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A model of the spirit ship that is said to conduct the liau of the dead to the land of the dead where they would meet the ancestors.

Tiwah is the Festival of the Dead of the Ngaju people of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is basically a secondary mortuary ritual, where the bones of the deceased are taken from the cemeteries, purified and finally placed in an ossuary. The feast celebrates the final entry of the deceased into paradise where they would meet the ancestors.


The Ngaju practiced a syncretic religion known as the Kaharingan. To conform with the principle of the Indonesian state ideology of "One Supreme God" (Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa), in 1980 the Kaharingan faithful of the Ngaju people agreed to establish themselves under the Hindu-Kaharingan faith to be recognized as an official religion of Indonesia.

The Ngaju people regard human as comprising the physical body, animated by a 'soul' or 'spirit' known as the hambaruan. Death means that the hambaruan leaves the body permanently and ceases to exist. The physical body is then replaced by something called liau, which can be described as the 'spirit' of the corpse. Liau is divided into three parts: the liau of the bones, the liau of the flesh and blood, and the liau of the "spirit of the intellect". The bone liau is deemed to have been derived from the deceased's father, associated with the upperworld and the upperworld's male deity. The flesh and blood liau is derived from the deceased's mother, and is associated with the underworld and the underworld's female deity. These first two liaus remain with the corpse, and until the tiwah is enacted, they remain in the underworld. The third "spirit of the intellect" liau remain in a place in the third heaven. This liau however is a potential threat as they can roam the human world, and so this liau must be dealth with. At a ritual called tantulak liau ("expelling the dead soul"), Ngaju priests (basir) would call upon one of the upperworld spirits (sangiang) to escort this liau to a heavenly village in the third heaven. This liau must remain there until the tiwah.[1]

Tiwah feast

The pole carved with a face in the background represents the Raja Entai Nyahu, which is thought to watches over the dead until the tiwah.

The feast of Tiwah concerns with the reunion of the three liaus on earth for the last time before being escorted away to Lewa Liau, the paradise. Tiwah feast is a large and lengthy feast consisting of many ceremonies, each with specific aims. One ceremony invites the various upperworld spirits to join in the celebrations, while other ensures that the living are kept safe during this potentially dangerous period. Each ceremonies requires sacrifice of livestock and so large numbers of livestock such as buffaloes and pigs are sacrificed during Tiwah. The animals are tied to a sapundu sacrificial pole, killed, its blood is used to purify multiple objects used during the tiwah. Offering is given to the dead and to the spirits invited to the ceremony. They take the essence of the offerings, while the human guests at the tiwah consume the physical part of the offering. Separate ceremonies are held to bring the bones from the cemetery, the bones are carried back to the village to be cleaned and anointed with oil and gold dust by their closest kin e.g. their children or their grandchildren; the anointed bones are then carefully wrapped in cloth and returned to the sandung where they will remain until the end of the tiwah. The sandung or bone houses are large house-like structures built to house the bones. Another ceremony bring the liau back from the third heaven where it has been residing.[1]

The main event of the Tiwah takes place at a ceremony where the reunited liau is escorted by the sangiang psychopomp named Rawing Tempun Telun, to Lewu Liau. During this ceremony, which lasts all night, a medium called a tukang hanteran or mahanteran ("adept at escorting (the dead)") allows the sangiang Rawing Tempun Telun to possess him. The mahanteran would sit above the gong and dress up like the Rawing Tempun Telun, wearing a certain headdress, feathers of a hornbill, shell tunic and boars teeth belt, and holding a mandau (heirloom sword). The words of the mahanteran during this period are considered those of the sangiang. The mahanteran would recite the entire creation myth of the Ngaju throughout the night. As the story commenced, it is deemed that in the spirit world, the liau would make their way to paradise in spirit boats, traveling along the rivers of the upperworld until they arrive at Lewu Liau in the seventh heaven. Lewu Liau is reached as the recitation of the creation myth finishes.[1]

The recital of the creation myth is believed to restore order to the chaos caused by the death of a person. Ngaju people believes that death creates disorder and destruction of the cosmos, which must be continually recreated if life is to continue. By allowing the sangiang to possess the tukang hanteran and recite the creation myth, the cosmos is being restored.[1]

Practice of the Tiwah

The feast of Tiwah is the most important ceremony of the Ngaju people, even more important than the primary funeral which is performed right after death. Tiwah festival is essential for the soul's journey to reach the highest level in heaven. Tiwah is held after several months or years after the burial. Tiwah feast is a big, complex, costly, and long lasting event. One event costs anywhere between USD$6,000 to $180,000; and may last from three days to forty days, depending on the number of souls being sent off to the afterlife. It is common that several families hold a Tiwah together so they can spread the cost of sacrificed animals. At one time, more than two hundred souls have been brought to a higher level in one ceremony. The council registers and coordinates all Tiwah events before asking the police for a permit. Normally there are two to ten Tiwah festivals in a year.[2]

Tiwah is a festive event. There is active participation at Tiwah ceremony by Christian and some Muslim members of the community. Since Islam and the religion of Kaharingan are fundamentally irreconcilable as social ideologies, this has led to a great number of people practicing double or even multiple loyalties. An elder Dayak quotes that "Religion (agama) honors God; our traditional beliefs (kepercayaan) honor our ancestors".[3][failed verification] Tiwah is quite regular in main towns of Kalimantan, such as in Palangkaraya. Food stalls and open-air market shops are set during the Tiwah. Gambling boards are also frequent during the Tiwah.[2]

See also


Cited works

  • Aritonang, Jan Sihar; Steenbrink, Karel Adriaan (2008). A History of Christianity in Indonesia. Studies in Christian Mission. 35. BRILL. ISBN 9789004170261.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Metcalf, Peter (1999). Fox, James J. (ed.). Religion and Ritual: Secondary Mortuary Rituals. Indonesian Heritage. Singapore: Archipelago Press. ISBN 9813018585.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Metcalf, David; Brookes, Stephanie (2014). Indonesia's Hidden Heritage. Jakarta: NOW! Jakarta Publications. ISBN 9786029797152.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links

  • "Upacara Tiwah Adat Dayak" [Dayak Tiwah ceremony]. Banua Hujung Tanah. Wordpress. January 16, 2011. Archived from the original on November 27, 2016. Retrieved November 27, 2016.