People of the rainforest, £25.00
Height: 36.000 cm
Collected by Dr Charles Hose
Room 24: Living and Dying
Wooden figure of a water spirit
Melanau, late 19th - early 20th century AD
From Sarawak, Malaysia
A powerful spirit
This wooden figure is a particularly fine example of the belum carvings collected by Charles Hose along the Igan River, north-west Borneo, at the turn of the nineteenth century. Belum are used by the Melanau in rituals to cure diseases. First the spirit who caused the illness is tentatively identified on the basis of the visible symptoms of the illness, and then invited into the wooden figure to participate in the ritual to cure the patient. In this example, the hands are held over the stomach, suggesting that it might have been used for belly aches.
According to Hose's catalogue, this figure is a durik (or durhig) and belongs to a category of belum carvings in which the spirit has a particularly vicious character. In 1949 and 1950, Dr H. Stephen Morris recorded detailed information on Melanau beliefs. One of his informants, Satim bin Resa, explained 'that a durhig is very big and wants to exchange its body with a corpse. As a result a corpse will become bloated, and not fit into its coffin. A male durhig can make the eyes of a corpse open.'
H.S. Morris, The Oya Melanau: traditional r (Sarawak Museum Journal Monograph no. 9, 1997)