Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/95

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87
THE OMEN ANIMALS OF SARAWAK.

The bee 'Manyi' (Melipona vidua) is an Iban omen only. If a swarm of bees settled underneath a house that had recently been built, it would be considered a bad sign, and probably it would be necessary to destroy that particular section of the house or to leave the house altogether.

Many Land Dayaks, on the contrary, keep bees in their houses, and among most of the peoples of Borneo, including the Ibans, it is most lucky in planting time to dream of an abundance of bees.

There are other creatures whose appearance, cry or movements may signify good or bad luck which are not omen animals (i. e., 'burong' or 'aman'), in the strict sense of the term. For example, the hawk owl (Ninox scutulata) makes a melancholy cry at night, on account of which it is very much disliked by the natives, who regard it as a foreteller of death. Its native name is Tongok.' If the Malay bear (Heliarctos Malayanus) climbs into an Iban's house, it is a bad sign, and the house would have to be pulled down.

According to Perham: "In answer to the questions of the origin of this system of 'birding' some Dayaks have given the following: In early times the ancestors of the Malays and the ancestors of the Dayak had, on a certain occasion, to swim across a river. Both had books. The Malay tied his firmly in his turban, kept his head well out of water, and reached the opposite bank with his book intact and dry. The Dayak, less wise, fastened his to the end of his waist-cloth, and the current washed it away. But the fates intervened to supply the loss and gave the Dayak this system of omens as a substitute for the book."

Another story relates the following:

Some Dayaks in the Batang Lupar made a great feast and invited many guests. When everything was ready and arrivals expected, a tramp and hum, as of a great company of people, was heard close to the village. The hosts, thinking it to be the invited friends, went forth to meet them with meat and drink, but found, with some surprise, they were all utter strangers. However, without any questioning, they received them with due honor and gave them all the hospitalities of the occasion. When the time of departing came, they asked the strange visitors who they were and from whence, and received something like the following reply from the chief: I am Sengalong Burong, and these are my sons-in-law and other friends. When you hear the voices of the birds (giving their names), know that you hear us, for they are our deputies in this lower world.' Thereupon the Dayaks discovered they had been entertaining spirits unawares, and received as reward of their hospitality the knowledge of the omen system.

Archdeacon Perham is perfectly right in his statement that:

"The sacredness of the omen birds is thus explained: They are forms of animal life possessed with the spirit of certain invisible beings above, and bearing their names; so that when a Dayak hears a 'Beragai,' for instance, it is really the voice of 'Beragai,' the son-in-law of Sengalong Burong; nay, more,