areas of the Tumon

The main settlement areas of the Tumon are located in the border region between Kalimantan Tengah and Kalimantan Barat, along the upper reaches and at the headwaters of the Lamandau River, particularly along the Delang tributary, the Batang Kawa (the Minangkabau use the term batang for river) and the Belantikan River, all in kabubaten Kotawaringin Barat, Kalimantan Tengah. In recent years a logging road has been dedicated to public transportation, providing access from Pangkalan Bun to the Tumon villages along the Lamandau and Delang rivers to Kudangan, the head village of the kecamatan Kudangan, and further across the hills to Kalimantan Barat. The Batang Kawa River and the Belantikan River areas are still without road access.

The claimed Sumatran descent of the Tumon

The Tumon call themselves Tumon Dayak, but claim to be descendants of the well-known West Sumatran Minangkabau cultural hero, Datuk Parpatih Nan Sabatang, called by both the Minang and the Tumon "Parpatih" or "Perpatih" for short. Their oral history relates that their ancestors migrated 22 or 23 generations ago from the Minangkabau kingdom of Pagarruyung, West Sumatra, to their present settlement areas in Kalimantan (Sandan, 2001; Sengken, 2001). The reconstructed palace of Pagarruyung and several ancient pool ruins are just adjacent to the presentday Bubati office in Batu Sangkar, kabubaten Tanah Datar, in the traditional Minang heartland and cultural center in Sumatra Barat.

The most persuasive evidence of a Minang origin is the language of the Tumon. They speak what appears to be a language related to an older version of the presentday Minangkabau language. My wife, Ir. Zahara Zahorka, is a Minangkabau from Batu Sangkar and she can understand about 90% of their words. There are also some influences of Ngadju Dayak and Ot Danum Dayak cultures evident, particularly in the eastern and southern Tumon settlement areas which are closer to these Dayak communities. I plan to carry out more research on Tumon origins and ethnohistory to attempt to verify the claim that the Tumon represent the descendants of an old Minangkabau colony in Kalimantan Tengah.

Unlike the Minangkabau colony of Negeri Sembilan in peninsular Malaysia, which has been well studied (see Josselin de Jong 1980, Kato 1997, etc.), there has been little systematic research on the Tumon Dayak.

The masks used in the Ayah Besar

The Minangkabau in West Sumatra are known today for their firm adherence to Islam. However, 22 or 23 generations ago, Islam had not yet penetrated Minangkabau society. The religion of the royal courts in pre-Islamic times was a Sumatran version of Hindu-Buddhism documented in a number of Sanskrit stone inscriptions in Kawi character, found in and around Pagarruyung. One may conjecture, however, that the rural population at that time was still generally bound to its ancient animistic beliefs, with very few Hindu ideas, at most. For instance, there was never a caste system. It seems that the former migrants carried over their animism, including a touch of Hinduism, to Kalimantan, and have since maintained many traditional rituals, among others, an elaborate set of death rituals. Some variations in the performance of these rituals have been reported among the populations of different river systems, and even from village to village.

The entrance of the masks

The Tumon call their principal death rituals ayah besar. Ayah means 'father,' and besar, 'great' I observed ayah besar performances the whole burial day, and even participated in some of the rituals, in the village of Sepoyu, Delang River, 200 km NNW from Pangkalan Bun, on 5 May 2001. My helpful main informant in regard to the meanings of the rituals, the masks, the disguises, and the behavior of some of the participants was the knowledgeable adat judge of Sepoyu, Kepala Adat Sengken. The old woman to be buried that day had died fifteen days earlier. …

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