The Pagan Tribes of Borneo— Volume 1

Author: Charles Hose


The following notes of a conversation with the Orang Kaya Tumonggong, the influential chief of the Long Pata people (one of the many groups of Klemantans), show that these people regard the hawk in much the same way as the Kenyahs do: The hawk, BALI FLAKI, is the messenger of "Bali Utong," the Supreme Being. When a party is about to set out on any expedition they explain their intentions to BALI FLAKI, and then observe the movements of the hawks. If a hawk circles round over their heads, some of the party will fall sick on the journey and probably will die. If the hawk flies to the right when near at hand, it is a good omen; but if it flies to the right when at a distance, or to the left, whether near or far, that is a bad omen. The people then light a fire and entreat the hawk to give a more favourable sign, and if it persists in going to the left they give up the expedition. If, while the omens are being read, the hawk flaps his wings, or screams, or swoops down and settles on a tree, the omen is bad. But if it swoops down and up again, that is good. If two or three hawks are visible at the same time, and especially if they all fly to the right, that is very good; but if many are visible, and especially if they fly off in different directions, that is very bad, for it means that the enemy will scatter the attacking force. If the hawk should capture a small bird while it is under observation, that means that they will be made captives if they persist in their undertaking. The hawk is not claimed as a relative by Klemantans. They take omens from various other birds in matters of minor importance.

Klemantans use the domestic pig and fowl as sacrificial animals just as the Kenyahs and Kayans do, and they have the same superstitious dread of killing a dog. One group of them, Malanaus, use a dog in taking a very solemn oath, and sometimes the dog is killed in the course of this ceremony. Or instead of the dog being killed, its tail may be cut off, and the man taking the oath licks the blood from the stump; this is considered a most binding and solemn form of oath. The ceremony is spoken of as KOMAN ASU, I.E. "the eating of the dog."

Most Klemantans will kill and eat both deer and cattle freely. But there are exceptions to this rule. Thus Damong, the chief of a Malanau household, together with all his people, will not kill or eat the deer CERVULUS MUNTJAC, alleging that an ancestor had become a deer of this kind, and that, since they cannot distinguish this incarnation of his ancestor from other deer, they must abstain from killing all deer of this species. We know of one instance in which one of these people refused to use again his cooking-pot, because a Malay who had borrowed it had used it for cooking the flesh of deer of this species. This superstition is still rigidly adhered to, although these people have been converted to Islam of recent years.

On one occasion another chief resolutely refused to proceed on a journey through the jungle when a mouse-deer, PLANDOK, crossed his path; he will not eat this deer at any time.[139]

The people of Miri, who also are Mohammedan Malanaus, claim to be related to the large deer, CERVUS EQUINUS, and some of them to the muntjac deer also. Now, these people live in a country in which deer of all kinds abound, and they always make a clearing in the jungle around a tomb. On such a clearing grass grows up rapidly, and so the spot becomes attractive to deer as a grazing ground; and it seems not improbable that it is through frequently seeing deer about the tombs that the people have come to entertain the belief that their dead relatives become deer, or that they are in some other way closely related to the deer.

The Bakongs, another group of Malanaus, hold a similar belief with regard to the bear-cat (ARTICTIS) and the various species of PARADOXURUS; in this case the origin of the belief is admitted by them to be the fact that, on going to their graveyards, they often see one of these beasts coming out of a tomb. These tombs are roughly constructed wooden coffins raised a few feet only from the ground, and it is probable that these carnivores make their way into them, in the first place, to devour the corpse, and that they make use of them as lairs.

The relations of the Klemantans to the crocodiles seem to be more intimate than those of other tribes. One group, the Long Patas, claim the crocodile as a relative. The story goes that a certain man named Silau became a crocodile. First he became covered with itch, and he scratched himself till he bled and became rough all over. Then his feet began to look like a crocodile’s tail; as the change crept up from his feet to his body, he called out to his relatives that he was becoming a crocodile, and made them swear that they would never kill any crocodile. Many of the people in olden days knew that Silau became a crocodile; they saw him at times and spoke to him, and his teeth and tongue were always like those of a man. Many stories are told of his meeting with people by the river-side. On one occasion a man sat roasting a pig on the river-bank, and, when he left it for a moment, Silau took it and divided it among the other crocodiles, who greatly enjoyed it. Silau then arranged with them that he would give a sign to his human relatives by which the crocodiles might always be able to recognise them when travelling on the river. He told his human friends that they must tie leaves of the DRACAENA below the bows of their boats; this they always do when they go far from home, so that the crocodiles may recognise them and so abstain from attacking them.

If a man of the Long Patas is taken by a crocodile, they attribute this to the fact that they have intermarried to some extent with Kayans. When they come upon a crocodile lying on the river-bank, they say, "Be easy, grandfather, don’t mind us, your are one of us." Some of the Klemantans will not even eat anything that has been cooked in a vessel previously used for cooking crocodile’s flesh, and it is said that if a man should do so unwittingly his body would become covered with sores.

If a crocodile is seen on their left hand by Long Patas on a war expedition, that is a bad omen; but if on their right hand, that is the best possible omen.

The Orang Kaya Tumonggong tells us that in the olden times the crocodiles used to speak to his people, warning them of danger, but that now they never speak, and he supposes that their silence is due to the fact that his people have intermarried with other tribes. The Long Patas frequently carve a crocodile’s head as the figurehead for a war-canoe.

The Batu Blah people (Klemantans) on returning from the war-path make a huge effigy of a crocodile with cooked rice, and they put fowl’s eggs in its head for eyes and bananas for teeth, and cover it with scales made from the stem of the banana plant. When all is ready it is transfixed with a wooden spear, and the chief cuts off its head with a wooden sword. Then pigs and fowls are slaughtered and cooked, and eaten with the rice from the rice-crocodile, the chiefs eating the head and the common people the body. The chief of these people could give us no explanation of the meaning of this ceremony; he merely says they do it because it is custom.

One community of Klemantans, the Lelak people, lived recently on the banks of a lake much infested with crocodiles. Their chief had the reputation of being able to induce them to leave the lake. To achieve this he would stand in his boat waving a bundle of charms, which included among other things teeth of the real tiger and boars’ tusks, and then address the crocodiles politely in their own language. He would then allow his boat to float out of the lake into the river, and the crocodiles would follow him and pass on down the river.

Many, probably all, Klemantans put up wooden images of the crocodile before their houses, and many of them carve the prow of their war-canoes into the form of a crocodile’s head with gaping jaw.

Some of the Muruts make an effigy of the crocodile from clay for use on the celebration of a successful expedition.


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Chicago: Charles Hose, "Klemantans," The Pagan Tribes of Borneo— Volume 1, ed. Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945 and trans. Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853- in The Pagan Tribes of Borneo—Volume 1 (London: Smith, Elder & Co., November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues)), Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022,

MLA: Hose, Charles. "Klemantans." The Pagan Tribes of Borneo— Volume 1, edited by Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945, and translated by Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853-, in The Pagan Tribes of Borneo—Volume 1, Vol. Volume One, London, Smith, Elder & Co., November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues), Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Hose, C, 'Klemantans' in The Pagan Tribes of Borneo— Volume 1, ed. and trans. . cited in November 1909 - December 1910 (14 issues), The Pagan Tribes of Borneo—Volume 1, Smith, Elder & Co., London. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from