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Epic Ritual Chant Of The Rungus Momogun Of Northern Borneo

Recorded and Trans. by L. W. R. Appell and G. N. Appell


Kiavaw, lit. "to have an odor," is the epic poetry addressed to the class of spirits that are the spirits of water, the Tamba'ig1. It forms a section of the major ceremony for illness and is performed in the longhouse.


The Tamba'ig spirits are considered to be particularly dangerous. Care must be taken not to attract them. Their name can only be mentioned under careful ritual constraints. The Tamba'ig detect the smell of blood, and when they do, they come and suck it so that eventually the person will die. Thus, the name, "Kiavaw," for this epic refers to the odor exuded by the blood of human beings. The Tamba'ig, in addition to smelling blood with ease, can also hear very keenly. If they hear someone learning the epic poem dedicated to them, and an offering of a chicken is not forthcoming, they will also become very angry and follow the offender to his house and make him sick.


The Tamba'ig wander about looking for their prey, but they particularly like to lurk where there is water -- in rivers, in swamps, even in the dew. However, their homes are in the ocean. Therefore, the ocean is considered to be a particularly dangerous place.


The Tamba'ig are Muslim, and as a result will not accept pigs in a sacrifice, only chickens. The attribution of their ethnicity mirrors the traditional world of the pagan Rungus. The Coastal Muslim were highly predatory. They were particularly prone to kidnap Rungus to sell into slavery or as human sacrifices for other ethnic groups.


The poem begins by telling of the activities of the various Tamba'ig -- those that lurk around the longhouse; then the ones in the yard around the longhouse; those on the paths; etc. Some of the Tamba'ig become birds, making their nests in the bodies of humans to cause sickness and lining their nests with the intestines of people. One Tamba'ig in passing by sucks the juice from a sugar cane, and the person who subsequently sucks the sugar cane is made ill from the saliva left there by that spirit. In that part of the epic poem translated here, the group of Tamba'ig being addressed is a race called "Bubutan." The action in this part of the poem takes place at their home in the ocean. A father is talking to his son and tells him it is time he thought of getting married. The name of the son is Mangkahis, derived from the term for a type of crab, angkahis, which lives on the edges of rivers. The father first suggests a girl who lives at the place of the weekly market, but the son turns down the suggestion, saying she is not suitable because her skirts are too short and her hair too sparse. Next the father suggests the girl at the boat landing. But again the son rejects her saying she has one short leg and one short arm, and he would grow old before his time if he married these girls.


The father finally suggests a girl named Morolongoi and the son agrees as he says that she is an equal match. How they are alike is explained in the translation below. The name of the maiden, "Morolongoi" literally means, "Singing Brook," and her substitute name, "Morologung," means " The Sound of Falling Water." Each character in the poem has two names, his or her standard name and a ritual name that frequently elaborates on the character or appearance of the individual.


The poem describes the son preparing to leave with his friends to go ask for the hand of Morolongoi. They arrive at the ladder to the longhouse of Morolongoi. When the party arrives there is great excitement among the children of the longhouse, who all rush to the top of the ladder and stand staring down without saying anything. Morolongoi tells the children they are rude to stare without inviting the guests to climb up into the longhouse.


At this point we take up the translation. Morolongoi greets the guests, and turns to the young man. She offers him betel chewing supplies. She talks about how she and he are alike. Then she says that they both do not have appropriate clothing for a wedding, and they will have to find some. For the young man is found a very black jacket, a multicolored belt of the rainbow, a headcloth of lightning, a sword of lightning, and a blowpipe as long as the poles that hold up heaven. Next they look for clothing for the bride: a skirt of stinging leaves, leg brass of the tentacles of the Portuguese man-of-war, etc. There is no explanation given as to why the woman's clothing is so loathsome in comparison to the man's. However, the degree of refinement or repulsiveness of the clothing, housing, or behavior of spirits indicates in these epics the degree to which the spirits will aid or harm mankind.


Translation note: The epic poems consist of couplets, with the first line in the standard Rungus language and the second line in an esoteric, ritual lexicon. Frequently, the second line carries additional meaning amplifying the first. At other times, the words in the second line are simply ritual substitute words, repeating the meaning of the first. In this latter case, our translation will reflect this by duplicating the first line.


    Interlinear Translation Trial Translation
267.   Asi ku di kiaka
Ara ku di kiudung

Salute my to older sibling
Greetings my to older brother2
"I salute you, my older sibling. I greet you, my elder brother."
268.   Kada ko'u po kahago
Ingkod ko'u po singgaraw

Don't you now hurry
Stop you now rushing
"Don't you now be in a hurry," said Morolongoi, Singing Brook. "Stop rushing around now."
269.   Onuvo ku po i kampil
Alapo ku po i gansakan

Bringing my now the kampil3
Carrying my now brass box
"I am bringing now my kampil with its betel and tobacco," she said. "I am now getting my brass box."
270.   Kampil kud tinumbukan
Gansankan sinurungan

Kampil my inlaid
Brass box cast
"My kampil has an inlaid design. It is a box cast of brass."
271.   Tinumbukan bulavan
Sinurugan mosilo

Inlay of gold
Casting of yellow
"It is inlaid with gold, cast in yellow metal."

Iti no ma kiaka4
Ilo pogi kiudung
Here now indeed older sibling
That certainly elder brother

"Here is now indeed my older sibling, that one who is indeed my elder brother."
273.   Osodop nopo it valai
Otuvong nopo pogun
Night fully at the dwelling
Dark fully at the house
"Night has fallen on the dwelling. It is completely dark at the house."
274.   Minudung kito rorizan
Sumondot dot binulud

Sit down we rorizan6
Settled down in the room
"We sit together in the priestess' sanctum. We settle in the rorizan."
275.   Limpupu ko nirilit
Tundaki ko nitabid

Shampoo plant vines entwined
Vines tied together
"We are entwined as vines of the shampoo plant. We are vines wrapped around each other."
276.   Obuk nga kopirolot
Ungkui nga kopisirag

Hair of equal quality
Locks of similarity
"Our hair is of the same quality. The beauty of our locks is equal.”
277.   Unturu nga mirompok
Olimo nga mitopong

Fingers that equal length
Five that are the same
"Our fingers are of equal length. Our hands are of equal size."
278.   Lalata nga mizap
Lobpuvon nga mitopong

Ringworm patches of equal count
White patches the same
"We have the same number of ringworm patches on our skin. The white patches are equal.”
279.   Kopirad ti sundu
Kopibagal ti lodun

Alike in godliness
Equal in power
"We are alike in our godly qualities. We are alike in our spiritual powers."
280.   Kamboros Morolongoi
Kansunud Morologung

Spoke Morolongoi
Said Morologung
Thus spoke Singing Brook, so said Falling Waters.
281.   Osuvab nopo i valai
Anavau nopo i pogon

Tomorrow fully the dwelling
Light fully the house
"When tomorrow has come in the dwelling, when it is fully light in the house. "
282.   Sizong kad Morolongoi7
Gongo kad Morologung
Flute note speaks Morolongoi
Flute note speaks Morologung
"With a voice like the clear note of the nose flute, with musical tones she spoke, said Singing Brook."
283.   Asi ku di kiaka
Ara ku di kiudung

Salute my to older sibling
Greetings my to elder brother
"My salutations, older sibling, my greetings to elder brother.”
284.   Olozow kito misavo
Ava'i kito migondu

Inappropriate we marry
Not fitting we wed
"To marry would not be right. It is not fitting we wed for.”
285.   Aso ma sulung to
Tida i mang hampo to

None indeed clothes we
No truly dress clothes we
"Clothes we indeed have none. No truly fine apparel do we have."
286.   Kamboros Morolongoi
Kamsunud Morologung

Spoke Morolongoi
Said Morologung
So spoke Morolongoi, Singing Brook; so said Morolongoi, Falling Water.
287.   Monimpa i Mangkahis
Mangampot i Mangka'ai

Answers Mangkahis
Replies Mangka'ai
Mangkahis, the Crab, then answers. Mangka'ai, the Crustacean, replies:
288.   Nunu kagima sulung
Kuran kagima hampo

What really clothes
How really dress clothes
"What really are we to wear? How are we really to dress?"
289.   Monimpa Morolongoi
Mongampot Morologung

Answers Morolongoi
Replies Morologung
Singing Brook answers him. Falling Waters replies to him:
290.   Nunu ot ihim-ihimon
Kuran hovo-hovoron

What is to be looked for
How to be found
"What has to be looked for? How is it to be found?”
291.   Tudukan to do sulung
Bolizan to do pakai

To be shown us clothes
To be bought us apparel
"For we will be shown clothing. We will be bought apparel.”
292.   Panangbadu murondom
Panangsapoi musalup

Put on a black badu8
Put on this black jacket
"Put on this jacket of the night. Wear this badu of the dark."
293.   Pononghokos buluntung
Pononghongo simbakol

Wear a belt rainbow
Put on a belt rainbow
"Put on this belt of the rainbow. Wear a belt of many colors.”
294.   Ponongsigal goniton
Ponangbidak podohon

Put on the sigal of lightning9
Wear the headcloth of thunderbolt
"Put on a headcloth woven of lightening. Wear a sigal made of thunderbolts.”
295.   Ponongbadi goniton
Ponongkazin podohon

Put on a sword of lightning
Wear a blade of thunderbolts
"Put on a sword of lightning. Put on a blade of thunderbolts.”
296.   Ponongtambung misungkod
Ponongrondong nipanggol

Carry a blowpipe like pillar10
Hold a blowpipe thick tree
"Carry a blowpipe like one of the pillars supporting the sky. Hold a blowpipe thick as a post.”
297.   Ilo no pakai nu
Ilo no hampo nu

Those now your apparel
Those now your dress clothes
"Those will now be your apparel. Those now will be your finery."
298.   Kamboros Morolongoi
Kansunud Morologung

Said Morolongoi
Spoke Morologung
So spoke Morolongoi, Singing Brook. So said Morologung, Falling Water.
299.   Sizong kadi Mangkahis
Gongo kadi Mangka'ai

Flute note speaks Mangkahis
Flute note speaks Mangka'ai
With a voice like the clear note of the nose flute, with musical tones spoke Mangkahis, the Crab:
300.   Nataru ro'un dohon
Nalazaw nong yoku

Keep leaves my
Keep now as for me
"I will keep my leaves. As for me, I will keep my leaves.”
301.   Ika'u no pokibazin
Ika'u no pokitizow

You now ask for a spouse
You now ask for a husband
"You have asked for a spouse. It is you who have asked for a husband.”
302.   Aso po pakai nu
Tida po ma hampo nu

None yet clothes your
No yet indeed apparel your
"But you have nothing to wear. Indeed you do not have any apparel.”
303.   Nga tudukan to pakai
Bolizan to hampo

Then show us apparel
Bought us dress clothes
"So show us your apparel, the dress clothes you have bought. "
304.   Panangtapi tohopoi
Pononggonob tohipu

Put on a skirt of nettle tree
Wear a skirt of stinging leaves
"Put on a skirt from the nettle tree. Wear a skirt of stinging leaves.”
305.   Ohopoi indahaton
Ohipu inlubokon

The nettle tree of the sea
Stinging leaves of the bay
"From the nettle tree by the sea, stinging leaves from the bay.”
306.   Pononglungkaki bolung
Ponongbolingkus dubol

Wear leg brass Portuguese manof- War.11
Put on leg brass stinging jellyfish
"Wear leg brass made from the tentacles of the Portuguese man-of-war. Bend around your leg the tentacles of the stinging jellyfish.”
307.   Bolung do indahaton
Dubol do inlubokon

Portuguese man-of-war of the sea
Stinging jellyfish of the bay
"The Portuguese man-of-war of the sea, the stinging jellyfish from the bay.”
308.   Pononggading dolimusan12
Ponongvaru dobodung
Put on armlets the spiny fish
Wear armbands of spiny fish
"Put on armlets from the poison spines of the catfish. Wear armbands from the spines of fish.”
309.   Ponongonsungoi dot angkalamai
Ponongmurandoi dot inggipan-gipan

Put on wristlets of centipedes
Wear wristbands of earwigs
"Put on wristlets of centipedes. Wear wristbands of earwigs.”
310.   Angkalamai inda'aton
Inggipan-gipan inlubokon

Centipedes from the sea
Earwigs from the bay
"Centipedes from the sea, earwigs from the bay."
311.   Kamboros di Mangkahis
Kansunud di Mangka'ai

Words of Mangkahis
Spoken by Mangka'ai
These were the words of Mangkahis. This was spoken by Mangka'ai.
312.   Asi ku di kibazin
Ara ku di kitizow

Salutations my for have a spouse
Greetings my for have a wife
"I salute you, my spouse. I greet you, my wife."


Editors Note: The epic continues for 1247 couplets. The two spirits marry. But then they divorce because they discover that they have lost their sense of smell. They can no longer smell blood and find human beings.



* The source for this text was the Rungus priestess Magazas who was from the village of Pamuda'an. It was recorded 1986 in the Rungus village of Guomon by George and Laura Appell. The translation was done with the help of Hamzah Malajun, Minobidong Solumban, Majintin Sovoli, and Sovoli Mabok, all from the village of Guomon or the nearby Inukiran.


1 The derivation of the word, Tamba'ig is not yet quite clear. It probably is related to the word for water, va'ig. /'/ indicates a glottal stop.
2 The term "brother" and "sibling" here is used as a form of address indicating respect between the two, but also indicating that they are of the same generation. It does not indicate any kin relationship.
3 Kampil is the generic name given to a variety of small brass boxes that every man and woman owns and in which they keep their areca nut (Areca catechu), their betel vine leaf (Piper betle), their lime, and their tobacco for chewing and smoking. All visitors are offered this on arrival to indicate respect.
4 Po and no are difficult to translate into English. Po indicates the onset of an action. No indicates the completion of an action. In some instances they both can be translated by "now," with the state of action indicated by form of English verb used.
5 Pogun is the word used in everyday language to indicate a deserted housing structure. Here it is the substitute word for house or dwelling.
6 Rorizan is a special room built over the sleeping portion of the longhouse where a spirit medium or priestess spends her days learning the epic poetry and weaving the ritual clothing. We have alternated between "spirit medium" and "priestess" to refer to the female religious specialist. The former indicates the ability to go into trance, while the latter indicates the ability to recite the epic poems and poetic narratives.
7 Sizong is what the first clear note of the nose flute is called. In the epic poetry it indicates the opening up of conversation by an individual with a pleasing, refined voice.
8 A badu is a man's ceremonial jacket, woven of native cotton spun by hand and dyed black with indigo. The patterns on the jacket appear in white and represent mythological creatures and spirits.
9 A sigal is a man's headcloth. They are worn by all men and were traditionally woven by the Rungus but now are purchased from various Coastal Muslim ethnic groups, each of which has their own identifying weaving style.
10 Misungkod is translated here as "pillar." It refers to the sungkod, those pillars that hold up the sky.
11 Leg brass: The Rungus women wear coils of heavy gauge brass wire wound around their legs from their ankles to their knees. And when they walk they sound like a bag of coins being shaken. They also wear a variety of bracelets and armbands from shells, brass wire, and wood.
12 A dolimusan refers to a species of catfish. It has spines in the lateral fins that can cause severe wounding because of the poison.
  George and Laura Appell


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