Mon, 30 Oct 2000

Dayak's 'berayah' ceremony on the verge of extinction

By Edi Petebang

PONTIANAK, West Kalimantan (JP): Munying, 50, sang and danced to the sound of ketabung (small drum) around the bembayungan, the obligatory equipment for a berayah ceremony. About two hours later he fell unconscious.

Then after some 15 minutes, he raised his head and mumbled the name of a disease and the herbs needed to cure it. His two helpers and two other people attending the ceremony listened attentively to him.

The next day Munying went to the forest and sought the herbs he listed while he was entranced.

That is an illustration of how the Dayak Jalal subethnic group traditionally finds cures for diseases, through the berayah ceremony.

Berayah is performed in almost 405 Dayak subethnic groups across Kalimantan. Each subethnic group has its own name and rites for this healing method. Berayah is derived from rayah, a Dayak word meaning singing or a song. Berayah, however, does not simply mean singing; it has religious significance.

Berayah is a blend of art and a therapeutical rite. The rite is led by a shaman who serves to facilitate the communication with his master. While entranced, he asks his master about the name of a disease and its cure.

Every shaman has their own master, called duwata (god). To the Dayak there is a god for every object: the river god, the mountain god or the animal god.

There are two types of berayah. The first is intended to cure sick people, while the second is not meant for therapeutical purposes. Berayah belapas, for example, is conducted to initiate a shaman.

Bayer, who researches the oral traditions of the Dayak at the Institute of Dayak Studies in Pontianak, wrote in 1997 that there were four kinds of rayah: rayah dendayu, rayah dilang, rayah lalai and rayah anjuhan.

The mantra, or petalian, used in a berayah rite is in the old Dayak dialect and only few people can conduct this rite.

It is not easy to be a shaman, Munying says. To become a shaman of the Dayak Jalai in Tangerang village, Ketapang regency, one must have special talents and be willing to observe a number of prohibitions.

The position of shaman is usually passed down from one's parents or grandparents. One becomes a shaman because this is god's choice, Munying said, adding that a shaman's duty was to serve others.

One must go through long and rigorous training before becoming a shaman, he added.


Today a berayah rite, especially for the initiation of a shaman (belapas belayang), is rarely conducted because of progress in the medical sciences, and also owing to the prohibitive cost of conducting this rite. The more "modern culture" which has reached into Kalimantan's hinterland is also seen as a factor behind the decline in this Dayak tradition.

"We cannot compete with modern medical treatment in terms of therapeutical cost, speed and intensity," said Munying.

The presence of medical personnel and modern medical facilities in rural areas has accelerated the disappearance of berayah. Sick people are more likely go to the hospital rather than seek traditional cures. Today, berayah is considered only after modern medicine fails.

The younger generations, even those living in villages, have a low opinion of the traditional rite. They say the tradition is old-fashioned and against religious teachings.

Every day "modern" culture permeates into the lives of the younger Dayak people. They are bombarded with dangdut dances, pop music and other urban arts and culture, especially now that they can easily obtain amenities like television sets, radios, VCDs, CDs and cassettes.

"It is really hard to conduct berayah today," lamented a Dayak Jalai.

For the younger generation a berayah rite has another difficulty; it is conducted in a dialect they rarely use in their daily lives.

As a result of these factors, only a handful of younger Dayak people are aware of this rite, leaving the berayah on the verge of extinction.