DAMAT (AFP) - Borneo tribal shamans chanted age-old prayers on Saturday in a ceremony in Malaysia aimed at soothing spirits and bringing an end to disturbing aftershocks from an earthquake that killed 18 people.
About 100 members of the Kadazan Dusun, the largest tribal group in the Malaysian state of Sabah, held the ritual in the state's Tamparuli district after a 5.1-magnitude aftershock shook the area on Saturday.
Villagers, still rattled after the original 6.0-magnitude quake on June 5 that was centred near the popular climbing peak of Mount Kinabalu, ran from their homes during the aftershock.
It was one of several to hit Sabah on Saturday and dozens since the original tremor.
A chief priestess of the tribe, Singkaban Kowii, told AFP they would try to get a mountain spirit to possess one of its shamans to better understand why the quakes were continuing.
Many in Sabah have blamed the earthquakes on a group of Western tourists who stripped off on 4,095m Mount Kinabalu - considered a sacred place - a week before the original earthquake.
Some say the act angered the spirits who are believed to dwell on the mountain, which is about 34km from the Tamparuli district.
"This is the first time we are doing this kind of special prayer, just for Mount Kinabalu," said the 75-year-old priestess, dressed in a colourful blue sarong and carrying a traditional dagger and amulet.
"We will communicate with the spirit and find out what is needed from us to stop the aftershocks and take care of the mountain."
A rooster was later killed in a ritual sacrifice.
Many of Borneo's tribes have converted to Christianity or Islam but retain ancient spiritual beliefs.
Four tourists - two Canadians, one Brit and one Dutch national - pleaded guilty to obscenity charges on Friday and were ordered to be deported from Malaysia.
Police said they flew to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday and were expected to leave the country soon after.
"We were very angry to hear about the naked tourists, but now we must do what is right to appease the spirits," said the chief priestess.
The June 5 earthquake sent landslides and boulders raining down just as more than 150 hikers were near the summit enjoying its sunrise views.
The 18 dead included seven schoolchildren from Singapore, along with two of their teachers and another adult, who were on a school excursion to the mountain.