Tag Archives: Manugal

Manugal 2015 at Tewang Rangkang

For two years in a row, we’ve had the pleasure of attending and helping with the planting of rice in the Dayak Ngaju village of Tewang Rangkang, on the Katingan River a couple of hours drive to the northwest of our home. It’s the kampung of our dear friend Lelie, who seems to be related to almost everyone in the village!


When I wrote about our previous visit I described the rice planting process, and so I won’t repeat the detail now. In summary, family and community members get together for a ‘working bee’ (gotong royong) to plant rice for dry cultivation in a newly cleared and burnt field (ladang) in the forest. The event, which incorporates many traditions and procedural requirements from the Kaharingan religion, is known as Manugal. It takes place right at the end of the dry season, around the last week of October.


Lelie is now away studying at Gajah Mada University in Jogjakarta, but we were invited back by her family, and stayed overnight in the home of her aunt and uncle, Tante Hentie and Om Indra. That’s them with their ces canoe above.


In the evening before Manugal, we walked out to revisit the sandung (family ’tomb’) where the remains of Lelie’s grandparents are interred. It was one year to the day since we had attended Nenek’s Tiwah funeral ceremony. The two white sapundu pillars to the right of the sandung have since been relocated there from their previous location beside the road, where they had served as the tethering posts for the buffalo and cow sacrifices during the Tiwah.


On the way back we chanced upon this large and quite beautiful toad, who was kind enough to pose for some close-ups.


In preparation for feeding everyone at the next day’s Manugal, a pig was slaughtered and cooked, beginning with a very basic singing process. Another pig looked on, understandably looking rather disturbed. “Gerald, what have they done to you?!”


The next morning, after a disturbingly early start, everyone crossed the river by ces canoe, and travelled up a tributary stream to a spot where we could disembark and walk through the forest to the ladang rice field. The first wet season rains had only arrived a few days previously, but the water level was a lot higher than it had been the year before, obviating the need for a lot of muddy hiking.


When we reached the ladang, there was still some smoke and flames rising from the clearing fires. The ladang is actually the same field as was used last year, as they get a few years’ use before the soil fertility becomes too low for cropping (This is very simple agriculture – no cultivation of the soil, no fertilisers, no irrigation or pesticides). The area still contains many felled tree trunks from the original forest. Since last year they have built a stilt hut (pondok) for temporary accommodation while working at the ladang.


A line of men and boys work their way down the length of the ladang, making shallow holes in the soil with the pointed end of the staff that each carries. Some of the staves (the black ones in the photo) were prized pieces of kayu ulin (ironwood) that they keep for use from year to year.


In some areas the smoke was still thick, but no-one seemed to be deterred.


Meanwhile the seed rice is carefully scooped into handmade (mostly rattan) baskets (kusak dare), ready to be planted. There were several varieties including red rice, all saved from the last year’s harvest.


No two baskets are the same. Some of them are really finely made, and most show evidence of many years’  use.


The women and girls follow in a line behind the men, dropping a small number of rice grains into each of the newly made holes. There is a lot of chatting, laughter and tom-foolery in the process.


With so many people helping, the sowing was all finished within a few hours. Time then for a big communal meal: plenty of rice of course, plus eggplant and other veggies, and babi ketjap (pork). “Hullo again, Gerald!” Little cakes wrapped in palm leaf, sweet coconut rice and coffee followed.


Om Rudi and his daughter Jesica sat nearby at the edge of the ladang, sharing a plate.


With the morning’s work finished, and the heat and humidity approaching the daily peak, we all headed back over the river to Tewang Rangkang.


We are very interested in the weaving of rattan (or rotan, they call it), and later we went to visit Ibu Linie, who is possibly the only person in the village who still makes kusak dare baskets and sapuyung hats from rattan.


She explained the many and complicated technical steps involved, from selecting the best rattan vines from the forest to preparing them and fashioning the cut canes into useful and attractive objects. After lengthy equivocation, she agreed to part with the basket above, and we established a mutually agreeable price. It now adorns our hall table – but sadly it may never be used for sowing rice at Manugal.

Manugal – planting rice with the Dayaks

A couple of weekends ago, our new friend (and workmate) Lelie very kindly invited us up to visit her village of Tewang Rangkang, on the Katingan River about 80km (or 2 hours) to the northwest of here. It’s a Dayak Ngaju village. (The indigenous people of Borneo, especially the interior parts of the island, are collectively known as Dayak people, and the Ngaju people are one of the many sub-groups). The occasion of our visit was for a ‘Manugal’ ceremony and working-bee.

Tewan_Rangkang_20141025_0185Gotong royong and Manugal. Across Indonesia, the practice of ‘mutual cooperation’, where a community all pitches in achieve some goal that is too big for an individual to do on their own, is very much alive. Think ‘barn-raising’. They call it gotong royong, and it’s part of the national ethos (although the concept got hijacked for political purposes by both Sukarno and Suharto).

Amongst the Dayak people, who still practise slash-and-burn dry rice cultivation in forested lands (ladang), everyone pitches in to help their family and neighbours to clear land for cultivation, and to plant and harvest the rice. The ceremony and working-bee at the time of planting the rice is known as Manugal.


To get to the ladang fields, we first had to walk through the village and across the sandbanks to the river’s edge. Some small motor-powered canoes (‘ces’) were waiting to ferry us across the river, where we climbed up muddy banks and ladders, then through forest, plantations of durian, bamboo and rubber trees, and finally across a rather bleak terrain of recently cleared and burnt countryside. This was where the rice was to be planted.


By the time we got there (about 8am) there were around 40 people assembled under a tarpaulin shelter on the edge of the field. Bags of rice were measured out into baskets to be carried by each of the planters – white, red and yellow rice. Everyone took a taste of sirih – betel leaf, areca nut and lime paste – to chew on as they started work. We walked out into the burnt field, spitting red as we went.


The men each took a wooden staff, sharpened at one end, and formed a loose line standing about two metres apart. We worked our way across the field. making shallow holes in the ground as we proceeded, twisting the poles to form a roughly conical depression every 30cm or so.


The women made a second parallel line, sweeping across the field behind the men, and dropping about 10 grains of seed rice into each of the holes. It is all pretty rough and basic: the seeds aren’t covered at all, or watered in. In fact the crop is not irrigated at any stage, relying on the (usually reliable) rains from November to February to sustain the crop.


At the end of the plot (ownership boundaries are marked with string) everyone moves across to the next strip and repeats the process until the whole area is done. There are stumps and logs all over the field, and you just clamber over them and plant around them as best you can. It’s not worth investing in full-on clearing, because the whole area is abandoned after a few years, or converted to growing rubber.


The work was done with a lot of humour and laughter, and sometimes seemed to be more about bonding the community than getting the job done. Everyone got their faces smeared with charcoal at some point in the day, and there were breaks for coffee, fried pork and rice, and sweet cakes (all delicious).


Even with the breaks, we were all finished by about noon. Just as well, as the day was getting seriously hot by then. Members of Lelie’s family, especially her sister and one of her uncles, spent a lot of time explaining things to us – as well as they could with our limited Indonesian language and non-existent Dayak Ngaju!


So then it was time to pack up and head back the way we had come, no longer too concerned about keeping our clothes (and faces) clean. We knew there was a mandi and a change of clothes waiting back in the village.


The mood was very relaxed on the way back, everyone seeming content with the morning’s (modest) work effort. There was much hilarity as the three ces raced across the river, each driver trying to spray the other boats in their wake. Halfway across I was asked if I could swim. “Yes”, I replied. “But my camera can’t”. This meant I got excused from the all-in splashing and dunking battle that erupted as we reached the home shore.  Tewan_Rangkang_20141025_0173 

We stayed back in the village for a wash, lunch, and to meet some of Lelie’s huge extended family. (Our standing joke is that she doesn’t have a pohon keluarga (a ‘family tree’) like most people – instead she has a hutan keluarga (a ‘family forest’)!

As we headed back home later that afternoon, feeling warm inside from all the hospitality (and good food!), we had no idea that we would be back for a three-day visit less than a week later. But that’s a story for another time.