Friday, January 28, 2011

Melanau philosophy of Life

12:56 AM

Melanau tallhouse at Sarawak Cultural Village near Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia)

While the Melanau have mostly converted to Islam and Christianity, their view of the world and action still have strong influence from their ancient religion. In fact the christian and muslim melanaus are very similiar in conducting their daily life and developing unique understanding about the world around them. They still respect those who practising the ancient religion and sometimes ask them for advice about illness, problems and predicaments.

The Body

In Melanau worldview, all human beings are made up of 4 elements whose continuing coexistence in a state of balance ensured personal wellbeing. The elements are:
Biyaih Body
Naseng, Rasa Emotion, Feelings
Bedua Soul
Nyawa Life, Survival instinct
For example if the Biyaih (Body) is ill, the Naseng (Emotion) will be upset first. When the illness becomes worst, the Bedua (Soul) will be disturbed ie loss of consciousness (collapse) or will even lead to state of coma (lost of Beduwa). A person is considered still alive even during coma because the Nyawa ( Life) is still intact.

Death will only come when the Nyawa ( Life) is lost. In melanau the word Nyawa does not simply means life but actualy the willingness and stamina of doing something. This includes the willingness to live and survive.

Enda tahan tan nyawa kaw- I can't do it anymore.
Ketahan tan nyawa siyen- He is still survive.

Hence it is very important to keep all the four element intact and balanced. If the balance is disturbed, it muss be restored by means of medicine or ritual.

When one of the four element is imbalanced, it is said that the person is pedéh. The word pedéh lit. means sick or ill. On the contrary the person is diyak (good, healthy) if all the four elements are balanced.

Body and Mind

There is no word in Melanau language that equates to "mind". The closest that we get is pikiran ( from malay word fikiran which lit. means thinking). In western cultures the mind and body are seperate entities. Therefore we always hear the expression " we should not only train our body but also train our mind". In melanau cultures however the body is inseperable from the mind. Hence if one takes care of the body the mind will be diyak ( good, healthy) because the four elements are in check.

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  1. Interesting blog about Melanau.
    I see you are linking to my Flickr photo here. As your blog is non-commercial it's ok to use it.

    Keep up the good work.



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