Right after our arrival in Borong Tongkok, our host Yana, started to look for real Dayak experiences, and soon we were told of a sacrificial Buffalo killing and commemorative Dayak Funeral celebration not far away. Coherent with our beliefs and ethics, we declined the beheading of the Buffalo, but we were enthusiastic to accept the invitation for the traditional celebration!
We formed a quite big group mixed of foreigners (us) and Indonesians, mostly Muslims, and we were all equally welcomed in the house where the ritual was taking place. While Dayak people originally live in longhouses, many have moved to more comfortable and private life.
Apparently it was the first experience of this kind also for some other members of our group, participating as observer to ritual of this type, wasn't that common and we were extremely lucky.
The house was quite big with a huge living room, most probably used by several families at the same time, hosting several dozens of relatives. They apparently weren't too much impressed by the arrival of our big group, and invited us as if we were part of the family.
The atmosphere was not the one I would have expected, with sadness, tears and sorrow to dominate. In some moments it looked like people were just repeating a ritual almost detached or sometimes even joking and laughing. Later we found out that not only it was "just" a commemorative ritual, but also there was no body inside the box hanging from the roof, where it was supposed to be located only in the future the body of the deceased.
A group of men was standing in one corner, singing with a microphone in Dayak language, while people were assisting apparently bored; other relatives were even sleeping in the adjacent rooms.
Later the women of the family, from the eldest to the youngest, dressed up and started to dance; also our group was invited to dance, food was brought and offered to the attendants, and with food also the Buffalo head made his appearance among the audience.
Part of the ritual consisted on standing in a circle with pieces of meat on a stick, later thrown at each other while loud laughter. An interesting but unexpected moment, that we are not sure if was part of the ritual, or just a spontaneous moment of entertainment. The head of the Buffalo was still at the center of the room, controlling the community and its member; while we were quite touched by its presence, most of the family members weren't bother at all, continuing to assist the ceremony or browsing their phones.
When it started to get late, we eventually left the ceremony to get some sleep and visit more of the surroundings of Melak the following day. We were intrigued by the differences we have found in our cultural approaches to death, but sure that we missed the meaning of many of the Dayak rituals we witnessed.