In Loving Memory of Babai


Tabi basa and greetings everyone! When there is life, there is death. We are taught to celebrate life, but we are not openly taught to embrace death because it’s saddening and bring grief and despair to the affected family, especially when the deceased is someone’s significant others; husband or wife, or even a life companion.


In this post, I’d like to write about the funeral of my late grandfather, or his nickname “Babai”, which means grandfather in Bidayuh Siburan/Padawan/Bau, instead of “babeh” or “babuk” in Bidayuh Serian. Partly this is because I want to remember the final celebration of life that we had with him.

Final Moments:

Have you ever seen in the movies how people passed away? Usually they will show some exaggeration of movements, like those fake limb goes limp movement, deep breath or even eyes slowly close. In real life, it’s not like that. It is more subtle and that is why we need a trained physician / doctor or someone from medical industry to declare someone’s death.

However, when someone dies of old age, it’s quite obvious. Breath turns short, hands and feet became cold because blood is concentrated at the heart area, and eye became more difficult to open. Before those signs became obvious, it’s time to call close relatives and neighbours. They gathered at Babai’s house to see him one last time as a living person, while he slowly making his way to the land of the dead.

Led by prayer leader, everyone pray for him in a prayer specially taylored for peoples on their dying breath. Then peoples will stay on until he gave out his last breath, followed by wail and weep from those who holds him dear. In some school of thought, measure of a man’s success is not how rich he became throughout his lifetime, but how many people cries over his death. We can’t carry money inside our casket. We came to this world with nothing, out of it we also goes with nothing. Come naked, go naked.

Tayok (grandma) tucking Babai’s blanket

Land of the Dead is always depicted as scary thanks to Hollywood. Well, it’s a billion dollar business and they need to make money. However, the truth is actually much more complicated than that. In this case, Babai’s passing is a peaceful one, surrounded by his children, family members and neighbours. If you read Variasari magazine before, you’ll see that some people’s death has a lot of sinister occurences. That’s what happened if you dealt with the supernaturals and didn’t close the loop. For Babai, his transition from living to death is a seamless one, though he has been writhing in pain for a period before.

One thing I love about staying in a village is that everyone will come and help you out to ease the pain of the family. Gotong-royong (loosely translated to working together) is normal. For the first night, once the death is declared, people will come together and pray.

Special injection is administered to his empty vessel to prevent it from rotting. In Catholic, we believe that our spirit is immortal and it goes on to the next journey, to the purgatory. The dead can’t do anything there, and they rely on the prayers from the living for them to advance to the next stage, which is to heaven.

As in Dayak (Iban Bidayuh) tradition, people will stay at the house of the deceased until morning comes. For the youngsters, they usually play cards until morning. For the elder ones, they will drink, eat and talk until morning comes. This comes from the past incidences where something bad happened to the deceased’s dead body. It’s a bad luck if a black cat crosses over the dead body, as it might spring back to life. Who’s inside the empty vessel? No one knows. You can call it zombie.

Funeral in the Times of COVID-19

Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) gave more flexibility, but as a good citizen of Malaysia, we need to adhere to the social distancing, especially when you go for the funeral procession. Only close family members are allowed. Otherwise, the usual practice is people will flock to the church, especially those who knows the deceased (in village, it means everyone).

At church, one final mass is being held to pray for Babai, with peoples giving the last respect, as well as that one final photograph together with our family.

In Catholic Bidayuh tradition, there is no eulogy. Whatever good things he did, whatever good things you want to say to him should be said when he was still living. Otherwise, there is no value added. We proceed to the grave yard instead, to his new “housing” area.

Graveyard Ceremony

At the graveyard, the pallbearers (not the dancing one, like in Coffin Dance meme), will slowly lift the casket into the grave. There, with simple mechanism, Babai’s casket will be put on its platform while the last rite is being said. Being a Catholic, this is a consoling ceremony because whoever believes in Him (Jesus) will not die, but will be resurrected and live forever with Him when the time comes.

All the glories, all the achievements and all the materials that we have accummulated means nothing once we are 6 feet under. Once the final nail is hammered, the final rope lowered and the soils slowly thrown over the casket, that marks the end of your life in this world.

From dust we are made, to dust we return to.
Funeral Photography Section:For these photoshoots, I am using Leica M10-P and Summilux 21mm, which is an excellent lens for tight scenes, especially in funerals where you don’t have much room to move. The big aperture of f/1.4 really helps in low light setting because I’m not a big fan of external flashes/ or off-camera flash.
For M10-P, quiet mechanical shutter really helps me in becoming discreet and not interrupting the solemn ambience of funeral.

By capturing the images, it helps me to cope with grief and sadness by turning it into something immortal and can be seen by future generations of Babai.


With the recent passing of my grandfather, or his nickname “Babai”, which means grandfather in Bidayuh Siburan/Padawan/Bau, it brings a whole different meaning into my life. Life is short to be wasted on something unimportant or petty. It’s ok if someone dislikes you for whatever reasons (jealously, competition, brand, market) because you don’t live to please anyone. You work because you want to make a living for you and your family, that’s all that matters.

If you have any dreams, or deep desire to do something, just do it. If you saw someone beautiful, just them that. If you like someone, tell them. You don’t have to harbour any feeling because once you are no longer living, you can’t do anything.
Live your life the way you wanted. You don’t just live your life 8-5 only pay bills and die. It’s ok if you work office hours, then later you can work on your side hustle after you’re offwork. It’s ok if you can’t cook, you can just takeaway food elsewhere if this means more time for you to do the things you want, even if you’re a woman. Cooking takes a lot of time, requires patient and skill, unless you’re passionate about it and plan to leave a mark in cooking-related scenes.


Death is inevitable, therefore make full use of the life we have. Don’t forget that our parents are getting older. This is also a wake-up call for me to not focus on working and neglecting the people that loves me. “Seize the day, or die regretting the time you lost.” -A7X

Tukang Rantek,


Note: Claudius is a “tukang rantek” (photographer in Bidayuh Pichin) based in Miri.

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error: © Claudius Weson (2017 - 2024). All rights reserved.