The Tiwah marks the passing of elders in a traditional Dayak village. It is an occasion for everyone to join in the preparations, the feasting and drinking, in the rituals, the festivities and the enjoyment – gotong royong.
Visitors are warmly included in all the events, and patiently led through the complex march of the ceremonies and introduced to the main participants.
In this tiwah, the elder had lain for months in the front room of his home, and when we arrived the room was crammed with women, sitting with the widow, preparing the palm leaf woven decorations for the casket.
Out the back, women were preparing the ritual food, sweet sticky rice topped with fresh ground coconut tossed with the local palm sugar. Cattle, buffalo, pigs and chickens were sacrificed at regular intervals and boiled in huge vats with spices and vegetables over open fires, stirred with canoe paddles. They were feeding their own village, a neighbouring community and visitors too.
Waves of masked and draped figures, called bukungs, wearing painted flamboyant masks, lake weeds or a bamboo batik covered frame for the giant bukung santiau, came by day and night. With the role to frighten away mischievous spirits. They are welcomed, and repeatedly fed with sticky rice
and the local fermented drink, baram.
With the vast Lake Sembuluh as a backdrop, and the impassive, timeless faces of the sapundu from past tiwah on sandung scattered about the town, the passion of all involved, it felt as if we had stepped into the past and were living the myths and legends we had only read about.