Notes: The Borneon creation myth and heavenly ropevine

Kayan Folklore.
Naturally enough, of course, creation began on the island of Borneo, or Kalamantan, as they call it, and the first people were Borneans and spoke the language of the tribe that tells the story. Every tribe has a different account of creation, and claims that its people sprang from the first created mortals.
The following account is the story of Genesis according to the Kayans of Northwestern Borneo:—

In the old, old days, when there was nothing but water and sky, there fell from the heavens an enormous rock; that part of it which protruded from the water was hard, slippery, and quite bare, with no soil nor plants upon it of any kind. After a long time, however, the rains produced slime  and they bored into the rock and left fine sand outside of their burrows; this sand eventually became soil and covered the rock. Again years passed and the rock remained barren of all other life until suddenly there dropped from the Sun a huge wooden handle of a Parang (or sword) known as Haup Malat. This parang-handle sank deep into the rock and taking root in the soil it sprouted and grew into a great tree, named Batang Utar Tatei, whose branches stretched out over the new land in every direction. When this tree was fully grown, there dropped from the Moon a long rope-like vine known as the Jikwan Tali. This vine quickly clung to the tree and took root in the rock. Now the vine, Jikwan Tali, from the Moon became the husband of the tree, Batang Utar Tatei, from the Sun, and Batang Utar Tatei gave birth to twins, a male and a female, not of the nature of a tree, but more or less like human beings. The male child was called Klobeh Angei, and the female was called Klubangei. These two children married and then gave birth to two more children, who were named Pengok N’gai, and Katirah Murai. Katirah Murai was married to old man Ajai Avai, who comes without pedigree into the narration. From Katirah Murai and Ajai Avai are descended many of the chiefs who were founders of the various tribes inhabiting the land of Kalamantan; their names are Sejau Laho, Oding Lahang, from whom the Kayans spring, Tabalan, Pliban, and, finally, Tokong, the father of head-hunting….the idea of the wooden sword-handle being the ultimate fons et origo of all life comes from the fact that the word for chief—”penghulu”—is derived from “hulu,” meaning a sword-handle, and the prefix “peng” denoting agency, so that the whole word means literally “the master of the sword,” and thus the ruler or chief. From association of ideas, the sword-handle, without which the blade is ineffective and useless, may have been suggested to them as the chief of all beings.

The sudden appearance of Ajai Avai on the scene as the husband of Katirah Murai, is not at all at variance with the accounts from many other sources of the populating of the world. In Laki Oi, we recognize the Kayan “Prometheus,” whose memory is revered by sanctifying the fire procured after his manner of teaching, and from this tradition it is probable that the procuring of fire by means of the “fire-saw” is the aboriginal method. Should all of the fires in a Kayan house become extinguished and no spark be left, new fires may be started by this method, and by this method alone; even the fire-drill, and flint and steel, which are not unknown to them, are tabooed.

Source: Persatuan Kayan Sarawak An Association For Various Kayan Tribes in Sarawak, Malaysia

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