Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

East Asia

An eighteenth–century leader of the Ibans, the Sea Dayaks of Borneo. A legend about him concerns a hungry ghost, which visited his people with smallpox. After winning a battle near Betong and taking many heads, Radin decided to hold a bird festival, gawai burong, and to this feast he invited all the other war leaders and persons of rank. As they were feasting, some of the older guests told him that the image of the rhinoceros hornbill, sacred to the bird god Sengalang Burong, the patron of head–hunters, must be removed from the village three days after the celebration was over, and that the site must be vacated too. Radin adhered to custom in respect of the sacred image, but he did not quit the longhouse, the village under one roof. Some days later his people started to die of smallpox. Then, three nights in succession, as he was lying sleepless, worried by the increasing number of deaths, Radin heard the music of a lovely song, which took apparent pleasure at their plight. On the fourth night Radin took his machete and hid himself inside a roll of matting. When the hungry ghost came near to his place of concealment, singing about the sweetness of human flesh, Radin jumped out and cut down the invisible spirit. He heard something fall, but he could see nothing. Next morning, on going to look at the hornbill carving, he found it had been slashed as if by a powerful knife, and thrown to the ground. Baffled, Radin sought advice from his peers, who told him that the sacred image was too powerful and recommended immediate removal. This he and his people did thereafter using the old longhouse as a burial ground.

Subjects: Religion.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.