KOTA KINABALU: A Murut sub-ethnic group in Sabah treat their dead in a very different way.
They keep the bodies at home for as long as possible before moving them to a “special home” instead of burying them.
The Murut Tangala folk are mainly non-Muslims of Kampung Inarad in the interior Tongod district.
This practice is an “upgrade” from a previous tradition of keeping the bodies of the deceased in a large ceramic vase called the Tajau.
“I think we stopped keeping the bodies of our dead family members in the Tajau after the Federation of Malaysia was formed,” said 58-year-old John Darum, who is a Murut Tangala.
“Now, we keep them in coffins, sealed tightly and later decorated with batik cloth or nice large shawls and put them in a specially made coffin home called Lobong in the Murut language,” he said.
Lobong means burial home or coffin house.
John, an assistant administrator of the Tongod district office, said these coffins are made with either kayu belian (from a rare timber tree known colloquially in English as Bornean ironwood, billian or ulin) or merbau (teak) wood.
Like many other burial rites and practices, a deceased person will be brought home and placed in the coffin first.
After that, depending on how strong the embalming chemicals are, the body will be kept at home while family members, relatives and friends arrive to pay their last respects.
“The coffin is kept open as long as the corpse does not start to smell.
“Once the body starts to decay, we will seal the coffin and leave it in its family home for a few days until all relatives have paid their respects,” John said.
He said the normal paying of respects period ranges from three to seven days.
“After that, the coffin will be brought to the Lobong,” he said, adding that some of these Lobong are built closer to farms or family residential areas while others are further in the jungle, depending on the family’s choice.
Asked why this ethnic group chose this form of interment, John said he is not sure.
“Perhaps the older folk would know better. Sometimes, we just follow what our ancestors do without really questioning or knowing the reason,” he said.