Things must begin to die in order for a rebrth to take place. :)
It’s the Year of the Horse.
There is a story I would like to tell you about a woman who practices the invocation of the Buddha Amitabha’s name. She is very tough, and she practices the invocation three times daily, using a wooden drum and a bell, reciting, “Namo Amitabha Buddha” for one hour each time. When she arrives at one thousand times, she invites the bell to sound. (In Vietnamese, we don’t say “strike” or “hit” a bell.) Although she has been doing this for ten years, her personality has not changed. She is still quite mean, shouting at people all the time.
A friend wanted to teach her a lesson, so one afternoon when she had just lit the incense, invited the bell to sound three times, and was beginning to recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha,” he came to her door, and said, “Mrs. Nguyen, Mrs. Nguyen!” She found it very annoying because this was her time of practice, but he just stood at the front gate shouting her name. She said to herself, “I have to struggle against my anger, so I will ignore that,” and she went on, “Namo Amitabha Buddha, Namo Amitabha Buddha.”
The gentleman continued to shout her name, and her anger became more and more oppressive. She struggled against it, wondering, “Should I stop my recitation and go and give him a piece of my mind?” But she continued chanting, and she struggled very hard. Fire mounted in her, but she still tried to chant “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” The gentleman knew it, and he continued to shout, “Mrs. Nguyen! Mrs. Nguyen!”
She could not bear it any longer. She threw away the bell and the drum. She slammed the door, went out to the gate and said, “Why, why do you behave like that? Why do you call my name hundreds of times like that?” The gentleman smiled at her and said, “I just called your name for ten minutes, and you are so angry. You have been calling the Buddha’s name for ten years. Think how angry he must be!"
It’s the old Confucian trick.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in these traditions. All mistakes, erroneous suppositions and assumptions are all mine. This is not a research paper, simply a small portal for anyone who is interested.
I noticed that in the previous post I mentioned two, one being explained in the previous post to some extent. The other one I simply forgot to elaborate.
This post is actually about two, and both are performed in our Harvest Festival, which usually takes place in June in modern times. I listened to a radio talk some years ago and it surprised me (although again, maybe it shouldn’t) that the Harvest Festival used to be celebrated after the harvesting was done. I know, it should be clear - HARVEST FESTIVAL D’OH - however, now everyone I know who plants rice harvest their crop at the end of May. (Stop rambling.)
So, during this harvest festival (in Iban culture this is called Gawai, literally means celebration) guests are welcomed, anyone who comes into the house - with good intentions - are given tuak, alcohol derived from glutinous rice. It’s kind of like saké, but somewhat more cloudy.
Visitors who come into the longhouse will first be welcomed with a long praise. Biau Pengabang is recited with pomp and splendour, and normally lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. I remember a time when a local university held Native Tongue Festival and they invited people from Tun Jugah Foundation to perform a biau. When their turn came, two elderly gentlemen (one of them holding a cockerel) went on the stage and began. Only their voices were heard; the audience was entranced.
Then they stopped. I could feel their disappointment in the air, by their sighs. One of the gentlemen then said:
If we were to go on, we’d have to stay all night.
The hall broke into a rapturous laughter. I thought most of us wouldn’t have minded that!
If you’re curious about it, here’s a copy of one of the variety of this extensive biau pengabang. It’s written in Iban and no translations, so sorry.
What I do know is that these leka biau (words of praise) sometimes get updated. Those who know how to update them will give sometimes a fanciful twist, or even funny, to what could be a rather solemn occasion. But why not? We’re welcoming guests who would probably drown in glasses of alcoholic glutinous rice!
Timang or Pengap (depends on the locality) on the other hand is one of the most complex Iban oral traditions I’ve ever seen. Sadly this tradition seems to be on decline, probably because of the very nature of it.
Once I stayed up to watch them during a sacred Gawai, and they did not even stop for whatever kind of break. I suspected they were in a trance; you have three men walking from one end of the longhouse to the other end of the longhouse, chanting endlessly while striking the floor with a rather intricately carved and decorated cane known as tungkat lemambang.
Lemambang performs this only on the most sacred Gawai,
namely Gawai Asal (True Gawai) and Gawai Mimpi (dream rituals). He takes the listeners through the spirit realms. Eventually the principal spirit guests are introduced to the festival. They are then invited to bless everyone in the longhouse with positive blessings.
The leader is known as tuai lemambang, the head bard. The two who tail behind him are his apprentices, known as orang nyagu, literally floaters. These two are actually apprentices, and function as a chorus at certain parts of the tuai lemambang’s verse; the middle turns to repeat the ‘chorus’ to the last orang nyagu who then ‘answers’ it. Again, this differs according to locality.
This wordpress page provides a lot of information about these three oral traditions, and even when it’s somehow erudite, it helps to clear some questions you might have about everything I’ve described.
Edit: By the way, the timang sometimes goes on for three days. Imagine that.
Like when I had to confront a person whom I had no idea was actually a backstabber, all that I could think about was Pink’s song, Blow Me (One Last Kiss):
You think I’m just too serious
I think you’re full of sheeeeeeeeeet
This part of the song figuratively played repeatedly in my mind whenever the person spoke when confronted. Now I can never trust a single thing spouted by those lips, that mind, that mouth, because seriously, that person is just full of sheeeeeeet.
Apparently trust was not this person’s life currency of choice.
I got back-stabbed once. I am not letting any one do that to me one more time.
Eventually - while hers would
shy their brown pools away,
end up upon his graceful face.
The joys of watching love in bloom
is akin to watching a sunset -
their secret smiles and little moves
- a tilt here, a corner lip raised -
are the colours that only can be seen
in the dying light of the day.
Only when I realise, I am in love
- with him - that I know I am watching
my own dying, and the sunset
is my love falling into the west."
— Why I Hate Myself Sometimes