Life in the ’60s

Some supersitions and beliefs we used to have in the old days (1960s):

Whenever there is a lunar eclipse, we used to beat the gongs (and anything noisy, like tin cans and drums) as loudly as we can. The idea was to drive and scare away the Barob (a Dusun word for a big-appetite monster) that was devouring the moon. Of course, even then we were fast becoming an educated community so we did that more in jest, and to echo what our forefathers, I believe, certainly did in fear. Still, the whole kampong will be resonant with gong sounds and the tang-tang-tang of oil drums. If it was a solar eclipse, my grandmother will make us use big leaves as umbrellas if we are out in the open because “if the dragon’s (which was in the midst of eating the sun) saliva drips on to you, you will turn to stone.” Apparently dead brown leaves were useless because the dragon’s saliva will just melt through your wrong parasol.

In the old days there were no undertaker van to bring the deceased to the cemetery. The funeral hearse will walk on foot for miles with the coffin carried by pallbearers with dead brown bamboo stems (green stems are a no-no). If you think the hearse will pass your house, you are supposed to put charcoal and blackened burnt wood on a few of your staircases and the sills of your doorways. It is believed that ghosts (During the funeral procession, the soul of the deceased will be accompanied by ghosts. Some who have the gift say they can see some of the ghosts sit astride the coffin, and that is why a live guy with huge parang is assigned to actually sit on the coffin.) are scared-shit of stepping over charcoal and ashes. In this way your house is protected from such unwelcomed visits.

Similarly, if you are brewing tapai (rice wine) in a jar, after you have air-sealed the jar with leaves (even plastics were difficult to come by then), you put a bunch of charcoal on top so that it will ferment well and not turn sour by the visitations of these ethereal beings.

Finally, if you have visited a deceased to pay your last respects, you are supposed to head home straight away, and not make a detour and visit someone’s home. Woe to you who did this: you will be adjudged to have broken a huge adat and the Native Court have no choice but to penalise you with one buffalo as sogit to the aggrieved household. The idea behind this is you have brought the deceased’s very bad luck to someone else’s home. I will hasten to add that this rule is still enforced nowadays, so beware.

Read about kampong life in the 1960s (and the old customs and mores) in Tina Kisil‘s wonderful book, Footprints in the Paddy Fields. In one chapter, she relates the story of one of her aunts who was adept in the bobohizan’s arts and arcane skills, and who communicated with dead spirits every night.

UPDATE: Tina K has a new blog @

3 thoughts on “Life in the ’60s

  1. Hi! Interesting post. In my father’s village, people who have attended a funeral must step over some smoking wood before they entered their house. I’ve come across Chinese people who did the same.

    I’m a new blogger and have just joined the Sabah Bloggers yesterday.

    Thanks for mentioning my book!

  2. Hi Tina,

    I was trying to search for your email address to try ask your permission to write some excerpts from your book. What is your blog’s URL?

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