The Seen and the Unseen, 1:3


H. S. Morris : "Shamanism among the Oya Melanau".

p. 101 geographical location

"The ... Melanau ... in Sarawak ... inhabit the lower reaches of the River Rajang and the coastal areas of the north-east as far as Miri."

pp. 104-105 cosmology; body & soul

p. 104

"in mythological times, before an impatient woman baking sago biscuits ... pushed the sky up with a pole, visits to the other worlds by heroes ... were not uncommon."


"Certain spirits ... live in the moon, and their leader, a female called Biliong, is especially concerned with the preservation of the proper natural order of things. Any human who disrespects it by mocking or teasing animals ... arouses her anger, and she summon thunder and lightning and hail".

p. 105

"All human beings are made up of four separate elements :

the body (bieh or badan);

the soul (bedua) ...;

the emotions (naseng); and

a principle of life (nyawa)."


"The ... bedua ... is thought to survive death and make the canoe journey to the land of the dead (likou a-matai or likou pengamou). At the entrance to this land of the dead, the soul is directed to its appropriate place by a female, Balou [‘widow’ (p. 127, n. 3:3)] Adet ... . ... A few souls fail to pass the barrier and haunt the middle world as ghosts (amou), where they attempt to steal the souls of the living. ... Once the soul is established in the underworld it is not permitted to repass the barrier and gradually relinquishes interest in the living, except to welcome newly arrived kin."

pp. 106-107 origin of sicknesses, remedies, and rainbows; discovery of rice

p. 106

"The animals therefore asked the angel to bring 160 types of illness to kill men, and the trees asked for 112 kinds of remedy for the illnesses. . the man ... asked that he and his wife should be turned into rainbows, and his wish was granted." {>ja>-lus ‘rainbow-body’}

p. 107

"a man found a woman and her daughter stealing fish from his traps in the forest. He ..., ... even though they were spirits, insisted on being taken to their longhouse, access to which was by a ladder that to human eyes appeared to be a large tree."


"A fisherman caught his hook on a snag and dived to free it. He found it in the roof of a longhouse built in country just like his own. {In a Maori myth, the hook of Maui-tikitiki’s snagged the roof of an underwater aedifice, in another world.} ... Eventually he was permitted to return to his family ...; but when he went he concealed five grains in his foreskin ..., and from them comes all the rice in this "world."

pp. 108-109 warning dreams; healing by means of an image


warning & healing


"Impending disaster or foolish behavior may also be averted by a warning dream (nupei) ... . They may be conventional warnings whose meaning everybody knows (for example, to dream of a loose tooth in the right jaw foretells the probable death of somebody in the household), or they may be addressed personally to the dreamer, when they usually take the form of a benevolent old man or woman who gives warning or confers a favor. ... Similarly the flight of birds and the behavior of certain animals carry warnings to prevent foolish behavior".

"If in spite of the guidance of ... warnings, a man does get into trouble ..., he will the resort to mediators who are expert in diagnosing the cause of the rouble and prescribing the correct expiation ... . A man who has met with an accident or incurred an illness may first go to a herbalist magician (dukum) ...; but he


will soon, if not at the same time, also consult a carver of sickness images. From the symptoms of the illness the image maker decides what spirit may be attacking the soul (bedua) of the man. He then carves a likeness (bilum) of the spirit and spits betel nut juice at it, commanding the spirit to enter it. ... If the diagnosis is correct, the spirit is compelled to enter its image for three days and refrain from attacking the sick person."

pp. 109-110 myth about revival of the dead by shamanic performance




River Nam Pusan : "On an island it is was a large tree, at the top of which Balou Belian [/belian/ ‘ironwood; sorcerer[ess]’ (p. 127, n. 3:3)] and her sister Urip Raman lived in a house. A rattan (sega> wai) adder led to the ground. One day Bunga Lawan fell from the ladder ... . {cf. Maori myth of fall of Karihi} His four friends ... found him and ... they ... fetched four threads –

Juga, a white one,

Sedawa black,

Panglima red, and

Ntala yellow.

All ... throw their threads up and round the floor posts of the house, ... Ntala ... then climbed up


to the house, followed by Juga amd Sedawa. Panglima remained on the ground. All this took one month. ... Balau Belian picked up the bones of Bunga Lawan ... and wrapped them in rich red cloth. ... She placed the bundle of bones wrapped up in the cloth on it [cradle, swing] and began to rock the swing backwards and foer six nights the bones again became flesh; but it was not until the seventh night that Bunga Lawan was able to speak. He at once asked Balou Belian to bathe him in coconut milk, after which he was completely restored to ... sense. ... Bunga Lawan ... escorted her and her sister home and later married Balou Belian."

pp. 110-111 invocation in order to achieve spirit-possession


invocation & entry


"a shaman ... speaks in trance as the vehicle of his familiar spirit who makes the diagnosis." "A shaman ... can rely on spirit friends who have chosen him and taught him their names and the correct modes of calling them to him. A spirit ... may not be casually summoned ... . When the spirit arrives it uses the shaman’s body, surrounding it ... like a garment.


The invocation to the spirit is accompanied by beating a rhythm, peculiar to shamans, on the drum which the shaman acquired on becoming a full practitioner. He covers his head with a cloth, and when the spirit arrives he hisses loudly and shakes his head violently from side to side, so that in a female shaman her long, unbound hair swings round and round. ...

You have to shake your head from side to side and hiss. The eyes are as hot as when you smell onion (Another shaman[ess] described the approach of the spirit as being swallowed in a ball of fire, so that she was burned up in the heat.) The nature of a spirit is like a madman".

pp. 112-114 curative shamanic caerimonies




"The simplest routine ceremony to diagnose and cure illness is the minget a-pedih. ... the shaman covers his own head and face in a cloth and begins an incantation to one of his familiars. On the spirit’s arrival the shaman removes his headcloth, and the spirit asks why he has been summoned. ... the shaman ... may hold up his drum, which is open at one end, and place a lighted candle between the skin on the other end and the patient, and look through it into the patient’s body to discover the cause of the illness. If the inspection is successful, the spirit through the shaman tells the assistant and the audience what is wrong; and they ask him to help. ...


But if the first spirit does not diagnose the cause of the illness, he will usually help cure it, though he may temporarily have to leave the shaman, still in trance, to fetch another spirit, who may not be a familiar, to assist him. When diagnosis and treatment are both agreed on, the shaman holds up his right hand and sings, asking for pijer from the sky spirits. Pijer are minute transparent stones and flowers from the other world. {cf. Tarahumara flowery otherworld, accessible to shaman} At the end of the chant he shuts his hand, catching the gift, and rubs both palms together. He then presses the pijer into the crown of the the patient’s head. More are asked for and pressed into the base of the throat, the belly, and ... places that are sore. ... the shaman ... takes a bunch of leaves (daun tebawan [Premna foetida Renw.]) and sweeps the patient from head to foot, ... bidding the sickness to go."


"if ... a spirit ... has taken a liking for him and wishes to establish a permanent relationship or friendship, then ... the spirit concerned ... intends the patient to undergo further ceremonies ..., ... which may lead to the patient’s full initiation as a spirit-medium and practicing shaman."


"A man’s soul may begin the journey to the land of the dead for many reasons, and if a herbalist or image maker cannot bring it back ..., then the shaman and his familiar take over. It is the familiars who can find out whether the soul is being attacked by a witch, an animal, or another spirit. If the attack is by a hostile spirit, the man’s recovery depends on his making correct expiation; but if the illness is caused by a spirit’s wanting the man’s friendship, then the man must accept the fact, however unwelcome ... . ... It is this wish on the part of spirits to have friends in this world which makes it quite uncertain that a shaman will continue to be one in the land of the dead."

pp. 115-118 spirit-escorting : aiyun




"When it becomes clear that the patient is not cured, or the illness recurs, he may decide to hold a menurun tou ceremony to ask the shaman’s familiars to fetch the spirit who is causing the trouble, in hope that the patient will be possessed by the spirit who will thus make his wishes known. ... A larger number of spirits is summoned, and a lay drummer is employed so that the invited spirits may dance and sing on taking possession of the shaman or patient."


"A more elaborate form of the ceremony is known as beguda. ... The importance of this ceremony is that it is a necessary preliminary to the aiyun, and in it the .. spirit is expected to take possession of the patient, who in turn is now expected to accept the perhaps unwelcome fact that he must enter into a permanent ... association with a spirit. Exactly what the relationship will entail is slowly revealed by the spirit in dreams of instruction during the following months. Instead of waiting, however, the spirit may order the patient to undertake an immediate aiyun ceremony to confirm the friendship and complete his initiation as a spirit-medium in order to begin practice with the least possible delay."


"The aiyun is the greatest of the shamanistic ceremonies ... . A man who has agreed to paiyun knows that unless this ceremony appeases the spirit which is afflicting him, so that it takes possession of him, makes it wishes known, and allows him to recover his


health, there is no more he can do except perform another aiyun. ... An aiyun may last five, seven, or even nine nights. .. the sanctuary ... is a large rectangle occupying as much as a third of the house’s floor space, and is explicitly a model of the World. A white cloth is spread above the area to represent the [cloudy] sky, and a model house (abun) for the reception of the otherworld spirits is placed on a rafter at the upstream end of the enclosure, close to one point of attachment of a rattan swing (wai sega) which is suspended right across the area. The swing is also called aiyun, and it ought to be hung so that those who sit on it can swing east and west. It belongs to the officiating shaman and is the bridge that all spirits use to enter the sanctuary. Beside the abun is the end of a woven ladder (taga yang) which passes out of the building to a model boat (rabong) below – the place of reception for water and underworld spirits. ...

The officiating shaman is known as the "father" or "mother" of the aiyun, and in addressing his or her familiars the shaman calls herself or herself their "grandfather" or "grandmother."


... pijer are pressed into the swing; the spirits are fed with rice ... . ... the shamans present ... are the only people who may mount the swing in order to receive spirit visitors. During the third evening the shaman, holding his spearhead, leads the patient ... to the edge of the water, where they ... catch fish and other water beasts, which are, however, visible only to the shamans. If the patient catches one that is dangerous or spiny, it is a sign that he will become a powerful and venomous (bisa>) shaman. ... At dawn, ... three canoes in the river are lashed together and planks are laid across them to make a platform. ... The model boat (rabong) from below the house is put in the middle, and the shaman, the assistants, the patient, the orchestra, and paddlers go aboard. .... The shaman stands at the prow calling spirits and casting rice for them to eat, and the orchestra plays. ... At the chosen point on the river bank the model boat is raised onto a trestle ... . The patient and any others who wish, crouch beneath the trestle and the shaman and the helpers throw water over them."


"If the aiyun has been successful, the patient’s formal initiation as a spirit-medium is now complete ... . But he may still have to undergo a prolonged period of instruction in dreams ... . Before he ventures to practice as a shaman, even though invited to do so by other villagers, he must be secure in his relationship with his familiar; and he usually waits for more spirits to approach him in friendship, either in dreams or at aiyun ceremonies. ... With the help of his familiars, the shaman’s soul at this time may visit {during dreams} different regions of the over- and underworlds; for to be effective he needs experience, powerful spirit friends, and a knowledge of their habits."

pp. 118-119 mortuary caerimony : platu




"During the wake, ceremonies are performed to see the soul safely on its jorney to the underworld ... . When the soul arrives at the house of Balou Adet at the entrance to the land of the dead, a shaman is sent to take gifts and to bring back the souls of any living people who have accompanied the dead person. This task the shaman fulfills during the platu [p. 127, n. 1:3:7 "The Melanau verb pela means to paddle a canoe."] ceremony. A white mat known as the canoe is spread on the floor. Beside it is a woman’s paddle and on it are three woven images of the spirits that guide a soul to the land of the dead, and also a pillow, a piece of gold, a spearhead, and the shaman’s drum. ...


The shaman then sits on the mat and calls up a familiar to help him on his way. When it arrives, and if it agrees to go, he picks up the paddle, sits in the posture of a woman, and ... sets off. On arrival he takes the gifts, some of which are for the relatives of the recently dead person who will come to Balou Adet’s house to take him to his new home. ... After he meets them, the living people at the ceremony, whose souls have made the journey with the dead person, are brought to him, and ... so that their souls may easily return ... the shaman ... the shaman ... entrusts them to a fowl, which ... is then thrown high over the heads of the assembly."

pp. 120-122 practicing shaman; alleged witchcraft; public knowledge of shaman’s spirits




"Male shamans are seldom regarded with favor by the aristocrats ... . ... Such threats to entrenched rank are less from women, and most of the practicing shamans are in fact women. ... The Melanau term a-bayuh refers principally to practicing shamans. ...

The only difference is that a witch


has not mastered his familiars ... . The victim is usually warned ... by a dream of heads floating over his sleeping place. Sometimes another member of the household is warned in this way and not the victim himself. ... It is said that a man in such circumstances first consults another shaman whose familiars attempt to dissuade the witch’s spirits".


public knowledge of shaman’s spirits : "Some of his familiars are publicly known because they have consorted with his predecessors; but most are private, and their names and attributes remain unknown until he chooses to reveal them."

pp. 122-123 biographies of particular a-bayuh




[male a-bayuh] "When he was adolescent ... he retired to a solitary hut in the forest where a spirit who was both a snake and a woman instructed him in dreams ... . ... In time he performed an aiyun and was possessed by a well-known familiar ... . His wife and the neighbors refused to allow him not to practice, but ... he did so ... reluctantly."


[widow a-bayuh] After her husband’s death, "She performed an aiyun ... and began to practice curing ... . Being a modest and diffident woman, she did so reluctantly".


BORNEO RESEARCH COUNCIL MONOGRAPH SERIES, Vol. 2 = Robert L. Winzeler (ed.) : The Seen and the Unseen : Shamanism, Mediumship and Possession in Borneo. College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, 1993.