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Lemiwa: A Traditional Blessing From East Kalimantan, Indonesia

November 17, 2020, 06.09 PM

SAMARINDA, – The village elder leaped out of Lekaq Kidau village’s long hall, much to the surprise and delight of visitors worn out from the 4.5 hour, 33-kilometer wooden boat ride from Tenggarong down the Mahakam River.

Dressed in the traditional attire of the Dayak ethnic group's Kenyah subtribe, an indigenous people of Kutai Kertanegara regency in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, the old man sprayed his guests with water from the grass-topped bamboo tube that he wielded.

Unusually spry for his age, he also blessed the visitors in the Kenyah traditional dialect before he allowed them in the long hall. Known as lemiwa, this age-old ritual is the Kenyah Dayak’s standard welcoming ceremony to visitors.

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Yet there is more to this tradition than just hospitality.

“The water used in the ceremony is holy water that has been blessed by the elders and stored in bamboo tubes," said Imang Laing, the village elder carrying out the ritual.

"We believe that the water can keep out illnesses [like Covid-19], as well as evil spirits and other negativity, from this village.” 

“The drops are also meant to cleanse our visitors and provide them with good health and safety once they return home.”

Lekaq Kidau village headman Adang noted that lemiwa reflects the villager’s inclusiveness. “Like the rest of the Kenyah Dayak, the inhabitants of Lekaq Kidau believe that their visitors are extended family who came from the same ancestor.” 

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“That is why [lemiwa] is the villager’s way of getting close to their visitors.”

Lekaq Kidau are among the villages where lemiwa can be experienced because it was designated as a heritage vlllage by the Kutai Kertanegara regency.

This predominantly Kenyah Dayak community of 685 inhabitants from 150 families earned the designation because it stood fast to their age-old customs, traditions and culture.

(Writer: Zakarias Demon Daton, Samarinda Contributor | Editor: Teuku Muhammad Valdy Arief)


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