The Orang Sungai ethnic strongly holds on to customs and abstinences concerning death and in the management of corpse as this is deemed to be the last respect to the deceased.


Corpse management is handled by a spiritual leader or close family members and has to be managed accordingly with respect as it is believed that a corpse feels the pain if mishandled. Female corpses are handled by women and male corpses by men. Corpses of immature children are handled by spiritual leaders or the family members themselves.

Normally, a corpse is placed at a corner in the living room to be bathed and covered with white cloth as shroud. This also makes it easier for relatives and friends to give their last respects and recite prayers. The holy Quran is placed at the end of the corpsehead.

The deceased family members prepare foods for guests that pay their respects to the deceased, while relatives and friends together manage the corpse till buried. The men dig the burial grave based on the corpse measurement as given by the spiritual leader, erect tents on the compound of the deceased house, and make bamboo coffin as well as grave markers. For male corpses the grave marker is rounded made of wood, while it is a flat plank for female.

The grave must face the kibla to the west, the direction of prayers for moslems. The spiritual leader ensures that digging works are done accordingly while reciting prayers and verses from the Quran to evade unwanted incidents during the digging. The grave must be dug by only an individual and can be replaced by consecutive individuals. It is believed that if a grave is dug together by more than one person they will follow the footsteps of the deceased in due course. The corpse is brought to the cemetery with prayer recitals from those who accompany it.


The corpse is bathed first by the village spiritual leader or expert family members to cleanse the corpse of waste matter. Four types of water are used that are scented water, coconut milk water, blessed water, and lime water. The corpse is bathed with 10 douses only with, respectively, three on the right, left and the middle part of the body. The last douse, the 10th, is onto the whole body.

Then the corpse is made to wear a new sarong or the one always worn while the deceased was still alive. Only then relatives are allowed to visit the deceased for the last time. Verses from the holy Quran and prayers are recited as alms to the deceased.


If a death occurs the villagers put a halt to all activities such as farming, hunting, and the like. Normally, they pay their respects to the deceased and help in corpse management. Family members and guests are forbidden to argue or quarrel as it is believed that the deceased spirit is still around the house and can witness all the behaviours before the body is buried. Sharp objects like scissors and knives are placed on the corpse navel to look after the deceased as it is believed that corpses can be disturbed and instigated by satan and invisible creatures.

While a corpse is still in the house all cats are captured and confined as it is worried they might step on the corpse. While a corpse is bathed the underneath of the house, the hollow space, needs to be avoided as it is believed it is bad to get splashed by the water used to bathe corpses.

Jabatan Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Negara, Sabah

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