‘Adat basuh kaki’, loosely translated as ‘wash your feet’, is a popular custom that is practiced by those of a Tutong ethnicity at their wedding. Known as buri puo’ in the Tutong dialect, there are many different tales about how the practice came to be.

Sutera had the opportunity to speak to Datu Lela Raja Haji Mahjair bin Bendahari Haji Abdul Ghafar, the former Penghulu Mukim of Tanjung Maya in Tutong, who has lived in the district for over 80 years. He had painted an elaborate picture of the story of buri puo’ that has been passed down from generations of his ancestors.

Photo:Sutera/Safwan Sidek

According to his version of the folklore, the custom had been around for more than 300 years. It started with a nobleman called Bendahari Badar, whose daughter, Dayang Jeriah had just celebrated her union with her husband. Once the ceremony ended, they stayed at the bride’s house, but due to the weather and conditions of the house, the newly wedded couple decided to venture out.

“This was the old days when there was no electricity so they went out to take bath at a river nearby, but as fate came to be, a tiger came lurking and kidnapped Dayang Jeriah – bringing her to the tiger’s pit,” said Haji Mahjair.

When the unfortunate news came to Bendahari Badar, he turned to the village people for help. Liau Kebol, who is known for his bravery volunteered to rescue his daughter.

Photo:Sutera/Amir Hazwan

“Bendahari Badar lent Liau Kebol his dagger to kill the tiger with. They both threw ideas at each other, trying to think of ways to execute their plan. They eventually came to a plan to use a puppy as bait for the tiger, and proceeded to the pit where they saw the tiger in deep slumber and the corpse of Bendahari Badar’s daughter,” he added.

It was already too late to save the Bendahari’s daughter but Liau Kebol was still able to do justice by her. The puppy barked in fear and drew the attention of the tiger, which immediately mauled the canine. Liau Kebol took this chance to stab the tiger in the neck, killing it at once. His heroic act was followed by him carrying both the body of Dayang Jeriah and the carcass of the tiger up to the surface.

Following the tragedy, Bendahari Badar and the residents of Tutong held a meeting to discuss a solution to the problem – making sure that it would not happen again.

Photo:Sutera/Amir Hazwan

“One of the suggestions was for a newly wedded bride to not leave the house for 40 days. This led to the creation of the buri puo’ where the idea is to provide the newlyweds with enough necessities to survive for 40 days at home,” mentioned Haji Mahjair.

In modern times, the process of the buri puo’ is the same as it was back then – the bride and groom put their feet on top of a whetstone and a machete (pemarang). Guests will then pour water from a vase called tajau using a water dipper called gayung made of coconut shell.

Photo:Sutera/Amir Hazwan

According to Haji Mahjair, the reason why the newlyweds put their feet on top of a whetstone and a machete is because the weapon was once used as the main source of income for the people back then, most of which farmers. If the blade is dull, they would use the stone to sharpen the machete and get back to work. This symbolises the life back then.

Back then, those who voluntarily take part in this tradition would contribute various gifts for them to survive the 40 days, such as rice, coconut and fruits for the couple to eat. This highlighted the difference between then and now, where these days, the handouts are usually given in the form of money envelopes.

Buri puo’ is still being practiced exclusively by members of Tutong ethnic group. The uniqueness of the ceremony cannot be seen at the weddings of different ethnic groups in Brunei. Haji Mahjair hopes that the younger generation will continue to preserve the Tutong culture and traditions in the years to come.