Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/89

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81
THE OMEN ANIMALS OF SARAWAK.

in the ground, says a short form of address to the birds and Pulang Gana (the tutelary deity of the soil, and the spirit presiding over the whole work of rice farming), cuts a little pass or jungle with his parang and returns. The magic virtue of the birds has been conveyed to the land.

For house-building the same birds are to be obtained and in the same way. But for a war expedition, birds on the right hand are required, except the nendak, which, if it make a certain peculiar call, can be admitted on the left.

These birds can be bad omens as well as good. If heard on the wrong side, if in the wrong order, if the note or call be of the wrong kind, the matter in hand must be postponed, or abandoned altogether; unless a conjunction of subsequent good omens occur, which, in the judgment of old experts, can overbear the preceding bad ones. Hence, in practice, this birding becomes a most involved matter, because the birds will not allow themselves to be heard in straightforward orthodox succession. After all, it is only a balance of probabilities; for it is seldom that Dayak patience is equal to waiting till the omens occur, according to the standard theory.

These are the inaugurating omens sought in order to strike a line of good luck, to render the commencement of an undertaking auspicious. The continuance of good fortune must be carried on by omen influence to the end.

When any of these omens, either of bird, beast or insect, are heard, or seen by the Dayak on his way to the padi lands, he supposes they foretell either good or ill to himself or to the farm; and in some cases he will turn back and wait for the following day before proceeding again. The nendak is generally good, so is the katupong, on the right or left, but the papau (Harpactes diardi) is of evil omen, and the man must beat a retreat. A beragai heard once or twice matters not; but if often, a day's rest is necessary. The mbuas (Carcineutes melanops) on the right is wrong, and sometimes it portends so much blight and destruction that the victim must rest five days. The 'shout' of the kutok (Lepocestes porphyomelas) is evil, and that of the katupong so bad that it requires three days' absence from the farm to allow the evil to pass away; and even then a beragai must be heard before commencing work. The beragai is a doctor among birds. If the cry of a deer, a pelandok (Tragulus), be heard, or if a rat crosses the path before you on your way to the farm, a day's rest is necessary; or you will cut yourself, get ill or suffer by failure of the crops. When a good omen is heard, one which is supposed to foretell a plentiful harvest, you must go on the farm and do some trifling work by way of 'leasing the work of your hands' there, and then return; in this way you clench the foreshadowed luck, and at the same time reverence the spirit which promises it. And should a deer, or pelandok come out of the jungle and on to the farm when you are working there, it means that customers will come to buy the corn and that therefore there will be corn for them to buy. This is the best omen they can have, and they honor it by resting from work for three days.

But the worst of all omens is a dead beast of any kind, especially those included in the omen list, found anywhere on the farm. It infuses a deadly poison into the whole crop and will kill some one or other of the owner's family within a year. When this terrible thing happens they test the omen by killing a pig and divining from the appearance of the liver immediately after death. If the prediction of the omen be strengthened, all the rice grown on that ground must be sold; and, if necessary, other rice bought for their own consumption. Other people may eat it, for the omen only affects those at