Crocodile Culture

September 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Sarawak is home to many rivers, including the longest river in the country, the Rajang River. The state is also well known for crocodiles, or buaya as they are known in the local Malay language. The most notorious and infamous crocodile in recent times has to be the man eater Bujang Senang, which was believed to have killed and eaten an unknown number of human victims. Needless to say, this crocodile’s antics merely adds to the crocodile’s mystique and legend among the indigenous tribes of Sarawak.

It seems that in ancient times, crocodile effigies were built to symbolise the spirit of this wild animal that the tribes had to deal with. Many rituals incorporating the crocodile evolved among the tribes, and remnants of these rituals can be seen through the many effigies that were carved from earth, some dating back more than 3 thousand years ago. A recent article in a local newspaper highlighted an idea by the Sarawakian government to use these effigies as an attraction to boost its ecological tourism sector.

Rajang River

Sarawak's Rajang River is the longest river in Malaysia.

Read the full article below:

Ancient crocodile effigies are set to become another of Sarawak’s ecological tourism attractions to snap up the tourist ringgit.

Carved from earth and used as part of rituals practised by the Iban and Lun Bawang communities, the 3,000-year-old effigies symbolise the enduring spirit of the crocodile.

The tropical amphibious reptile, it must be noted, outlived the dinosaurs which ruled the earth, millions of years ago.

Sarawak Museum director Ipoi Datan said the effigies, which symbolised the spirit of the crocodiles, were discovered in over 70 locations between Betong Division in the southern part of the state and Lawas, Sarawak’s northmost district.

“We have started carrying out a survey on the sites of the effigies in 2004 and the works were intensified, three years later.

“The biggest found so far, is about 53 feet (16.2 metre) long,” he said here recently.

From survey works, he said, over 40 sites belonging to the Iban community were found between Betong Division and Balingian, in the Mukah Division.

He said the Iban community was noted for practising hill paddy farming and had a traditional belief that the effigy played a role to protect their crops.

“The effigy will be used for the ‘Malik Umai’ ritual, where the traditional Iban farming community believes it (effigy) possesses a crocodile’s spirit to frighten away pests attempting to destroy their crops,” said Ipoi.

In the case of the ancient Lun Bawang community, he said a crocodile effigy was carved to become the centre of celebration for successful head-hunting trips.

He said the earthen effigies that hardened over the years also served as land boundary markers.

With some members of the Lun Bawang community migrating beyond the state over the years, he said they also brought along the tradition with them that led to several crocodile effigies found in the neighbouring state, Sabah.

He said the archeological values of the effigies were on par with the megaliths or stone structures found in Sarawak.

Source: Bernama

Photo (c) watchsmart

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