Kaul, the Melanau New Year
In addition to being the administrative centre for RECODA, the Sarawak State government has designated Mukah to become a smart city with resource based learning environments to compliment the needs of industries within SCORE.
Infrastructure projects have begun in earnest and most recently the first package for the construction of the new Mukah airport was awarded and work is expected to begin soon. The new airport will make Mukah more accessible and help increase inward investment into SCORE.
New investment will bring new opportunities for the residents of Mukah, but whilst encouraging development, the government is determined to conserve cultural traditions, celebrations and activities by encouraging and supporting Sarawak’s diverse communities to continue practicing and preserving their unique customs and cultures.
One of those communities is The Melanau. The Melanau are considered to be the earliest settlers in Sarawak and make up approximately 6% of the State’s population. Some Melanaus are Christians, some are Muslims and some are Animalists. Most of the Melanaus come from Mukah.
The old days were tough. Chicken pox, leprosy and cholera were common, while floods, landslides and even droughts often caused hardships unrecognisable today. The festival of Kaul can be traced back to the early part of the 17th century in Mukah after serious outbreaks of Cholera and Chickenpox decimated the population.
The end of the Northeast Monsoon coincides with the first month of the Melanau calendar and this is when the Melanaus celebrate Kaul. Traditionally a time of seas too rough for fishing and damaging floods, Kaul gives the villagers the opportunity to thank the spirits for the previous year’s land and sea harvests and use the opportunity to pray for a good year to come.
Villagers sing songs and offer praise to the spirits of the jungle (Ipok Guun), forest (Ipok Talun), rivers (Ipok Sungai), wind (Ipok Pangai) and sea (Ipok Daat). Once the spirits are pacified, fishermen in their boats escort any unfriendly spirits out of the village whilst offering them betel nut, cigarettes and food presented on a ‘Seraheng’, which is a basket made of young nipah leaves, bamboo, pine, tegoh and iseng leaves and mounted on a bamboo pole.
During this ‘month of the spirits’ (Bulan Pengejin), access to villages were often restricted and no one was allowed to leave or enter restricted villages and residents would have to be ‘purified’ during Kaul.
Kaul ends with a massive pot luck picnic at the mouth of the river. Everyone brings food and drink, there are lots of games and huge swings or ‘tibou’ are assembled for the spirits to join in the fun. At the end of the day, any food not eaten is left for the spirits to eat. Anyone who brings food back to the village can be cursed. You have been warned!
The dates of the Kaul festival change slightly every year but it is always around this time. This year the festival ran from 25th April to 1st May. For the dates of the festival in 2015, please come back to this site in the 3rd quarter of 2014.