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Death Among the Rungus of Sabah, Malaysia: The Dissolution of Personhood and Dispersion of Multiple Souls and Spiritual Counterparts
Reprinted from Journeys of the Soul: Anthropological Studies of Death, Burial, and Reburial Practices in Borneo, William D. Wilder, Editor. Borneo Research Council Monograph No. 7. Phillips, Maine: Borneo Research Council, Inc. 2003.
Brandeis University
Sabah Oral Literature Project


1.1 Disorder and Disequilibrium
Death among the Rungus releases the dangerous forces of disorder. Disorder is not an explicit category verbalized by the Rungus themselves. It is a summary by the ethnographer of the beliefs and action patterns in the rituals and ceremonies associated
with death. The onset of disorder in the social and cosmic world materializes in the profound fear of the souls of the dead by the Rungus, the threatening spirits that emanate from the corpse, and the ritual pollution that surrounds a surviving spouse. If order is not re-established by ceremonies and rituals to nullify these dangerous forces, illness and death to the surviving kin and neighbors will result.

Rungus souls of the deceased live for a time on the periphery of society, coming and going from the afterworld until the final rites are held to send them permanently on to it. During this period the souls are in a liminal state, no longer a part of ongoing society nor fully incorporated into society in the land of the dead. It is during this time that the souls are a particular object of dread. Consequently, there is a major focus of ceremonies and ritual to process the souls on to the land of the deceased. But souls are recalcitrant. They do not want to leave and go to the afterworld. They long for their families and wider kin. And they try to lure the souls of the living to follow them to the afterworld. If a soul of the deceased is successful, this soul loss to the living can cause illness and eventually death. Thus, there is a series of rituals and ceremonies following burial that repeatedly implore the souls of the deceased to leave and go on to the afterworld.

While this restlessness of souls is similar to what Hertz (1960) describes for the Ngaju, the decomposition of the body does not provide a model for the state of the soul among the Rungus (cf. Huntington and Metcalf 1979:14). Furthermore, this fear of souls and the dangerous spirits associated with a death requires that the corpse itself be quickly buried, and there is no subsequent processing of the remains. Unlike the Bornean societies analyzed by Hertz (1960), Huntington and Metcalf (1979), and Metcalf (1982) in which secondary burial obtains, the Rungus view of death is instantaneous. There is no intermediary period in which the mortal is neither alive nor dead, as Huntington and Metcalf (1979:13) and Hertz (1960) describe in the death ceremonies for some of the other societies in Borneo.

Furthermore, an analysis of death rites that focuses only on the fate of the deceased’s soul may hide the full story of the death of the social person. To understand Rungus death beliefs and rituals, it requires that the nature of the Rungus personhood be fully examined. The Rungus social person has many ritual parts. One finds that not only do multiple souls exist with different fates, there are also spiritual counterparts that are different from the souls. And the dissolution of this complex personhood forms a critical feature of Rungus death beliefs and death rites.

Another major concern of the rituals following burial is the ritual pollution emanating from the surviving spouse as a result of his/her close association with the deceased. This pollution must be alleviated and eventually removed.

Behind all these rituals and ceremonies lies the threat of both organizational chaos and cosmic chaos. Death causes a disequilibrium in the emotional-interactional organization of society (Chapple and Coon 1942; Chapple 1970). Equilibrium has to be re-established by a series of rites of passage for the widow(er), for the households on either side of the apartment of the deceased in the longhouse, and for the member apartments of the longhouse itself. But this is not necessary for an entire village where there are multiple longhouses.

Order also has to be re-established among the cosmic forces. Otherwise, there is the threat of indeterminacy in the cognitive structure and belief system of those impacted by the death. As a result, the cosmic forces of danger released by a death, personalized by recalcitrant souls and malicious spirits, have to be returned to their former state of order through various sacrifices and offerings.

This disequilibrium and cosmic disorder not only threatens the society. It has the potential of frightening the rice spirits away, thus causing a failed harvest if the proper ritual steps are not followed.

1.2 The van Gennepian Problem
The rites and ceremonies dealing with death and removing the contamination resulting from it are complex and multilayered. There are rites of passage for the surviving spouse, for the soul itself, and for the households in the longhouse. All of these can involve two levels, a primary and a secondary level. While the primary level has the three phases of transitions delineated by van Gennep (1908; trans. 1960), the secondary level only has two phases: a liminal phase and a separation phase. Is this an artifact of the analysis? This shall concern us throughout this study.

Thus, as we shall see, the application here of van Gennep’s concepts of rites of passage is not fully adequate to deal with the Rungus ceremonies and rituals, which are dense and redundant (Bell 1992, 1997). As a result, the Rungus data suggest revisions and enlargements of the van Gennepian model.

1.3 Terminological Issues
Before we proceed, we have to clarify our terminology. There is the problem of how to define ceremony and ritual There is some confusion in this (see Moore and Myerhoff 1977:21; Evans 1996:1122; Gluckman 1962; Turner 1967:95, 1983). To make the presentation of the ethnographic data more intelligible, we use the term ceremony to refer to any religious act where there is an officiant that performs the religious acts of sacrifice or offering for another. In the Rungus case, the officiant is most frequently the spirit medium cum priestess called the bobolizan.

The term ritual we use in two senses. First there is ritual action. This is done by an individual for him/her self to control cosmic forces by means other than empirical causal relations. We avoid the use of the term mystical that was employed by Evans-Pritchard (1976) to refer to such acts and beliefs because the concept of mystical can have a pejorative sense for some readers. It therefore loses its usefulness.

But there is belief behind ritual action. The term ritual is also used here to refer to these beliefs. For example, the Rungus term alasu’ (hot) refers both to physical heat from work or the sun and ritual heat. The latter refers to a dangerous state emanating from an individual, which can only be cooled (monogit, from sogit, to be cold) by a ritual action.

Finally the term rites is used to cover a series of rituals and ceremonies that are part of a total process to move an individual from one status to another, as in rites de passage.

1.4 The Order of Battle
We will now turn to a summary of the major features of Rungus social organization. We shall then briefly describe the Rungus cosmological order which lies behind and justifies the nature of the Rungus death rites. Finally, before we begin the analysis of the Rungus death rites themselves, we address the nature of Rungus personhood, as features of the personhood of the deceased constantly reappear in the ceremonies and rituals for death. And it is these features that explain why the rites associated with death are most elaborate for the deceased as well as his/her surviving spouse. Thus, this article will focus primarily on those rituals and ceremonies associated with the death of a spouse and only briefly describe the rites for other deaths.


The Rungus are a people of northern Borneo. They inhabit the Kudat Division of Sabah, Malaysia (G. N. Appell 1965, 1966, 1967, 1976, 1978, 1988, 1991; Laura W. R. Appell 1988, 1991; Doolittle 1991). They speak a Dusunic isoglot (G. N. Appell 1968) and identify themselves, their adat (customary law), and their isoglot by the autonym Rungus.

In the early 1960s the size of the Rungus population was approximately 10,000 out of a total population of 29,456 speakers of Dusunic or related languages in the Kudat Division (G. N. Appell 1965). The Rungus are found on the two major peninsulas of the Kudat Division: the Kudat Peninsula and the Melabong Peninsula. The Rungus adat (customary law) of death discussed here is based on our research among the Rungus of the Kudat Peninsula, with whom we have resided. It may, nevertheless, be extrapolated with caution to the Rungus of the Melabong Peninsula on the east side of Marudu Bay.

2.1.0 Major Features of Rungus Social Organization
The Rungus are primarily swidden agriculturalists. They have a cognatic social organization that includes a bilateral kinship system but no corporate, that is jurally recognized, descent groups. The major social units are the domestic family, the longhouse, and the village (G. N. Appell 1976, 1983, 1984).

2.1.1 The Domestic Family.
The domestic family is the only production, consumption, and asset-accumulating social unit of Rungus society. As a corporate group it functions not only in the economic realm, but it is the most important corporate entity in the jural and ritual realms. It ideally and most frequently is composed of a husband and his wife —- the two founders —- and their children. This conjugal family lives in its separately owned longhouse apartment unit. Post-nuptial residence is uxorilocal. While monogamy is the norm, very occasionally a man may have two wives, but it is expected that each wife will have her own separate longhouse apartment unit and a separate economy.

The domestic family’s economy is based on (1) the swidden cultivation of rice, maize, cassava, and a variety of vegetables; (2) the raising of pigs, chickens, and frequently water buffalo; (3) the planting and cultivation of a large variety of fruit trees; and (4) the sale of domestic manufactures. The most important of these are clothing of various types that are woven exclusively by women from cotton they have grown, spun into thread, and dyed.

Agricultural surpluses of the domestic family are invested in a variety of brassware, gongs, and ceramic ware. And these are held corporately by the domestic family as a jural entity.

The household economy benefits in addition from payments for ritual services. If the female founder is a spirit medium and priestess (bobolizan), she receives payments for determining the cause of illness, for performing sacrifices to cure illness and to increase well- being and prosperity of the domestic family or village, and for teaching other girls and women the long, complicated ritual hymns known as rina’it that accompany such ceremonies (see Appell and Appell 1993). Her payments are in skeins of dyed yarn, brassware, chickens, etc. If the male founder is knowledgeable in swidden rituals, he also receives payment in brassware or chickens for his performance of rituals for others.

When a son of a domestic family wishes to marry, a substantial bride-price is given from the family’s accumulated assets of brassware, ceramics, and gongs. These are received and held corporately by the domestic family of the bride and are used to provide bride-prices for sons of that family. The husband and his wife spend the first agricultural season living and working with her domestic family. Then they move into their own longhouse apartment unit built by the husband ideally onto the longhouse of his wife’s family.

The Rungus bride-price, as well as the other institutions which lead up to marriage and the eventual foundation of a new domestic family, is justified by the major value premise in Rungus society that all sexual relations unless occurring within a marriage are deleterious for the participants, the rest of the society, the domestic animals, the crops, and the countryside itself. The absence of any rituals of sexuality during the death ceremonies correlates with the general repression of sexual symbols and behavior that is found in Rungus society (see L. W. R. Appell 1988, 1991; and G. N. Appell 1991).

The jural corporateness of the domestic family is symbolized in the Rungus religious system by offerings to create an enhanced ritual state between the family and the spirit world.

2.1.2 The Longhouse.
The Rungus longhouse is what G. N. Appell has termed a collectivity. It does not function as a fully formed jural entity. The longhouse comes into existence through the lateral accretion of individual domestic family apartment units. There is no section of the longhouse that is jointly made and collectively owned by the constituent members. It is in essence a condominium. The households of a longhouse are also not involved in any corporate action or even collective action in the economic realm. They do take collective, but not corporate, action in the ritual domain to protect themselves against pathogenic spirits (rogon).

2.1.3 The Village.
The village is the fundamental political unit of Rungus society. It is not a kin grouping. Membership in it is open to any domestic family whether or not they have kin resident there, as long as they are of good character. A village may consist of several hamlets in which one or more longhouses may be situated. The number of inhabitants of a village can vary from approximately 40 to 400 people.

Like the domestic family, the village is considered to be both jurally and ritually corporate. But unlike the family, the village is not an operating economic entity. It does not have the capacity to enter into economic relations and accumulate assets.
This ritual status of the village as a corporate entity is illustrated in the ceremony held by the village every decade or so in which a pig is sacrificed to renew the fecundity of the village land and the community. During this ceremony the village territory is closed off to non-villagers.


The Rungus cosmology provides the charter for the rituals and ceremonies that accompany death. And this cosmological system also includes the grounds for the Rungus construction of personhood and how it is deconstructed on death.

3.1 The Osundu: Celestial Beings
At the most inclusive level the term osundu includes not only celestial beings but also rogon, the terrestrial spirits or demigods, and the odu-odu, the rice spirits (see Table One). At the next lower level the term osundu contrasts both with the rogon, who are the embodiment of the social and physical environment and who can be harmful to humans, and also with the rice spirits (odu-odu). At both levels of contrast the celestial beings, the demigods, and the spirits contrast with human beings, riniba.

Table One

Osundu - celestial beings, demigods, and spirits Riniba - human beings
celestial beings
demigods and spirits of the earth
rice spirits
Riniba - human beings

In everyday discourse the term osundu is primarily used to contrast with rogon. In this context osundu refers just to the celestial beings that inhabit the various layers of the upperworld while the rogon inhabit the earth. In the upperworld are the creator god, the god who determines an individual’s fate, and a number of lesser gods.
The osundu, who are celestial beings in contrast to rogons, are helpful not harmful to humans in contrast to the rogon who are feared.

In previous publications we have translated the term osundu as supernaturals or supernatural beings. All osundu, those at both levels of contrast, have an appearance like human beings. They exhibit most of the same emotions and motives as humans. But they can remain seen or unseen, as can souls, as we shall see. They can take actions that can cause illness, extend life, and protect humans. But in addition they have powers of movement beyond human capacity, such as riding on the wind, and the capacity to transform themselves into other forms and shapes. Thus, they can transform themselves into animals, human beings, or monsters.

Yet succumbing to translating the category of osundu at either level as supernaturals tends to reflect the metaphysical dualism of western thought (see Hallowell 1960:28; Saler 1993). The Rungus do not have a concept of the natural. The osundu participate in a seamless world with human beings (see Appell and Appell 1993). Consequently, we have changed our terminology to reflect more precisely the Rungus mode of thought.

3.2 The Rogon: Demigods and Spirits
The rogon are spirits both of the natural and social world. They inhabit the same world as human beings do in both space and time. It is a seamless world in which the rogon are found in aspects of the landscape that have distinctive features: a landslide, a large group of boulders, a grove of trees surrounding a spring or wet place, banyan trees, etc.

These rogon were originally human beings. In crossing a log bridge, some of these human beings slipped off and from then on became rogon. Thus, the term rogon might be translated as demigod, but, as we shall see, the terms spirits and demigods only roughly approximate the semantic value of rogon. To avoid any misreading, we will not use any English gloss for rogon.

The rogon are cognitively omnipresent. They are the most talked about osundu in everyday discourse as they are potentially the most dangerous to human beings and are the most involved in everyday life. They are capricious, irascible, and cause afflictions if they are not treated properly or if their living space is intruded upon. Rogon, like human beings, have families and engage in the same activities as human beings. In addition to rogon who are Rungus, there are those who are Muslim, particularly malicious ones found at sea who will accept only an offering of chickens, not a pig. This mirrors the social environment of the Rungus, for historically there have been villages of Islamic peoples at various locations along the coast who trade fish, gongs, and brassware for agricultural produce from the Rungus.

Invading the living space of a rogon, such as cutting a grove of trees in which a spirit dwells, can anger the spirit, and s/he will in turn cause a member of the perpetrator’s family to fall ill. Other rogon can also cause misfortune and infertility. The afflictions of rogon can only be removed by a sacrifice of pigs and chickens to re-establish a state of goodwill.

In addition to the rogon who personify the natural world, there are rogon called rusod who mirror the social organization of the household. On the birth of a child, his rusod comes into being. Thus, each household has a family of rusod mirroring their family, and these dwell in the longhouse apartment unit along with the domestic family. When a young man marries and moves in to live with the family of his spouse, his rusod follows and becomes a member of the rusod of that family.
The rusod are the guardians of the proper ritual order in the household and protect the household members from other rogon. A rusod does not die when its human counterpart dies, but continues to protect the rest of the family. However, when a family moves to a new longhouse apartment unit, the rusod of dead family members are left behind.

Household members can offend the rusod by violating the ritual order of the household. If a member breaks any prohibitions, such as frying food in the apartment unit or bringing in certain prohibited citrus fruits, the rusod become angered. This is because these acts are only to be performed in the household renewal ceremony that is held for the rusod. The rusod on seeing these would be led to expect a renewal ceremony and would become angered when it did not come off. As a result, they will cease to protect members of the family from other rogon, allowing the other rogon to make a household member ill. Or the rusod will also actually cause a household member to become ill until the rusod is propitiated by ceremonies and offerings.

This is the explanation in ordinary discourse. However, the full explanation is that the rusod have permitted other rogon to capture and torment an individual’s soul so that the individual becomes ill, or they have done this themselves.

Most men and even many women are not fully cognizant of the nature of their rusod counterpart, even though they know about the rusod that dwell in the longhouse apartment unit and of their irascibility if the ritual order is violated. The full explanation of the nature of the rusod counterpart can only be obtained from a bobolizan (spirit medium/priestess) in whose hands lie the placation of the rusod and their care and feeding. For it is in the trance performances of the spirit mediums and priestesses and the ritual texts they sings over sacrifices that the rusod is defined and described.

While rogon are generally feared, because when offended they produce sickness, there are other rogon, in addition to the rusod, that an individual can appeal to for help. Rogon of a place in the village landscape can become guardian spirits for a man if appealed to and sacrificed to with a chicken or pig. And females can acquire as spirit familiars rogon that inhabit boulders or who dwell in sacred groves where springs or seeps are found.

In addition to these rogon there are those that are specific to the swiddens, such as the spirits of mice and other agricultural pests, which can cause damage to the crops.

3.3 The Odu-Odu: Rice Spirits
The third major class of spirits are the rice spirits. These rice spirits, like the rogon of the household (rusod), mirror the social order of the family and reflect its social and jural substantiation (see G. N. Appell 1976 for a discussion of the implications of this ritual symbolization). Thus, as a new child is born into the family, a new rice spirit comes into being, as does a new rusod. These rice spirits are called to come from across the sea to the swiddens at the beginning of the agricultural season in order to ensure a good harvest. At the end of the agricultural year they are sent home again.

3.4 Divato and Lugu’: Transcendental Counterparts of Human Beings
Each individual also has a transcendental counterpart. These are called divato for a woman, cognate with Sanskrit devata, and lugu’ for a man. These also dwell in the upperworld but at a lower level than the other celestial osundu. A transcendental counterpart is born with each individual, along with his multiple souls, his rice spirit, and his rusod counterpart. When an individual is in danger and frightened, the transcendental counterpart looks out for and protects him or her.

3.5 Spirit Familiars of the Priestess/Spirit Medium (Bobolizan)
When a bobolizan goes into trance she elicits the help of her various spirit familiars to diagnose the cause of illness and obtain information on the proper sacrifice to achieve a cure. The sacrifice involves the performance of long, beautiful hymns to the gods and spirits over offerings of pigs and chickens.

The primary spirit familiar of a bobolizan is usually her own transcendental counterpart, although sometimes it can be that of her mother or teacher. But she usually is in touch with other spirit familiars (divato) who are the transcendental counterpart of any living or deceased individual female, particularly individuals of renown. These spirit familiars can include lugu’, the transcendental counterpart of important males, as well as certain rogon of place.
With the exception of the helpful rogon spirit familiars, who inhabit the earth, all the other spirit familiars live in libabo, the lower layer of the upperworld.

3.6 The Rungus Personhood: Social Construction of Self in Its Behavioral Environment
The social construction of the Rungus self includes a body (inan), multiple souls (hatod), and the three spirit counterparts to the body. These spirit counterparts are the rusod, who dwells in the longhouse apartment unit and protects the family; the individual’s rice spirit (odu-odu); and the individual’s transcendental counterpart, divato for females and lugu’ for males. All these spirit counterparts appear on the birth of the individual, and they form mirror images of the body.

There is considerable variation between sources as to the number of souls (hatod) and their loci in the body. Men will state their understanding of the subject but then defer to bobolizan for the proper and fuller explanation. And bobolizan themselves are not consistent on the subject. The number of souls given varies from two to seven depending on the source.

Advanced bobolizan say that there is a main soul, the hatod do inan (the soul of the body). Most agree that if this central soul leaves the body, the individual will die. Upon death this soul goes to the afterworld atop Mt. Kinabalu, after vacillating back and forth between this world and the next until all the rites are completed. This afterworld, referred to as Nabalu in the Rungus language, is not a heaven. It is part of the physical world and is separate from the upperworld where certain gods and the transcendental counterparts of the living dwell.

Other souls reside in the individual’s joints, the hatod do pi’uhalan (souls of the joints). Sources vary on the number of these souls. Some say that there are six, one for each of the knees, elbows, and shoulders. Others say there are three, one for each pair of joints, and some say that there is just one for all the joints. In those instances when the number given is less than six, it is stated that the soul or souls move around between the joints.

The souls of the joints go wandering during dreams and become exposed to harm by angered or malicious spirits (rogon). These spirits may actually capture and torture these souls, which results in illness of the individual.

When the spirit medium finds these lost souls and retrieves them at the end of a ceremony for illness, she returns them to the body through the whorl of hair on the head. These souls of the joints are also referred to by many as bad souls, because they wander and get into trouble, and at times they may actually seek out harm. The main soul of the body is referred to as the good soul. It is generally stated that this good soul does not go wandering and does not leave the body until death.

Thus, the wandering of souls represents cosmic disorder. It is up to the spirit medium cum priestess to restore order by locating these lost souls and returning them. If not, the individual suffering from soul loss will die, creating disorder.

In general conversation, the term hatod is used to refer to any and all of the up-to-seven souls that dwell in the body. Stories are common of someone seeing a person, who it turns out could not physically have been there at the time. The explanation is that this simulacrum is in fact the wandering hatod of the person. And during dreams the soul of the dreamer will encounter souls of other living persons. After death, as hatod can cause harm to the souls of living persons as do rogon, the hatod of the deceased, specifically those of the joints, are sometimes referred to as rogon.

There is an intimate association between the body and the hatod. As we shall discuss under deaths from accidents or misadventure, if there is no body the souls cannot go to the afterworld. And if a body is missing its head, its soul will not be accepted in the afterworld as it is too frightening.

3.7 Dissolution of Personhood: Dispersal of the Souls and Spiritual Counterparts of the Deceased
Following a death it is believed that the various souls and spirit counterparts of the deceased go their separate ways. The processes involved in this dissolution of personhood explain and justify the rituals and ceremonies associated with death.
During the year or two between burial and the final reintegration ceremony for the member households of the longhouse, the main soul, (hatod do inan), goes back and forth between Nabalu and the village. S/he hangs around the longhouse, hesitant to leave, longing for the company of family and kin. S/he appears to his/her loved ones from time to time. Even though the hatod is encouraged to go to Nabalu and stay there at the various ceremonies at the time of burial, s/he nevertheless goes back and forth from Nabalu. The reintegration ceremony held by the domestic family of the deceased is to ensure the souls go to Nabalu and stay there.

Souls from the joints on death also are sent to Nabalu. But when they come down to the village and cause trouble, they are termed namatai. This lexeme is derived from matai, to die. For these souls there is a change in terminology and character. They are now perceived as being a form of rogon. They frighten children and those who are drunk. Most frequently during ceremonies where there is rice wine and a person gets drunk, s/he may start calling out to a dead relative. This will bring a namatai who appears as an image of the dead relative. The namatai will cause the person’s body to become cold, but the person is not sick, other than being dizzy, nauseated, and likely to vomit and faint. The namatai are exorcized by prayer and smoke from a burning stick. If this is not done, a namatai could cause death by luring a person’s souls away to Nabalu.

Some sources say that not all souls of the joints become namatai. Instead a soul of the joints may become a ghost (bubuha) on death, if the body is not properly treated when it is prepared for burial. However, an authoritative bobolizan disagreed, insisting that these ghosts are derived from the rogon of the grave, when the proper burial procedures are not followed. These ghosts hover near the grave and can frighten people causing illness. It is also said that they come around to a woman giving birth as they like to drink blood. These ghosts hang around the burial grounds and appear from time to time to frighten people and cause minor trouble.

Separation of the various parts of the Rungus personhood finally reaches a climax with the reintegration ceremony held by the domestic family of the deceased. It is held a year or more after a death. While this ceremony terminates mourning, its main function is to send the main soul of the deceased to Nabalu (Mt. Kinabalu) to stay and to implore the celestial counterparts of the personhood not to disappear but to be available to help the kin of the deceased when in need.

While this reintegration ceremony brings the widow(er) back into the social life of the community and frees the longhouse member households from ritual prohibitions, the various souls and rogon still present a problem. There is one final ceremony right after this reintegration ceremony, which emphasizes the redundancy of Rungus death rites. This later ceremony, as we shall shortly discuss, is performed in the household of the deceased to put a permanent end to all the coming and going of souls and dispel for good the rogon that a death created.

As we have noted above, the transcendental counterpart of a person does not disappear on death. It is generally believed that this counterpart, the lugu’ or divato, continues to reside in the upperworld and helps the descendants of the deceased when they are in need. S/he also is accessible to the spirit mediums to consult with and will provide help in curing illness as long as s/he is remembered. While the fate of the souls is to be removed from daily life, the transcendental counterpart, however, continues in the social field of the surviving members of the deceased’s family and kin as long as their memory of the individual continues.
However, the rusod, the deceased’s spiritual counterpart, who lives in the family’s longhouse apartment unit does not have any function in the death rites. S/he will remain after the death of the person in the family’s household apartment until the remaining members move to another apartment. Then the rusod is left behind.

The rice spirit of the deceased, another spiritual counterpart, goes back to her/his home across the sea where s/he stays when the agricultural year ends. There is no mention of him/her in the death ceremonies.

Thus, the fate of the multiple souls and spirit counterparts represents a certain ambivalence toward death and the character of Rungus personhood itself. And while this dissolution of the personhood of the individual may follow roughly the decomposition of the body, nevertheless it is not conceived in Rungus exegeses to be so related. There is no clear correspondence between the two.

3.8 Life on Nabalu
Information on the life of souls on Nabalu can come from the dreams that people have. The bobolizan does not herself visit the land of the dead in trance. Nabalu is not a place for punishment of earthly transgressions. As long as the body is intact at death, the fate of the soul is not dependent on mode of death nor moral conduct.

Souls on Nabalu have the same characteristics the person had when s/he died. But, said one source, the souls do not suffer from the ailments that caused the death but are healthy, strong, and able to work. All the plants on Nabalu grow large and fruit abundantly. The cultivars planted produce great harvests.

Tradition has it that life on Nabalu mirrors everyday life, except there are no rogon and therefore no illness or hunger. Work takes no effort and there is no exhaustion. However, there is one story that a woman tired of the burdens of everyday work went to Nabalu, thinking life would be easy. But she found that work there was as hard as it was in everyday life. So she returned to her family.

The main soul upon arrival at Nabalu is greeted with open arms by those that have preceded it. Gongs are beaten and there is feasting and drinking by all. However, when the soul of a bobolizan arrives at Nabalu, all the resident souls capture it and put it in a pigsty for seven days and throw dung at it, shake coals at it, and don’t feed it or give it drink. They do not greet it with gonging, but coconut shells are hit with sticks in mockery of the usual greeting for souls. The reason for this unpleasant greeting is that the bobolizan has performed many ceremonies banishing the souls of the dead to Nabalu never to return again to visit the living.
The soul of a dead husband or wife is joined by the soul of his/her spouse when s/he dies. When informants were pushed as to what would happen to the soul of the surviving spouse if he/she had remarried, the Rungus were unable to come up with a satisfactory answer as to which husband or wife would be joined. Even the souls of the jars, gongs, and brassware (dapu) follow their owners to Nabalu as do the souls of their livestock.

There is no belief in retribution on Nabalu for immoral behavior. Firth (1967, orig. 1955) argues that the concept of retribution is not usually found in nonliterate societies. However, on the way to Nabalu there is punishment for the souls of those Rungus who had stolen property or who were deceitful. Their souls do not arrive directly at Nabalu. They must spend up to seven days on the journey suffering thirst, lack of food, and inflicted with torrential downpours before they are let in.

The Rungus hatod is not considered to be immortal. As clear memories of the deceased begin to fade, so too do the souls fade. It is said by some that after a number of years the souls residing in Nabalu turn into flies to be brushed away or swatted when they pester people.


4.1 Fear of Pollution and Soul Loss
The treatment of the corpse is not a focus of Rungus death rituals. It is in fact minimized. The central element in all rites is the removal of the pollution from the rogon associated with the surviving spouse and the corpse, and preventing soul loss to the living by the souls released on death. Further deaths could eventuate unless this pollution is removed and the soul loss nullified. There are three aspects of this fear of pollution and soul loss, and we will focus on these in terms of the death of a spouse, where they are most salient.

First, there is fear of the heat, the ritual heat that radiates from a bereaved spouse. Dealing with this contagion is an issue that runs through the initial rituals for a surviving spouse. Inappropriate sexual relations also cause heat. There are angry spirits that produce this heat and make people sick. Thus much of the rites surrounding death are focused on nullifying the ritual heat that clings to a bereaved spouse.

As the coffin is taken out to the burial grounds, the surviving spouse enters the polluting status of pu’od. This we have translated as bereaved spouse. Once the pollution of the status of the pu’od has been ritually dealt with, s/he is referred to as a bituanon, widow or widower.

Second, there is the fear that the main soul of the deceased will entice souls of the living to follow him/her to Nabalu. And this soul loss would result in death. One of the main foci of the death rituals is to prevent this by ensuring that the souls go to the afterworld and stay there. In ceremony after ceremony the main soul is implored to travel to Nabalu —- Mt. Kinabalu —- and remain there.

Finally, there is the fear of sickness from errant souls. Rituals are performed to ensure that the souls of the joints do not linger and cause people to faint or become dizzy when drunk.

4.2 Husband and Wife: The Most Critical Social Relationship
The nature of the social relations between husband and wife explains why the most extensive rituals and ceremonies are performed on the death of a spouse. This relationship is the most significant and complex social relationship in Rungus society, closely followed by parent and child. The husband and wife are the founders of the domestic family, the only production, consumption, and asset-accumulating social unit of Rungus society. Furthermore, it is only through their relationship that sexual relations may be engaged in without jeopardizing the health and productivity of the rest of the community and the surrounding world.

As the entrance into this fundamental relationship through marriage and the exiting from this by death represent the most important changes in Rungus personhood, these life changes are the most ritualized of the life cycle events. (See Table Two.)
Thus, in our analysis we will focus mainly on the death ceremonies for a spouse and only briefly consider those for a child, for a major spirit medium, and for a death in childbirth.

In addition to symbolizing the relationship between spouses, all the ceremonies and rituals to remove the contamination from a death also reflect the jural and ritual corporateness of the domestic family.

4.3 The Spread of Contagion
All the apartment units in the longhouse are in ritual danger after death. But the two longhouse apartment units on either side that of the deceased are in particular ritual danger, and action must be taken to nullify this. Finally, those male members of the longhouse who actually participated in burying the deceased are also in ritual danger, and this has to be removed.

In the performance of the rituals and ceremonies for a death, there is great anxiety over any symbolic implications that a death has occurred in another domestic family. For example, a corpse cannot be carried past any other household without causing ritual danger to that household, which then must be removed. Otherwise, this might frighten off the souls of this household. Thus, a coffin can only be taken in and removed through the side of the domestic family’s apartment unit rather than in through the longhouse entryway and down the length of the longhouse.

Table Two

Number of asterisks indicates degree of ritual in terms of time and a commitment of resources.
Degree of Ritual Involvement Term
1. Birth * minusu
2. Affianced    
Male   kira’it
Female * napang’an
3. Marriage Ceremony *** sinavo’
4. Separation to set up own apartment unit * tinumanid
5. To be a Father * tama’
To a Mother * tidi’
6. Divorce - niada
7. Remarriage * tina’ud
8. Join apartment unit of child on death of spouse - sinumuvang
9. Illness **/*** sinumakit
10. Death:    
Treatment of body **/*** minatai
Treatment of spouse’s body *** minatai
Bereaved spouse ***** pu’od->bituanon


4.4 Application of the van Gennepian Model to Disentangle the Complexity of the Death Rites
Finally, the rituals and ceremonies associated with death are extremely complex, extensive, and full of redundancy. The complexity of these cannot be fully grasped until the ethnographic data are presented. But as an introduction to these data we will consider here some of the issues that we faced in analyzing the Rungus death rites. Later we will return to discuss these issues in fuller detail when there are ethnographic data to anchor the discussion.

If the death rites were considered as a whole, they would make little sense in terms of van Gennep’s three phase model: Phase One, rites of separation; Phase Two, the liminal period; and Phase Three, rites of reintegration. Instead they begin to make sense when they are first sorted out as to which social entity is the focus. And there are three such foci: the spouse of the deceased, the souls of the deceased, and the households in the longhouse of the deceased.

What adds to the complexity is that certain ritual scenes may involve rites for various social entities at the same time, all intertwined in one ceremony so that it is difficult to disentangle them. Also, separate rites for different social foci may occur in parallel time. That is, at times ceremonies are going on contemporaneously for different social foci. Therefore, a straight description of the ceremonies from the beginning to end confuses foci and distorts the van Gennepian model.

Instead we have analytically separated the rituals and ceremonies according to the main social focus of each. We have then followed the transition of each social focus, each social entity, from van Gennepian phase to phase until we reach a logical breaking point. Then we return to start to follow another social entity through its phases of transition. While this distorts ethnographic reality to a certain extent, on the other hand it is the only way to determine the meaning of the rites and provide comprehension to those who are not participants in them. The problems that this approach raises we have tried to resolve through Table Three.

Yet even with this organization of ethnographic data there are complications. For example, in one phase there may be multiple ritual actions or tasks, instead of a single ritual action, as suggested in the van Gennepian model. That is for one social entity there are multiple rites that lead up to the separation phase or to the reintegration phase. Thus it is hard to distinguish phase boundaries. This situation is further complicated by the fact the rituals held at different times for different phases continually repeat the same themes over and over again. These involve the cleansing of the contagion of the dead, nullifying the potential harm of the souls, getting recalcitrant souls off to Nabalu, and ensuring that they stay there. But the underlying function of all these rites is ultimately to re-establish social equilibrium and cosmic order.

In the analysis phase boundaries were established first by isolating the liminal phase. That is, to sort out the transformational function of the various complex rites, the periods of liminality became the pivot. Phases of liminality were identified by the restrictions on everyday social intercourse of the focal social actors. Then rituals and ceremonies on either side of this liminal period were identified as rites of separation or reintegration.

A further complication in applying the van Gennepian model arises as it appears that the rituals and ceremonies surrounding the death of a spouse may be separated into two sequential levels: the primary and the secondary. This segregation into two levels of rites is based on the differing character of two liminal phases for a focal social actor. The Primary Liminal Phase has greater restrictions on behavior than the Secondary Liminal Phase. But, the focal actors at the Secondary Level are still not able to resume full everyday social intercourse. These two liminal phases follow one after the other and sometimes are divided by a critical ceremony.

By this method of using liminality as a pivot, the three van Gennepian phases can be distinguished at the Primary Level. But in certain instances the separation phase appears to be lacking for the Secondary Level. To resolve this issue will concern us as we analyze the ethnographic data.

Table Three
Primary Liminal Phase Secondary Liminal Phase
  Italic Type ‘ Separation Phase Roman type ‘Reintegration Phase Bold ‘ Interstitial Rites
Day Widow(er) Souls Member Households of the Longhouse
1 Washes Corpse Souls of deceased omnipresent All work suspended
  Dresses Corpse   Grave dug
2 Corpse taken to grave Men at burial instruct soils to leave  
  Pu’od status begins   After burial, the party bathes
  Burial party calls Pu’od to come and bathe    
  That night story telling continues at apartment unit    
3 The day of rata’   The day of Rata’
  Still telling stories    
4 Evening puli hatod Food offering to send soul to Nabalu  
5 Takes offering to grave and removes the ladder    
  Gathers lemon grass    
  Blood the family’s legs   Pu’od puts lemon grass in door of each apartment unit
6 Family goes bathes and washes sleeping clothes   Apartment on either side sacrifice
  stay in house Beginning of Primary Level Liminal Phase  
7 Go to badi   Secondary Stage Liminal Period.
  Interstitial Rites:
Cooks fish
Give chewing supplies to in-laws
  Secondary Stage Liminal Phrase Primary Liminal Phase begins for soul.  
  Lay down the adat    
  Prepare the Ritual Rice Wine (tulidan). Gather supplies for next stage, and make ordinary rice wine.    
  Bad Offering    
    Called to come and receive food, drink, and supplies for journey to Nabalu and told to leave.  
  Next day: Told to go to Nabalu.  
  Rites at grave.   Start of Good Offering - gonging and pig sacrifice.
  Rumaddow: Reintegration of Spouse of Deceased Rumaddow: Told to go to Nabalu.  


5.1.0 Phase One: Rites of Separation for the Widowed Spouse
The rites of separation contain a number of ritual tasks.

5.1.1 Preparation of the Body for Burial.
At the moment of death all family members and friends who are present put their hands over the whorl of hair on the head of the dying person to receive his/her barakat. Barakat is considered to be the accumulated power and fortune of the individual, including that which has been passed down from his or her ancestors. The spouse of the deceased does not do this as the barakat is shared by the married couple.

At this time the female family members start a period of ritual wailing, which is taken up by close female relatives of the deceased in the longhouse. Messengers are dispatched to outlying longhouses and villages to notify kin so that they can come to view the body for the last time or assist with the preparations for burial.

The body is first bathed and all medicines or curative herbs that have been applied to the body during the last illness must be removed. Otherwise the spirit medium and any other practitioner who administered them would lose their powers.

The corpse is then dressed by the surviving spouse in everyday clothes. These must be new and never worn by another family member as this would imply the death of the other person. The prepared body is placed against a wall of the apartment unit, facing the setting sun so that the deceased’s soul can arrive at Nabalu. The movement of the body from the center of the sleeping platform to the wall is to prevent any children from going near the sleeping area of the deceased until after the ritual pollution of the corpse has been removed in a ceremony called modopoi. This is held during the Primary Level of rites.

As part of the preparation of the body for viewing, and while the surviving spouse sits by the body, the closest relative of the deceased takes all the fine clothing of the deceased and those of the rest of the family and hangs them from the roof supports near the head of the deceased. The valuable belongings of the deceased, such as brassware, gongs, etc., are placed around the corpse. The main soul of the deceased chooses from the display of fine clothes those that s/he wants to take to Nabalu. The souls (also called hatod) of the various items of wealth owned by him/her follow the deceased’s soul to Nabalu. These items include for a man household brassware, gongs, jars, ritual dress, etc.; and for a woman her beads, her clam-shell bracelets, her ornamental brassware that include coiled brass wire armlets, coiled brass wire neckwear, coiled brass wire knee-length leg wear, and finally her ritually woven clothes.

No valuables are buried with the deceased with the exception of an everyday brass container for betel chewing supplies, a ceramic plate, a small ceramic bowl, and the brass container for the water that was used to bathe the corpse. In addition for a man a bush knife and for a woman a weeding knife is put in the coffin.

If a woman is wearing her everyday shell bracelets and the wound brass wire armlets, the coiled brass wire leg wear, and brass neckwear, these are not removed. But if she has taken them off prior to death, they are not buried with her. A woman's hair must be combed and knotted otherwise her soul will become a ghost (bubuha).

There is no other ritual preparation of the body for burial. During the night following death male relatives and friends sit outside the enclosed portion of the apartment unit. The door into the sleeping and eating area where the corpse lies is left open. A lamp is kept burning inside and outside. The men keep watch to see whether the deceased might come back to life (ogulian). They also guard against the body being taken control of by a particularly malicious and dangerous rogon, which becomes a terrifying creature called a sorungan.

The next day the burial takes place.

5.1.2 Coffins.

In earlier days the coffin was a hollowed out tree trunk. In the past there were instances of wealthy individuals being buried in a valuable old jar that was cut in half around the middle to accommodate the body in a sitting position. Nowadays the body along with its belongings are buried in a wooden packing crate purchased from the Chinese shops that are found a couple of miles away from many villages.

5.1.3 The Burial.
While the preparations of the coffin are in process, other men from the longhouse go to the burying ground to dig the grave.
The corpse is removed from the apartment through its outside wall and down a specially cut ladder. This is to avoid using the everyday ladders at each end of the longhouse. Carrying a corpse past the other apartment units would imply another death in those apartment units.

The corpse is buried lying on its back facing up, with its legs and arms drawn up. Its head is toward sunset and feet toward sunrise so that if it were to sit up it would see Nabalu.

Burial is final. There is no secondary treatment of remains.

5.1.4 Location of Burying Grounds.
Traditionally burial for an adult was near the side of the longhouse apartment unit or under trees right by the longhouse. Children were buried under their longhouse apartment unit. However, on the urging of the British colonial government sometime in the early 1950s, burial grounds for both adults and children were located a short distance away from the longhouse in a grove of trees.

Carrying a corpse past another longhouse, even in a multiple longhouse village, is a fineable delict, as it implies someone has died in the other longhouse. Consequently, burying grounds are close by a longhouse. A grove of trees is frequently used for this, or new grave sites are planted with fruit and other trees around them both to mark the site and protect it.

Because of these restrictions, men who marry in from another community are buried in the village of their wives and not in their natal villages.

5.1.5 The Pu’od: The Spouse of the Deceased and Ritual Heat.
The surviving founder of the domestic family enters into a status referred to as a pu’od, bereaved spouse, as the coffin is removed from the household apartment unit. When the Primary rites of passage are completed, up to a week or more later, s/he becomes a bituanon, widow or widower.

The pu’od is considered to be ritually “hot” (alasu’) and dangerous. S/he is shadowed by the rogon of the pu’od (“the threatening spirit of the bereaved”), which creates this ritual heat. His/her mouth is the source of the heat, and the pu’od cannot face or talk to anyone until this polluting status is ritually extinguished. If the proper ritual prohibitions are not followed, the surviving spouse can cause others to become ill, agricultural crops to wither, and domestic animals to become ill and die. Other members of the deceased’s family are not ritually hot. This ritual heat is derived from the sexual relations and exchange of fluids that the husband and wife engaged in.

The Primary rites of passage required of the widow(er) are divided into three phases (see Table Three). The first phase, the phase of separation, involves the rituals that have to deal with the burial of the deceased spouse, which we have discussed. In the second or liminal phase, the widow(er), now in the pu’od status, is secluded from daily, face-to-face social relations. This lasts until the next meeting of the weekly market. The third phase involves a partial reintegration into the daily life. But following this there still remain some restrictions on behavior that last till the final ceremony is held a year or more later. These are part of the Secondary Level rites of transition.

We will now turn to the final rituals in the separation phase. Following that we will focus on the Liminal Phase of the Primary Level.

5.1.6 Conclusion of the Rites in the Separation Phase for the Bereaved Spouse.
While the body is being carried out of the sleeping area of the apartment unit to the coffin in the working area of the apartment, the bereaved spouse follows it out. Then an individual who has experienced widowhood takes him/her by the hand and leads him/her to the opening in the wall where the coffin is to be removed from the apartment unit. But s/he does not follow the coffin to the burial site. The pu’od stays there until the burial party returns, and then s/he goes to bathe in the river at the same time. When s/he comes back, the previously widowed individual takes the pu’od again by the hand and leads him/her back into the sleeping area of the apartment. There in the enclosed part of the longhouse apartment unit the previously widowed individual instructs him/her on the behavioral requirements of the pu’od status. This person also folds up the fine clothes that had been hanging over the corpse, puts them away in a box, and admonishes the pu’od not to open up the box of clothes until the final ceremony a year or so later that ends mourning.

5.2.0 Phase Two of the Primary Level: The Liminal Period for the Bereaved Spouse

5.2.1 Ritual Tasks.
During this phase the pu’od has a number of ritual tasks to perform. In doing these the pu’od must be careful not to face or talk to anyone, as it is from the mouth of the pu’od that the ritual heat emanates. When not engaged in ritual tasks, the pu’od sits on the raised sleeping area of the apartment unit, facing the back wall and keeping his/her back turned to the rest of the family members. All cooking and eating utensils used by the pu’od must be kept separate from those of the rest of the family. There is the concern that, if the children eat with the bereaved spouse, the rogon of the pu’od will follow to them and they will also become a pu’od at an early age after they have married. Thus, during this phase the pu’od is separated from social intercourse with other members of the family and the longhouse.

On the way back from the interment the burial party goes to the river to bathe. As they pass the longhouse, they call the pu’od to come and bathe as well. S/he bathes facing downstream so that the heat and all the ill effects of the death will follow the current downstream. For an individual to bathe facing downstream, except after a death, is considered to put one’s spouse into ritual jeopardy. Even if a young unmarried person bathes facing downstream, it puts one’s potential spouse into ritual danger. This act by its implication could result in the death of one’s spouse or potential spouse.

The day following the burial is a liminal period for all the members of the household units in the longhouse, as we shall discuss below. It is called the day of rata’. In the evening those who have helped bury the body may now go home.

5.2.2 “Sending the Souls Home” (Puli Hatod).
On the evening of the following day the family of the deceased provides food for the soul’s journey to Nabalu. Some cooked rice and an egg are put on a plate. A glass of water is put beside it. And they are put on a shelf over the hearth. A brass box for betel chewing supplies is placed on the floor.

5.2.3 The Pu’od Visits the Grave.
The next morning the pu’od goes down the ladder used to remove the corpse and goes to the grave. S/he takes along the offerings for the soul of the previous night and leaves them on the grave. And also s/he throws away the ladder. On her return s/he gathers lemon grass and puts a sprig in the door of each household in the longhouse.

At death the door of the apartment unit is opened. It is left open until this point when the pu’od returns from visiting the grave. And then it is closed.

5.2.4 “To Blood the Members of the Deceased’s Household” (Mangaraha di Sirang do Minatai).
That night a spirit medium/ priestess is called to pray over a chicken that is then sacrificed, with the blood from it put on the ankles of all members of the households of the deceased. This is to placate and send away the rogon that captures frightened souls and to call back any souls of family members who had been frightened by all the crying, noise, and crowds of people.

5.2.5 “Blooding the Apartments on Either Side” (Mangaraha di Rompit).
The next morning the pu’od gives a chicken to each family on either side of his/her apartment unit so that they can sacrifice the chicken and put blood on the ankles of their family members. This is to remove any potential contagion from the death as these apartment units have lent plates and other utensils to help in the feeding of the burial party. Also, it is said that tears from the children grieving over the deceased might have fallen on these apartment units.

5.2.6 Washing the Bedclothes of the Members of the Household of the Deceased.
The same morning the family of the deceased, including the pu’od, go to the river to bathe and wash all their sleeping sarongs, mats, and other items used in taking care of corpse.

5.2.7 The Modopoi Ceremony.
A day or so later in the morning the ceremony called the modopoi is held at the apartment unit of the deceased. A spirit medium/bobolizan officiates. A chicken is sacrificed to various spirits: the rogon of the corpse, the rogon of the pu’od, and the souls of the deceased. The chicken to be sacrificed is tied up on the place where the corpse lay in the apartment unit. Part of the dried root of the Sweet Flag, an important ritual plant, is wrapped in a cloth and burned. The smoke from this is to force the souls of the dead to move on, including the lingering souls of the joints, the namatai, as well as the rogon of the corpse and the rogon accompanying the spouse of the deceased. As the chicken is sacrificed, the bobolizan speaks to the souls and the rogon and informs them what the chicken is for and what is expected from them in response to the offerings.

The souls of the deceased are admonished again not to hover around the longhouse but to stay on Nabalu —- Mt. Kinabalu. They are implored not to come back until the reintegration ceremony, the “clearing away,” to be held in a year or two later for the deceased’s soul. The souls are told that a pact has been made to feed them pigs and chickens at this “clearing away” ceremony, when the family has enough rice and domestic animals to honor them.

The next day no member of the deceased’s household leaves the apartment unit for fear that the rogon of the corpse will follow them back to the apartment unit.

5.2.8 “Going Down to the Estuary” (Tumalob): The Termination of the Liminal Period.
At the first market day after these ritual tasks, the pu’od leaves the longhouse before dawn. The pu’od goes to the river, below where the longhouse members usually bathe. S/he bathes facing downstream so that the heat and all the ill effects of the death will follow the current downstream.

S/he then walks to the open-air market at the estuary where the coastal Muslim meet with Rungus to trade their fish for Rungus agricultural products. S/he carries a coconut shell full of water, collected from the river and concealed in a basket so no one knows s/he is a pu’od. This water is sprinkled on the edge of swiddens and on any fruit trees that are passed to ritually cool the crops and the fruit trees, preventing them from withering from her/his ritual heat. The pu’od turns his/her back to anyone passed so that they do not recognize that s/he is a pu’od.

As soon as the pu’od arrives at the market place, s/he buys fish from a coastal Muslim and speaks to him. This is the first time since the burial that she speaks to anyone. At that point the ritual contamination of heat from the pu’od is alleviated, although not completely removed. It has been passed on to the coastal Muslim, who, following the current of the river, takes the heat with him on his return out to sea.

This ends the status of the pu’od. Yet there are further rituals throughout the period of bereavement that are performed to continue counteracting and lessening the ritual heat.


On the return trip to the longhouse, s/he is now a bituanon —- “widow(er).” As s/he passes by swiddens these words are uttered while sprinkling the water over the crops: “I’m passing by. There’s no heat remaining. It has followed the boats of the coastal Muslim as they sail out to sea. The heat has flowed out to the bay and the plants of all the people are no longer hot. Our household is no longer hot.”

On returning to the apartment unit the widow(er) cuts up the fish that was purchased, cooks it along with rice, and eats with the rest of the family, although the widow(er) still cannot face those eating together.

Finally the widow(er) goes to the apartment unit of his/her parents-in-law, or classificatory parents-in-law. S/he puts a piece of lemon grass in their brass box containing betel chewing supplies, adds new betel chewing supplies, and then offers the brass box to them.

By that time the heat of the pu’od has been diminished, but not completely. As in all the rites and ceremonies for death, acts to remove contagion are duplicated over and over again.

We perceive these ritual acts represent a transitional phase, a set of interstitial rites between the Primary Liminal Phase and the Secondary Liminal Phase. This is because there are no clear reintegration rites from the Primary Level or Separation Rites to the Secondary Level Liminal Phase. The status of pu’od is terminated. Yet there are several ritual tasks that have to be completed before the widow(er) enters the next liminal phase, a Secondary Level Liminal Phase. We will discuss shortly the theoretical issue dealing with the missing phases of reintegration from the Primary Level and separation for the Secondary Level.

It is important here to reiterate that the Primary Level rites and the Secondary Level rites both have liminal phases but they require different behaviors. And it is this difference in behaviors that distinguishes the Primary Level from the Secondary Level.
In this Secondary Level Liminal Phase the widow(er) is only partially reintegrated into society. The restrictions on behavior have been ameliorated in this liminal phase. But there is still concern that the contagion is lingering around the widow(er), but not as virulent as previously. This contagion exists until the final ceremonies a year or two later when the heat of the pu’od is again addressed and finally disposed of.

We shall discuss these restrictions after we have revisited the van Gennepean model. Then we shall consider the phases of transition in Primary Level for the souls and the Primary Level for the longhouse apartment units.


Before we continue in the Rungus death rites it is important to review the van Gennepean model to assay its usefulness and analyze the anomalies it produces.

Our method has been to first isolate a liminal phase and then determine the rites of separation and reintegration that pertain to that phase. And we have found that there are two types of liminal phases, a strong one and a weak one. The strong one, in which restrictions on behavior are more extensive, identifies a liminal phase in a series of rites we have termed the Primary Level rites. The weak one, in which restrictions on behavior are ameliorated, identifies a series of rites we have termed Secondary Level rites.

The first problem arises with regard to missing rites of separation and reintegration. Table Three illustrates this nicely. As we shall shortly discuss, the member households of the longhouse move abruptly from the Primary Level Liminal Phase to the Secondary Level Liminal Phase without any rites of reintegration or separation.

Let us now turn to this same boundary problem for the widow(er). The Rungus themselves explicitly state that the status of the pu’od terminates once s/he buys fish from a coastal Muslim. The ritual heat follows the coastal Muslim out to sea as he returns to his village. This status clearly marks a major liminal phase. But how does it terminate? Is there a rite of reintegration? First, it is important to stress that the problem of dealing with the rogon that caused the status of pu’od continues throughout all the subsequent rites. So it terminates, and yet it doesn’t. It is only ameliorated. Yet there still is a significant transition from one liminal period to another. How is it managed?

Accepting the Rungus claim that this status terminated with the purchase of fish from the coastal Muslim, we find that there are three further ritual tasks. There is the sprinkling of water on the return to the longhouse. Then there is the cooking and feeding of the purchased fish to the family of the deceased. Finally the widow(er) puts betel chewing supplies into the brass betel chewing box of the widow(er)’s in-laws. Which of these acts represent a reintegration into society from the Primary Level Liminal Phase and which of these represents the separation phase for the Secondary Level? The first of these does not seem to be a ritual act of commensurate valence to match the strength of the Primary Level Liminal Period. And neither the second nor third of these appear to have sufficient symbolization for a separation phase for the Secondary Level.

To resolve this problem we have grouped these three ritual tasks into what we have termed an “interstitial phase,” a period of transition between the Primary Liminal Phase and the Secondary Liminal Phase. This procedure in rites de passage does not appear clearly in the van Gennepean model.

We will now turn to the Primary Level rites for the souls, starting with the phase of separation and going on though their liminal phase.


8.1 Phase One: Separation of the Souls
There are a number of rites for the soul involved in the Separation Phase. These are to begin the process of sending the souls on to Nabalu and separating them from their social ties to the widow(er), the other members of the deceased’s family, and the members of other households in the longhouse (see Table Three).

At the burial the souls of the deceased are urged to go on to Nabalu and not to bother the living. Then the household of the deceased holds a rite that is “to send the souls to Nabalu.” It is unclear in the statements as to how many of the souls are involved.

This rite occurs on the evening after the day of rata’, the Primary Level Liminal Phase for all the member households. On this night the members of the deceased’s household put out an offering of food and drink by the hearth. This is to provide provisions for the soul’s trip to Nabalu. This includes some rice, an egg, and some water to feed the soul for his/her journey. A stick is left beside the offering so that the soul of the deceased can admonish and keep away any souls of the living that might be tempted to eat the offering. If this should happen, it is said, those people would become ill and die because their souls would follow the soul of the dead to Nabalu. In every longhouse apartment unit at that time, leftover food is wrapped up and all bamboo water carrying tubes are turned so that their openings are against the wall to prevent the soul of the deceased eating or drinking at any other apartment units, thereby attracting the souls of the living to follow him/her to Nabalu.

The next day the pu’od visits the grave as we have described. On his/her return from the grave, the apartment door is closed. It had been left open at the time of death. At this point we might consider the closing of the door to be an important marker of phase change in the van Gennepian model of transitions. That is, the closing of the door symbolically shuts out the soul of the deceased. In other studies of rites de passage thresholds, doors, and the like are critical markers. But here, while it appears as if the souls have been finally sent off to Nabalu, they are nevertheless again implored to leave in the modopoi ceremony. And it is that ceremony which ends the various rites for the sending the soul to afterworld until a year or so later when the “clearing away” ceremony is held. And it is there, at the conclusion of the modopoi ceremony that we have chosen to mark the transition from the separation phase to the liminal phase. The souls for the time being have been banished.

8.2 Phase Two Rites for the Souls: Liminal Period
After the modopoi ceremony the souls of the deceased are in limbo. While they have been told to go to Nabalu several times, they hesitate to become fully integrated into the land of the dead. Instead they wander to and from Nabalu, never resting in peace, longing for their family. This liminal period ends at the reintegration ceremony for the widow(er) where they are called to come and partake in the offerings. During this final farewell ceremony the soul of the dead is again repeatedly urged to go on to Nabalu and be permanently reintegrated into the life of the afterworld. The nature of these final ceremonies will be discussed below when we describe the Secondary Level phases for the widow(er). We now turn to consider the Primary Level rites for the longhouse households.


The member longhouse households are involved in various rites at both the Primary Level and the Secondary Level. These focus on the member households and not the longhouse as an entity. To describe these rites we will have to return to the time of the burial and follow the actions taken that involve longhouse members.

9.1 The Burial —- Phase One Rites of Separation for Longhouse Households
From death to burial all work in the longhouse is suspended because it is thought that the souls of the dead would tell those on Nabalu that their friends would follow as soon as their tasks were finished.

Until the body has been buried, nobody in the longhouse can go down on the ground or to the swiddens unless they leave before sunrise. To do so would cause the crops in their swiddens and any other swiddens passed by to wither and die. Also, pregnant women are prohibited from viewing a dead body, as it is said that their child would be born blind.

The grave is dug by the men attending the death, and this includes longhouse members as well as kin from neighboring longhouses who come to help. When they come back from the grave to the longhouse for the coffin, the women start wailing again, throwing their heads back, and stamping their feet. Few actual tears appear until the body is being put into the crate and the grave goods are arranged around the body. Then wailing again picks up. Even in the midst of wailing, if it is necessary to converse, they become calm, and then pick up the wailing again afterwards.

The spouse of the deceased or a close relative gives instructions to the corpse in the crate similar to the following: “Do not become a ghost (bubuha)! Don’t come back to see your spouse. You are now separated from each other. Don’t frighten people, don’t visit here at the apartment unit, go on to Nabalu. Whoever made you ill and killed you, go after and kill that one.” (This refers to the rogon that caused the fatal illness.)

As it is forbidden to carry a corpse down the longhouse aisleway to either of the entry ladders at the ends of the longhouse, the coffin is removed though the outside wall of the apartment and down the temporary ladder constructed for this purpose. This temporary ladder must be used by all the men who assist in taking out the body. After burial and their ritual washing in the river, the burial party also climb back into the longhouse by this ladder.

The coffin, slung from a long pole, is carried out of the longhouse to the burying ground. As the body is taken from the longhouse and down the temporary ladder, it is accompanied by another session of wailing as relations with the deceased are severed.
Only males go to the cemetery. But a man may not participate in any aspect of the burial of his spouse or child for fear that the soul of the deceased will become angry with him and cause him harm or illness. Women with small children or pregnant women do not go to the burial ground. Older women past child-bearing age may go but avoid it. There are ghosts and rogon always lurking around burial grounds, and women and children are particularly vulnerable to these. They cause children to cry and become sick. Anyone who tends children could be accompanied by such spirits and ghosts back to the longhouse. This is why burial grounds are viewed with considerable apprehension by the Rungus. They are avoided and are not taken care of.

Before leaving for the burial ground each man assisting in the burial cuts a hooked stick. After the coffin is placed into the ground one of the burial party says to the body and the souls of the deceased: “Don’t become a ghost. Don’t go to see your spouse. You are separated now. Don’t frighten people. Don’t go home to your apartment unit. Go on now to Nabalu. Whatever [rogon] made you sick, killed you, go on your way there and kill whoever made you sick.” Then the burial party all reach down into the open grave with the hooked sticks and say, “Here you souls of the living take hold of our sticks and follow us back to the longhouse. Don’t follow the soul of the dead to Nabalu.”

They fill in the grave and then take their bush knives and cut up the sticks and the piece of flooring that was used for measuring the grave to be dug. This signifies the killing of the rogon that caused the illness and death of the deceased.
On returning from the burying ground the burial party must first bathe in the river before they climb back into the longhouse.

9.2 Phase Two: The Liminality of the Day of Rata’ and the Involvement of Longhouse Households
The day following the burial is called taddau rata’, or taddau ara’at, “the bad day.” The term rata’ refers to the ritual heat (alasu’) that accompanies a death. It contaminates the people involved in preparing the body for burial as well as all the members of the longhouse. As they are ritually hot, they are dangerous to swiddens and crops. They cannot go to their swiddens as this would frighten the rice spirits and cause them to flee. Crops would wither and rot, like the corpse.

Also for several days those in the longhouse of the deceased cannot climb up into the storage area in the loft above their apartment units where seeds are stored. To do so would bring the contagion of death with them and would scare away their rice spirits so that their swiddens would not thrive.

After dusk on the day of rata’, those who have taken part in the burial of the deceased may return to their homes.
The members of the longhouse and their apartment units are implicated in these rites not because they are members of a corporate group. For the longhouse is not such. It is a collectivity of apartment units and their members, whose relationships and ties to each other are indicated by the rites of the day of rata’.

9.3 Lack of Reintegration Rites for the Longhouse Households Phase
After the day of rata’, the Primary Level Liminal Phase, the member households are immediately in the Secondary Level Liminal Phase. There are apparently no rites of reintegration for the Primary Level and no rites of separation for the Secondary Level. There is, however, the ritual task of the widow(er) in which s/he puts a sprig of lemon grass in the doors of all longhouse apartment units. Could this be construed as the ritual reintegration of the longhouse apartment units at the closure of the Primary Liminal Phase? (See Table Three.) However, it is difficult to do so as this rite occurs one to two days after the day of rata’.
This transition of the member households is still not a complete reintegration into normal everyday life. The households of the longhouse are still in a liminal phase, the Secondary Level Phase, in which the restrictions on behavior are far less than previously.


We have raised the issue of the absence of any separation phase in the case of the widow(er) moving into the Secondary Level Rites. We have discussed the same issue with respect to the member households of the longhouse. After describing the Secondary Liminal Phase we will revisit this issue and re-evaluate our argument.

This liminal phase lasts until the reintegration ceremonies are performed by the widow(er) a year or two later. The prohibitions during this Secondary liminal period are both to prevent any enticement of the souls of the deceased from returning and causing illness and also to show respect for the bereaved. During this period the longhouse households may not hold any ceremonies that involve the preparation of rice wine or gonging and general hilarity. This would call the souls back to the longhouse prior to the “clearing away” ceremony, and they could get angry at not being honored. This means that marriages and the great renewal ceremony for households in the longhouse must be put off until the closing ceremony for the deceased.

Also during this liminal period, households of the longhouse may not hold negotiations over bride-price out of respect for the widow(er) and his/her household. Nor may there be any meetings of the longhouse moot to resolve disputes. No one may pass or enter the household of the bereaved wearing dress clothes that one might wear to a ceremony. Loud talking and arguing may not occur. Gongs, brassware, or jars may not be taken past the apartment unit of the deceased. Also individuals who are owed debts by the members of the apartment unit of the deceased cannot ask for repayment. If any of these prohibitions are broken, the household of the deceased can sue for compensation, which would include a gong or piece of brassware, depending on the seriousness of the violation.

The reintegration of the member households starts with the reintegration ceremony and rituals of the widow(er), which we shall discuss next after reviewing our argument.


The widow(er) has completed the Primary Level Separation Phase in the preparations for the burial. S/he has also endured the liminal phase of pu’od at the Primary Level. But we have not found any reintegration phase for the Primary Level or a separation phase for the Secondary Level. Instead we have found a new form of rites de passage in what we have termed the transition phase. This phase contains two ritual tasks, and then the widow(er) is in the Secondary Level Liminal Phase.

The Primary Level phases remove the most dangerous emanation of ritual heat, but the danger from the widow(er) is not completely nullified until the final ceremonies of reintegration a year or more away. Until then the widow(er) spouse is still ritually impaired. S/he has moved into this secondary liminal period but one not as severe in behavioral restrictions as the first liminal period.

11.1.0 Secondary Level Liminal Proscriptions for the Widow(er)
During this Secondary Liminal Phase the widow(er) has only limited rights to participate in the social life of the community, although s/he can participate in most of the normal economic activities of the domestic family. But the widow(er) cannot consider any thought of marrying again. This would offend the kin of the deceased, and a jural action would ensue. It would also put the widow(er) into ritual jeopardy from the soul of the deceased.

During this phase the widow(er) cannot sell any of the family’s wealth or fine clothing and decorations until after the final reintegration ceremony, or the soul of the deceased will become angry and members of the domestic family would fall ill. The widow(er) also cannot purchase any gongs, brassware, or jars during this period for similar reasons. In addition kin of the deceased would be affronted as the sale or purchase of any wealth items would indicate lack of respect for the deceased.

The widow(er) cannot sleep in anyone else’s longhouse apartment unit. The soul of the deceased frequently visits the longhouse apartment unit of a widow(er). If the spouse were not there, the soul would go searching for him/her, and this would put the owners of the other apartment unit where s/he slept in ritual jeopardy. This prohibition continues until the final reintegration ceremonies, when the mourning adat, the contagion, and the souls are cleared away, and the grave site itself is cleared up of debris (lumuvas).

The widow(er) cannot eat at any other household for a month. If s/he does, s/he will bring the namatai along, and they will follow the members of that household to the fields and scare away their rice spirits, resulting in a poor harvest. Another interpretation is that it is the rogon of the pu’od following the widow(er) who will frighten away the rice spirits.

S/he cannot go to any other feasts celebrating marriages or held at those ceremonies concluding the final liminal phase of any other widow(er). Otherwise the kin of the deceased would sue the widow(er) for not being respectful of the deceased. Nor can the widow(er) or any member of the family put on their dress clothes until the final reintegration ceremony.

11.2.0 Secondary Level Rites of Reintegration for the Widow(er)
Up to this point we have distinguished two levels of social transitions of the participants in death ceremonies: the Primary Level and the Secondary Level. We have completed the description of the Primary rites for the pu’od, the bereaved spouse, and for the longhouse member households. We are now analyzing the phases in the Secondary Level for the widow(er). Up to this point we have completed the Secondary Level rites of the separation phase and the liminal phase. We now turn to the final ceremonies that bring about the full reintegration of the deceased’s spouse and the member longhouse households into normal society.

These ceremonies occur when enough provisions have been accumulated for them, a year or more after the death. They involve sending the soul of the deceased to Nabalu to stay there and be reintegrated into the social world of the dead. This concludes the soul’s liminal period in which s/he vacillated back and forth between the everyday world and the afterworld.
These rites of reintegration are called the lumuvas.

11.2.1 The Lumuvas: “Clearing Away” of the Contagion and the Grave.
These concluding rites are a set of two related ones that are referred to in toto as the lumuvas. The root of the lexeme lumuvas is /-luvas-/, “to clear,” “to clear away.” Thus lumuvas has significance at several semantic levels. Metaphorically it means to clear away all the adat, all the prohibitions that the widow(er) must abide by. It also means to clear away various malign influences. The deceased’s soul is sent to Nabalu to stay. And it entails an actual clearing away of the grave site of debris and weeds at the last part of the lumuvas rites, which are held at the grave.

Thus, the lumuvas is divided into two separate rites: the papak tara’at, the “bad offering” ceremony, which is held by the family of the deceased close to the longhouse; and the lumuvas proper, a ritual that occurs at the grave site.

At the beginning of the “clearing away” rites, the main soul (hatod) of the deceased is called to come and partake of the offerings of food and drink. S/he is told that the food and drink are to sustain him/her on the journey to Nabalu and to provide supplies for the celebrations there on his/her arrival. The soul is told to cease remembering those whom s/he has left behind, to go and stay on Nabalu, and not to return to the village anymore.

It is important to stress that the “clearing away” or lumuvas is not to memorialize the deceased but to remove the malign influences caused by his/her death and re-establish both the social and cosmic orders. Furthermore, this is a complex set of rites in that the transitions of all the critical social entities are symbolized and mixed together in various rites.

Plans are made for holding the “clearing away” rites when the surviving members of the family of the deceased have been able to accumulate enough surplus from their agricultural pursuits to provide the supplies necessary for the obsequial feast to entertain relatives and friends. These supplies include not only rice and a pig to be sacrificed, but also abundant amounts of rice wine. This ceremony may occur after the harvest following the death or not until a year or two later, but no longer than three years. The “clearing away” cannot be held during the agricultural year from October till roughly the next June. During the agricultural year the rice spirits are present in the fields of the Rungus and in the longhouse apartment units. And such a ceremony for the dead would frighten the rice spirits away. As soon as the rice spirits have been sent home at the end of the agricultural year, the “clearing away” may be held.

The day is set for holding the “clearing away” ceremony through a general consensus of those in the longhouse, as they will also be participating by providing food and drink for the guests.

The first thing the widow(er) does is make a small jar of ritual rice wine called tulidan. This tulidan is an unfermented, mock rice wine to provide drink for the soul of the deceased on his/her final journey to Nabalu. It is made from a handful of uncooked husked rice soaked in water with rice husks substituted for rice yeast. The result is a malodorous product. This is one of the critical prestations in sending the soul of the deceased on his/her journey to Nabalu.

With the start of making the ritual rice wine (tulidan) a greater seriousness and reserve takes hold of the household of the deceased and the member households of the longhouse. There is a greater observance of the restrictions on behavior. Prohibitions on the behavior of the widow(er) that were similar to the first few weeks after the death are again observed. Similarly restrictions on the other longhouse households are also re-enforced. These include prohibitions against causing noise, arguing, or singing near the apartment unit of the deceased and also from taking gongs past the apartment unit. This is to show respect for the family of the deceased.

Notification of the day set for the “clearing away” ceremony and invitations to attend it are sent out to various kith and kin to come, say their final farewells to the deceased, and join in the ceremony and the subsequent festivities.

The first night of the “clearing away” (lumuvas) ceremony a ritual platform is erected for the “bad offering” (papak tara’at) in the yard of the longhouse opposite the apartment unit of the deceased. This is constructed of bamboo and raised a step or two off the ground. It has three sides of lattice work of bamboo about shoulder high. At the front a shelf is made on top of the lattice work where the ritual items for the soul of the deceased may be laid, including the jar of ritual rice wine (tulidan). At the foot of this platform, or altar, a pig is tied up for sacrifice. A ritual flag of several colors is raised over the platform.

This sacrifice is called a “bad offering” in contrast to another offering to be made following the rituals at the grave. This second offering is called the “good offering” (papak tavasi).

When the platform altar is ready, the dress clothing of the family that was put away at the time of the burial is taken out by a close relative of the deceased, amidst wailing. At that time the widow(er) calls the soul of the deceased by name and invites him/her to come and join the family. The soul is told that the box of clothes is now being opened, but after this not to remember any longer those left behind.

The family dresses up, and a gong is beaten to alert the members of the longhouse that the ceremony is about to begin. The relatives and friends of the deceased gather at the platform. Then family, and as many close relatives as can, get up on the platform with a spirit medium/priestess (bobolizan).

From the opening of the box of clothes throughout the walk to the platform the widow(er) calls the name of his/her deceased spouse, telling him/her to come. The priestess also calls the soul of the deceased. She then tells the soul that they have gathered to honor him/her and the pig is for him/her. She then exhorts the lingering soul not to remember the living, not to come back again, as the deceased and his/her surviving spouse are separated now. The soul is urged not to visit the family as it will make the children cry and make them sick. Such visits could lure the souls of the living to follow to Nabalu.

The spirit medium/priestess then lists all the bowls, plates, and food including the ritual rice wine (tulidan) that the soul can take with him/her as provisions for the journey. And so the soul is urged to depart for good to Nabalu. The spirit medium/priestess concludes by saying that the adat is completed now.

During this ceremony those on the platform toss some husked rice in the air to honor the deceased. It is important for all kith and kin to be present at this ceremony as they will be seen by the soul of the deceased.

The pig is then sacrificed. A bowl of rice wine is offered to each of those at the platform altar. After drinking, each smashes his/her bowl on a rock at the foot of the platform with the statement that “this is for you (the soul).” There is much wailing at this time as those at the gathering not only remember the deceased but also other departed kin.

After the pig is cooked, the household of the deceased feeds all the visitors with this meat along with cooked rice and rice wine. The member households of the longhouse also start plying all the visitors with rice wine. These festivities continue most of the night. There is feasting, drunkenness, gonging, dancing, and lots of loud noise, all of which were prohibited previously.
During these festivities relatives of the deceased may bring suit against the spouse of the deceased if s/he has not behaved properly during the period of mourning, or if s/he did anything to his/her spouse while alive that could be viewed as contributing to the death. This would include redirecting anger from the spouse towards the property of the spouse, such as clothes, and cutting them with a bush knife, which would scare away the spouse’s soul.

This ceremony is the first part of the concluding rites of the Secondary Level Liminal Period for the widow(er) and the longhouse households. It begins their reintegration back into everyday society. Because the obsequial festivities involve dressing up, drinking, gonging, and dancing, that concludes this first part. The restrictions on behavior have ended for the household of the deceased and the member households of the longhouse. But there is still a final aspect of the “clearing away” that must be performed. That is the visit to the grave by family and friends which occurs the next day. In doing this there is a continuation from the previous night’s ceremony. The ritual rice wine (tulidan) is brought from this ritual platform to the grave where the jar containing it is broken and the contents scattered over the grave.

Following the ritual tasks at the grave, the final festivities are held, the “good offering,” which completes the transition out of the liminal phase.

11.2.2 The “Clearing Away” of the Grave.
Before noon the ritual for “the clearing away” of the grave is held. Previously, stones have been put around the grave. The family of the deceased, if affluent, would have built a roof shelter over the grave of palm leaves, wood, cloth, or metal. For those who were significant figures, small wooden carvings of a person, or bird, or pig, or crocodile would be placed at the grave.

When the party of kith and kin arrives, the grave is cleared of any forest debris. The widow(er) lays on the grave a small package of cooked rice, a bit of meat from the sacrificed pig, and some chewing supplies and tobacco for the soul to partake of on his/her journey to Nabalu. The widow(er) also takes the jar of ritual rice wine (tulidan) and smashes it on the rocks by the grave reiterating what was said to the soul at the “bad offering” (papak tara’at). More good rice wine and bowls to drink it from are provided by the widow(er). Those who have accompanied the widow(er) to the grave drink the rice wine and then smash the bowls on the rocks outlining the grave. Some of those gathered wail. And the soul is told to leave forever. The number of bowls provided is a gauge of the importance of the deceased and the respect given to the deceased. And the soul brings these to Nabalu to display as a measure of his/her importance and the honor received.

This ritual at the grave ends the liminal period for the soul of the deceased, as we shall discuss shortly. The soul is now supposed to stay permanently on Nabalu. Also, with the sacrifice on the previous evening, the rogon of the pu’od and the dangerous heat of the bereaved spouse and other sources of harm from the death are dealt with. But there is still one final ceremony during which these concerns are once again addressed. This is the sacrifice called the rumaddow that the family of the deceased holds several days later after all the feasting is over following the “good offering” that begins after the rituals at the grave.


Up to the start of the “clearing away” ceremony the soul has been in a liminal period. S/he is neither a fully-fledged member of the dead on Nabalu nor an everyday participant in the life of the village. The soul comes and goes between these two social arenas. But the “clearing away” ceremony changes this. The soul is sent away to Nabalu to be fully integrated into the society of the dead.

At the “clearing away” ceremony the offerings of the pig, drink, and rice provide provisions for the soul to have on his/her journey to Nabalu. They also provide food for the soul on Nabalu until the soul’s swidden there is harvested. The broken plates and bowls are to give the soul the necessary utensils for eating there. And if the soul is given sufficient provisions at the “clearing away” ceremony, when he/she arrives at Nabalu these provide for a huge feast to be held there by those in the society of the dead. The newly arrived soul is the center of the feast. And the other member households of the longhouse on Nabalu join in the festivities with their own “good offering” ceremonies for prosperity, which here on earth follows after the “bad offering.” If there are not enough provisions at the “clearing away” ceremony, the soul is shamed when he/she arrives.

While the emphasis is on sending off the soul to Nabalu, at the same time the widow(er) urges the barakat of the deceased and his/her transcendental counterpart to stay around. This includes the lugu’ for men and the divato for women. They are encouraged to stand by the surviving family members to help them when there is great suffering of children and grandchildren. And the soul is told not to worry as his/her barakat and transcendental counterpart will take care of his/her children and will make things go smoothly for the family.


The conclusion of the Secondary Level Liminal Phase and the full reintegration of widow(er) and longhouse households into everyday society is marked by the festivities that follow the papak tara’at —- the bad offering —- and the ritual tasks at the grave.

The drinking, gonging, dancing, singing, loud noise, and other aspects of this feast are clear indication that the prohibitions on behavior of the liminal phase for the member households of the longhouse is over. There is no required ceremony that focuses on the reintegration of these households other than the one for the family of the deceased, the lumuvas. Yet there is an optional ceremony that partakes of this function.

13.1 The Optional Ceremony for Households for Increasing Prosperity: The “Good Offering” (Papak Tavasi)
The afternoon after the rites at the grave a number of households in the longhouse hold a sacrifice called the papak tavasi —- the good offering. This concludes the full reintegration of widow(er) and longhouse households into everyday society.

The purpose of this ceremony is to enhance the success of the domestic family in all its economic activities, to dispel malignant influences, and to ensure good health for the members. Prayers are uttered to all the relevant gods that are involved in achieving family prosperity. But the main focus is on the heritable property of the domestic family.

A pig is sacrificed, and blood from the pig is wiped on each of the family’s gongs, jars, and major pieces of brassware. This is to curry favor with the souls (hatod) of the heritable property so that they will lure the souls of other such items to join them. This enables the family to purchase additional wealth items. As this ceremony could not have been held during the previous liminal period for the widow(er) and households of the longhouse, its occurrence clearly signifies that the longhouse has returned to the normal state.

But it is an optional ceremony. It is not mandatory for the domestic family of the deceased to hold this ceremony. And if poor, they don’t. However, it is unusual for the family not to. All the member households of the longhouse do not have to join in by holding their own “good offering” (papak tavasi). But the majority do. In making the decision to hold this ceremony households consider how much food and drink will be needed to provided a sufficient feast for those coming to the “clearing away” ceremony. The sacrifice of a pig adds to the food that each household offers to guests. And the more households that join in, the greater the status that the longhouse members enjoy, as it represents a display of wealth. Otherwise, the longhouse members would be subject to gossip that they were not doing very well.

Households also hold this ceremony every several years to maintain their prosperity. If they do not join in at the time of a “clearing away” ceremony, they can also perform this offering at a wedding ceremony.

Those families that are holding the “good offering” ceremony build platform altars in the yard of the longhouse, attached side by side in a row. As many people are invited for the final death ceremonies from villages near and far, there is a concern among the households in the longhouse that sufficient food and drink be available for the guests. So in addition to those families holding a “good offering” to help out with the food and drink, other families who have not joined in also provide some food and drink for the guests.

After the platform altars have been built the gonging begins. The families making the offering go to the platform altars. The pig is sacrificed, and the festivities begin anew in the longhouse. Much rice wine is drunk and food consumed. Other forms of alcohol may appear, and from time to time a contest breaks out to see how much of the rice wine individuals can consume at one time before they become completely drunk and pass out or go into a fit of vomiting. Heads of the domestic families grab the arms of friends or relatives to encourage them to come and eat and drink at their apartment unit throughout the festivities. There is much ceremonial dancing. Prohibitions break down at these festivities. Men talk excitedly with each other. And there is some contention and quarreling.

As Metcalf (1982) has noted with regard to similar festivities and the release of social tensions among the Berawan, a fight or two may break out but disputes are mostly verbal. Furthermore, there is no general sexual license as found in the death ceremonies of various other Bornean societies. Arguments might arise over a man sitting too close to another man’s wife so that their thighs are touching, or putting his legs over hers. Women lose some of their inhibitions of correct behavior towards men and flirt. This can cause a husband to become angry. Occasionally, a man may feel the breasts of a single woman or another’s wife.

And this will result in the husband, or the father of the woman, bringing a suit against the offender. Very occasionally during these ceremonies and certainly not at every one, a couple might engage in illicit intercourse in the woods near the longhouse. But this is a major ritual delict, and the community or the closest male relative of the female involved would bring suit to fine the offenders and hold a ceremony to right the ritual imbalance that this behavior causes. The most frequent disputes are between spouses over the attention one gives to another, over lack of involvement in one another, or over the failure of one to really take care of the other. And these may lead to threats of divorce. But many minor breaches of etiquette are overlooked in the face of so much drinking. This will go on for two or three days until all is consumed.


Three or four days following the “clearing away” ceremony and the “good offering,” the domestic family of the deceased holds one final ceremony. This is the rumaddow in which a small pig is sacrificed. Like previous ceremonies it is a multifunctional rite. First, it is to placate the rusod, the guardians of the household (see above), who have been disturbed by the death and by the festivities. And it contains all the themes of the previous ceremonies.

Also, after calling back the soul to participate in the “clearing away” ceremony and sending them to Nabalu, the rumaddow reiterates what was said at the “clearing away” ceremony. The main soul (hatod) is implored again to go to Nabalu for good, and the namatai are sent again to Nabalu. The souls are once more instructed that they cannot come back to the village.

This ceremony also functions to send the rogon of the pu’od away for good. The rogon of the corpse is again banished in the same fashion as at the modopoi ceremony for the widow(er). The same bobolizan that performed the modopoi performs the rumaddow, and the payment for the services is smaller, being a continuation from the ceremony of the modopoi. If another bobolizan does this ceremony, she will have to be paid the full ritual payment.


Certain types of deaths involve abbreviated rites. No “clearing away” ceremony is held, or only a shortened version of it. These include deaths during childbirth, deaths of children, deaths that occur in a different village, and deaths from certain forms of illness.

There are also deaths in which the pu’od ritual is not required. This occurs when the surviving spouse does not see the body of the deceased spouse.

15.1 Death in Childbirth
Death of a pregnant woman is treated like any other, if she dies of an illness other than difficulties surrounding her pregnancy, or if she dies after the successful birth of a child and not from complications of the birth. However, if a woman dies while in labor and the child and placenta have not come forth, no “clearing away” ceremony may be held. It is believed that if this form of death were honored, the gods would think that the Rungus liked this kind of death and the same fate would befall other pregnant women.

Historically, there was no ceremony for this kind of death, but more recently an abbreviated “clearing away” ceremony, the makan bunu, is being held. The derivation or meaning of the term makan bunu is not known. By the late 1950s this ritual form had also become frequent for other forms of death where before it would not have been allowed, as in deaths from certain illnesses. It involves a simplified version of the usual “clearing away” ceremony. Only a small “bad offering” is held and there is no platform altar. The grave is not cleared nor is a roof shelter built over it. And it is not visited by others, only the surviving spouse. The spouse of the deceased goes alone to the grave to break the jar of ritual rice wine (tulidan) at the grave. But no good rice wine is prepared for the celebration.

All females who learn of a death in childbirth, even if they live in a distant village, carry out a special ritual. Otherwise, the same fate would happen to any female who hears the news, no matter how young and no matter how far away the news of the death reaches. At that time all women who are still of childbearing age and all girl children old enough to walk to the river gather various ritual plants. They take these with them while bathing in a river the day after the death has occurred. For those females too young to go down to the river, water in a bamboo tube is carried up to the longhouse and the heads of these children are bathed with it.

15.2 Death of a Child
There is no ritual surrounding a miscarriage if it occurs early in the pregnancy; it is simply disposed of. If the fetus has a face, it receives a burial.

Traditionally babies who died were buried under the sleeping place of the child in the longhouse and a stone was put over the grave. The body was wrapped in the leaf sheath of an areca palm. The coconut shell used for bathing the child was put on top of the grave. In addition that half of a bamboo water-carrying tube holding the afterbirth was placed over the grave, supported by crossed sticks. The other half of the water-carrying tube was tied to the house post near the grave.

If the child had lived, one half of the tube would have been tied to the house posts under the family’s apartment unit. The other half holding the afterbirth would have been stored in the loft of the family’s apartment unit. The cloth sling which had been used for carrying the child was buried with the child, unless it had been used for an older sibling as well, in which case it was hung over the crossed sticks above the grave.

In more recent times the body is wrapped in a sleeping mat. This has to be a newly purchased mat as one belonging to any other family member may not be used. The rags used to clean the child during bathing are also buried with it.
Three days following the death of a child the whole family has to wash all their sleeping mats and sleeping sarongs. The reason for this is that a child will crawl around and sleep on any sleeping mat of the family indiscriminately. Thus, the smell of the child might attract its soul back to the house.

When a child reaches an age when s/he is old enough to help in the gardens, s/he is buried in the same manner as an adult, and a “clearing away” ceremony is held.

15.3 Deaths from Certain Types of Illness
The holding of a “clearing away” ceremony is prohibited in deaths from pellagra, insanity, vomiting or spitting blood, smallpox, and leprosy. It is explained that if such a ceremony were held the rogon that caused the illness would move to the deceased’s children and relatives. However, ritual of makan bunu has recently become an acceptable ceremony for these. Originally the souls of those who died such deaths did not go to Nabalu. They had no provisions for the journey since no food was prepared for them. Furthermore, the souls of unusual deaths would scare the souls living on Nabalu so those residing there would not permit them to enter.

15.4 Deaths In Which the Surviving Spouse Does Not See the Body So that the Adat of the Pu’od Is Not Required
If the death occurs away from the longhouse so that the spouse of the deceased does not see the body, no adat of the pu’od is required. For example, a death in the forest in which the body is buried there requires no adat of the pu’od. However, if the spouse does arrive, the soul (hatod) of the deceased will follow the spouse home and the adat of the pu’od must be followed. If the spouse does not come, the soul won’t go home as s/he will be angry at the survivor for not taking care of him/her. In this death, a “clearing away” can be held. If the body is carried to the longhouse, the adat of the pu’od is of course required.

15.5 Deaths from Accidents or Misadventure
Deaths from accidents or misadventure such as being killed by an animal do not require an abbreviated ritual. The major dividing line is whether or not a body is available for burial. When there is no body available for ritual processing, as in deaths by drowning at sea or in the river, or by being eaten by a crocodile, or lost in the forest, sources stated that they did not know what happened to the soul or where it went. Others said that the soul would not know the way to Nabalu nor would they have any provisions for the trip.

The souls of individuals killed by decapitation are not admitted to Nabalu as it would scare the other souls there.
A suicide is also not given a “clearing away” ceremony, unless some cooked rice has been given to the corpse at the time of death for food for the soul on his/her way to Nabalu.


For the ethnographer it is no surprise that the death beliefs and rituals of the Rungus vary from what has already been described for other societies in Borneo. To the Rungus mind the idea of secondary burial, involving the processing of the bones of the deceased for final disposition, would indeed be truly horrifying. Their fear of contagion from the dead, their fear of the rogon of the corpse and the souls of the dead, makes inconceivable such a conception of dealing with the deceased.

Nevertheless, there are some strikingly similar echoes to beliefs in other societies, particularly in terms of the journey of the souls and the contagion of death. But there are also significant variations in addition to the absence of secondary burial. This provides an opportunity for the method of close comparison to elucidate social theory, as Eggan (1954) years ago argued. Moreover, the analysis of the variations in Rungus beliefs and ritual actions throws new light on several problems of social analysis.

16.1 Lack of Aggression in the Death Rites
The most striking variation found in Rungus death rites and ceremonies from other Bornean societies is the lack of any aggression or symbols of aggression.

16.2 The Absence of Headhunting Ritual in Rungus Death Ceremonies
Another significant variation is that there is no reference to heads or headhunting in the death rites. According to our sources, the Rungus never had a cult of the head. They never had a headhouse as was found in other Dusunic groups (see Rutter 1985, orig. 1929:191; Evans 1990, orig. 1922:188; Evans 1953:295). There are stories that a head was sometimes taken during a raid on another Dusunic group or in the defense of a Rungus village, but this was so long ago that the details are vague. The focus and emphasis of these raids were on property not heads. The Rungus had village champions who were invincible to being wounded. This power was derived from undergoing an ordeal to obtain the protection of a rogon. They were similar to Norse berserkers. When a raid occurred, the village champion would fight with the raiding champion, and the winner would decapitate his rival.
Among the Rungus, heads were occasionally used for fertility ceremonies, as in other Borneo societies (see Freeman 1979). But these heads were from human sacrifices of individuals purchased from the coastal Muslim, not from headhunting. These sacrifices were fairly infrequent, as our sources could only recall the story of one occurrence. These human sacrifices were killed so that their blood flowed into the soil, and their flesh was minced into the ground with bush knives. This was to make the village more fertile in all aspects of its activities. Infertile females would place the head on their laps to become fertile. Some individuals would eat the liver, but it was generally thought to be nauseating. Our sources had no information on the further use of the head. But this ceremony was in no way related to death rites.

Evans in his study of the religion of the Tempasuk Dusun, about fifty miles south of the Rungus, found a similar situation on trying to elicit information on headhunting even though he began his study as early as 1938. He writes (1953:295): “As far as I can ascertain, head-hunting was not practiced at Kadamaian, and other lowland villages [in the Tempasuk District], within the memory of living man —- if it existed, it died out naturally... I have heard an indefinite story that there was once a head-house at Kadamaian.”

The absence of head symbolism and headtaking in Rungus rites for the dead is in marked contrast with some other societies of Borneo. In those societies heads and headhunting play an important role in the funeral ceremonies, as reported for the Iban (Freeman 1979; Davison and Sutlive 1991), the Kayan (Hose and McDougall 1912:I:176, 188-190; 1912:II:38), and the Berawan (Metcalf 1982).

However, headtaking and headhunting did occur in other Dusunic-speaking societies far to the south of the Rungus. But as we have no studies of the funeral ceremonies for these groups we do not know if this lack of head ritual for death ceremonies among the Rungus was shared by other Dusunic speaking groups.

16.3 Women and Pollution of Death
Another important variation is the lack of a close association in Rungus belief between women and the pollution of death, which Bloch and Parry (1982) claim is widespread but not universal. While women stay away from the actual burial, as do children, for fear of being accosted by various spirits of a cemetery, pollution does not seem to be a significantly larger threat to women than men.

16.4 Lack of Correlation Between the State of the Soul and the Decomposition of the Body
The Rungus data provide a case where the state of the soul does not mirror the state of the body in its decomposition, as Hertz (1960:45) has suggested. This raises the question as to what are the cultural conditions under which this association is to be found.

16.5 Lack of Association with Death and Sexual License
Rungus culture provides an interesting exception also to the observation of Huntington and Metcalf (1979:13): “Some association of sex with death occurs in nearly every culture in the world.” (Also see Bloch and Parry 1982 for the widespread association of sex with death rituals.) In none of the symbolism of the death rites do sexual motifs appear. And in none of the behaviors associated with the death ceremonies is sexual license permitted. Dollimore (1998) in surveying the literature of Western culture argues that the intertwining of sexual desire and death is deeply rooted in the Western mind. To what degree has this influenced ethnographers in their studies of death in other cultures?

Therefore, the Rungus data pose the question: Under what social circumstances do rituals of sexuality appear in the ceremonies of death?

16.6 Does the “Good Offering” Represent a Renewal or Fertility Ceremony?
Bloch and Parry (1982:7) find that rebirth and a renewal of fertility is often found in mortuary rituals. Can the “good offering” be viewed as a renewal ceremony or a ceremony symbolizing rebirth? Rebirth symbolism does not appear in any ceremonies, and the critical renewal ceremony for the households is never associated with death or death ceremonies.

But is it a ceremony for fertility and fecundity? In Rungus society death does not directly affect fertility and fecundity. These are affected only if the rules for treatment of the corpse and behavior of those contaminated by death are not adhered to. For example, if a member of a household in the longhouse goes to his swiddens while there are prohibitions against doing so, then the associated contagion will scare away the rice spirits from his swidden and his crops will fail. Only illicit intercourse is the cause of the loss of fertility and fecundity, and this includes the whole village. As there is an absence of sexual metaphors and sexual behavior in the Rungus death rites, it is not unexpected that there would also be a lack of fertility and renewal ceremonies.
Instead the rites of death are to insure that the cosmic order is re-established, or otherwise the Rungus world becomes uninhabitable.

However, if we extend the concept of fertility to include productivity (Bloch and Parry (1982:7-—9), in this broadest sense the “good offering” could be construed as a fertility ceremony. The focus of the “good offering” is on the wealth items of the domestic family. If their souls are treated properly, if they are given a sacrifice of a pig with the blood wiped on the critical wealth items, the souls of the wealth items will be happy and encourage other souls of jars, gongs, and brassware to join them. That will make it easier for the domestic family to purchase more wealth items.

But also, in this ceremony, all the gods that control productivity of swiddens, domestic animals, and the health of the domestic family are honored. For only by productivity in agricultural pursuits and good health can wealth items be accumulated.
In many other Bornean societies, death threatens the fecundity of those closely associated with the deceased. But in Rungus society a death does not affect the well-being of domestic families in other longhouses or in other hamlets in the village. Instead the focus is on the domestic family of the deceased and the interdependent network of domestic families in the longhouse.

Finally, as this ceremony is not required, not all households in the longhouse hold this ceremony, and as it also can be held by households following a wedding in the longhouse, we must conclude that death itself does not have a major part to play in the community’s fertility, fecundity, and productiveness. They serve as a backdrop to the death rites and only become an issue if the proper rites are not performed.

16.7 Organizational Disequilibrium and Cosmic Disorder
Behind all these rituals and ceremonies lies the threat of both organizational chaos and cosmic chaos. Death causes a disequilibrium in the emotional-interactional organization of society (Chapple and Coon 1942; Chapple 1970). Equilibrium has to be re-established by a series of rites of passage for the widow(er), for the households on either side of the apartment of the deceased in the longhouse, and for the member households of the longhouse itself.

Order also has to be re-established in the cosmic forces. Otherwise there is the threat of indeterminacy in the cognitive structure and belief system of those impacted by the death. As a result, the cosmic forces of danger released by a death have to be returned to their former state of order through various sacrifices and offerings.

This disequilibrium and disorder not only threatens the local order. It also threatens the cosmic order. Souls have to be put in their proper place, rogon have to be dealt with to counter their potential harm, and the rice spirits have to be treated with caution. For those involved in a death have the potential of frightening the rice spirits away, causing a failed harvest if the proper ritual steps are not followed. But this re-establishment of social equilibrium and cosmic order is local, involving only the network of social relationships that the deceased engaged in daily among member longhouse households and the associated members of the spirit world. There are no death rites for an entire village where there are multiple hamlets and multiple longhouses.


In reviewing what can be learned from the Rungus death rites, we find that the van Gennepian model needs re-examination and modification. If the argument presented here is well founded there are several implications for the model.

There is not sufficient attention given in the model to the preparations and the provisioning that are necessary to move into the various phases of the rites of passage. Considerable time, energy, and resources in many instances must be devoted to these.
Also, each phase may not be represented by one single ritual act, task, or ceremony. There may be various ritual steps involved before a phase is completed, as example with the pu’od (see Table Three).

Then it is clear from the Rungus data that the van Gennepian model must be applied not only to a community, not only to the individual social entities that are implicated. It also must be applied in certain cases to nonphysical beings, such as souls and transcendental counterparts.

We have organized the death rites of the Rungus on the basis of the van Gennepian progression. But does this organization represent the way the Rungus themselves think about their death rites? It is quite clear that the Rungus never heard of the van Gennepian progression. So is the model a procrustean bed that requires cutting the data to fit it? Or do the anomalies we have found contribute to enlarging the theory of rites de passage?

Certainly the van Gennepian concept of a liminal phase has been pivotal to the analysis and the presentation of the data. Our method has been first to isolate liminal phases in the rites and then organize the van Gennepian progression around these. But it is clear that the Rungus liminal periods do not exhibit many of the characteristics that Turner (1967, 1969) has claimed represent liminal periods. Furthermore, the thoughtful argument by Turner that the liminal period represents anti-structure, which has been so productive in other cases, does not hold up well in these circumstances (also see Appell 1988). Among the Rungus the liminal period does in fact have a structure, a distinct structure.

Also among the Rungus communitas behavior seems strangely absent. If the Rungus case is valid, there may not be in every instance of liminality a significant sentiment of communitas as Turner (1969) claims.

Then we have found two types of liminal phases, a strong one and a weak one. And we have divided these two phases into Primary Level phases and Secondary Level phases. But not all social entities go through these two levels. The souls only experience the Primary Level, not the Secondary Level as do the household of the deceased and the other households in the longhouse.

Then we find that not all liminal phases have a separation phase or a reintegration phase. At this point there is no explanation for this. However, van Gennep himself made the point (1960:11): “Thus, although a complete scheme of rites of passage theoretically includes preliminal rites (rites of separation), liminal rites (rites of transition), and postliminal rites (rites of incorporation), in specific instances these three types are not always equally important or equally elaborated.”

We have also found that in the period between the Primary Liminal Phase and the Secondary Liminal Phase for the widow(er) there are a number of ritual tasks. But none of these seem to symbolize the reintegration of the widow(er) after a liminal phase or the separation of the widow(er) as s/he enters a new liminal phase. To resolve this anomaly, we have introduced the concept of “interstitial rites.” These are ritual tasks that move the focused individual from one phase to another but that are not of sufficient valiance to mark a phase on their own.

This may be a new contribution to the theory of rites de passage. Or it may be a misinterpretation of the ethnographic data. There is another interpretation that might fit the data, one that also could contribute to the theory of rites de passage. Is it possible that there are not two forms of liminal phases, a strong Primary one and a weak Secondary one? Instead might there only be one liminal phase that is moderated by the interstitial rites? If this interpretation is valid, liminal phases can start out strong and then can be moderated by certain ritual tasks.

This may be the case. But there is one exception. It appears that the member households of the longhouse move from the strong liminal phase to the weak liminal phase without any interstitial ritual tasks.

Other interesting questions arise from this study of Rungus death rites. The phases in the management of bereavement among the Rungus do not match those in the grief processes that have been isolated for Westerners in dealing with the death of a significant other (cf. Sanders 1999 for a review of this literature). Does the Rungus institutionalization of bereavement force the flow of these emotions into their own distinctive channels? Or are the postulated phases of grief processes not as universal as has been claimed? Or is the fear of the souls of the deceased in Rungus society a projection of the anger felt on being left behind that some claim appears universally in the process of grieving?

Finally Rungus data show that in dealing with death rites the whole personhood of the deceased and its dissolution on death has to be brought into the field of analysis. This feature suggests that those ethnographic studies of death ceremonies and rituals that translate local beliefs simply as “soul” and focus on this from a western perspective may not in fact be covering the full range of entities involved and their death rites. Fürer-Haimendorf (1953) argues that the indiscriminate use of the term “soul” may confuse the ethnographic situation. This may explain, for example, why Elwin (1943) reports that he had difficulty sorting out the different accounts of the fate of the soul among the Maria. His sources may have been talking about different aspects of the Maria personhood.


This article is dedicated to those who helped us understand Rungus beliefs on the ceremonial processes of death and who are now themselves in the Rungus land of the dead: Itulina, a priestess of great renown, who taught Laura Appell about the beauty and intricacies of Rungus religion; to Mabok, her husband, who did so much to help us particularly in the rituals associated with the swiddens; and to their son-in-law, Marajun, who paved the way over a number of years for the progress of our research. More recent help has come from Monobidong, a priestess by training and daughter-in-law to Itulina, her husband Sovoli, their son, Majintin, and from Hamzah, last born son of Marajun.


We want to thank Poul Mohr for his thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this paper. To Anton Ploeg we owe a special debt for his insightful analysis of this manuscript and useful suggestions.


alasu’ – “heat”, refers both to physical heat as well as ritual heat.

barakat - is considered to be the accumulated power and fortune of the individual, including that which has been passed down from his or her ancestors. An Arabic loan word.

bituanon – “widow” or “widower.” This refers to a person whose spouse has died and after s/he has completed the rituals required by the status of the pu’od that last up to a week or so after the burial until all the ritual tasks have been completed.

bobolizan - spirit medium and priestess.

bubuha – “ghosts”; a soul of the joints may become a “ghost” upon death if there was an error in the burial procedures.

divato - the transcendental counterparts of a woman and the spirit familiar of the spirit medium/priestess, cognate with Sanskrit devata-, and who communicate with her.

hatod “ “soul,” “souls.”

hatod do inan – “the soul of the body.”

hatod do pi’uhalan - “souls of the joints.”

inan - “body.”

libabo - the lower layer of the upperworld.

lugu’ - the transcendental counterparts of a man.

lumuvas – “clearing away” ceremony that is composed of two parts. The first part is the papak tara’at, “the bad offering” and the ritual tasks of “clearing away” at the grave the following morning, which is referred to also as lumuvas. The root of the lexeme lumuvas is /-luvas-/, “to clear.”

makan bunu - an abbreviated “clearing away” ceremony that is done for death that do not warrant the full “clearing away” ceremony, such as deaths from certain illnesses, death in childbirth, etc.

matai - “to die.”

minatai - “deceased,” “died.”

modopoi - the reintegration ceremony involving the sacrifice of a pig for the pu’od, “bereaved spouse,” that is held after all the ritual tasks of the pu’od are completed. The modopoi ceremony is to dispel the ritual heat of the pu’od and permit him/her to enter into the Secondary Level Liminal Period, where restrictions on behavior are moderated. It also sends the soul of the deceased on to the afterworld, and banishes the rogon of the grave.

Nabalu - the “afterworld” on Mt. Kinabalu.

namatai – “souls of the joints of a dead person, which on death are sent to Nabalu. But when they come down to the village and cause trouble, they are termed namatai. This lexeme is derived from matai, “to die.”

odu-odu – “rice spirits.”

osundu - At the most inclusive level, “gods and spirits.” At the next lower level, “celestial beings” contrasting with rogon and humans.

papak tara’at - the “bad offering” of a sacrifice of a pig at the beginning of the lumuvas. At that time the soul of the deceased is called to participate in the food and drink before going off to the afterworld.

papak tavasi - the “good offering.” The sacrifice of a pig to call the gods and spirits to come and increase the prosperity of the family. The blood of the sacrifice is put on the various items of dapu, “property,” to encourage the souls of other wealth items to come and join the family’s property. It is an optional ceremony that households can hold at the end of the lumuvas or at a wedding.

pu’od – “bereaved spouse.” This is the status of a surviving spouse after his/her spouse dies, beginning with placing the body in the coffin. It terminates when the polluting state is ended after passing on the pollution to a coastal Muslim who carries it out to sea.

putana’on – “to be of the earth,” humans.

rata’ - refers to the ritual heat (alasu’) that accompanies a death. The day following the burial is a liminal period for the whole longhouse called tadau rata’, “the day of rata’.”

rogon - demigods and gods. These are spirits of both the social world and the natural world. Those of the social world, rusud, can protect the domestic family from illness caused by other rogon, particularly those of the natural world who have been angered by having their sacred groves intruded upon.

rumaddow - the final ceremony that the family of the deceased holds after the lumuvas to completely and finally remove any pollution from the death and send the souls of the deceased permanently to the afterworld.

rusod - The rogon of the household who mirror the social organization of the household and protects the members unless they become angry as result of the violation of a ritual prohibition.

sogit – “cold”; Sogit refers both to the state of being physically cold and the state of being ritually cold or cool.

sorungan - a terrifying creature that takes control of a corpse. It has one leg and foot which is larger than the other, one arm that is elongated with an enlarged hand, one ear that is enormous, and one large red eye.

taddau ara’at – “the bad day”; the day following the burial; also referred to as taddau rata’.

taddau rata’ – “the bad day”; the day following the burial. A liminal phase in which all members of the households in the longhouse do not go to the swiddens.

tulidan - a small jar of ritual rice wine. This tulidan is an unfermented, mock rice wine to provide drink for the soul of the deceased for his/her final journey to Nabalu.


1. The collection and presentation of ethnographic data were made by both G. N. Appell and Laura W. R. Appell, with Mrs. Appell being responsible for those aspects of the religion involving priestesses. However, G. N. Appell is responsible for the analysis of data, including the social theory brought to the data, the terminology used, and critique of the van Gennepian model. Mrs. Appell participated in this by testing the fit of the data to the analysis.

2. Our original field work among the Rungus was from 1959—1960 and 1961—1963. We were not permitted to return to continue our work until 1986. Since then we have returned during the summers for brief visits and study as well as overseeing the progress of our Sabah Oral Literature Project in 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2002. In addition we have had Rungus friends visiting us at our home at two different times from five months to a year to work on our Rungus cultural dictionary. However, since our original field work, Rungus society and culture have faced radical changes, particularly in the conversion to Christianity. As a result, this article is written in the ethnographic present of the original field work.

3. See G. N. Appell (1976, 1983, 1984, 1988) for a fuller discussion of the Rungus social organization.

4. This type of bride-price has been termed corporate and contrasts with the redistributive form (G. N. Appell 1985a). In redistributive systems, as among the Lun Dayeh (Crain 1970, 1982) and Bulusu' (G. N. Appell 1985b), various items of bride-price are redistributed among a network of kinsman of the bride who have provided help in the wedding ceremony, who have aided the family in the past, and who it is hoped will provide help in the future.

5. See G. N. Appell (1983, 1984) for a definition of this term and other terms in the jural realm.

6. In previous publications we have rendered the lexeme /osundu/ as /osunduw/. This was in error. There is no glide in the position.

7. See Hallowell (1955) for the first statement on the theory of he terminal p the self in its behavioral environment.

8. In English it is common to refer to a soul in the third person. See Cressy (1997:386) for examples of modern usage and usage as of 1608 A.D. However, the Rungus perceive the soul to resemble closely the personhood of the deceased so that to follow English usage would distort their cultural perceptions. Consequently, we shall use the appropriate gender personal pronouns.

9. Firth (1967:331-333; orig. 1955) makes an interesting point that is relevant here. He states that a distinction is commonly made in many societies between the soul of a living person and his soul after death, at which time the soul undergoes a radical transformation or there is a substitution of personality as one type of soul takes over for another. He continues that such different types of souls usually have different names. Among the Rungus the main soul undergoes no transformation or change in terminology. However, the souls of the joints do. They become agents of fear and harm.

0. Barakat is an Arabic loan word.

1 . Ritual wailing must be distinguished from tearful crying over a death, which also occurs but more quietly.

2. Rungus kin terminology for members of the domestic family does not recognize gender. Thus the term savo' refers to both husband and wife. The fact that English terms do indicate gender, as in widow and widower, presents problems in describing the social processes involved in death rituals and requires dependency on the use of Rungus terminology.

3. Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is only put in the walls of longhouse apartment units for the death of a spouse or for a child. Lemon grass is a very hardy plant, slow to die. It can be planted three days after picking. It will grow anywhere, even in worn out land, and soon grows into a thicket. The symbolism of it is that each apartment unit will have lots of children, who would not wither and die, and that there would be a thicket of people.

4. Plurality is not marked for Rungus verbs. Rungus nouns are occasionally marked for plurality. Therefore, it is difficult to determine, when ceremonies are held in which the term hatod C soul or souls C is used, as to whether it includes all souls or just the main soul of the body.

5. Gonda (1998:221; orig. 1973) reports some interesting ethnographic information on this subject: In the Philippines divata- or davata (Bisaya) or dinata (Manobo) are the souls of the deceased.


Appell, G. N.
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1966 Residence and Ties of Kinship in a Cognatic Society: The Rungus Dusun of Sabah, Malaysia. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 22:280-301.

1967 Observational Procedures for Identifying Kindreds: Social Isolates Among the Rungus of Borneo. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 23:192-207.

1968 The Dusun Languages of Northern Borneo: Rungus Dusun and Related Problems. Oceanic Linguistics 7:1-15.

1976 The Rungus: Social Structure in a Cognatic Society and Its Symbolism. In The Societies of Borneo: Explorations in the Theory of Cognatic Social Structure, G. N. Appell, ed. Special Publication 6. Washington: American Anthropological Association.

1978 The Rungus Dusun. In Essays on Borneo Societies, Victor T. King, ed. Hull Monograph on South-East Asia 7. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

1983 Methodological Problems with the Concept of Corporation, Corporate Social Grouping, and Cognatic Descent Group. American Ethnologist 10:302-311.

1984 Methodological Issues in the Corporation Redux. American Ethnologist 11:815-817.

1985a Land Tenure and Development Among the Rungus of Sabah, Malaysia. In Modernization and the Emergence of a Landless Peasantry: Essays on the Integration of Peripheries to Socioeconomic Centers, G. N. Appell, ed. Studies in Third World Societies Publication No. 33. Williamsburg: Studies in Third World Societies.

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1988 Emergent Structuralism: The Design of an Inquiry System to Delineate the Production and Reduction of Social Forms. In Choice and Morality in Anthropological Perspective: Essays in Honor of Professor Derek Freeman, G. N. Appell and T. N. Madan, eds. Buffalo: State University of New York Press.

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1991 Sex Role Symmetry Among the Rungus of Sabah. In Female and Male in Borneo: Contributions and Challenges to Gender Studies, Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr., ed. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series Volume 1. Williamsburg: Borneo Research Council.

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1982 A Lun Dayeh Engagement Negotiation. In Studies of Ethnic Minority Peoples, Anthony R. Walker, ed. Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography No. 1.

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1982 A Borneo Journey Into Death: Berawan Eschatology from Its Rituals. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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1983 Body, Brain, and Culture. Zygon 18:221-245.

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