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April's Borneo Legends & Myths

Nunuk Kayu and Kolimunduk Kayu

Text & Images Courtesy of SarawakAlive!


THERE WERE ONCE A husband and a wife who loved each other so dearly.  One day, the wife died.  Not being able to forget her, the man at last decided to go in search of her.  He had heard people say that the dead became ghosts and lived in the Spirit Land.  So he left his home and set out for this land.  After a short while, he came to an inn and asked the waiter which was the best way to take toreach the Spirit Land, and how he could find his wife there.

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"It is only one day's journey from here to the Land of Ghosts," said the waiter.  "If you go quickly, you can get there and back in a day.  When you arrive, go straight to the well.  Your wife will certainly come to fetch water, and then you can see her."

The husband (Nunuk Kayu) followed the waiter's advice and started off the next day.  Everything happened as he had been told.  He went to the well, seated himself on the edge, and waited.   Then he saw a beautiful woman coming for a pail of water.  It was his wife (Kolimunduk Kayu), who looked just the same as she had before her death.  He called out and took hold of her, but she did not look at him or even raise her head.  She behaved like a stranger, filled the pail with water, and returned home.  Sadly, and with low spirits, the man returned to the inn, where he told the servant how his wife had not recognized him and paid no attention to him at all.  "Of course, yesterday I forgot to tell you," said the servant.  "You must return tomorrow and take a small piece of money.  When she draws water, throw the coin into her pail.   Then she will speak to you."

After a few hours sleep the man went off, full of joy, and waited at the well.  Everything happened as he had been told.  He threw the money into the pail, and she began to speak to him.   She seemed to remember that she was his wife, but she said to him, "Return home.  I have become a spirit.  We cannot be husband and wife again."   She slowly walked away.

The man did not want to let her go, and he hurried after her.  As the sun was sinking below the hills, they arrived at a small village.  She turned around and said to him, "My dear husband, don't come any further.  In front of you lies my house.  I am now married to a ghost who is an official in underworld.  He  is very cruel, and if he sees you he will certainly eat you.  Please go home now."  But the husband could not tear himself away.  "Very well," said the woman, "I will conceal you in mu house.  I will say you are my brother.  If he offers you some food, watch to see whether I eat it and then act accordingly.  There are many things, poisonous worms and frogs, which you cannot eat."  Shortly afterward the ghost arrived.  As soon as he reached the doorway, he shouted, "I smell human flesh.  I smell human flesh.  Who has come to the house?"  He showed his teeth and stretched out his claws to reach for the stranger.  "It's only my brother," explained the wife.  "Oh, it's all right, my brother-in-law.   Be quick and get wine and dinner ready."  They greeted each other, and the ghost did not eat the man.

Fortunately, during the ten days he spent there , the ghost had to go to the office of the king of the underworld every day, and the man and his wife were able to be alone.  But the wife said to her husband, "My dear husband, we can't be married gain, and since we can't live here, we had better flee."  So one day they ran away.  After travelling for more than seven days, they arrived in the upper world.  They stopped outside a house, where the woman said, "I am so thirsty. Wait a moment, I will go in and get some water.  Each of us must take half of this coin."  After she had gone in, the man waited and waited, but although he waited till nightfall there was still no sign of her.  Feeling very angry, he went into the house and asfked the owner whether he had seen his wife, but the man denied it.  "But I saw her go in my self," said the husband, very mystified.

Just at that moment the owner's wife gave birth to a daughter, and the crying of the little child could be heard throughout the house.  The husband refused to go away, and became a workman in the house.  It was very strange for no matter who carried the baby, it began to cry; but if the workman took it, the crying ceased at once.  Also, no one had been able to open the right hand of the girl sincer her birth; so great was the strength in her fist.

She grew up very quickly.   Eventually, when she was seventeen years old, the workman managed to open her hand.   Inside was half a coin, which fitted exactly into his own piece and made a whole coin.  The became engaged and were soon husband and wife again and lived happily ever after.

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