Early Iban Way Of Life (Tusun Pendiau Iban Lama)
2. Taboos for Pregnancy & Birth
3. Confinement Period
4. Traditional Child Naming Procedure
5. Ceremonial Bathing of the child
6. Swinging and care for the Child
7. Carrying Gourds
8. Puberty Age
9. Learning to Work and Help in family chores
10. Attaining Bachelorhood and Spinsterhood
11. A Starting Period for a Girl to learn weaving and A Boy learn to work, learn about travel and going on war Expeditions.
12. Learning Proper Conduct by Children
13. Conduct of the Singles
14. The Work of an Iban Boy
15. The Work of an Iban Girl
17. Respect to the In-Laws
18. Table Manners
19. Manners While Passing Someone
20. Respect to Visitors
21. Manners While Using a Boat and Going Abroad
22. Respecting the Leaders
25. Extra Occupation
26. Sports, Favorite Past Times and Culture
27. As Leaders While Going Abroad And On War Expeditions
30. Farewell Rite
31. The Performance of Opening the Basket Containing Valuables Of The Deceased
32. A Small Festival of Taking the Property of the Deceased
33. A Grand Festival of The Dead & Taking the Property of the Deceased
Message to the readers:
This article is about an Iban way of life from their days of cradle hood to the hour of his death. This is to show the readers, in various stages, the events in life which the Ibans undergo during their life’s journey, their learning process, spiritual development, their moral values, self respect, their aspirations and the legacy they want to leave behind to their children as their ancestors have done before them. The articles here also covers the after life rites and rituals, where and how their last respect is being accorded. Other minor details about the daily life activities of Iban men and women, like hunting, fishing, gathering jungle produce or farming methods are mentioned but will not be detailed out in this article. Such activities are done to meet the basic needs of their daily life.
The readers are also reminded that the information on this article is not a complete detail of every aspect of Iban way of life. It is meant to provide general information and creating awareness to the readers of the type of people the Ibans are, contrary to the belief that they were portrayed as the fearless and brutal headhunters of Borneo in the past. The Ibans were and is still a race of its own, sharing common language and practicing common culture handed down over the generations. In their egalitarian society, they are guided by their own rules of law, code of ethic and conduct, council of elders for decision making, provide recognition based on individual performance and contribution to the community. The major setback is that the Ibans do not have any form of writing to record down their historical event, except for their rich oral tradition. Their cultural and historical background were preserved and passed on from one generation to the next in spoken stories and songs. They do not have a system of administration or government. Their local Chief is responsible for dispensing justice in consultation with local elders who have deep knowledge of local law, rules and regulation and have the experience in sorting out various conflicts. If their decision fails to settle their conflicts, it is often settled by diving under water rituals (kelam ai). This method is equivalent to letting God and supernatural beings to deliver judgment and serve justice. The past leaders prefer to use this mode to settle serious disputes to prevent bloodshed. Where past leaders failed to settle the disputes, it often escalates into bloody regional warfare. These brought about displacement to the lives of the affected party as in any other conflict torn country and retard their development. Present day lack of political unity due to conflicting influences among the Iban leaders has affected the development of Iban socio-economic development. Most leaders are seen as mere participant in the political process and not as the overall representation of the Iban agenda. If managed properly and objectively, the Ibans have vast resources to be tapped into and turned them into a prosperous and developed society.
The political strength of an Iban community in the past depends very much on their regional leader’s ability to foster alliances across different region or watershed and with Malay leaders from neighboring villages; otherwise the Ibans are very much divided regionally and politically. Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana “Bayang” of Padeh was one Paramount Iban Chief who can unite the Ibans from Rimbas, Paku, Layar, Padeh and Skrang watershed. It was during his time that the Ibans in those regions enjoyed political strength and will. They were able to put down and crush any threat to their regions. After he narrowly escaped an attack by marauding Balau Iban from Lingga while fishing for “buntal” fish at Tanjong Kauk in the Saribas River, he assembled a large fleet of his Saribas and Skrang Iban war boat to prepare for a major attack on all the Balau Iban settlement in the lower Batang Lupar River. He died a few months later and the impending attack was called off, otherwise it could have been one of the most devastating and tragic bloodshed between the two main Iban groups in Sarawak. Leadership crisis in the region ensued after that which led them to lose their political unity and strength. Soon, most of them submit to the Brooke rule. From then, they were used to clamp down rebellions led by other Iban chiefs or by other community.
Clearly the Iban leadership in the past lack the administrative capability or knowledge to establish, maintain and expand their influence. When they conquer their enemy’s territory, they did not occupy and administer their enemy’s land unless it is along the path of their migration route where they settle for a few farming years before setting out to migrate further again. They did not set up any administrative post nor do they set up any central government from where to administer their country. Their attacks on other settlement are purely for headhunting expedition, looting the vanquished of their material properties and rounding up slaves. The Ibans never attack merchant ships or practiced piracy as they do not have the boat nor the navigational knowledge or capability to do that in the high sea. They are only capable of raiding the settlement along the coast, river banks and interior enemy settlements. During the Brooke and British colonial rule, they failed to impose their political boundary or even negotiate for their political participation within both Governments. They were only a military instrument for both government to expand their political territories or interest. The Ibans were only quick to adopt and adapt to both western and eastern influences in their way of life and like to wander aimlessly (belelang) looking for individual fame and fortune.
From what have been written down in this article, especially on the ambitions of men and women in those pioneering and headhunting days, we shall be able to understand their aspiration at the time when our country was still sparsely populated, covered with virgin jungles and naturally untamed. The risks taken by our fore fathers in those days were high on any ventures. Decisions made were not out of fear, but for the sake of their children’s future. There is simply no place and time to be afraid. There were hazards from diseases brought by insects, plants and animals in addition to hazards posed by other human inhabitants of Borneo itself. To face such challenges, there is a lot of spiritual preparation needed to be done prior to going on an expedition or setting out on a journey. These includes looking for favorable dreams, omen birds and performing the associated offering rituals to seek blessing from their Gods and spirits for a safe and successful journey. The risk and uncertainties were so vast and success was never assured. The fruit of their success were hard earned by their blood, sweat and tears with the blessing of Gods and hard work. The land our ancestors have acquired must be fully utilized and properly developed if the Iban people want to progress and prosper in future. Their land is their only resources, asset and wealth, for without it, all the past efforts by their ancestors would be fruitless.
The Iban do not have the standard system of recognition for individual bravery. It was their sense of duty to bring back enemy heads to their longhouses as symbols of their bravery and prowess. This very often denotes their courage and their ability to be successful in facing other challenging ventures in life like farming and trading, either for personal socio-economic gain or for the success of the community in general. Their only recognition is in their status they enjoyed during major events like festivals and various religious rituals. They are honored with invitation to perform specific tasks during these events which would not be performed by others or which is considered taboo to be performed by other ordinary person. One such event is the consuming of freshly killed chicken or pig meat and organs on the open air verandah by the Raja Berani and Bujang Berani warriors during the Gawai Burong festival.
As Iban men like to out do each other in every aspect of life, they would be shame to return home empty handed when going out gathering fruits, hunting, and fishing or when traveling abroad searching for rubber, jars and other valuables. They must bring back food, money or material wealth such as valuable jars, cannons, various types of gong and brass boxes and kettles to add into their family’s properties. The acquiring of these properties showed that their ventures abroad had been fruitful. Their success will earn them the status, reputation and respects from other member of their society. Such competitive spirits have been very well nurtured in the early stage of their life. This has brought early maturity to the Iban children and thus they are able to recognise and take up their responsibility early.
Nowadays, these material wealth are no longer regarded as the prized possessions of the present generation except for their customary land which was acquired in those pioneering days. These customary lands have been regarded as a valuable possession and inheritance by the Iban in view of the development of commercial agriculture. This makes the Iban wealthy in term of the increasing value of land due to demand for commercial agriculture. Infact, their rights over these lands that were acquired by their ancestors in those pioneering days has been selfishly guarded by the Iban people and has been the subject of political issues by leaders of the present day local government. The other material wealth has become mere Iban family heirlooms. These have been replaced with the search for knowledge in schools with which to manage agricultural and commercial enterprises and sound knowledge to participate in the administration and development the country, to seek for jobs in urban areas, which is of greater importance to the present generation. But still, their success in their own field and life and properties owned will determine their status in their community as in those pioneering and headhunting days. That is why contemporary and cultured Iban will always seek to emulate the success of their forefathers or ancestors.
The term success here must not be construed to mean success acquired through criminal act like cheating or senseless murder just to obtain a reputation of being brave or being wealthy. The successes describe here is interpreted as genuine success through hard work, luck, willingness to take up risk and the result of one’s cleverness. As a very successful people, with reputation of good behavior, they are usually accorded the respect to perform important spiritual task as found in various Iban festivals like the “ngerandang jalai” by the Raja Berani or “ngelalau jalai” by the Bujang Berani and preparing the offerings (tukang nasak) performed during these major festivals. They were also accorded the respect of being seated among the council of elders during major discussions by the community leaders pertaining to anything of the community’s interest. Infact, their arrival at any major Iban festivals are considered as the arrival of Gods to grace the occasion. That is why “ngalu petara” ritual is performed after the very important guest have been seated and honored accordingly.
The Ibans have to be determined, keen, industrious and persevering if they are to successfully master the challenges of modern day living. They must emulate the pioneering spirit their forefathers, who have successfully fulfilled their aims or ambitions in search for new land in those pioneering and headhunting days. The same spirit must be preserved and used to face the challenges of modern day living.
To conclude, echoing late Benedict Sandin’s original acknowledgement, I wish to record his utmost gratitude in memory of his friends such as late Bidui anak Klanang, Matop, Paku; Mr. Juing Insoll, Padeh, Layar; Mr. Kawi anak Penghulu Chaong, Sabelak, Roban; late Penghulu Ugat anak Muli, Tanjong, Paku; and a former Curator of the Sarawak Museum, the late Tom Harrisson. They have exchanged views with him and have done a lot of research on the Ibans. Appreciation is also extended to late local historian and lemambang Bugak anak Duat who has given him various detailed accounts for publication in his book entitled “Tusun Pendiau Iban” from where this article have been extracted, translated and recompiled.
Original author “Tusun Pendiau Iban” Late Benedict Sandin K.M.N, P.B.S
Originally translated to English by Prof. Clifford Sather, 1976.
Recompiled for weblog publication by Gregory Nyanggau Mawar, 2007.
The main symptom which makes an Iban woman aware of being pregnant is when she no longer has her menstruation. She is certain that she is pregnant if, during the following month she still does not have her period, she then begins to calculate her pregnancy as from the first month of her not having the menstruation. By the time the pregnancy is reasonably advanced, she has cravings for certain foods, especially sour fruits.
2. TABOOS FOR PREGNANCY & BIRTH:
During the seventh month of her pregnancy, the woman and her husband begin to observe taboos. Some of the taboos are:
- They must not cut creepers which grow over water and roads as it will mean that the wife will suffer from hemorrhage while giving birth.
- They are prohibited from building a dam (tekat ai) as found in wet paddy fields and fish traps, making a lashing for the head of an axe (nyimpai beliong) and driving a nail (ngelantak paku) as in carpentry work, otherwise she will have a difficult labor.
- The wife is forbidden to pour oil on her palms for oiling her hair for it means that her child will have overflowing ears (tuli) as in ear infections.
- Both husband and wife are prohibited from wedging the handle of a knife (ngemalau duku) otherwise their child will be born deaf (bengal).
- They are not allowed to break an egg for if it is done it means that the child will go blind (buta).
- They must not plant banana tree because to do so, they will have a child with a big head.
- They must not slaughter animals or birds as it can result in their child being deformed (menawa) and suffering from a bleeding nose.
- They must not pile up coconut shells as it means that their child will be bald headed (lasu).
- Turtle (either as pet or caught for food) is prohibited entry into their room because it can mean that the child will not be born.
- They are not allowed to dye anything with the leaves of a tarum tree (indigo plant) as this can result in their child having a very dark skin complexion.
- Whenever the pregnant woman goes to another place, she must return by using the same route so that her child will be born through the normal passage.
- The man and his wife are not allowed to eat anything inside a mosquito net as this can mean that their child will get stuck in the womb during birth.
- They are prohibited from carrying a stone on their backs otherwise their child will be born paralysed.
- The couple will not touch a corpse because they fear that their child will be deformed by fainting.
- After the child is born, the father will still not want to seal the leaks on a roof or make a dam if the mother is still suffering from hemorrhage.
- All other taboos are no longer observed besides the serious ones which are to be maintained until the child is able to suck its own toes.
A child is usually carried in a woman’s womb for nine months and nine days. Soon after the child is born, people who assembled there start to beat the bamboo that has served as a container in cooking (papong tengkiong). Nowadays, a gun is fired. The purpose is to startle the new born child into crying. When the umbilical cord has been cut off the child is then given his first bath. Later, the baby is wrapped with swaddling clothes, and is laid down under a hand-woven blanket (pua kumbu).
While the baby is being nursed, other women who have wide experiences in maternity care will massage the mother so that her affected organs will be reverted to their original positions. After that is done her whole body is then rubbed with pounded ginger after which the mother’s abdomen is wrapped with a well trimmed bark of a tekalong tree.
3. CONFINEMENT PERIOD:
Soon after the mother’s abdomen has been wrapped, she is made to sit beside a fire. She is given three mouthfuls of rice just after she has taken her seat. During this period, the mother eats rice together with smoked fish, ferns (paku kubuk) and breadfruit, but all these foods are mixed with ginger juice. She also takes a lot of ginger juice or cooked slices of ginger to keep her body warm.
She will then sit by the fire place (bakindu) after childbirth which normally takes about forty-one days. To calculate the number of days she undergoes during her confinement, a pole is marked with lime (kapu) for each day she completed. The marking on the pole is done because in the past the Ibans had no calendar. Nowadays, because all people are literate, the counting of days for such period is based on a calendar, like other races. The type of firewood used to warm her will depend on where she lives. If she lives upriver, she is asked to use firewood from the malam, lensat, or manding trees.
Soon after the umbilical cord of a new born baby peels off, which is normally about four to five days following its birth, the child is brought by his grandmother or an elderly lady of the longhouse to the open air platform so that the child will look up into the sky (nengkadah hari) for the first time. When the baby looks up the elderly lady then puts a grain of salt on his lips. This is followed by the lady’s simple invocation thus:
Where are you, God,
Where are you, Ini Inda,
Who lives at the peak of the land, (tuchong Rabong menoa)
Where are you, Ini Inee,
Who dwell at the zenith of the day? (nangga hari)
Where are you Serangindit,
Maker of the sky in the shape of embawang lanja (a kind of sour fruit)?
Please watch, observe, protect and guard our grandchild.
Confer on him luck and vision.
Let him be famous and widely known in this world.
Let him be healthy, prosperous, rich and wealthy.
Long may he live says Sentuku,
Let him be healthy says Selampandai,
Keep him sound and well, says God. “
4. TRADITIONAL CHILD NAMING PROCEDURE:
In olden days, the Ibans were in no haste in naming their child. When a child is still very young they are normally called ulat (literally means worm). When the parents name their child in accordance with the Iban tradition, they contact their close relatives so that they may be able to help trace and select their late grandparents’ names. The child, according to the Iban tradition, is to be named after their great grandparents. They do not want to name their child after the grandparents who have died dishonorably, such as those died owing to lunacy, suicide, drinking the liquid of the roots of poisonous creeping plant (tubai), giving birth, or having succumbed to wound injuries, falling from a tree, or being caught by crocodile.
After the parents have chosen several names, they would roll the rice into small lumps which they place on a piece of plank. The quantity of lumps made represent the number of names being selected. A special fowl (manok tawai) is then allowed to peck at anyone of the rice lump which bears the name-to-be for the child. Whichever name represented by the lump that the fowl pecks at will be the name for the child.
5. CEREMONIAL BATHING OF THE CHILD:
Following the traditional naming of the child, the parents begin to think of giving the child a ceremonial bath at a river. Unless this is done with offerings, the child cannot yet be merely allowed to be bathed at the river. On the eve of the festival, the child’s father must get his longhouse mates to assemble at his common room, and inform them of the proposed celebration. All the people at the longhouse are requested to be at home the following day to observe the ceremony. Those who stay at their farm huts are also called back for the occasion.
Early the following morning, the longhouse dwellers start to go down to the river in a procession led by a flag-bearer. He is immediately followed by a man who carries a fowl. The two men are chosen from the influential personality of the longhouse because the flag-bearer will be tasked to slice the water with a nyabor sword (other type of traditional sword would be used if nyabor sword is not available) while the man who carries the fowl will recite an invocation prior to the slicing of the water.
Note: Nyabor sword is the ultimate Iban warrior’s weapon that can only be made by those warriors who have killed an enemy in battle. It is considered a taboo for ordinary people to make such weapon. It’s special identity is the “Butoh Kunding” design at the ricasso lower shoulder of the sword.
They are followed by two women, walking in line one after the other. The first lady bears offerings while the second carries the baby in a sling with a hand woven blanket (pua kumbu belantan or lebor api). These two women are also selected from among the most productive and fortunate breed amongst the longhouse ladies. Next in line are the other ordinary people and they are immediately followed by those who continuously beat the musical percussion throughout the event. Their purpose is to drown away any sound made by unfavorable omen birds during the ceremony.
On arrival at the river, the appointed man starts to recite the following invocation:
“Where are you, Seragindi, the maker of water?
Where are you, Seragindah, the creator of earth?
Where are you, Seragindong, the maker of cape?
Where are you, Seragindee, the creator of day?
Where are you, Seragindit, the maker of sky?”
“This morning we are giving so and so (the child’s name is then mentioned at this juncture) a bath in accordance with our tradition. We beseech thee to confer on him fortune, Give him sharp vision, So that he will be fortunate and wealthy in his life.”
“Where are you the king of fish, the king of gemian (a kind of sea fish).
Where are you the king of semah, the king of tapah (two kinds of river fish).
Where are you the king of soft shelled turtle, the super natural king of turtle.
Where are you, the king of barbus macrolepidoius, the king of fish called kulong?
Where are you the king of crocodile, the king of soft-shelled turtle?”
“If in future if this child, grandchildren of ours, happens to capsize and sink, when he is on his journey, We beseech thee to lift him up and keep him afloat, so that he can convalesce and recuperate and free from any danger and risk.”
“Oh Hoi! Oh Hoi! Oh Hoi!
Sa, Dua, Tiga, Empat, Lima, Enam, Tuuuuuuujoh.
Ni kita Seragindi ke dulu ngaga ai ke bepati enda sebaka nanga?
Ni kita Seragindah ke dulu ngaga tanah ke betingkah nyadi kerapa?
Ni kita Seragindong ke dulu ngaga tanjong betuntong dua?
Ni kita Seragindie ke dulu ngaga hari ke terunji petang kelita?
Ni kita Seragindit ke dulu ngaga langit nungkat neraja?
Nyadi pagi tu kami meri bala anak kami mandi.
Kami endang nitih ka pekat, nitih ka adat.
Kami endang nitih ka adat kelia, adat menya.
Kami endang nitih ka adat aki, nitih ka adat ini kami.
Nya alai kami minta sida iya bidik, minta sida lansik.
Kami minta sida kaya, minta sida raja,
Kami minta sida iya jelai rita, tampak nama.
Kami minta sida lantang, minta sida senang.
Kami minta sida iya pandai, jauh pejalai.
Ni kita Raja Ikan, Raja Gamian?
Ni kita Raja Tapah, Raja Semah?
Ni kita Raja Adong, Raja Kulong?
Ni kita Raja Genali, Raja Lelabi?
Ni kita Raja Gumba, Raja Baya?
Kami ngasoh kita nyaga, ngasoh kita ngemata,
Kami ngasoh kita meda, ngasoh kita ngila,
Ngasoh kita ngiching, ngasoh kita merening,
Ngasoh kita nyukong, ngasoh kita nulong.
Nyangka ka dudi hari ila anak telesak,
Uchu ambu kami tu bisi bejalai, bisi nyemberai,
bisi karam, bisi tengelam.
Kami minta kita nanggong,
minta kita melepong ka sida.
Kami ngasoh kita nyagu,
minta kita ngintu sida.
Awak ka sida pulai nyamai, pulai gerai,
Pulai lantang, pulai senang,
Pulai nadai apa, nadai nama.”
Upon the conclusion of reciting the invocation, the flag-bearer then slices the water with his knife, symbolizing the child’s life will be blessed, pure and flow continuously until it reaches its final destination. He then slaughters a fowl a bit further upstream from the spot where the woman is bathing the baby so that the fowl blood may flow towards the child.
When the child is being bathed, the onlookers hilariously make a lot of noise. At this juncture, the gongs are not normally beaten loudly but if the children wish to hit them hard, they are permitted to do so in order to drown any of the sounds made by omen birds, which are either ominous or foretell good fortune.
After the baby has been bathed, and if he is a boy, one of the wings of the slaughtered fowl is then hung on to a shaft of a multi-pronged spear (gansai), tied with a red ribbon. If the baby is a girl, the wing is fastened on to a heddle rod used by ladies in their weaving work. Placed near to the wing of the fowl is the offering which is being put inside a rough bamboo basket (Kalingkang), and hung from the top of the bamboo that still bears leaves.
The people return home after the ceremony held beside the river is over. On their way back, the procession maintain the same order as before. The gongs are being played loudly to avoid hearing the sounds made by omen birds.
On arrival at the longhouse, the child, is wrapped up and held by the mother in her lap as she sits on a large gong placed at the middle of the gallery. A Bebiau ceremony then conducted to cast away any bad omen and to bless the child. The child is then sprinkled with water. The water which the child is being sprinkled with is the water of a stone crystal (batu kuai) that possesses the power to wipe out bad omens brought about by the omen birds. This stone crystal is placed on a large antique china plate together with dollars coins, a gold ring and rain water poured on the same plate.
After the casting away of bad omen and the water sprinkling ceremony is over, the people then begin to eat various kinds of food and drinks prepared by the host like buns, rice wine, liquor and other traditional food. Later, a luncheon is held at the child’s family gallery for the guest and this is termed as the child’s bathing ceremony luncheon.
6. SWINGING AND CARE FOR THE CHILD:
When the child approaches six months old, he is swung by his elder sister or grandmother who looks after him. At this age, the child’s mother can leave him behind in order to work at the farm and other places which are quite near to their longhouse. She does not normally go far because she still need to breast feeding her child.
When the elder sister or grandmother swings the child, the lullabies they sing are worded nicely, depending very much on how talented they are. If the baby is a boy, they wish him to become a strong, agile, active and brave warrior during war expeditions. For a baby girl, they wish her to become a woman with a flair for creating and experimenting new designs and patterns, and an expert in weaving blankets as those are the qualities that would speak well of Iban women.
According to Iban custom, the child will sleep with their parents until another child is born. Following the birth of the child’s younger sister or brother, he/she will sleep with the grandparents.
7. CARRYING GOURDS:
Traditionally, a daughter is termed as “just learning to carry gourds” when she is six years of age. This term is commonly used by an Iban whenever anyone asks about the age of his or her daughter. This means that the girl is beginning to be groomed and not yet matured to take up her own responsibilities.
As for the boys, “just know how to fasten his loin-cloth” (baru sirat-leka’) is a usual term to describe a boy’s age at this stage; that is to say, at times he may wish to put his loin-cloth on, and occasionally he prefers to go about naked as he does not yet know how to feel shy.
During this period, boys and girls play together. They enjoy playing with durian, fern and yam leaves and hold contests between themselves by using these leaves. They play somewhere in the bushes near to their longhouse, at the former site of their longhouse (tembawai lama) or just at the playground on the main entrance to the longhouse (tengah laman). At this age too, they began to hear stories, fables and tales from their grandparents. The story of Apai Aloi (well known for his foolishness) was a very popular story for the kids besides the stories of mousedeer and tortoise (known for their cunning characters).
8. PUBERTY AGE:
A daughter begins to sleep alone at the age of ten. From the time she sleeps by herself, her parents prepare a beautiful bed for her to sleep on to show that they have an unmarried daughter. In olden days, if she was the daughter of a local leader, that was the time when she lived in seclusion (anak umbong), and was looked after by her female slaves. She was kept thus until she was married. In seclusion, she is taught the art of weaving as other children of he age do. She is not taught how to cook as all these are all done by her slaves and is expected to be the same during her married life. Her husband will be selected among the warriors who has proven themselves in battle and who is wealthy (Raja Berani). This is to ensure that the family continues to enjoy high social status and recognition in the future. This tradition is not practiced by the modern Iban society as all the female children are sent to school where they mixed and share knowledge with people from all walks of life. Putting them in seclusion would jeopardize their learning for their own future undertakings. Infact education and hard work has been the key for a successful modern Iban to meet the challenges in the contemporary society. This, the Ibans have been adapting very well to the changes around them. They are not bounded by any social order that impair their freedom of movement, choices or even religious commitment. To them, the world is a big playground. It is no wondered that Iban children are found working or residing in all four corners of the world searching for their fame and fortune. Some of them have come back for retirement and tell the Iban children about their venture overseas. The Iban children have always been fascinated by these stories and would dream of going overseas when they grow up.
A boy of similar age will not separate himself from his parents to sleep at the gallery if there is no other bachelor sleeping nearby. It has been a long established Iban tradition that if a boy is about to attain his bachelorhood, he is asked by his father to undergo circumcision. This is not a ceremonial event although it is a must for Iban boys. In fact, it is done secretly. Iban boys consider circumcision as a must because it is considered a healthy practice and they do not wish to be branded as being uncircumcised (kulup) which indicates cowardice.
9. LEARNING TO WORK AND HELP IN FAMILY CHORES:
An Iban girl is being taught how to cook, pound and husk rice by her mother or grandmother when she attains the age of seven or eight. First and foremost, this is done to ensure that she can quickly learn how to help her family, and secondly, it will familiarize her with the responsibilities that a girl is supposed to handle in her future life like preparing for family meals (mela makai), tend to their children (baribun), fetching drinking water (nyauk), keeping the house clean and tidy (bakemas), help in the farm work, weaving work and many others.
Women have their own role to play in an Iban community and it is not confined only to their home. They have as much outdoor activities too as part of their contribution to the family welfare and community work. They would go out fishing, looking for bamboo shoot or fern together. Naturally, they would enjoy the jokes or share some gossips in the process. Some heavier physical activities are done together with the men, like gathering fruits and jungle products for domestic use and harvesting of the bee hives.
A boy of the same age learns how to pile branches on the family’s farm land (tugong kebak) which has not yet been properly burnt. He does not yet know how to fetch firewood because he is still not taught how to use an axe or a hatchet to fell, chopped and split the wood. He only begins to accompany his father in going into a jungle to observe how other people do their work there. He might be tasked to carry only the minor tools and small equipment used for the elders.
At the age of thirteen, a girl will start to learn the art of mat-weaving. Initially, she learns how to weave a small basket (raga’, baka’) and other types of simple weaving pattern which her mother and grandmother can easily teach her.
A boy of her age starts practicing to split firewood with an axe or hatchet, learn to climb and learn craftsmanship like making and fixing fish net (pukat, jala), fish trap (bubu), darts (laja’) for their blowpipes, split rattan vines, learn martial arts (kuntau, pencha, bibat) and traditional dances (ngajat) and songs (renong) and many other skills which will be useful in their later life. At this age too, they will start to hear and appreciate many stories of their past ancestors and learn to recite their genealogy.
10. ATTAINING BACHELORHOOD AND SPINSTERHOOD:
At the age of fourteen, a boy begins to attain his bachelorhood. His parents teach him to behave and speak politely to others. He also learn to court girls together with older bachelors. Courting girls at night (ngayap) has been an Iban traditional dating method to look for suitable partner and pave the way for their future love. Hence, they must learn the polite manners in approaching the girl of their heart.
The bachelors must learn to establish and maintain their good reputation by paying due respect to the girls’ bed. They ought to be considerate with other people who are sleeping without disturbing them from their dreams. In addition, they should walk quietly along the verandah, which was very difficult to do in the dark for the nervous and the inexperienced. The wooden floors surfaces were mostly uneven with a lot of loose domestic items lying around the corners, or hanging from deer antlers tied to the posts or hanging on loose bamboo beams.
This courting activity is also a test of the young boys’ courage and maturity as they have to travel at night through forest, crossing rivers or swamps to reach the girls’ longhouse. In the headhunting days, this kind of travel could be a very risky affair as they could fall upon a band of marauding enemies. So they are trained to exercise extreme caution to keep them on guard against untoward incident. These include keeping themselves adequately armed, be alert of danger and are prepared for action at all time in their travel. They were also taught to properly identify themselves should they meet other people in their journey.
This nightly travel by the bachelors is also treated as an inter longhouse night security petrol by the community. Any sign of danger detected, these bachelors could give early warning to the community. This would give them time to respond to these emergencies and quell any surprise attacks by enemies. For this reason, ngayap was encouraged as part of the Iban culture and treated as an important early learning and social interaction process for their children. Though there is no set of established rules to this tradition, common understanding by the community at large have accepted this traditional courtship as part of the Iban way of life. There has been no reported incident of property stolen or damaged and fatality incident in the history of the Saribas Iban society due to ngayap activities.
On the other hand, for the girls who aim high or those who have been properly counseled by their parents, they will automatically know how to recognise certain behavior of a suitor to be entertained. The boys who have been ill-cultured and talked boisterously are to be avoided as the girls normally abhor boys who have been badly groomed.
In their conversation with girls whom they court, many boys say that they wish to marry them, or tell the spinsters that their arrivals are made through the requests of their parents to ask for their hands in marriage. On hearing such proposals, the girls must think profoundly. Perhaps the declarations can turn to be mere tricks to induce the girls to offer themselves to the boys. At this juncture, many girls like to test the boys by telling them that they have as yet, no intentions of getting married unless these lads have shown their manly qualities like participating in venturing abroad to search for fame and fortune.
In the old days, when there were many enemies around, spinsters usually declared their refusals to get married unless Iban bachelors had killed enemies and taken their heads. Due to such encouragement on the part of the girls, the male Ibans in those days were rarely found not to have gone abroad or joining a war expeditions because they feared that they could not easily obtain suitable wives. Any man who spent his entire life in his own longhouse was usually labeled as a coward who could, as the women termed it, “put on a woman’s sarong”. Hence, they found it difficult to marry high profile (clever and skillful) girls, unless they are not aware of his true qualities.
Moreover, when a girl reaches maturity, and if there is a suitor, her parents will arrange for her to settle down. Normally, an Iban girl marries when she is seventeen years of age. When a girl attains her spinsterhood, her mother teaches her the ways employed to protect her. She must be taught to behave and speak courteously to boys who court her at night. She is aware that it has been a tradition for a boy to court a girl. However, the question of getting her to offer herself to the boy depends very much on the girl herself, because he cannot force her to give consent unless they love each other through his kindness and winning ways. These are secretly explained to her by her mother. The mother also emphasizes the methods in which her daughter can judge whether or not the boy is sincere enough to marry her.
11. A STARTING PERIOD FOR A GIRL TO LEARN WEAVING; A BOY LEARNING TO WORK, LEARNING ABOUT TRAVEL AND GOING ON WAR EXPEDITIONS:
At the age of seventeen, an Iban girl is being taught by her mother and grandmother to weave. She is trained to weave a sarong, basket and mats starting with simple patterns. She is taught how to select the raw materials used and how to process them into quality materials they used for their weaving work. All the tools and equipment she used will be made for her by her parents. These tools or equipment are intricately designed for her to show their love, care and encouragement. This she will keep and preserved for as long as she lives.
As for the boy, this is the time for him to gain more knowledge by listening to the elders. He must learn to sit and listen to the elders. He is also taught how to speak properly and politely in front of people. People can easily judge their character from the manner they speak. As an Iban saying goes, “Buah dikelala ari langgu, Basa dikelala ari jako” (which literally means “a good fruit is recognized from its young, a good behavior is recognized from the manner one speaks”). He also begins to take an interest in interpreting omens brought about by birds, and dreams with which people secure their reputation and various oratory skill. He also has greater interest in the art of foretelling other omens brought about by birds while on the journeys to war expeditions and traveling abroad.
The boy learn and encourages himself to join a war expeditions and to travel to other countries after he has gained sufficient knowledge through listening to the elders. He wishes to carve a name for himself and be known to have brought back luxuries while abroad, and or obtained enemies’ heads as a proof of his bravery during the expeditions.
The main reason why the demand for jars, cannons, gongs and other luxuries among the male Ibans is so great in those days is because money was not used to act as a medium of exchange. Should a man be fined by the council of elders or government (during Brooke era), and if he has no jar or property made of brass to pay the fine, he would be subject to slavery (a very low class status detested most by early Ibans and abolished by the Brooke and Colonial government) or be sent to jail. Even for an Iban to have been jailed for various crimes committed, the Iban society will find it difficult to accept anybody of such reputation. Their parents would be ashamed of them as they are responsible for grooming their children. That is why any decent Iban who wants to enjoy the respect and status in their society, would avoid going to jail for whatever reason, as they would be despised or sidelined by their society.
During the pre-Brooke era, the Ibans were still loyal to their own regional or local leaders. If a man committed a crime like wrongful killing or incestuous marriage and could not pay the fine, after discussing with their council of elders, their leader would declare him or her a slave. This would descent his status in the society no mater what previous social background or status that they have enjoyed in the past. Obviously, it brought shame to the affected family and no one would want to be associated to that family.
Acquiring enemy heads played equal importance to the Iban men. In those early days when there were many hostile enemies and when men were expected to be responsible to defend their own area from being attacked by enemies, beautiful and worthy girls did not normally wish to marry a man what they termed as “cowards”. Acquiring enemy head in a war expedition would automatically give an Iban man a recognition and status they seek.
Apart from these two ambitious projects, a boy of seventeen is very keen to compete against other lads of similar ages in building boats, designing and making knives, lashing for the head of an axe, and rims for a hat and basket. He also wishes to excel in hunting and fishing.
At, this age, the boy also does a lot of research into genealogies so that he will be able to know his own relationship with other people, and not to misbehave unnecessarily. All boys of his age learn about customs in respect of the farm, longhouse and other traditions which may be useful to them in their lives. They even learn the position of stars to guide them in their farming year.
12. LEARNING PROPER CONDUCT BY CHILDREN:
Since their childhood a boy and girl are trained by their parents and grandparents to show respect, especially to those from their own longhouse, either in their words or deeds. A person who shows respect to others is complimented as a well-mannered man because he cares to be courteous as customary practices. Criticisms and abhorrence would go to those who are overbearing, misbehaving and talking boisterously.
Clothing is just as important as conduct. No matter how well-built a person is, if he is not properly dressed he will not appear to be smart. It also applies to one’s behavior. Even though one is wealthy or high-ranking, devoid of manners, he is worthless without good manner. In the past, because the elders believed in good manners they equipped their children with sufficient advice so that they will bear respect for others and earn respect for themselves as well. Unless he is a courteous person, no one will respect him.
13. LEARNING THE PROPER CONDUCT OF THE SINGLES:
According to Iban custom, it is bad for a bachelor to spend most of his time sleeping inside his room (bilik) or at the loft. This is mainly because the unmarried man is supposed to be an able-bodied character of the longhouse. He is expected to protect women and children from being attacked by enemies, bandits, thieves and other kinds of trouble that befall the longhouse. If the bachelors (or other men) spend too much time in his room unnecessarily, he is bound to be criticized by people as being lazy and worthless.
A spinster’s place is her private room, weaving, preparing food, keeping the living room neat and tidy. She is seldom seen loitering outside the family room unless calling her father and brothers for breakfast, lunch and dinner or seen returning from farm work, fetching water or taking a bath in the river, pounding or milling rice and few other chores that requires her to be seen outside their apartment. These chores are done in the company of other ladies who would be doing similar chores of their own. It is considered ill-mannered for them to be seen too often outside their apartment and among the company of men.
14. WORK OF AN IBAN BOY:
As soon as he has reached puberty, an Iban boy’s father and grandfather train him to be attentive in his work, and teach him ways of preserving the family’s properties, either at home or on the field. While learning to make a place for offering at their farm, he is also taught by his father or grandfather to take pains in erecting a good shed so that it will be a comfortable shelter for sharpening knives. After the offering ceremony is over, he is taught to build a nice resting place for the felling season so that they will have a snug shed to rest on during break time or after a hard days work.
To make branches burn well when the burning season comes, they have to be thoroughly chopped following the felling season. During the planting season, heaps of the timber left unburnt in the first firing of farmland has to be properly laid so that all of them will be burnt thoroughly. To prevent mice from returning to their nests inside the unburned timber when the padi grows up, those timbers will have to be burnt again.
Immediately following the sowing season, the boy is instructed to fence up his farm to prevent wild pigs and deer from coming to destroy the padi. When he fetches materials for the fence, he is prohibited to drag these or creeping plants near to the border of the farm, as it may foretell the monkeys to come and spoil the crops. The construction of the fence will also teach an Iban boy the boundary of his land to avoid encroaching into other people’s land which has become a major reason for land dispute amongst the Iban people.
He is forbidden from walking or standing up when he eats something or splitting anything on the farm throughout the farming cycle. These acts were believed to attract monkeys to come into the farm and imitate the same behavior, thus destroying the crops.
When harvest is approaching the boy is asked to make a large sieve properly, make rims for baskets or prepares cutters for reaping the padi, and finding cords for baskets used in the harvesting and bringing the padi home. After harvesting and treading, the padi is then dried in the open air verandah.
When the padi has been well dried, it is further processed to get rid of the empty husk. The good grains are then stored inside a large bin (tibang) made from the bark of a tree. A simple ritual of rubbing the bin with oil, giving offering and blessing by waving a fowl over it before the padi is put into it is performed. The fowl has to be killed and the blood is used to smear the offering. Some of its feathers are inserted in between the rims of the bin. During the process of storing the padi, myrrh is also burnt to fumigate padi charms such as horns of samba deer (tandok rusa) and the tusks of pigs (taring uting).
With regard to the conservation of fruit trees and lands, an Iban son is being taught by his father and grandfather to tell which fruit trees belong to them by clearing the grass and shrubs around them. Further more, his father and grandfather will advise him to grow fruit trees so that his children will not envy others during fruit seasons. Because of these, the Ibans like to grow fruit trees around and near their longhouse which will later become their community’s properties.
An Iban boy is also taught to look after his clothes and costumes carefully to ensure that they are in good conditions all the time. They are taught the importance of good personality, proper conduct and proper portrayal of oneself during various occasions. The nature of his dress depends very much on how grand the festival or occasion is. If it is not a grand festival, he will put on a less attractive dress, but for a big occasion he present himself with his best dress.
The Iban boys are also tasked to look after their family’s inner and outer most galleries. They must ensure that the mats laid there are constantly cleaned off debris and well kept and be ready for visitors at all time. Their galleries are to be treated with respect as it is their own resting place, where they perform their domestic tasks, where they gather around to learn various oratory skills, exchange knowledge and experience and entertain their guest. That is why Iban visitors will never walk along neither of those galleries when they come to visit someone in the longhouse, but walk quietly along the five foot way (tempuan) of the longhouse. The boys are taught to treat their visitors with respect as they bring news, opportunities and knowledge to them. When visitors pass by their galleries, the boys are taught to politely invite the visitor to sit down at their gallery.
His parents advise their son to be thrifty soon after he knows how to get about with his colleague of the same age. They tell him that money is not so easy to earn and must be spent wisely. He must not be extravagant and spend his money on gambling or engage in bad drinking habits as this will create health and social problems for himself when he grows old with no financial security. A man will live in peace and prosperity through being careful with himself. He will reduce his family to destitution if he is too extravagant, inconsiderate and lavish in his spending.
If a man goes abroad, the money which he earns during his travel are used to buy souvenir to remind him of the trip. Most Iban men in the early days are fascinated by valuables like jars and brassware. All these can be seen adorning the rooms of the Iban longhouses in Sarawak. They have become the family’s heirlooms which their descendent kept as momentous.
To the Ibans who adhere to the old customs, cock-fighting does not bring them any harm. An Iban boy is taught to recognise the different colorations of a fighting cock. He is taught to select the best breed, how to look after it and train it to fight. In this manner, an Iban boy learns to love and respect other living thing. He learns to appreciate beauty and chivalrous behaviors. There is also spiritual and religious fulfillment tied to it, which is the principal source of chivalrous behaviors adopted by the Iban warriors in the early days. This source goes into their mythic past in the days of Gods, spirits, demons, the living and the dead.
15. THE WORK OF AN IBAN GIRL:
A girl is being groomed to work attentively soon after she has reached her puberty. The first thing that her mother and grandmother teach her is to be careful when preparing for the family meal. All food made from rice must be handled with care. When scooping and cleaning the rice grain onto the cooking pot, they must prevent the grain from falling to the floor. The main reason for this is to protect the rice souls from being disturbed by wasteful devils (Antu Rua) and all food prepared will go to waste easily.
Next her mother and grandmother advise her to be careful with her own clothes. She must know which type of clothes to use when she is working in the field, when she is at home, and when she is attending celebrations. If she is going to participate in a celebration, she should put on smarter clothes. Thus, she will know the right kind of dress for the appropriate occasion. More importantly, however, a spinster and a bachelor are taught to keep their bodies and clothes clean. This is also one of the main reasons why the Iban are the riverine dweller. They need water for communication as well as for their daily domestic hygiene. Every longhouse has their own landing and bathing place which is respected by every passerby and very well maintained by the resident.
Furthermore, if there are visitors of her own gender, she is taught to be polite when inviting them to her room. Her room must be kept clean and tidy at all time so that her visitors will be able to appreciate it and hence judge her character. She must take great care while talking to other women.
The girl’s mother and grandmother will also advise her to be careful with their family’s heirloom and property. She should oil and clean the jars at least once a month. This is done with due respect to Anda Mara (god of wealth) and Simpulang Gana (god of agriculture) who are the sources of wealth for the Iban people. They are taught that if they are attentive and respectful to them, these Gods could bless them with more material wealth, thus raised their status and reputation in the society.
A girl is also trained to keep the family room clean and tidy. She should quickly dispose of all rubbish and dirt if she sees them. All utensils must be properly looked after by her, too. To avoid visitors feeling disgusted at seeing holes, rubbish or wet spots on the old mats while eating at their bilik, she should, therefore, spread out only the good and clean ones. She will be despised as not giving sufficient care to the cleanliness of the room if it appears to be badly maintained.
A girl should take similar precautions as those taken by a boy when dealing with anything on their farm. However, if the family is short of any supplies, she is in a position to know better and will subsequently inform any man in her family to immediately buy, fetch or find that particular shortage.
It is not advisable for a girl to participate in cock-fighting. Cock-fighting is not intended for girls though it is not wrong for them to do something else at the cock-fighting arena like selling food and drinks. Other than that, an Iban girl usually refrain herself from going to cock-fighting arena. In Iban legend, the only undefeatable fighting cock was kept by the legendary Iban heroine named Kumang, inside their family’s heirloom. It is only released for contest to save her husband, Keling from humiliating defeat in the hands of their arch rivals who was also their arch enemies.
As far as achieving knowledge is concerned, (like a boy who should know how to sing their traditional songs such as pengap, sugi, renong, timang jalong, kana, timang kenyalang,) a girl should also learn how to recite dirge (sabak), lullaby, nyangkah (song for the reception of heads) and other types of ritual chants mainly meant for girls. If an Iban boy or girl abolish these folksongs, such an act is termed as “stripping their own community naked”, thus causing them to lose their own culture. A race without culture is a race that lost its direction (tesat pendiau) and its sense of purpose for its existence.
Nowadays, however, the Ibans are more academically educated. They are very much aware of the importance of preserving their own culture, which cannot be redeemed once it is lost. There are some who completely discarded their cultures after embracing other religions and thus lost their identity as an Iban if they do not co-exist culturally. However, with the rapid development of information technology and electronic communication, some individual efforts to preserve these historical and cultural data have been initiated sporadically. It is therefore important for the Ibans of the present generation to have a very keen interest in studying their own culture which is still widely known and admired even by western society.
The main consideration taken by Iban parents when arranging for the marriage of their son depends very much on the number of people in their family. If there are many people in the family then the son can be asked to marry much later, unless there is a shortage of men within the family.
At about the age twenty-two and twenty-three years, a boy’s parents usually arrange for his marriage. The marriage is arranged for their son at this age because he is considered matured enough to start his own family life.
The methods practiced by the Ibans when arranging for the marriage of their son are as follows. The girl whom the parents want their son to marry will be the one who has a close relationship with them. They normally prefer their son’s first cousin. If their son has no first cousin of marriageable age, his parents will try to seek second or third cousins who are of matrimonial ages. This again depends on the number of relatives they have at that time.
After they have found a suitable girl, they will give hints to her parents. They will go to the girl’s longhouse to ask for her hand in marriage if their hints carry weight. Normally, several people, including women make this mission. During that mission, both parents discussed the form of marriage customs to be used if what they ask is favorably accepted by the girl’s side. When they have finished discussing the matter, the boy’s parents then leave behind a silver girdle or sword to affirm their agreement. They also fix the wedding date.
On their return to their longhouse a few days after the mission, the boy’s parents will assemble the people of the longhouse at their gallery where they will announce the upcoming event. They will also tell them the date and time fixed for the wedding. After they have told their longhouse mates of the wedding plan, they will try to earn money and prepare all the things which they would have to prepare and provide for the occasion.
On the girl’s side, after they have held a meeting they will prepare themselves for the wedding day. Their preparation is more elaborate as their longhouse will be hosting the event. They prepare rice wine, make flour buns and select domestic animals such as buffalo, cow or pig for slaughter to prepare for the wedding feast.
Four or five days before the wedding day, the girl’s parents will assemble their longhouse mates again to find out their preparations to receive their guest for the occasion. They will select which other longhouses to be invited in the wedding celebrations. After they have agreed on this issue, two persons are appointed to invite people from the longhouses concerned. One of them goes upstream while the other, downstream. They bring along with them, strings with knots folded on it. The number of knots indicates the number of days left for the wedding day. These knotted strings are distributed to each invited longhouses. The knots on the strings have to be unfolded daily by the invited guest. The day when the last knot on each string is unfolded will be the day for all the guests to turn up for the wedding. Everyone, irrespective of their ages is asked to attend the wedding.
On the wedding day, the boy’s parents come by boat which they cover with woven blankets. This applies to cases where a river is the only means of communication. If they are from the different watershed, they would walk cross country to the bride’s longhouse.
On arrival at the host boat landing place, the guest took their bath at the host bathing place. When they have finished bathing they put on their best fanciful traditional costumes. The girls wear corsets, large bracelets, and rings with silver coins over the corsets, large combs with arabesques inscribed on them, and scarves. These are described in the Iban songs translated as follows:
“The women put on the sarong of monotypic designs,
That resembles the bambang fruit.
Then they put on their silver bracelets,
This shines as if they have just been drawn,
From the spaces between the coal.
Later, they put on their corsets,
That encloses their ribs all sides.
Then they fasten their girdles,
All made of silver coins.
Then they rolled up their hair obliquely like buns,
Decorated with tual flowers,
That flap like the birds which fly leisurely.
Afterwards they put on their large combs,
Standing like the poles of fishing nets (empang).
Then they wear as their scarves, the big sash,
Looking like fire spreading on the felled trees. “
The men put on loin-clothes, man’s wooden or bone armlets, plumes, calf plaited rings (unus), shell armlets (tengkelai), and bottom clothes (iko sirat). These are described in the Iban songs as follows:
“They fasten their loin-clothes made of red clothes,
They then put on their beautiful armlets,
Later, they tie up their kerchiefs made of Surabaya, once,
In which they insert feathers of brown hornbills.
After that they fasten swords which have brass handles,
Which have tufts of human hair on its hilt,
They are as handsome as Keling and Laja,
Who have just arrived from their home,
At the source of Panggau Dulang. “
After finished dressing up, they proceed to the landing place (tengah laman) of the host longhouse in orderly manner according to their seniority and status. The guest would continuously play the percussion instruments to indicate their arrival and to drown any noise made by omen birds. The people from the bride’s longhouse would fire their brass cannons to salute the arrival of the guest.
A few people from the bride’s longhouse then go out to meet the guest at the landing place. There they exchange greeting, lay a mat and formally invite the leaders of the visiting party to sit down to discuss the omen they encounter on their journey for the wedding. After this discussion, the host would wave a rooster and pray to god that all is well. The guest are then invited and escorted into the host longhouse.
When their leader who leads the way arrives at the foot of the longhouse ladder, he is asked to spear a pig (manchak babi) to welcome them to the house. There is an exchange of the firing of shotguns into the air when the pig is being speared.
After the pig has been speared, the guests proceed up the ladder to the main entrance of the longhouse. There, they are stopped at a “stockade” (kuta) erected by the host using hand woven blanket. The stockade symbolizes an obstacle to proceed if they do not offer to clear it with their eloquence. The guests are not allowed to go beyond the stockade unless they have recited the right key words to the host. Upon giving the correct recitation, the host then dismantles the stockade to let them pass by the spot.
As they walk along the inner gallery (ruai) of the longhouse, passing by every apartment, they are served with rice wine and arrack by the respective owner. At this stage there is a lot of cheerful noise going on because everybody is in a festive mood. Humors fluently flow from their lips as they greet each other.
Note: When welcoming guests for festivals and wedding, guest are marched through the inner gallery of the host’s longhouse. If it just a normal visit on any other day, the guest or the longhouse resident themselves are expected to walk along the five foot way (tempuan) which is located between the inner gallery and the apartment room wall (dinding ukoi).
However, when they approached the middle of the longhouse they are confronted with another stockade which the host ask them to open with the correct key words as they did at the entrance earlier. After the second barrier has been cleared, the guests encoun¬ter the third stockade at the end of the longhouse. The host makes the same demand as what was done at the last two stockades. The main purpose of the whole affairs to make the guest appreciate the hand woven blankets displayed and decorations used to welcome them. This is the opportune time for the host to proudly present and display all their hand woven blankets to the invited guest for them to appraise. The guest women folk will judge for themselves the skill level of the host’s women folks. The host at each stockade is usually presented with little monetary gifts as appreciations for the display and for their effort in welcoming them.
After the welcoming event is over, the guests proceed to the bride’s gallery. On arrival, the women guests are brought inside the bride’s apartment room while the men are seated at the outermost of the covered verandah (pantar). Here there is a possibility that jokes will be further exchanged as a test of their eloquence and oratory skill (e.g. muka’ kujok), provided the bride’s room has been gaily decorated for the purpose. For example, the guests are requested to open the door which has been barred with spears from the outside, while on the inside, blankets are being hung. The door is opened for them to get in after the guest and host have exchanged witty jokes. However, that is not the final test of their eloquence because at the further end of the room there is a bed covered with a mosquito net which has to be opened by their elders. Only when the mosquito net has been opened than the female guests are allowed to enter the room, which is described in Iban oral tradition as follows:
“Inside the bride’s room they have spread panchar mats,
Which look like the pieces of bekuang mats.
They have unrolled rotan mats,
Which are closely knitted to cover gaps.
They spread a flowing lined mat,
Which was woven by Miss Lemok,
Following the curve of the rainbow.
On the various mats lie betel-nut boxes,
The containers of unripe betel-nuts.
Golden betel-nut boxes that glitter.
Then the young, well-built unmarried girls sit down,
Like the full moon.
The well-mannered spinsters sit gracefully,
Like the valuable jars of the swallows.
Then they begin to chat,
Splitting the betel-nuts. “
The male guests at the gallery are being entertained by their hosts. First, they are given drinks to quench their thirst and later, they are served with drinks which is termed ai untong, mainly allocated for each and everyone of the guest. The amount of drinks given to them depends very much on their social status. A longhouse chief is being allocated with a special quantity termed as “one hundred”, which means that he has to drink ten glasses of tuak. The next precedence of their social status will be given “eighty and fifty”, while ordinary guests are given “forty”.
After this, men and women of the host longhouse start to walk along the inner gallery (besundang) and are accompanied by people playing gongs on their way to serve the guests with some more drinks. They are dressed smartly to display their traditional attire to the guest. After they have gone around the inner gallery three times (3 kali besundang), they start to serve their guests with drinks called ai basu (washing water).
The rest of the guests are given the same treatment. When the welcoming ceremony is over, the people from the longhouse begin to invite them to their respective galleries to enjoy the food and drinks prepared for them.
If the guests do not intend to spend a night at the bride’s house, they are only entertained to a luncheon after which they will be served with coffee at about two o’clock. The serving of food and drinks will take place more often if they spend a night at the longhouse.
The seating positions for those who will speak during the marriage is made in such a way that representatives from the bridegroom’s side are seated at the outermost section of the covered verandah (pantar), while those representing the bride are seated facing the visitors.
When everybody has settled in their respective seat, an appointed person will act as a master ceremony and offer drink to both the guest’s and host’s representatives with the recitation to start a formal marriage ceremony. At this point, every body listens tentatively to the eloquences of the speakers. To start with, the host representative will offer a drink to bride’s representative to rise and to ask the guest the purpose of their visit. The master ceremony begins to pour a drink to a small glass and make a recitation as follows:
“This is the water drop of the Pleiades constellation,
Falling on the current by the river mouth.
This is the thunderous water of falling stars,
Like the light of the oil lamp.
This is the splashing water that broke a stone,
Poured with the blood of a domestic pig.
Brought down by us during the fading of a fog,
Hidden by us for six nights,
Inside valuable jars.
There it turns red in color,
Brewing up inside a round bottle.
This evening, therefore,
It spurts out a bit,
Onto a flowery saucer,
And falls on mats of varied pattern,
Because we use it to assemble here,
To ask what the news is.
I use it to raise the pitch
Of your voice, uncle/cousin,
Come talk and ask what the news is,
To make you audible for everyone to hear.”
“Tu ai teratak bintang banyak,
Ninggang awak arus nanga.
Tu ai gemuroh bintang laboh,
Baka suloh lampu kelita.
Tu ai kechapah batu belah,
Panjah darah babi menoa.
Di turun ka kami nyerumba sebun ambun nyaia,
Di pelam kami enam malam di pelawan benda menaga,
Dia iya lalu bebali nyadi bisa,
Tak prabansang dalam balang butol segala.
Nya alai ke lemai tu,
Iya merenchit mimit ninggang chubit chawan bebunga,
Engkah ka kami manah-manah di klasah tikai sana.
Tu ga kena kitai begempuru bejako nanya ka berita,
Tu ga kena aku ngasoh nuan nebah tatah dabong seleka enggi nuan aya,
Ngasoh nuan dulu bejako inggar didinga,
Nanya ka berita di moa bala pengabang.”
When the recitation is over, the drink is then offered to the person who has been appointed to ask about the tidings; he begins with humble words of apology as follows:
“My heart is in my mouth,
Because I have been given the brewage of nibong padi,
Which you pour into a deep bowl,
That has been nicknamed by the Bard, Bujang Luong,
To him who gives me.
It is being nicknamed as the water of rocks,
Which he fetches from the current of rapids,
Which he gropes (ngama) from the head of the pools,
When he heard the voice of the sasia abnormis (katupong),
The lucky man.
He said that he used it to make my voice sweet,
That my humming might flow fluently to seek tidings in front of the guests.
It, however, makes me afraid,
To see you crowding around,
It darkens my lungs,
To see the large gathering of guests.
May this be how the late Rentap,
The father of Tambong felt the last time,
When he implanted cannon,
On the top of Mount Sadok,
Being nicknamed as Bujang Timpang Berang (One arm bachelor).”
After he has expressed his apology, he will then proceed to ask the guests what tidings they have brought with the following rhythm:
“I hesitate and feel nervous to talk in front of you all,
The reason I say so is because I realize that you are the mothers of porcupines,
Covered with cross-stripped white quills,
Pointed like bradawls.
I notice that you are the mothers of hornbills,
With tails striped, crossing at right angles,
Which claim that they can fly to Brunei and return the same day.
I see that you are the mothers of bears,
Which have stout arms to make holes on the trunks of iron-wood trees.
“We, therefore, have been sitting next to each other.
I would like to ask,
Which one of you is the mother of the hornbill?
For I am about to ask you to spit out the seeds of the belili tree,
In order that they can be picked up by a tall, unmarried lady,
So that they can be turned into the tusks of a pig,
As charm for the unripe ears left till the last in reaping,
With which we fill our padi bins.”
“Which one of you is the one whom we nicknamed as the male hornbill?
Because will ask him to spit out the seeds of the engkilili tree.
Onto the mat with vertical patterns,
So that they can be turned into the tusks of a male pig,
Which are picked up by the well-mannered unmarried lady as charm for her padi,
So that it cannot be used up.
“We, therefore, have been sitting facing each other.
I am about to ask which one of you is nicknamed as a brown hornbill?
I am asking him to spit out the seeds of the kembayau jera (fruits used for perserves),
Onto the mat with double designs,
Because later it can be turned into the tusks of a domestic pig,
So that they can be picked by lengayun endun dara (spinster),
As charm for puya padi,
Used by her to fill the lengthened bins.”
“Nya alai aku tu tak sangkal ke bejako ngagai kita.
Laban aku nyau tepeda ka kita ke landai indu landak bebulu burak,
Bekengkang punggang putting juring ngujong geraji,
Aku tepeda ka kita tajak indu tajai belanggai panjai,
Taja kepai-kepai ngambu diri terbai ka Brunei pulai hari.
Aku tepeda ka kita bruang indu raak,
Ganggam lengan ngerumpang batang tebelian. “
“Nya alai lama kitai tu udah berimbai dudok besendi,
Aku nyau deka nanya sapa kita ke kenyalang indu kenyali,
Laban aku deka ngasoh kita ngelua ka sapi buah belili,
Awak ka diambi sida teruna dara tinggi.
Lagi iya tau bebali nyadi taring uting ngeli jani,
Ka ubat kena kami ngambi sempeli,
Kena kami ngisi igi tibang rarentan. “
“Sapa kita ke dikumbai orang kenyalang kenyali lelaki,
Laban aku tu nyau deka ngasoh kita ngelua,
Ka buah engkelili ditikai anyam diri.
Lagi iya bebali nyadi ngeli jani babi lelaki,
Diambi endu teruna dara mereti,
Jadi ka ubat padi awak ka tebekan lalu jadian. “
“Sapa kita ke dikumbai kenyalang kenyali banda,
Laban aku deka ngasoh kita ngelua,
Ka kembayau jera di tikai anyam dua,
Diambi sida lengayan endun dara,
Laban lagi iya tau bebali nyadi taring uting babi menoa,
Jadi ka ubat padi paya kena ngisi moa tibang tundan.”
As he finishes his recitation with which to obtain news, the master ceremony will again recite the following words of encouragement to the guest who has been appointed to explain the purpose of their visit:
“This is the brewage of the padi that can be reaped earlier,
Hanging like the bunch of the fruits of rotan (jelai),
Therefore, this is the water to sharpen,
Just like sharpening an axe,
Having a handle,
Sharpening the old broken iron.
This brewage of the padi that can be reaped earlier,
Handed by me on my palm,
And my middle finger,
With which I sponge your mouth, uncle/cousin,
With which I ask you to talk,
To find an answer to the riddle,
Because you are being asked by people,
To preserve the jokes of the elders.”
“Tu ai buah padi mudah,
Baka buah jelai merundai.
Nyadi tu ai ansah,
Ukai baka ke ngansah beliong bisi predah,
Ngansah rantong besi patah.
Tu ga ai buah padi mudah,
Disua ka aku enggau tapa tunjok tengah,
Di kena aku nyiram simpan geman dabong tatah nuan aya/unggal.
Tu kena aku ngasoh nuan dulu bejako,
Ngara ka leka entelah,
Laban nuan endang dipadu ka orang,
Landik bungah bejako tuai.”
The water of encouragement (ai ansah) is then drunk by the person appointed to reply to the question as to why they have made the visit. After he has drunk the water, he begins to recite with the following words of apology first:
“I am a bit nervous,
After drinking the brewage of sticky hill padi,
Which you put inside a saucer,
The mother of pot with spout and handle,
Which the son of the bard sky love-bird handed,
Using the palm of the tilted hand.
To him who handed it over to me,
Just to make me fully hilarious.
It, however, makes my thoughts,
Grow less and gradually disappear,
Probably this was how the late Aji felt the last time,
When he fought on the dry shingles of (Kerangan) Langit River,
He who said that he wanted to erect a stockade made of fastened bamboo.
It, however, became loose
And convolvulus, like the leaves of imperata cylindrica (lalang).”
“Nyau kesal mimit meh aku,
Udah diberi kita ai sempuli padi bukit,
Ke udah diengkah ka kita dalam chawan indu chubit.
Udah disua ka anak bujang lemambang entelit langit,
Ngena tapa jari chawit.
Ko iya ti meri ngagai aku,
Ngasoh ati aku gaga be-ati gagit,
Tang tu tak ngasoh kira aku nyaia mansang mit.
Kada enda asai tu ati sida niang Aji menya,
Leboh gasan nan di Krangan Sungai Langit.
Ko iya deka ngaga kota kepit buloh temiang,
Tang iya tekinsit mimit nyadi kemibit daun lalang.”
When he finishes expressing these words of apology, he proceeds to narrate the episode thus:
We are the so called the young river fish (anak tengas),
Who swims overbearingly up River Ketungau,
Who used to spawn on the shingles of Sandau Miang,
Going to the ripple of the mouth of a fish-trap.
We are called the young crocodiles,
That wanders aimlessly,
Swimming up the Salimbau River,
We who open our mouths,
As big as the doorway.
We are being nicknamed as the young hornbills,
Who used to make noises at the upper part of Julau River,
Ready to fly to the ripe kembayau fruit tree.
We are the Sunda Island gibbons,
Who used to swing from the creepers of kubal tusu.
Our corning, therefore, has a meaning,
Our visit has intentions.
We are brought by the parents of so and so to move the door of the closely fitted sky,
Like the closing of the tortoise shell.
We are about to move the door of the flat sky,
Like the seeds of the kepayang tree (pangium edule),
Therefore, if it is truly the scent of the flowers of the betel vines,
That has sweet fragrance,
If that is truly the scent of flowers,
That emits fragrance all day long.
That is the purpose of our coming here.
Brought along by women,
To touch Mars (Bintang buyu),
As big as a deep bowl.
We are brought along by spinsters,
To watch a lone star,
As big as the fruit of the blue kepayang tree (pangium edule).
Brought along by the youngsters to shovel the constellation,
That appears at the zenith of the sky.
We are, therefore, trailing the scent of flowers,
That emits scent for half a month.
We wish to smell the scent of the rotten flower.
This is brought by the southern wind.
We, therefore, wish to extend our right hands,
Lengthened by a ladder,
Through which Renggan passed the last time to reach for the moving stars.
We wish to extend the palms of our hands,
Lengthened by Beji’s ladder,
The way through which Beji broke open the key to the sky.
The reason for my saying so is,
Because we wish to move the plank,
The seat of the burah flower,
This is painted in colour,
That has a red-coloured border.
We are brought by people to touch the charms of the cut plank
The seat of the kapu flower,
This has a design similar to the features of a poisonous snake.
We wish to lift up the plank,
Supported by a fork of the flower of a scented fruit,
This is dangling half way,
This is dangling half way up the sky.
That is the purpose of our coming, our visit,
Together with the cream of the people and women,
Together with the children.
We wish to ensure whether it is true,
We wish to hear;
If that is certain,
We wish to know.”
Kami tu meh dikumbai orang anak tengas,
Ke jelas-jelas mudik batang ulu Ketunggau,
Ngempas ka kaban di kranggan sandau miang,
Napat ka riap tampun bubu.
Kami tu meh ke dikumbai orang anak baya,
Ke kaya-kaya mudik batang ulu Salimbau,
Ke benyawa nukang ka raang,
Mesai selambang moa pintu.
Kami tu me ka digelar orang anak kenyalang,
Ngenggang di batang Ulu Julau,
Napat ka kembayau mansau ngabu.
Kami tu wuok empeliau arang,
Masai berua di randau kubal tusu.
Nya alai penatai kami tu bisi reti,
Penemuai kami bisi utai ko-ati.
Nya alai nyerumba buli nyin kemari,
Ke cheli-cheli tumboh lemai,
Nyerumba sedan bulan mingkai,
Kami bisi datai ditu,
Nganjong tebinsu langgu buah binjai,
Nya alai lalu diengkah ka kami manah-manah di kelasah tengah tikai,
Enda dilengka ka kami sengapa pia sabarang alai.
Disua ka kami ngagai kita,
Leboh kitai ke kemumok dudok di ruai,
Leboh kitai ke bepangkang ke pengedang baku Brunei,
Serta disambut kita enggau kukut jari pamegai,
Dikurong kita dalam pebenong tajau rawai,
Dikerbat kita enggau kawat panjai tigai.
Nyadi nya ko kitai suba jadi ka sengkeram jako semaia kitai.
Nya ti ngasoh kami datai baka ka saharitu,
Enggau anembiak, enggau ke tuai,
Enggau sida ke mit, enggau sida ke besai,
Mai bala nitih ka semia.
Nya alai nyerumba buli ke cheli-cheli nyin kemari tumboh malam,
Nyerumba senayah bulan keleman,
Bisi kami udah datai ditu,
Datai ari Batang Kerangan Pinggai tebing kanan,
Nganjong tebinsu langgu buah kemantan,
Ke lalu diterima kita enggau tapa jari ngengam,
Disambut kita enggau kukut jari kanan.
Dibungkus kita enggau saratus bali belantan,
Ditaroh kita tegoh-tegoh dalam mandoh benda pelawan,
Kerbat kita enggau kawat panjai enam,
Dijereki kita enggau badi ilang kayan.
Nyadi nya ko kitai suba jadi ka geran jako sama.
Nya alai baka ka saharitu kami datai ditu,
Mai indu, mai kalu,
Mai anembiak, mai redak,
Mai gendang, mai sebang,
Deka nentu ka enti utai nya amat, kami deka ninga,
Enti utai nya tentu, kami deka nemu.
Nya alai ka saharitu kami tu dibai sida apai sanu seduai indai sanu,
Nginsit ka pintu langit rapit baka tambit terkura umang,
Dibai sida ngansat ka pintu langit entap baka singkap krang kepayang.
Enti nya amat rengut bunga buot ke bebau bali-ali,
Enti nya amat aba bau bunga ke ngaba basari-sari.
Nya kabuah kami ke datai kitu,
Laban dibai sida ke indu negu bintang buyu mesai jalu jalong jebong,
Dibai sida ke dara ngemata ka bintang saleka mesai krang kepayang pabong,
Dibai sida ke biak nyubak bintang banyak tumboh di kebong langit landong.
Nya alai kami tu deka nyidi aba bau bunga ke ngaba satengah bulan.
Kami tu deka nyium rengut bunga buot,
Puput ka ribut angin selatan.
Nya alai kami nyau deka nyua ka tapa jari kanan,
Ditampong enggau jari sukan,
Jalai Renggan menya ngulih ka basiran bintang tekinsit.
Kami nyau deka nyua ka tapa dada jari,
Tampong enggau tangga Bejie,
Nya ga jalai Bejie ngulih ka kunchi pintu langit.
Laban kami nyau deka mindah ka genteran papan punggah,
Penudok perampang bunga burah,
Ke berendah mansau jara,
Ke berendah mansau tisi.
Kami dibai orang negu genturan papan timpu,
Penudok perampang bunga kapu,
Ke besudu ular bisa,
Ke besudu ular lidi.
Kami deka nginsit ka genturan singit,
Tambun berurah bunga bangkit,
Ke begantong tengan menoa,
Ke begantong tengan ari.
Nya meh penatai, penemuai kami.
Datai enggau antu enggau indu.
Sama enggau anak enggau anembiak.
Kami deka nentu ka utai nya amat,
Kami deka ninga ka utai nya tentu.
Kami deka nemu.”
After the person has finished reciting the purpose of their visit the appointed master ceremony will again prepare to serve the drink to the person assigned to answer on behalf of the bride. He uses the following recitation:
“This is the water bound by wire,
Like the blaze.
This is the water of lime,
The first to become brandy,
Which we bring down,
The same time as the fog of the dawn,
Stored by us for six months,
Inside a valuable jar.
We kept it well hidden,
Inside a fine jar.
There we saw it turned red in colour,
Which spurted into a large bottle.
However, this evening, uncle/cousin,
It fizzes from the bottom of the valuable jar,
Its foams fell onto a carpet,
Which I will use to sharpen your teeth,
So that its pitch will be high.
However, I used it before,
To sharpen small swords,
Of Antau Linggang Nengeri (the rocker of town)
And Gun Mangku Bumi (the holder of the earth)
Together with Nanang and Aji,
Which they used to fight all day long,
To attack the stockade of pointed ends.
On their return they were very happy and glad,
To hold the head festival.
This is therefore, the water of the bunch of wild ginger,
Uncle/cousin, this is the water of the stump of the indigo plant,
Which I put onto the mat of parallel patterns,
That has been exposed to the dew by the girls named endun,
For one year of the life span of puya padi.
This has been watered by humorous spinsters,
With the blood of the pig that has produced piglets;
This has been kept by us well,
Inside a large jar.
This evening, however,
It spurts out a bit from the bottom of the glass,
Which I use to sharpen the single tooth,
Of yours, uncle/cousin.
I have used it in the past to sharpen,
The small brass swords,
Of Garran and Mula,
Of Ngumbang the father of Lada,
And of Bantin the father of Rengga.
He said that they were then more powerful than the pointed bamboo,
Because it was used by the well-mannered men,
To attack the corner of the Raja’s stockade,
At the mouth of Skrang River.
However, this evening, uncle/cousin,
It is used by me to sharpen your single tooth,
In order that it can be audibly heard,
Which I compare to the sound of the ship Zahora,
When the Raja’s wife, the Ranee sailed on it,
To go up the Simanggang River,
I once again compare your clear and loud voice to that of the radio,
Which was used by Koh the father of Segura,
To claim that the state has begun to develop.
However, after you, uncle/cousin, have drunk this water,
It will not cause you to die.
It merely makes you lively and noisy,
To ask what are the tidings,
Distinctively heard by all the guests.”
“Tu ai kerbat pakau kawat,
Baka jilap daun api.
Ai teritis limau manis,
Ke teruba nyadi brandy.
Bai kami nurun nyerumba sebun ambun pagi,
Di pelam kami enam bulan di pelawan benda guchi,
Taroh kami tegoh-tegoh dalam mandoh benda menaga,
Dia iya bebali mansau jara,
Dituang ka kami ngagai balang butol besegi.
Nya alai ka lemai tu Aya/Unggal,
Tak perabansang pansut ari balang butol besegi.
Di engkah ka kami ba klasah tengah tikai.
Tu ga kena kami ngansah tatah dabong gigi enggi nuan,
Ngambi ka nekis nyerais inggar bemunyi.
Kalia udah ga tu kena kami ngansah perapang pedang panjai,
Enggi Antau Linggang Negeri seduai Gun Mangku Bumi,
Katiga enggi Nanang seduai Ajie,
Ti dikena sida bamok ngapus ka ari,
Ngalah ka segi kota simbang.
Pemulai tu sida iya gaga lantang ati,
Lalu niri ka gawai igi balang.
Nya alai tu ai tangkai lia kerapa,
Ai pun tarum kemuja,
Di engkah ka kami di klasah sana jawa,
Di perambun ka endu endun nyerumba sebun ambun nyaia,
Sataun mangun pun padi paya,
Udah dipanjah sida dara bungah enggau darah babi menoa,
Udah dikarong kami dalam benong benda menaga,
Nya alai ka lemai tu,
Merenchit mimit iya ari burit gelas kacha,
Kena aku ngansah tatah dabong saleka,
Enggi nuan aya/unggal.
Udah ga tu dikena aku ngansah perapang pedang temaga,
Enggi Garran seduai Mula,
Enggi Ngumbang apai Lada seduai Bantin Apai Rengga,
Udah nya kenu ko sida,
Tajam ari mata simbang jerungkang,
Laban tu udah dikena orang ke besai nampak nama jelai berita,
Ngeruntoh ka kota Tuan Raja,
Di nanga arong Skrang.
Nya alai ka lemai tu aya,
Dikena aku ngansah tatah dabong saleka enggi nuan,
Ngambi ka nyawa nuan nekis nyaris inggar didinga,
Disema ka aku ngagai panjong kapal johara,
Enggi Ranee bini Sultan Tuan Raja,
Mudik nanga Batang Simanggang.
Agi ga aku nyema ka nyawa nuan,
Samunyi enggau Radio,
Di kena Koh apai Segura,
Madah ka menoa deras mansang.”
Having finished the drink, the appointed man from the host longhouse start to make a riddle for the guest to unfold, using recitation as follows:
“During the previous wane of the full moon,
When I was sleeping on a piece of plank,
When I was sleeping on a mat of various colors,
Veiled with a handwoven blanket (bali mensuga),
I had a dream.
Dreamt to have been called for by Tutong and Laja,
Who came from their home at Nanga Panggau Dulang.
There I dreamed that they brought me to cut a hanging bunch of oak-leaf fern which was guarded by the cobra, the mother of a dragon.
Dreamt to have been brought by them to shovel the constella¬tion,
As wide as a plate,
Which fell and turn into a valuable jar (tajau menaga),
That looked very attractive.
It appeared to be a young Dayak,
Having the eyes of a young Chinese,
Whom we can ask to rule a country,
To impose a fine of fifty cents.
Because it appeared to be unique,
All of us at the longhouse were excited,
To see the valuable jar (tajau menaga).
We therefore, blessed it by waving a brown fowl over it,
We gave sufficient offerings to it,
Because we felt it was as if we served the son of god,
Entertaining members of the guests.
During the sunset,
During the whole period of last month,
When I was sleeping on a piece of plank,
Lying on pieces of a mat,
Wrapped with a handwoven blanket (bali begajai),
There I dreamed to have been called for by Sanggul Labong and Nawang Gundai,
Who came from their home,
At Nanga Gelong Merundai,
Fringy, like a bunch of strips of palm leaves (takang isang).
There I dreamed to have been called for by them,
To cut a bunch of fruit of oncosperma iigillaria (or a set of spears
set round a post),
That hangs down the stem like fringes.
I dreamed to have been brought by them to touch Mars,
Falling as big as a bowl that has been sung to,
It fell and turns into a jar of a swallow.
All of us from our longhouse were excited.
Glad to see the child of the lump of gold,
Appeared to be seen lying,
Appeared to have known to unroll a mat,
Serving visitors, entertaining guests.
All our longhouse mates were glad to see what had happened,
We, therefore, waved a fowl over it.
We then prepared some offerings of popped rice (or corn),
We experienced it as if we welcomed the Great King,
Who came from his country across the great ocean.
Therefore, uncle/cousin, what you asked was true.
Sometime during the month of this day of __,
So and so paid us a visit here.
However, at that time the whole thing was still in disorder.
That was why we said that we still wanted to make it tame,
To let it come nearer.
Nevertheless, we awaited your arrival,
You did not come here again.
Now our round lump of gold is no longer here,
We have kept it well inside a valuable jar (ningka),
We have fenced it with bars of steel.
We have mended the gaps with daggers,
Locked by us with boxes placed on top of the other,
Fastened by us with three fathom wires.
We wanted to take it back but the effort failed,
We wished to climb over but it proved to be impossible,
Because it is covered with thorns made of iron daggers.
We wanted to cut it down but it could not be felled,
Because the stem has a pitch made of a lump of steel.
We wished to burn it but it is non-combustible,
Because there is a fountain as big as a pattern of brass kettle
Its foot is guarded by a squirrel-like animal (spirit’s hound), the dragon,
The cobra, the old cobra coiled around its stem.
Its first branch is guarded by brown bees.
Its top could not be touched with a pronged spear,
Because it is guarded by an owl,
Watching the halo of a full moon,
Which is crying during the full moon.”
“Nyerumba sedan bulan pernama,
Leboh aku tindok di retok papan pelangka,
Gali galai di tikai sana jawa,
Bebungkor enggau selanggor bali mensuga,
Dia aku bisi mimpi.
Mimpi asai ka betemu enggau Tutong seduai Laja,
Datai ari menoa raya di nanga Panggau Dulang.
Dia aku asai ka dibai seduai nyimpong,
Ujong semambu ngandong,
Sengkelong tedong ular naga.
Mimpi asai ka dibai seduai nyubah,
Bintang banyak mesai chapak jalong temaga,
Laboh ka baroh nyadi pebenong benda menaga,
Nadai utai ngemanah nya gaya,
Dipeda baka gamal anak Dayak,
Bemata baka gamal anak China,
Baka ke tau diasoh nyadi tuai megai menoa,
Ngadu ka uta wang timbang.
Laban meda utai nyelai bakanya,
Dia kami sarumah tak bela tekenyit,
Tepeda ka pemanah benda menaga,
Lalu dibiau kami enggau selanjau manok banda,
Ading kami enggau piring chukop perengka,
Laban asai ti nyambut penatai anak Petara,
Nyambut antu bala pengabang.
Nyerumba tinda sabong lemai,
Nyerumba sedan bulan mingkai,
Leboh aku tindok di retok papan lekai,
Gali di linti lambar tikai,
Bebungkor enggau selanggor bali belulai,
Dia aku asai ka bisi mimpi.
Mimpi asai ka diasoh Sanggol Labong seduai Nawang Gundai,
Datai ari menoa raya sida di nanga Gelong Merundai,
Ke begamal baka guchai,
Murai ka tangkai takang isang.
Dia aku asai ka diasoh sida iya,
Nyarau tandan tangkai ranyai,
Ke merundai laboh begitang.
Mimpi asai ka diasoh sida negu bintang buyu,
Laboh mesai jalu jalong timang,
Lalu laboh ngimbai ningka tajau lelayang.
Dia kami sarumah lalu tekenyit serta gaga,
Tepeda ka anak gemala tekang gempanang,
Dipeda baka ka tau nganchau tikai,
Ngintu temuai mela pengabang.
Samoa kami bela rindu serta enggau ati lantang,
Biau kami enggau selanjau manok labang,
Diading kami enggau pamping piring letup pulut jentawang,
Asai ke nyambut penatai tuan Raja Tuai,
Datai ari gilik tasik besai ledong lelinang.
Nya alai Unggal/Aya,
Samoa utai ti ditanya ka nuan nya amat magang.
Nya alai skali nyerumba sedan bulan nyin kemari,
Sanu seduai sanu bisi datai nemuai ngagai kami kitu.
Leboh nya semua jako sama agi rapas,
Nya alai kami agi deka bejinak,
Agi deka ngasoh semak.
Nya alai ngelamatu kami seruran nganti penatai kita,
Tang nadai ga meda kita datai agi.
Nya alai diatu tekang gempanang mau segala nadai agi ditu,
Udah dikurong kami dalam pebenong benda menaga,
Udah di jerai kami enggau duri besi kemuja,
Udah dipelali kami enggau badi bemata changka,
Di kunchi kami dalam peti menanyi ringkat dua,
Udah kerebat kami enggau kawah panjai tiga.
Kami deka muka enda ulih buka agi,
Ka ditiki enda ulih tiki,
Beduri ba badi mata changka.
Ditebang enda ulih tebang,
Bepuak ka belembang lampang besi.
Ka ditunu enda ulih ditunu,
Ai nyau ngeching mesai tangkong kendi temaga.
Pun di ibun pasun diwan pesilar ular naga.
Batang belit kendawang tedong bisa.
Pun dan wan ranyuan madu banda.
Puchok enda ulih di tutok enggau tirok sangkoh bemata dua,
Wan kejatan burong tunggok,
Sikok-sikok nyabak ka rayok bulan pernama.”
When that recitation is over, the people from the bridegroom side will ask one of them to unfold the riddle. After he has been given a drink, he recites following words:
All what you have said is true,
because we know that you have kept it well.
However, we have no fear, we have no worries.
We are well prepared for this.
We have brought along the antidote of the river snake.
Which was once possessed by the late Minggat, the father of Runai.
When he went abroad to Kerinchi Pantai Panai,
At the peak of his fame,
Where he died and was buried at the mouth of San river.
If it is the antidote of the dragon snake,
We have also brought it along,
This was once possessed by the late Rekaya Dana.
When he went on a war expedition to Batang Sungai Raya,
And strayed on to conquer a Chinese settlement of Batang Singkawang.
If it is the antidote of the pit-viper,
We have also brought it along.
The one which the late Linggir Mali Lebu formerly obtained,
When he collected forty-one adopted children,
From the upper dry Sugai river.
If it is the antidote of the cobra,
We have also brought it along,
The one which the late Tarang Apai Dungkong obtained,
When he sunk enemy boats off Nanga Rajang.
However, we are no longer using such antidotes,
Because they are too anachronistic.
But during the period of the last full moon,
We have been ordered by Sultan Insong,
To plant latex-producing nyatu trees,
There we found a new type of charm,
The one which is more powerful than the fangs of a cobra,
If thrown, it can bounce off far away,
If gently touched, it can push itself forward.
Uncle/cousin, if we use these charms.
There is no need for us to let it fly.
By moving slightly from our seating positions,
The door to your room will be wide open.”
Nya alai samoa utai ti ko nuan nya amat magang.
Tang dalam pia,
Kami nadai penakut, nadai penangi.
Kami endang nyikap diri.
Nya alai tipang pesilar ular beluai,
Bisi dibai kami ditu,
Diempu niang Minggat apai Runai,
Leboh gumi ke pegi ngagai kerinchi pantai Panai,
Parai sebrai tiban Nanga San.
Enti tipang pesilar ular naga,
Bisi ga dibai kami ditu.
Dikena niang Rekaya Dana,
Leboh lupu ngulu ka orang nyerang ngagai Batang Sungai Raya,
Trus ngalah ka china nyentok ka nanga Batang Sengkawang.
Enti tipang pesilar ular engkudu,
Bisi dibai kami ditu,
Olih niang Linggir Mali Lebu,
Leboh lupu ke mupu anak iru bulih 41 ka Ulu Sugai Langkang.
Tipang pesilar ular tedong bisi ga dibai kami ditu,
Olih niang Tarang apai Dungkong,
Leboh medong ngaram ka bangkong nanga Rajang.
Tang tipang tu enda dikena kami agi,
Laban iya udah enda bisa.
Tang nyerumbu randang bulan kembong tu kemari,
Kami diasoh Sultan tuan Insong,
Nanam nyatu getah nyelutong.
Dia deh kami nemu pengaroh baru,
Ke bisa ari gigi pesiri ular tedong.
Enti di tikam, iya tau engkanjong,
Enti di tegu, iya tau nyurong.
Nya alai aya/unggal,
Enda iboh kami ngasoh iya terebai,
Semina ngansat ari kami ke besarok dudok berintai,
Pintu kita lalu tekesai lalu tetukang.”
When the riddle is answered, the representatives who speak from the bride’s and bridegroom’s sides will ask a person who is expert in genealogy to set forth the pedigree for the information of the people regarding the relationship between the bride and bridegroom. This will facilitate the discussion on appropriate customs to be applied in case the marriage may cause disaster. First and foremost, the genealogist is given rice wine or arrack by the master ceremony and again he will recite the following before the genealogist set forth the pedigree thus:
“This is the water of the leaf-stalk of a nipah palm,
Growing at the head of the muddy bank,
This is the water of the stem of a creaking tree (bindang beduyah),
Planted by Saripah Dayang Mai.
This is the water of the branch of meranjan butan (a type of fruit tree),
On which an owl perches,
Sobbing under the halo of the full moon.”
“Tu ai palepah apong nipah,
Tumboh di tanah pala pantai.
Tu ai batang bindang beduyah,
Tanam Seripah Dayang Mai.
Tu ai dan meranjang bulan,
Tepan kaban burong Tunggok,
Sikok-sikok nyabak ka rayong bulan pernama.
Kita ke tuai udah berintai besarok dudok.
Nya alai aku ngelar kita ngagai bidok,
Linggar kepar-kepar ngelayar lansar pala lubok.
Leboh menoa kitai ke agi dipegai Menira Raja Brooke,
Nadai ga aku ninga nuan sebana madah ka diri suntok.
Enti temuai datai, nadai ga aku ninga nuan enggai mai temuai dudok.
Laban nuan endang sidi di jari ujong tunjok,
Teleba maras tulok moa pasu.
Tu meh ai ganja bisa teleba bemain di moa burit mangkok,
Ai ganjai nyamai ngasoh grai angkat mabok,
Sua ka aku enggau tapa ujong tunjok,
Sambut nuan enggau tangkup dabong rasok.
Tu ga kena kami ngasoh nuan muka randau kara,
Ngusai ka randau rambai,
Nyila lambar buok ke berasok pampang saribu.
Tu ga kena nuan ngusai ka jala panjai,
Ngambi ka ngerembai mungkor dunya,
Kena nuan nesa penyauh sida,
Kena ngusai ka penyauh kitai,
Ka meda ka penyauh antara.
Dikena nuan ngempong daun apong,
Diara ka di moa bala mensia,
Kena tinda nuan ngara ka leka,
Besebut ka rurun tusut.”
The elders have sat and intermingled,
I, therefore, nickname you as a small shaky boat
Plying the head of the deep lagoon.
When our country was under the flag of Raja Brooke,
Never did I hear you being destitute,
If visitors came, I never heard you refusing to unroll a mat inviting them to sit down,
Because you have powerful finger tips,
That is used to handle and level the mouth of a dry measuring basket (pasu).
This is the pure rice toddy that is playing on the bottom of bowl.
The delicious water that makes you feels fresh after being drunk,
Handed over by me from the finger tips of my left hand,
Received by you with the mouth,
Into the interlocked notches of your jaws,
This I use to beg you to loosen the roots of banyan plant,
Uproot the fibrous stems of fern (rambai),
Split the hair, which intermingles in its thousands.
Tis’ I use to beg you to spread out the fishing net,
So that it spreadout and cover the world,
Tis’ for you to measure their distances,
Tis’ for you to measure our distances,
We want to see the distances of their boundary.
Tis’ for you to gather the palm leaves,
Tis’ for you to spread it out in front of the crowd,
For you to detail out,
The correct order of their genealogy.
After finishing the “Ai Ansah” drink (literally means, “sharpening water”), the appointed genealogist holds nipah leaves (for rolling tobacco) with which he sets forth the pedigree. He starts his pedigree taking Sengalang Burong as the basis because from there he will able to relate the marriage customs originating from the marriage of Sengalang Burong’s son, Aji, whose chivalry is beyond the moon, also known as Suka Raja Rengayan, who was married to Endu Anggu Kaul Ketapu, Endu Kuku Anyam Saribu, the daughter of Simpulag Gana and Endu Endun Serentum Tanah Tumboh, lying exposed the sunshine at the middle of the country, Endu lyak Cherindak Tanggui Buloh, hovering over the neighbouring farms. Starting from there, he will also relate the first time Raja Simpulang Gana demanded Sengalang Burong to give him a dowry of a fowl of the size of a sparrow which had spurs coiled onto its knees, a pig as big as a rat that had tusks coiled onto the tuft of bristles on the head of that certain pig, and a black jar with a sprout together with a gong.
In addition, he also recites the customs regarding marriage in defiance of the generation taboo which is disastrous, following Sengalang Burong’s advice which he gave to his grandson, Sera Gunting who committed incest with his mother’s sister, Endu Dara Chempaka Tempurong Alang alias Dayang Patri Langit. After he has related those customs, he then begins to set forth his pedigree further and gives information regarding his forefathers’ expense dowries as they were rich and chivalrous. On reaching the generation of the bride and bridegroom, he then discloses their relationship. The people will discuss the appropriate customs to remedy the marriage which might happen to be in defiance of the generation taboo, after the genealogist has set forth his pedigree up to that stage. If their relationship is calculated from their parents, and is in the ratio of one to two (which means that he is married to his auntie or niece), then a sin cleansing event called “partitioned by water” will be performed for them whereby two pigs will be sacrificed: one is to be killed in the water while the other will be butchered on land. They are requested to bathe them¬selves with the water that has been saturated with the pig blood. The pigs to be slaughtered must be the ones that have produced litters seven times, and the jar that the bridegroom produces must be equivalent to the monetary value of nine dollars while the bride pays seven dollars. (Other customs are obtainable from a book entitled “Sengalang Burong”.)
If their generation ratio is at two to three, the water is being partitioned for them and the number of pigs that have had litters is the same. But the amount of money paid decreases. A pig is slaughtered to smear the land if their generation ratio is at three to four. They are forced to cut down fruit trees if their marriage is at the generation gap of four to five ratios. When their generation ratio is five to six, they are only asked to bite on a piece of iron. The bride and bridegroom are requested to bite grains of salt if their marriage is at the generation ratio of six to seven. This is to protect their bodies and souls.
After discussing these customs, the bride’s parents proceed with their demand for dowry and other fees from the bridegroom’s parents as shown below:
(a) If the do wry is $25.00 – the marriage fee is $1.00 (sigijabir).
(b) If the dowry is $50.00 – the marriage fee is $2.00 (sigi panding).
(c) If the do wry is $75.00 – the marriage fee is $4.00 (sigi alas muda).
(d) If the dowry is $100.00 – the marriage fee is $5.00 (sigi alas ngerang).
In addition, the bride’s side also asks for the “splitter” of the ladder — an adze, a spear as an opener to a door, a sword as an opener to a mosquito net, a “broom” and other fees.
The bridegroom’s parents pay all these fees. However, they reciprocate by demanding fees from the bride’s parents. The fees that they ask in return are:
- a jar (tepayan), as a container for holding water to wash the feet;
- a gong (bendai), as a support to lean onto;
- a blowpipe, as a punting pole;
- a hand woven blanket, as an awning;
- other fees equivalent to the amount demanded by the bride’s side.
Besides the dowry and marriage fees, and all other fees, both sides do not incur any loss because the demands for such fees serve as a means for the elders to outwit each other.
When the discussion regarding this is over, the elders declare that if any of them commits a breach of marriage without any proper reason, for instance, if the bridegroom divorces his wife, the dowry will automatically be in the custody of the bride. In the case where the bride divorces her husband the dowry will be returned to the bridegroom with an additional amount of fifty dollars. The married couple are warned that if either one of them asks for a divorce within a period of one month, he or she will be fined four dollar supplementing the fine for the divorce.
Upon the completion of discussion on this matter, a woman then carries betel nuts placed in a basket, which has pieces painted half with red, and the other half remaining un-painted (termed as selok sundan menarang). These nuts are carried from the room to be split at the gallery. The basket is being slung on her shoulders. The woman who splits the betel nuts is chosen among the fortunate an productive Iban women. The number of slices is three, five or seven. The number of slices of the betel nuts represents on the number of days the couple will visit the longhouse again. If their homes are within short distances from each other, then the number of the slice is lesser and vice versa.
A bard is requested to chant a traditional renong song called “putting a child to sleep” after the slicing of the betel nuts event is over. When the child is presumed to have slept, the bard will chant another traditional song called “waking the baby”. During the cutting of betel nuts into slices, the people are in joyous mood, drinking rice toddy, coffee and eating cakes, buns an various other foods.
Later, the guests are asked to take their seats to consume breakfast. After the breakfast the newly-wedded couple will undergo another event to release them from taboo if they are married in defiance of it. They are brought to a river where they will be bathe in the blood of a pig on the river. If their marriage is not in defiance of these taboos and will not cause disaster, the formal marriage ceremony will normally end after the bard completed chanting his traditional song on waking of the child.
If the marriage is in defiance of the marriage rules related earlier by the genealogist, a cleansing ceremony have to be performed to release them from taboo. They will dress up and will be brought to a river in a procession, accompanied by the beating of gongs. They are brought by elders, and the couple will hold onto a loin-cloth of seven feet long. Leading the procession is a person who has been appointed to spear a pig. He is immediately followed by the one who will make an invocation to God. Next comes the bearer of a jug meant as a coop or container for their souls, followed by woman who carries the offerings. The newly-wedded couple and other elders have been selected to act out certain parts during the ceremony.
The man who has been appointed to act as a ghost had earlier taken up his position on the other side of the river, opposite to the bathing place where the ceremony to release the couple from the incestuous taboo will be performed.
Arriving at the river, the appointed man proceeds to make an invocation, calling for God and all members of the marine super natural spirits, so that they will know about the ceremony of releasing the couple who are married in defiance of the taboo. He also appeals to God and the marine supernatural spirits not to cause disaster because of their sin for getting married in defiance of the generation taboo. The situation has been corrected in accordance with the customs and procedures laid down by Sengalang Burong. The person who has been appointed to slaughter the pig then kills it with a sword. Its blood flows downriver to the place where the couples, who are to be released from the taboo, are taking their ceremonial bath.
While the pig is being slaughtered, the man who has been assigned to act as a ghost across river shouts at the people on the other side of the river as to why they are making such a lot of noise. In response to his question, an elder from this side of the river answers: “We are releasing so and so from the generation taboo as they are married in defiance of it. In accordance with our old marriage customs, we are, therefore, smearing lands with the blood of a ceremonial pig, in order to prevent supernatural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, mud-slide, disease and other natural disaster. In addition to this, we are also harmonizing the water with the following:
- A long sword to separate the moving clouds.
- An adze used for cutting the root of the lensat tree (lansium domesticiim).
- A blow-pipe of tapang wood for blocking the holes of lightning.
- A kumbu rayong blanket for covering the overhanging banks of the river to prevent snails from emerging.
- A coloured cloth for wiping away thick clouds.
- A large bowl for obstructing erosion.
- An iron step for the legs to stand fast.
- A shell armlet as a fee to prevent the water of the river from rippling.
- A jar in which to keep the souls safely.
This means (In Iban):
- Pedang panjang kena ngerandang remang rarat.
- Beliong lajong kena mungga urat lensat.
- Sumpit tapang kena ngerejang lubang kilat.
- Kumbu rayong kena nyerayong tekuyong dalam ungkap.
- Kain beragi kena miau moa-hari sarat bebuat.
- Pinggai besai kena nyekat tanah rarat.
- Besi panti landi ke alai kaki betakat.
- Rangki siti kena nasih ai ngambi enda beriap.
- Tepayan endor nyimpan samengat.
After the appointed man has killed the pig at the river, he slaughters another one to smear the land with the blood. The blood of the pig is then buried, while some is sent to farms to prevent disaster. This cleansing ceremony ends after the slaughtering of the pig.
When they return to the longhouse, the couple dress themselves up to prepare for their journey to the bridegroom’s house.
After they have dressed up, the guests go back to their homes, bringing along with them, the bride. Throughout their journey home, like when they came the previous day, they beat gongs along the way until they reach their own longhouse.
On arrival, the bride is led by spinsters from the longhouse into the bridegroom’s room where beautiful mats and decorative blankets have been unrolled and put up respectively. The degree of decoration depends on how wealthy the family of the bridegroom is.
After dinner that evening, the bridegroom’s parents call their longhouse mates to assemble at their room to witness the waving of fowl to bless the newly-wedded. The couple are being asked to sit down on the two gongs placed side by side. The bride sits next to the bridesmaid while the best man takes his seat by the side of the bridegroom. When everything is ready, an elderly person (or a bard if there is any), stands up and waves a fowl over them. He uses the following invocation:
“One. two, three, four, five, six, seven!
I shall not be punished to wave a fighting cock,
I shall not be subjected to supernatural punishment to wave a fowl,
I shall not die to wave an able-bodied cock!
Oh, what has led me to be cursed?
What makes me unable to stand up?
My feet stand on the solid rock,
My lips have bitten a harpoon of retribution,
My arms have been fastened with brass armlets.
I am of the fountain;
I am the scion of the older generation; the new growth.
I am neither experimenting nor inventing,
I have something to follow,
Something to come after,
Like the creeper lengthened by a cord,
Like the rotan lengthening the danan (a kind of rotan),
Oh, I am following the honour laid down by Simpulang Gana,
Following the customs initiated by Putong Kempat,
Who a drifted carrying a jetty,
Following the taboo of Belang Pinggang,
That became around under the ‘senuyong’,
I am following the taboo of a demon,
Residing at the zenith of the sky.
O ha! O ha! O ha!
Now I call for Selampeta who can create,
Selampetoh who can forge,
Selampandai who can create us!
I wish them to bear offspring,
Let them grow like a bamboo shoot,
Have a new growth like a fern.
I appeal to the God, Ini Inda,
To make their lives full of riches and wealth.
I appeal to the God of Manang, the God of Kejakang,
To make them healthy and full of longevity,
Free from misery and poverty.”
When the invocation is over, someone will distribute more rice wine to those present. After the entertainment, the elders inform the couple who their brothers, sisters-in-law and parents-in-law are, and whom they are prohibited from calling by names according to the customs lay down by Sengalang Burong. If their brothers and sisters-in-law are their juniors, then they are known as their younger brothers and sisters (adi). For those older, they are termed as their older brothers and sisters (ika). They call their father-in-law bapa.
Furthermore, the elders instruct them on the correct ways of living happily together as husband and wife, to respect each other, and not to be unnecessarily jealous, as it is not good for a married couple to be too possessive of one another.
They also advise the bridegroom to respect the room of his parents-in-law when the couple pays a ceremonial visit to her parents. They remind him of the old customs he should follow when he talks to the people who happen to converse with him during the visit. In addition to these, they also remind him to show due respect to the people who have been married, which is still known to people today. They are advised also, on the respect for wives, brothers and sisters-in-laws, parents-in-law and other relatives of their wives.
Their longhouse mates go back to their own rooms after the elders have advised the couple. As he does not want to defy the old custom the bridegroom will sleep at the gallery and not with his wife on that particular night. There is nothing wrong if he so wishes to sleep with his partner that night but this act will not be a pleasant sight to others, because such an action does not conform to tradition.
The couple’s ceremonial visit to the bride’s parents depends on the number of slices of betel nuts the people cut on their wedding day. However, on the eve of the visit, they will be very busy in preparing buns and cooking rice in bamboo cans which they will bring along with them.
On the morning of this ceremonial visit, they will go together with the bridegroom’s father. On arrival, they are being welcomed by the bride’s parents. All the things brought by them are taken to the bride’s room.
Soon after their arrival, those people present at the longhouse at that time assemble to greet them. After dinner that evening, many people including ladies and children come to greet them. Men and boys assemble to welcome the bridegroom and his father while women and girls get together to greet the bride.
During this ceremonial visit, the bridegroom never sits at the outermost section of the covered verandah, but sits near a leaning pole facing the elders and his father-in-law, who will position themselves there.
Within the period of this ceremonial visit, they talk about customs and omen birds which are used in farming and in war expeditions. In addition, they will also discuss better ways of leading meaningful lives.
In olden days, this was the period for the bridegroom’s father-in-law to observe whether his new son-in-law could tolerate endless conversations with people, without sleeping up to three, five and even seven successive nights.
One of the most important things which the bridegroom must do during this visit is to fetch firewood. This has been traditionally done.
The couple will stay at the wife’s parents’ house for an equal number of days as they had spent at her husband’s house. When the period is over, they will go back to the bridegroom’s longhouse. Thereafter, they seldom visit her parents unless the latter longs to see them. There is no limit to the number of duration of their visits. It depends on how much leisure time they have.
17. RESPECT FOR THE IN-LAWS:
The married Ibans must be devoted to their in-laws, be they the parents-in-law or brothers and sisters-in-law. According to the Iban custom as instructed by God Sengalang Burong, the son or daughter-in-law is prohibited from calling their parents-in-law by names. The reason for this prohibition is due to the fact that it could mean one would be subjected to a supernatural curse (busong), resulting in being unlucky in the farming occupation or in numerous other undertakings. The taboo has prevailed to this very day after Sengalang Burong’s advice in forbidding his daughters and sons-in-law to call him by his name. They cannot call their parents-in-law by names. Those categorized as parents-in-law stretch to as far as the first, second and third cousins of the immediate parents from both sides. Anyone of them who have further kinship than that are also avoided to be called by names as a matter of respect.
According to Iban custom, the brothers and sisters-in-law who are their juniors are termed as adi (younger brother/sister), and if they are their seniors, they are called ika (elder brother/sister). They term their fathers-in-law as bapa and mothers-in-law as ibu.
Should a boy marry a girl and live with the girl’s parents (nguai ka bini), it is only good manners on his part if he sleeps later than anyone at the longhouse, while they do not have a child yet. This is not subjected to taboo for it is only a traditional act to show humility.
He should also be continually aware of the shortage of firewood so as to ensure that his wife cooks the rice well. When seated in the dining room, he must sit facing the kitchen, hence would know if the firewood supply needs replenishment. In addition to these, the bridegroom who stays with his parents-in-law should first and foremost know how to find foodstuffs, like hunting, fishing, climbing trees, looking for shoots, which are to be eaten in accompaniment with the rice (ngiga lauk). This act will also relieve the people with whom he is living with of extra responsibilities. His presence will not be felt if his wife never receives eatables whenever he goes into the jungle.
A boy who is married to a girl and stays with her parents must always inform his wife, brothers and sisters-in-law and parents-in-law who are living together with him if he wishes to travel to a distant place or abroad in due course. If his in-laws and say that they can manage without him then he will be able to go happily. However, should they declare that they are unable to look after his wife and children; he should not go at the expense of others. Leaving home without informing anyone is also committing a grave mistake.
The bride or bridegroom must be good and kind to their respective in-laws. Their decision to separate themselves from their in-laws at an inopportune time will only lead to their own suffering. The bride or bridegroom is, therefore, regarded as being impolite and ignorant of the Iban customs.
18. TABLE MANNERS:
It would be rude to blow or clear one’s nose or throat to spit out phlegm or mention something dirty when someone eats with an Iban family, or even when the neighbors are eating. Those who do or say these things near the people who are still eating are classified as poorly groomed and indecent manners (nadai basa). He or she will fall into the category of “badly groomed people” (kurang ajar). It is considered impolite for visitor to refused to be invited to lunch or dinner during lunch or dinner time if his visit coincide with both times. On arrival of visitor, the host will enquire if his visit is a long or just a short visit. If it is a long one (past lunch or dinner time), the host would prepare extra food to cater for the visitor. Thus refusing the invitation is considered impolite. It is also considered impolite for visitor to make or show negative comment or expression (keji) about the food or condition of dining room of the host. Such comment should be kept to oneself as the host takes pride to serve and share with their visitor whatever food the family have. Iban visitors who traveled home late are also given food (bekal) for their journey to ensure that they do not go hungry in their journey home.
19. MANNERS WHILE PASSING SOMEONE:
For generations the Ibans have displayed very good manners while walking in front of someone especially those people who are older or of higher status than themselves. They do not want to be seen rude or misbehave (jegak-jegak) while walking through a crowd; rather, they would walk slowly and carefully by bending themselves down with hands placed in between their knees and say, “Please give me way. I wish to pass by in front of you.” The person whom she or he is going to pass by replies, “Please do pass”. This is the way good-mannered Ibans boys normally practice among themselves when they gather among themselves in the gallery. Those who adhere to this practice are being praised for observing the customary good manners. However, those who misbehave are branded as having no manners and ignorant of the custom.
20. RESPECT FOR VISITORS AND OTHERS:
Everybody wants to be respected. As such, that is the reason why the Ibans wish to excel each other in diligence, achievements, courage and agricultural undertakings in order to make other people respect them and having something with which to respect others. As the Ibans consider these factors to be of great importance, they do no want to be beaten by their friends in matters of respect, especially among the same age group.
According to Iban custom, should a visitor happen to pass their landing place or their longhouse, it is decent that he or she be invited to come up to their longhouse. If the visitor do accept the invitation, those people whose galleries he passed will invite him or her to sit down, be they are stranger or acquaintances. Of course, the visitor can politely turn down the offer if his visit is to meet specific host, otherwise a visitor would normally sit on the first gallery at the longhouse entrance where the gallery owner would entertain him with respect. The owner of the gallery in which the visitor takes his or her seat will roll out a better mat for the visitor to sit on. A lady visitor would be brought to the host room upon arrival. A metal box containing betel nuts, tobacco and other chewing materials is also presented before the visitor. Offering betel nuts is a traditional welcome which the Ibans accord to visitors who happen to sit at their gallery or in their room.
In accordance with, the Iban tradition, if he is a young visitor who will go back the same day, he should sit by a leaning pole facing the outermost section of the covered verandah (pantar), while talking to those who have assembled to greet him. This is done to hide his face and intentions from the single girls if they happen to pass the innermost part of the longhouse’s gallery (tempuan). Nonetheless, if he is an elderly visitor, it is only right for the owner of the gallery to ask him to sit at the outermost section of the gallery while he is talking to the people who have assembled to welcome him.
If the young visitor happens to spend a night there, and should he be asked to sit at the outermost part of the gallery during the conversation at night, only then can he do so. The talk depends on the moods of those gathering before him. If they only joke with him, he should also respond accordingly because he is still considered youthful. If they talk to him seriously, he should also be serious when answering their questions. On the contrary, if he is an elderly visitor, the owners of the longhouse would have a long talk with him because he is expected to have profound knowledge, as he is presumed to have traveled extensively abroad, possessed a lot of experience and mastered the old sayings.
The person whom he visits must first ask whether or not he has had his lunch if he happens to come at about noon. A woman from his host’s family must cook for him if he has not taken his lunch. It has been a normal practice to invite the visitor to stay a night if he happens to arrive late in the afternoon, fearing that he has to row his boat at night or walk in the darkness. Respect to business men cannot be assumed to have fallen under this category because they cannot be termed as ‘Visitors”. It is impolite for a visitor who is not acquainted with his host to be brought to talk inside the host’s room. The room is not meant for a male visitor.
An Iban who does not care about his visitor is regarded as a bad-mannered person and branded as “tall cooking stone tripods” (batu tungku), which means “greedy”, metaphorically. These people who are greedy are criticized by others and they are the highly ambitious types, who do not wish to link themselves by the marriages of their granddaughters or grandsons with the avaricious persons. The effect of this excessive greed is very bad to the Ibans. All the Ibans who observe the traditional respect, hospitality and generosity are rarely found to be greedy.
In the past, the elders showed great respect for visitors. If the visitors were strangers and young, they were called not by their actual name but by the Iban popular nicknames such as Igat, Jang, Dom or Watt the address especially meant for persons in their youth. If the persons with whom the visitors talk to are of the same age, they used the term unggal (cousin). The older ones are called aya (uncle), while the oldest are known as aki (grandfather). Similarly, for the female visitors, they are called endu, endun, wai, iyak, unggal ibu, (auntie) or ini (grandmother), depending very much on their ages.
With regard to the assembly to greet the guests, it is most appropriate for a visitor to be invited to a dinner by his host’s neighbors. After the dinner, everybody at the longhouse gather together to hear the talks and stories he brings along. If she is a female visitor, women would then assemble before her inside a room. The men will not assemble to greet her unless she is their relative. Moreover, it is unfitting for a man to be among the crowd of women who greet her, if the visitor happens to have been courted by him.
21. LEARNING CORRECT MANNERS WHILE TRAVELLING BY BOAT AND GOING ABROAD:
When some youths are going abroad with the elders, it is im¬proper on their part if they do not wish to become bowmen or steersmen. The elders are supposed to be at the section of the boat where the bailing is done.
On arrival at the landing-place, the youth who is the bowman gets down to fasten the cord of their boat. If there is not much luggage to be unloaded, the youths will not ask the elders to help them.
Later, they will look for timber for their temporary huts, prepare foodstuffs to be eaten with rice. They will also cut some firewood. When these tasks are done, some of them do the cooking while the others build the huts. The elders tell the younger ones what to do if they have not had sufficient knowledge in organizing themselves regarding their respective work. The elders only watch them if they know what to do. With regard to the cooking on board the boat, the youths will not let the elders do this. The reason behind this is that they wish to build their reputation as being polite and respectful. Through politeness, consideration and hard work they, too, wish to be respected by the younger generation when they themselves are elderly, and would want these youngsters to do similar work for them.
22. RESPECTING THE LEADERS:
Like other egalitarian communities, the Ibans also have appointed or hereditary ruling families. Those people who bear the hereditary powers are fully trusted and respected by their fellowmen from their pioneering days. The common respect which the Ibans used to confer upon such people are to appoint them to kill a pig (manchak babi) at the landing place of the host longhouse when they are invited to a festival or slaughter a pig (ngayang babi) during a marriage ceremony for couples whose relationship is in defiance of the generation taboo, and to let them bail out the tuba water during tuba-fishing. During a major festival, he is usually accorded the “Festival Chief” (Tuai Gawai) who played an important role as an earthly representation of God invited to grace the festival.
Throughout generations, the Ibans have paid great respect to their longhouse headmen, local chieftains and those who lead them during the farming season. This is due to the fact that when there are matters and problems affecting their community, these leaders are the people whom they can consult to find out whether there is any opposition, or in the case of new projects, to determine whether they are acceptable or not.
The Ibans are still adhering to this practice, as they are determined to have their own community leaders for whom they show much respect. They are also conscious of the fact that other people will pay less respect to their leaders if they themselves do not honour them.
Their leaders, as well as enjoying the high regard which their subordinates show them, reciprocate by maintaining his courtesy and manners that was taught to him throughout his upbringing, respecting the people under their jurisdiction; listen to their constructive ideas; show their sympathies to those who are ignorant; and allocate sound assign¬ments to those who are capable of performing them. These are in addition to their sound knowledge of their cultural heritage and histories of their past leaders. Should the leaders and their subordinates choose to preserve this practice of respect; the Iban community will eternally enjoy the meritorious qualities which they have inherited since time immemorial.
An Iban woman devotes most of her time to weaving after she has been married. The reasons for this are:
(a) to ensure the family have sufficient woven blankets to be used as curtains to put around a corpse during a funeral ceremony when a relative dies;
(b) to ensure the family have sufficient blankets to veil an erection containing charms and offerings during the various major festival such as bird festival (gawai burong), farming (gawai umai), and jar (gawai tajau) festivals, as well as the festival to cure the sick (gawai sakit) and other minor rites and rituals.
(c) in order to have woven blankets to decorate a house whenever there is a big function; and
(d) in order to have blankets to receive enemy heads if their husbands have had their kills during war expeditions.
It is the aim of every Iban woman to be known as a gifted woman in the arts of weaving. They wish very much to experiment and invent new patterns and designs in their woven products, Th women first learn to put the threads out in the dew with various dyeing agents such as dye-producing trees, the engkala burong jangit, oil extracted from pangium edule (kepayang) and roots of the annona reticulaia (engkudu) from Manang (medicine man) Jarai’ mother, Ragam. (Manang Jarai’s mother, Ragam, taught the art of weaving to Iban women. More information on this can t obtained from a book called “Raja Durong”).
There are various names given to the blankets woven by women. There are hundreds of types of patterns for the blankets which the named after inconceivable objects under the sun. The names of some of the traditional finer and more intricate patterns of blankets they weave are:
1. Lebor Api
2. Bali Begajai
3. Kumbu Muau
4. Bali Berandau
5. Remang Berarat
6. Kayu Betimbau
7. Bandau Nulang
8. Bali Mensuga
9. Bali Belumpong
10. Bali Berinjan
11. Bali Belulai
12. Bali Menyeti
13. Bali Tengkebang
14. Bali Kelikut
15. Bali Sapepat
16. Kumbu Rayong
The woven blankets used as slings with which to carry babies are:
2. Leku Sawa
3. Manang Iling
4. Orang Chayam
5. Gerama Murong
7. Igi Nibong
8. Tangkong Sapepat
9. Kara Jangkit
In the days when threads were non-existent in this country, the Ibans planted cotton on stubbles which they burned after harvesting. From this cotton, they obtained threads for their blankets, sarongs, shirts and loin-cloths. Nowadays, if we go up the loft of an Iban longhouse, we can still see a cotton seed-removing machine and a spinning-wheel which they used in the past to spin their cotton.
Farming is the principle occupation of the Iban people. Wet and hill padi are both planted subject to the geographical location and physical structure of the land farmed. After a man is married, he will devote much of his time on his farm work and associated activities to feed his wife, children and parents whose welfare are now under his responsibility. He learns about omen birds, farming techniques and processes from the making of offerings at the start of the farming season to the time when the padi is being stored after cleaning after drying in the sun at the end of the harvesting season. The padi is stored inside a large bin made from the bark of a tree and placed at the loft of a longhouse.
In the farming process, a man is responsible for the more physical tasks of clearing the farm lands like felling the trees, burning, dibbling (nugal) and bringing in the padi home. A woman plays a major role in sowing (nanam anak samai), weeding (mantun) and harvesting (ngetau). During the treading (ngindik) which is done by her husband, the woman removes the empty ears of the grain. The woman also winnows (mantun) the padi while her husband gradually pours it onto the mats during the drying process.
The reason for such a division of labor between a man and a woman is due to the fact that while she is doing the weeding and harvesting, her husband tackles other jobs like hunting, fishing, gathering fruits, tapping rubber tree to earn side income for his family.
25. EXTRA OCCUPATION:
In other domestic chores, a male Iban performs heavier physical tasks such as fetching firewood, while a woman does the pounding (nutok) and grinding (ngisar) of padi grains, husking (nampi) the padi, fetching drinking water (nyauk) and cooking. It is considered an improper conduct for the Ibans to await their wives to give instruction for them to do heavy work unless they are sick.
26. SPORTS, FAVOURITE PAST TIMES AND CULTURE:
Since his childhood, every male Iban indulge in some kind of sporting and cultural activities. After passing the stage where small boys used to play marbles (guli) and stone (selingkut) among themselves, they begin to take an interest in top-spinning with the adults. They make their tops from the wood extracted from tough and strong trees like kayu malam, bait, engkerutak, mengeris, kempas and tapang. The period for top-spinning is between the felling and drying seasons. The top-spinning is done especially during the felling season – to signify and hoping that trees will be easier to cut down.
Besides this, cock-fighting is another type of culture or recreation which is commonly shared by the Ibans. Their interest for this culture originated from the game introduced by Raja Machan who held a cock-fighting bout with Ambong Mungan. The later lost the contest to Raja Machan and decided to go to visit the supernatural being in the sky to look for a fighting cock. In the domain of the God in the Sky, he met with a Supreme God called Raja Petara who gave him a fighting cock with the coloration of “Tuntong Lang Ngindang Terbai, Biring Belangking Pipit Kechuai”. Raja Petara told him that the fighting cock will never be defeated in the contest. With this prized possession given by the Supreme God, Ambong Mugan staged another cock-fighting session against Raja Machan and with devine help, won the contest.
There is another story of an Iban man who went to the underworld in search for a good fighting cock with the coloration of “Biring Gerunggang”. In the underworld, he met with Ensing Jara who is a diety who looks after the soul of the dead fighting cock. He is also known as God of Cockfighting. These tales goes to show that cock-fighting is a serious affair to the past Iban man who went through great length in search for a good fighting cock. Furthermore, they also imitated the game where their fable hero Keling, his friends and Gods Sengalang Burong and his party held a cock-fighting contest against their arch enemies, Apai Sabit Bekait and demon Nising in the sky.
The Iban believed that all the fighting cock the supernatural used in the cock-fighting contest, turned into human warriors. That is why cock-fighting is closely tied to intangible qualities of human nature, spiritual fulfillment and religious refinement. It signifies a man’s chivalry while fighting enemies during war expeditions. As human beings became the fighting cocks of the supernatural, they bore many different types of coloration which men learned to use to assess the personality profile of individual warrior. The Iban believes that every warrior is born with their own “god given” luck (nasib diberi Petara) and destiny (tuah) only seen on the scales of the fighting-cock’s leg and in their color representation (bulu manok). That is why an Iban warrior is called “manok sabong” with similar spiritual properties and characteristic. Thus, through these supernatural being, the Ibans learn and know how to recognise the type of coloration a fighting cock have. They also learn from these supernatural being how to read and interpret the scales on the legs of each fighting cock to determine its destiny or fate as its scale is unique to individual rooster. With this traditional knowledge, the Iban learn how to recognise the quality and personality profile each warrior have and the natural element that influence them.
The Iban warriors adorn beautiful headgear decorated with Angus pheasant (burong ruai) feathers to resemble the beauty and the grace of the fighting cock. The art of cock fighting teaches them to recognise the vulnerability of individual warriors. This helps the warleader to select individual warriors to perform specific task in a war expedition which, at times, would include death duel with enemy warriors. That is why cock-fighting is not only a favorite pastime, but it is also a school of thought that teaches chivalrous behavior (courteous and considerate behavior) associated with the spirit of Iban warriors. It also teaches the Iban about the natural behavior, character and instinct of different fighting cock as it’s coloration represented the type of fish, birds, animals and insect living in its natural environment; location of the sun for their active and inactive time, feeding time, playing time, rest time; river tide situation; etc. Cock-fighting thus represented the Iban’s religious and personal ideal. It is certainly their unique way of life.
The period when the Ibans normally hold cock-fighting bouts is between the felling season and the time when the burning is approaching. In the past, this was known as the annual cock-fighting Season.
Cock-fighting is an old culture introduced by the supernatural being. In the past, on the eve of a cock-fighting contest, leaders of the cock-fighting teams would ask two bards to sing renong (folk songs), one after another. The renong that they sang were the ones which were formerly prescribed for war expeditions. They mentioned Keling, Bunga Nuing and party who went on war expeditions against their arch enemy, Apai Sabit Bekait. War expeditions are similar to cock-fighting contests. Therefore, whenever the Iban leaders wanted to go on war expeditions, they would ask the bards to sing the renong specifically prescribed for cock-fighting contests, following what Ensing Jara did when he held a cock-fighting bout against Ngerai and Niram in the land of the dead (sebayan). Whenever they sing the renong, mainly for cock-fighting bouts or war expeditions, they must prepare offerings because the supernatural being that used to go on war expeditions or held cock-fighting contests are all mentioned in their songs.
However, to the Ibans who adhere to the old customs, cock-fighting does not bring them any harm. It is the time they exchange views and contemplate various meaningful undertakings with each other. Through their conversation at the cock-fighting arena, a majority of them receive ideas on how to improve their methods of farming, gardening, trading, sending their children to schools and carrying out projects to raise their standard of living.
The cunning ones do not indulge themselves too much in gambling and betting during cock-fighting bouts because they remember the advice of their elders on being thrifty. They are aware of the dangers of doing things irresponsibly which will not only reduce their families to destitution but create problems for their children after their deaths.
Nowadays, cock-fighting are being organized occasionally following a major festival, annual gawai Dayak festival and final death rites to mark the end of mourning period. In the headhunting past, death rites was completed with the acquisition of fresh heads. Such practices of blood letting have been replaced with cock-fighting session. This tradition should be kept alive in a contemporary Iban society through a better organized session, set of rules and better arena.
In addition to top-spinning and cock-fighting, there are various other games which they play. Provided there is no mourning period in that longhouse, they beat the gongs every day so that those who are experts in sword dances (bapencha), Dayak free hand martial art (kuntau), wrestling by seizing the opponent’s throat (becekak), dancing with castanets, dancing with saucers (ajat pinggai), war dances and perisai dances, can display their skills. The war dance is divided into two classifications – the casual war dance and displaying the art of the fighting maneuver (ajat bebunoh). In addition to its daily display, the war dance is also used to mark the end of a festival and during the time when the Ibans hold social gatherings (ngerandang jalai & ngelalau).
Even since the Ibans imitated the various kinds of recreation enjoyed by Keling’s people at Panggau Libau and Tutong’s longhouse at Gelong, their longhouses can never be happy places to live in if they are not enlivened by music and the beating of gongs with which the people can show the above-mentioned dances. The Iban youth must also learn to play other types of music because the people at the longhouse must accept the old customs whenever they want to hold various kinds of festivals where there is a great demand for music for ceremonial dances, and welcoming the supernatural being during the festival for a dead person. They must also know how to play a long drum to celebrate the Gawai Burong (bird festival), Enchaboh Arong (festival for the one who has successfully obtained an enemy head during a war expedition), and to welcome Menjaya Raja Manang during the rites for the sick (gawai sakit), and consecration of a manang (bebangun). All these traditional activities and art of music are valuable heirlooms of the longhouse dwellers, in which they practice and preserve.
For those people who do not treasure these values, their communal customs will simply die off, and this will subsequently lead them into embarrassing situations in future, because of the sheer folly of the generation who had discarded the traditions.
Other sports which the Ibans normally participate in are kicking each other with their shins (bepatis), kicking each other with a knee (pangka attak), individual tug-of-war (batak lampong), tug-of-war (tarit tali), arm wrestling (bibat lengan), wrestling (bibat), twisting the opponents’ wrist with fingers interlocked (bepancha’), hopping games (main kingkek), long jump (perejok jauh), sipak raga, high jump (perejok tinggi) and running up the hill (belanda niki bukit). All these games which they play at their own longhouses are also staged during a festival, especially to mark the end of the occasion. In addition, the elders usually ask the younger ones to either send or bring back something from a cemetery at night. This is done to test a man’s courage.
27. AS LEADERS WHILE GOING ABROAD AND ON WAR EXPEDITIONS:
As an Iban man grows older, if he expected to be appointed as a leader in the future, he must acquire experience by joining many war expeditions or trading trips abroad. While following other senior leaders, he must learn the way an expedition is organized, learn how to recognise and interpret omen birds and dreams, learn the rules of engagement, learn the terms and conditions of the expedition set by other war leaders and how to make just and fair decision as an expedition leader. After he has proven his bravery in combat and makes many successful trips abroad making fortune and building up his reputation as trusted warrior, only then he will be entrusted to lead similar venture by his own people.
Upon his appointment as a leader of his people, he must build his own war boat or trading boat. He must follow all the rituals and observe favorable omen or dreams when he set forth to build the boat until it is launched.
In the past, a leader who led an expedition in the direction of the left bank of Borneo towards Malaya, Sumatra, Java and its islands in those regions were called Penghulu. A leader who led his men towards Brunei, Labuan, Sabah and Mindanao was known as Nakoda.
Before a man can be appointed as the leader of a war expedition he must show his chivalry, and that he has been entrusted by his predecessor as a trusted warrior to lead his men to battle or invading enemy’s territory. He must earn the trust of his people before they can acknowledge him as their leader. Lacking these qualities, the people will not share the same boat with him or will even totally refuse to take up the risk of going on war expeditions under his leadership.
Wives of these heroes should also try to excel other women in various skills especially in weaving to match up to their husband’s status. Without these qualities, they could neither have the position to receive the human heads which their husbands hunted (if they have no blankets which they themselves wove), nor could they become leaders of other women if they are bad, greedy and jealous. All women who are married to such prominent persons should, therefore, initiate good deeds in order to match with the courage and qualities of their husbands.
28. IN TIME OF SICKNESS:
The first thing which an Iban would do when he is indisposed is to make an offering for his sickness in a small scale ritual. The request to God to cure him in this nature is done in his own private room. He does not usually inform other people in the longhouse of this offering. Should he fail to recover by doing this, he will then proceed to make an offering in a grander scale. This is done at the outermost section of the covered verandah where he will invite the elders in the longhouse whom he asked to make the offering.
He would ask a healer (dukun) to treat him if the offering does not contribute to his recovery. If the dukun does not prove to be effective he would ask a manang (medicine-man) to perform relevant rituals to cure him. If he does not recover even after the manang has performed the appropriate ceremonies, he will either go into seclusion (nampok), or he will hold a festival to invite God make him well again. During this festival, he can request for a bard to sing a song called sugi or renong (traditional songs), or pengap (invocation) for his sickness. This of course depends very much on what is thought to be the most appropriate.
When the sick man happens to have had a dream in which the supernatural asks him to hold a reception at his gallery, he would do so together with his longhouse mates. Should be, however, dream of being directed to hold a rite at the open platform (tanju), he will hold a function known as the “Midday Festival”, because it ends at midday (Gawai Sandau Hari) or Gawai Mata (which literally means “incomplete festival”). The reason why this occasion is termed as Gawai Mata is because the people go out once only to the open platform. This will lead to another festival, the Gawai Sakit (a grand festival or ritual that is held to seek god’s help to cure a very sick person).
29. DEATH RITES & RITUALS:
Death is inevitable to every human being. After he has been indisposed for sometime, and if no amount of treatment is successful to cure him, he would certainly die.
Soon after an Iban man is pronounced dead, members of his family and relatives mourn for his death. While they are weeping for him, they close his mouth and eyes. They then bathe him and simultaneously, pestles (alu) are placed crosswise at both ends of the longhouse to prevent the dead (sebayan) from coming into the house, and taking away the soul of the dead man.
After he has been bathed, the people dress him up in his best clothes. His forehead is being marked with three spots of turmeric (kunyit). His teeth are blackened with the moisture of iron, while his feet are bound with red thread.
When these things have been dealt with, members of his family give him the necessities (baiya) to be used by him in the next world. His corpse is then carried out to the gallery to be placed inside an enclosure (Santubong), curtained with woven blankets (sapat), which the men who are not required to do anything in the private room, have prepared. This takes place when members of his family have finished preparing his requirements. When the dead man is being laid inside the sapat, his head is placed towards the outermost section of the covered verandah. As the people who carry the corpse out of the private room pass the doorway they sprinkled it with padi from the loft. This is done to prevent member of his family from being wasteful after his death. After he has been laid inside the sapat, one of the members of his family must keep vigil to ensure that neither a dog nor a cat will jump over his body. The people who sit inside the sapat always weep for him chanting the dirge (sabak). A specialist to chant the dirge (Tukang Sabak) is usually hired to do the chanting all night long.
When these arrangements have been made, the leader of the family members of the deceased will assembles their longhouse mates to decide which longhouses are to be invited to attend the funeral. Upon reaching a decision, some of them would then go to the nearest longhouses to inform the occupants of the time which the funeral would take place. According to the old customs, the messengers are prohibited from entering other peoples’ long houses. The people from other longhouses will inform the occupant of other longhouses about the funeral, and so on. They, however can inform the rest of the longhouses because they do not come fro the house of the dead man.
The longest vigil night for a dead man is three nights. The invite guests come to the longhouse of the bereaved family on the last vigil night for him. Before this, only the close relatives of the late man will participate in the nightly vigil for him.
Should a man die at night, a coffin is made the following morning by the people from his longhouse and those invited from other longhouses. In the past, the coffin was made from the durian, berangan (a kind of nut-bearing tree), menuang, tegelam (a kind of illipe tree) or belian (iron wood) trees. During the making of the coffin, the bereaved family will provide the people with food and drinks if shaping the coffin is done on the ground. If making the coffin is carried out in the longhouse, the people will provide food and drinks for their lunch. This is done because during a funeral nowadays, the people will slaughter a cow and several pigs, and the internal organs of these animals are mainly prepared for those who will shape the coffin on that day. During the making of the coffin the people take their food at the gallery.
On the final vigil night, the hired woman (tukang sabak) who will recite the dirge (sabak) begins to do so starting at about five o’clock in the evening. She sits inside the sapat on a chair facing the offerings. The invited guests normally arrive before dusk.
At about eight o’clock that night, the invited guests are seated along their hosts’ galleries to be served dinner. When dinner is over, the guests will talk to the bereaved family. Then at about ten o’clock that night, coffee and cakes will be served. When everybody has finished this, members of the bereaved family will assemble the elders at the gallery in order to narrate to the people about the cause of death, the deceased achievement in his lifetime, the type of respect to be accorded to him, the mourning period and other customs pertaining to death. When the discussion is over, the bereaved family serves the people with quality arrack, supplemented by beer and lemonade. Food is also served again at midnight after the bereaved family has enter¬tained the guests at their gallery.
After this, some of the guests will choose to talk among themselves at various places in the longhouse, while the older ones prefer to sit at the bereaved family’s gallery and listen to the woman who has been hired to sing the dirge. Women also, either young or old, sit near the sapat, listening to the singer of the dirge.
The people drink coffee again at about two in the morning. After this, they have another session of free discussion. Then at four o’clock, they take their seats for breakfast. After breakfast, at five-thirty, the casket is being sealed up. But before that, the corpse is being offered last meal (symbolically). When this is over, the plate and bowl with which the food is contained in are smashed into pieces and their fragments are thrown away through holes nearby.
The casket is then carried on shoulders. Soon after the coffin is carried from its original place to the burial ground, the fire which has been kept burning throughout the nightly vigil is carried by the people (usually the eldest son of the deceased) who lead the cortege. Some of the pieces of the leftover fire wood are taken into the room of the bereaved family where they will light a fire for three, five or seven consecutive evenings depending on the status of the deceased in the longhouse or community. This period is known as the “Evening of lighting fire” (Lemai Tungkun Api). Just before the people carry the coffin on their shoulders, the ashes from the hearth, which are placed near to the deceased’s feet throughout the vigil nights, are scattered over it. The corpse is not allowed to be carried past the gallery of the person who first erected the longhouse. Normally, this man’s gallery is at the middle of the longhouse. If a man whose gallery is constructed at the direction of upriver dies, then his coffin will be carried along the longhouse to that direction, and not passing the forbidden gallery. A similar procedure also applies to those whose ruai (galleries) face downriver, for they have to bring the casket without defying the taboo, i.e., they have to carry the coffin towards the direction of downriver.
On arrival at the cemetery, and before the grave is dug, the grave site is first ceremonially smeared with a chicken’s blood, sprinkled with rice grain and salts. The carcass of the chicken is then cooked at the cemetery’s landing place to be served as food for those who have come to bury the deceased. When the people are about to cook, they first conduct the head count on the number of people present, using pieces of broken twigs known as “tokens”.
The minimum depth of the grave is six feet. Before the coffin is being lowered into the hole, it should be cleaned off fresh leaves that fell on the grave as it is prohibited from being buried under the corpse. It is believed that this can cause the dead person spirit to frighten the living.
When the grave has been properly dug and cleaned, the coffin is then lowered into it, followed by the goods and some personal belongings given to the dead man. After this, the soil is properly piled and compacted on top of the coffin to prevent it from caving in. The Ibans believe that if there is a depression at the grave, it indicates that the living standard of the living members of the deceased will be lowered, or that progress will be impeded. As such, the Ibans who bury the dead have to be very cautious when they transfer the soil into the grave.
To mark the site of the grave, they put a jar or other forms of pottery on the direction of where the head of the deceased is laid. That is why in a traditional Iban gravesite, there is a lot of pottery lying around. Since the British colonial days, wooden cross or marble tombstone replaces the jar as marking for the grave site. After the jar has been planted there, they erect a small hut with a covering made of nipah palm leaves where they store perishable goods such as his own beddings for the dead man. These things are too bulky to be placed inside the coffin.
Everybody who has taken part in the burial will now return to the place where they had previously been cooking by the river side. Each of them will make a hook to “hook” their souls from the graveyard before they leave it. A member (or members) of the bereaved family who is the last person to leave the graveyard makes a sharp, split bamboo which he plants upside down by the side of the grave so as to prevent the soul of the dead from following them from behind.
After having had their food, the people will return to their respective longhouses. The people from the bereaved family’s longhouse will assemble at the private room of the family after washing themselves. At the gathering, the chief mourner is given three, five or seven mouthfuls of black rice which is placed on a knife. The amount of rice depends very much on the length of the mourning period, during which mourners may not go out. Later, they will open the shutter of the hole in the roof to light the loft. However, in the case of the ‘dark mourning period’, during which, mourners may not go out, the bilik (room) is being darkened throughout that period. Should that period fall under the category of the “jar period of mourning”, during which mourners at the longhouse may not go out (pana benda), then the shutter of the hole in the roof to light the loft will be opened that morning. If this period is termed as pana benda, other people at the longhouse will give the bereaved family a jar as they cannot wait for the said period to end. The number of jars which they will give will depend on the duration of the pana benda, If this lasts for three days, then the value of the jar will be one dollar (sigi jabir). If the pana benda covers five days only, then its monetary value is equivalent to two dollars (sigi panding). For a seven-day pana, the value of the jar is four dollars (sigi alas).
Later, the valuables of the deceased are tied up (nanggam ulit) after the arrangement of the pana has been finalised. If the deceased happens to be a man then the valuables which the people tie up will consist of long beads, shell armlets, armlets made of wood or bones and his other personal outfits which are small enough to be put inside a brass bowl to be covered with a lid. Female outfits will be put inside the brass bowl if the deceased is a woman. When these things have been placed inside the brass bowl, it is then covered with a large plate or an ordinary plate and tied tightly with rotan. A fowl is waved over these objects to ensure that the mourning period will be filled with calmness and tranquility. These valuables are then kept at the corner in between jars so as to prevent people from touching them until the next ritual comes.
30. FAREWELL RITE:
The farewell rite to mark the parting of the souls of the living and the deceased is known as beserara bunga. The ritual is done after the basket or brass bowl in which valuables of the deceased are kept has been opened. This rite has no limit in as far as the length of time is concerned, and it is wise to hold it soon after the opening of the brass bowl containing the valuables of the deceased is held. The reason for not wanting to delay the holding of this rite is to accelerate the separation of the souls of the deceased and those of the surviving members of his family. Should the deceased still remember the living members of his family, it is believed that those whom he frequently thinks of will often fall sick and the food that they eat are usually wasted. The people who choose to delay the holding of beserara bunga are aware of the consequences but their great pity or fondness for the deceased largely contributes to this delay.
The beserara bunga ceremony is performed by a medicine-man (manang). In the wordings of his chant, the manang cuts away the wilting part of a flower. This symbolises separating the dead from the living. On the night when the manang performs this ceremony, everybody in the longhouse assembles at the gallery of their host, i.e. the one who holds the rite. They have their meal at midnight and before they take their food, the manang would first throw some rice through a hole nearby. This is known as a rice offering (pedara). Before the manang does this, nobody is allowed to eat.
Work is not allowed to be done on the following day because it is against the customs of the manang. They will observe a day off their field work for this except for indoor domestic chores.
31. THE PERFORMANCE OF OPENING THE BASKET CONTAINING VALUABLES OF THE DECEASED:
The mourning period lasts for three months only. During this period, the people in the longhouse are not supposed to make music, shout, and put on flowery and bright clothes. In the case where certain people at the longhouse have to hold a festival planned earlier to fulfill their undertakings during the mourning period, they must compensate the bereave family with a jar (depending on the status of the deceased discussed during the funeral) to show their due respect which is metaphorical known as “plugging the ears” (pemampul pending). The reason for doing this is to ensure that they will not feel depressed when hearing other people make merry, or listening to the sound of the music played during the event. The amount of fine paid to them also depends on how long the mourning has started. The maximum number of payment of the fine, which is equivalent to a large jar, is three times.
The usual time for the opening ceremony of the basket container the valuables of the deceased is early in the morning, if it is to be done in the morning. Should it be performed in the afternoon, it is common practice to perform it in the late afternoon. It is considered a taboo to open the jar at the time when sun is very hot for fear that the longhouse will be cursed by more death happening in the longhouse within a short time span.
The person, who is appointed to open the basket or brass bowl containing the valuables of the deceased, uses palm leaves which are displayed as decorations. He is requested to go outside first. Before he goes into the house he must shout just like the way the Ibans do after they have returned from a war expedition.
If he uses an old head which he took from his own collection, fowl should be waved over it first and then ceremonially smeared with its blood. After the head has been taken down from the collection, it is then brought outside the longhouse. When the head is about to be brought up to the longhouse, the man who bears it then shouts.
On arrival at the gallery of the owner of the basket, where palm leaves (isang) have been displayed as decoration, the appointed man then opens these valuables there. Soon after these valuables have been opened up, members of the bereaved family will ask the man to cut the extreme length of their hair, which had to remain uncut during the mourning period. While this is being done, they pray for their good health and longevity. Soon after the basket or brass bowl has been opened, one of the men folk will beat a slow alarm on gong to signify its opening to end the mourning period and to ensure that the house will have no more interference.
32. A SMALL FESTIVAL OF TAKING THE PROPERTY OF THE DECEASED:
After the death of a husband or wife, either living husband or wife is called balu (widow or widower). During this period, either widow or widower will refrain from dressing smartly. Should a widower or widow happen to have an affair with a person of the opposite sex, he or she can be fined by the relatives of the deceased in accordance with the appropriate customs. However, if the widower tries to make himself smart then his being a widower is cleared without due consideration given him. This means that all the jars which the relatives of his wife demanded will have to be accounted for. This similar procedure applies to the widow also. Both cases are considered an indecent conduct by the Iban society and does not befitted the conduct of an honored person. This will smear his reputation and thus his social status.
In the case of a person who has undergone the period of being a widower for a considerable period of time, and when it is the correct time for him to marry again, and where suspicions arise, a ritual (ngambi tebalu) is held some months after a person’s death, at which a part of his or her property is taken away by close relatives of the deceased. After this, the widow or widower is cleared to marry again, which is then organized in accordance with the marriage rules which have been laid down. The amount of property taken varies, depending on the social status of the deceased.
The procedures practiced by the Ibans while taking the property of their close relatives who have died are thus:
- If the person is both a war commander and a hero (Tuai Kayau), the value of his property to be taken is sixteen dollars (16 igi jabir).
- In the case of a person who is a capable and trusted warrior (manok sabong), the monetary value of his property to be taken by his close relatives is fifteen dollars (15 igi jabir).
- The value of the property of a chief’s bodyguard or a war champion (Bujang Berani) to be taken by his relatives is fourteen dollars (14 igi jabir), provided that he is the principal figure in the area.
- If he is from a well-bred (tiris pantis orang ke berani), family and does not kill any enemy or secure any fortune while on war expeditions or abroad the monetary value of his property to be taken by his relatives is thirteen dollars (13 igi jabir).
- The value of the property of the rest of the Ibans who have died will be based on the nature of their positions and vocations before their deaths, besides considering their ages. The lowest value is two dollars (sigi panding).
This similar order of value of the property taken by close relatives also applies to Iban women. A woman who surpasses others in every conceivable field of activity or work has the great value of property to be taken by her relatives. (e.g. skillful weaver, bears many children, successful in farming and above all she is the wife of a chief). She is immediately followed by a woman who can experiment and invent patterns on her handicraft. This woman is again followed by one who is the centrifugal force, which means that she is the woman whose gallery has been established as a place where other people like to assemble and congregate. Next in line is the woman whose room is frequented by visitors, who is generous to all and is selfish towards none. The maximum monetary value of the property of a woman taken by her relatives is ten dollars (5 igi panding), and the lowest is one dollar (sigi jabir).
Provided that the feast during which the property of the deceased is taken by his or her relatives is organized amidst happy and favorable atmosphere. Despite the high value of property mentioned, the most they will bring home with them is two dollars (sigi panding), to show that they have cleared the widower or widow from the forbidden period and allow them to marry again.
When the discussion on the amount of fees payable is held, the people who will be receiving the properties put on red sarong over their shoulders, after which a fowl is waved over them to ensure that they will be in good health.
33. A GRAND FESTIVAL OF THE DEAD:
A widow or widower who makes use of the tebalu mansau is the one who disapproves of the taking of his or her late partner’s properties unless it is done after the time when he or she is holding a grand festival for his or her dead partner. This grand festival is called Gawai Antu (literally means Ghost Festival). Normally, the clearance of one’s period of being a widow or a widower is done before a ritual of drinking rice wine from the bamboo cane ceremony (nganjong buloh) by a warrior is about to start the following morning, at the end of the festival. Despite the clearance of a widow or a widower from the forbidden period of re-marriage after the tebalu mata festival is being performed, it does not mean that he or she will not be obliged to hold a Gawai Antu ceremony for his or her late husband or wife. A widow or widower who cleared his or her widow ship at this stage is accorded the highest respect from the member of the society for their patience and respectful to their late partners and their member of families.
The tradition of formally separating oneself from the dead has been practiced since the times of Sarapoh. A widow or widower is still considered ‘dirty’ if he is not formally cleansed in a ritual. She will not be able to go back to perform normal social activities if she is not cleansed. People would not want her to take part any role in the many rites or ritual performed by the Iban, even though the said person is a notable member of the society. Only after he has been cleared of the taboo then he can return to normal social life. From the widow or widower point of view, these are done out of respect for the immediate families of their partners, especially their in-laws, preservation of self respect and reputation in the eyes of their community. It is never treated as a burden or punishment for the living. This goes to show that the Iban people have a lot of respect for every member of their society. Even when they died, they are given their proper last respect and parting rituals so that the living can continue with their normal life happily ever after.
Respect for God, people, living and the non-living thing is to respect oneself. Learning to respect has always been the main syllabus taught throughout the Iban way of life. From the time we were in our mother’s womb until we leave this world, respect for all things have been safeguarded in the taboos and rituals we followed and performed in our daily life. With respects, we have fear for God, people and spirits around us. With respect, we earned the respect of other people, even our enemies. The word “no respect” (nadai basa) is the sharpest slap on the face of every Iban man, because they were never taught to be disrespectful. With respect, our ancestors have strike fear in the heart of their enemies. With respect, we will live in harmony, prosperous and happily ever after.
As I sit by the gravel bed on the bank of Paku River, contemplating what I have written in this article, I cannot help recollecting the stream of activities that has passed through the same stream from the time the area was first settled. I can still hear the shouts from the battle that once rage there, the splash of the paddles and poles that ply the stream, sounds of children foot steps playing, the sound of axe splitting fire woods, the splash of kingfisher (burong ensing) diving for fish, the leaves that dropped on the water and watching them drifting to the sea as happened many times before. I still remember when the water was crystal clear in my childhood days. Now, it’s murky with domestic dirt floating around. Could people have lost their RESPECT for their God, for each other and for their environment? What are the thing that matter most for the people in this modern society? A lot of souls are lost as we move towards modernization. A society that is moving forward without spiritual fulfillment is paving way for self destruction and extinction.
“This world will never end,” I said to myself. It will clean and re-cycle itself up in time. At least that’s what scientist hypothesizes. People come and go …. leaving fond memories behind …. and leave nothing, not even their legacy and a place they called their own, for our children! …. That is more brutal than those past headhunters of Borneo.
Original author of “Tusun Pendiau Iban” Late Benedict Sandin K.M.N, P.B.S
Originally translated to English by Prof. Clifford Sather, 1976.
Recompiled for weblog publication by Gregory Nyanggau Mawar, October 2007.