Adat Creation – Tangga Bejie
Of all the early ancestors, perhaps the most familiar is Bejie. They were still living a primitive way of life and they live mostly by hunting, fishing and gathering. They do not have a developed social system and their social structure was very simple and basic concerning mainly on food, clothing and shelter. Art, cultures and language were not yet developed as they live in seclusion away from the more advanced community found in Java and Sumatra. It was during his time that their community started to meet the coastal traders. The coastal traders brought salt, tobacco, clothing, domestic utensils like jars and tools to them. Barter trading became the main form of economic activity. From this early contact with the coastal traders the Ibans began to develop their economic and social skill, language and culture. They learn to trade and understand the economic values of their jungle produce based on demand from the traders. They began adopt a social structure of selecting their chief and his council of elders for major decisions in leading their community. They adopted much vocabulary from the traders to develop their language and to communicate. Soon the oratory culture develops for religious, social and economic function.
The coastal traders also brought along their religion with them and perform their missionary activities on the interior tribes. The first religion to spread to the Iban people was Hinduism during the time of Raja Durong and was adopted in the various religious practices of the Ibans. It was also believed that Raja Durong could have brought Hinduism to Borneo and to escape the fast spreading Muslim empire in Java and Sumatra. Then came the Muslim mission who wanted to introduce Islamic teaching and change the Iban nomadic way of life to a more settled and structured communal lifestyle. This early encounter with a Muslim mahaguru became the turning point of the Iban religious belief.
Bejie, being the leader of his tribe, he was pressured by the mahaguru to embrace Islam and thus expand the Muslim empire into Borneo after their success in Java and Sumatra. This naturally clashes with their animistic belief they adopted from their ancestors or Hindu religious practices as brought by the remnants of Hindu empire earlier. Thus before he and his people could adopt Islam as their new religion, Bejie wish to make a visit to their god to confirm the existence of their Muslim god who lives in the sky as told by the mahaguru.
Bejie called for a big meeting with his people and all animals in the forest to inform them of his plans to construct a ladder up the enchepong tree in order to meet Muslim god personally. Unfortunately, he forgot to invite the termites and honey bear to this meeting. They felt insulted for not being invited and planned to take revenge on Bejie. Before he started to build the stairway, he instructed his brother named Bada to lead his followers. As soon as the construction work started, the termites started to build tunnel unknowingly by Bejie and his men and other animals inside the roots and trunk of the enchepong tree. Just as his ladder reached the sky, the honey bear then started to dig out the root and trunk of the enchepong tree from the outside. The soft wooded enchepong tree collapsed. Bejie and his ladder fell to earth. The hero was killed and pieces of his ironwood ladder fell into various rivers and streams of central Borneo. Any pieces of ironwood found crossing streambeds are called “tangga Bejie” and should not be used to construct any part of the longhouse, as it is considered a taboo and would bring bad luck to the house owner as what happens to Bejie.
Bejie bore a son named Nisi. He was a father of two sons, Telichu and Telichai and a daughter named Ragam. According to the oral narratives, Telichu turned into a cannibalistic demon huntsman during a hunting trip with his brother Telichai and became a founding ancestor of an antu race known as antu gerasi or demon huntsman. They are the most feared and dreaded of all the Iban supernatural beings. They are thought to roam the forest at dusk, during thunderstorms or at night, hunting soul of unfortunate human who appears before them in the invisible plane of the soul, which usually appears as wild pigs to them. These antu gerasi live apart from humankind, as forest ogres, and are said to hunt with spears, assisted by a small but fierce dog called Pasun. Most of them are living a solitary wandering life while others are said to live in an unseen longhouse on a fichus tree (kayu kara). That explains why Iban would not want to live near a fichus tree, as it is a domain for the antu gerasi.
Before Telichu separated from his brother Telichai, he taught his brother what measures must be taken by human kind to defend themselves from spirit malevolence in future. He also taught his nephew, Manang Jarai to burn the lukai tree bark during the night of thunderstorms or full moon to ward off the demon huntsman. Manang Jarai lived to be the first Iban shaman. His name is still invoked by present day manang when they performed curing rituals (pelian). Telichu also tells his brother, after they divide their hunting dog, that in becoming a spirit he and his descendants will henceforth be invisible, but that Telichai and his generations after him will only be able to hear their voices and they will continue to meet each other in dreams.
From Telichu time onward, the antu gerasi have lived by feeding upon the souls of human beings. However, individual spirits occasionally befriend a man or woman and sometimes enter the visible world in a human form to take a mortal husband or wife. In myth such marriages frequently resulted in acts of law giving as remembered in the myth of Rukok and Remi, and Gupi and Belang Pinggang.
As Telichu is said to have founded the line of demon huntsman or antu gerasi, his brother Telichai became a common ancestor of the living Iban people, including the Orang Panggau as per Saribas tusut below:
Telichai x Endu Dara Sia (Bunsu Kamba who owns a rusa jar in the shape and size of senggang fruit) = Si Gundi (father of Keling orang Panggau), Retak Dai (father of Sarapoh), Lalak Pala (father of Bujang Sakunding Mupong), Brenai Sugi, Kurong Mayang, Bui Nasi, Belangkat (father of Remias – wife of Pateh Ambau).
After the Iban ancestors learned to live together in a larger community in a longhouse, they shared a common world with the gods, goddesses, the heroes and heroines of Orang Panggau-Gellong. By some accounts, some of our ancestors migrated from Sumatra, Java or even from more distant land. These people includes Raja Durong’s family, Jelenggai and later followed by Pateh Ambau and Merom Panggai.
Following their arrival in Borneo, they settled with the descendant of Bejie which includes the Orang Panggau-Gellong who were the original Iban community of Borneo. They settled along the upper reaches of the Kapuas River in what is now Kalimantan Barat. Their original settlement in the Kapuas is said to have been in a place called Semitau Tuai. From there they made a series of migration until a place called Tampun Juak. Here they overcome a series of supernatural calamities such as the appearance of excrement from nowhere causing epidemic and death to the people. There were stories of attack by turtle and fish (ikan kenyulong) that came out of water, their natural element, and attack the settlers along the riverbanks.
To escape these disasters, Keling and Tutong, leaders of the Panggau-Gelong heroes, led a migration to Nanga Skapat, on the Skapat River, a true left tributary of the Kapuas River. It was here, according to mythic tradition, that a quarrel occurred between two of the heroes, Laja and Sempurai, that brought about the final separation of these heroes, Si Gundi of the orang Panggau and orang Gellong from the ancestors of the present day Iban people, who were also his younger brothers, Retak Daai, Lalak Pala, Bernai Sugi, Kurong Mayang, Bui Nasi and Belangkat. Before their departure, Keling taught our ancestors how to play the percussion gendang rayah on gongs so that, even after their separation, humankind might continue to summon these heroes to the world in order to celebrate the great cycles of Gawai festivals. In the course of these rituals, the Orang Panggau act as the ritual hosts and attendants, sending out invitations and receiving the gods and ancestral spirits on behalf of their human hosts.
Sempurai is known for his enormous strength, violent, quick temper (mangah and jegak-jegak) and for his periodic fits of rage. It was because of this that he quarreled with his cousin, Laja, both of them were principal companion of Keling. As a consequence of their continuous fighting, Keling decided to depart from this human world and also separated from Tutong and his Gellong followers. He brought along the Panggau River and put in its place a present day Batang Ketungau. Tutong for his part similarly replaced the Gellong River with the Kapuas, but in the process, he inadvertently left behind Bukit Gellong, a steep hill in the upper Ketungau River. Today, this hill remains, a physical monument to the heroes’ former presence in the visible world. Also like other prominent hills, it remains a place of possible encounter to which living iban journey in hope of meeting the Orang Panggau and for gaining their personal guardianship.
Following their departure from the visible world, the followers of Keling founded a new settlement at a site called Panggau Libau, menoa Luchak Lunyau Kena Biau Jila Isang or the land muddied by those forever waving the palm leaves of victory. It was told that a visitor, entering from either end of the longhouse, must pass 170 apartment doors before he reaches that of Keling’s bilik at its centre. Those under Tutong, settled at Nanga Gellong, at a longhouse called Gellong Batu Benang or Gellong of the spindle whorls, situated at the confluence of the Panggau and Gellong Rivers.
Gellong is the natal home of the great heroine weavers, including Keling’s wife, Kumang. From these settlements, the Orang Panggau continued to involve themselves in the affairs of the Iban people. Keling and Laja are the best known of the Panggau-Gellong heroes. Laja is the principal companion of Keling. His chief task is to smoke the trophy heads (nyampu antu pala), which they bring back from the battlefield.
The other principal warriors under Keling’s command are Sempurai and Pungga. Sempurai is said to be of demon ancestry, a descendant of Telichu, hence his violent temper and unpredictable nature. By some account, Simpurai is a son of the arch demon Beduru or Nising (arch enemy of the God of War, Sengalang Burong). He was captured by Keling’s father as a child and raised as an adopted member of the heroes’ family. Saribas Iban also knows Sempurai as Bungai Nuing. Tutong, the Gellong leader, is the principal blacksmith of the heroes, the forager of iron spears and swords.
Keling is portrayed in the epic sagas as handsome and brave, yet wayward. Upon reaching manhood, he develops a tendency of a wandering life. Again and again, he disappears for months, even years at a time. He possesses miraculous powers of metamorphosis and in his wandering, assumes many different forms. He is married to Kumang, the most beautiful and accomplished of the Gellong heroines. The two are much given to amorous adventures, becomes the husband or lover of many other women, although he usually returns to Kumang in the end. Kumang, for her part, takes similar liberties.
After the separation of Orang Panggau from mankind, the ancestors of the Iban multiply, establishing themselves in new longhouses under a number of successive leaders. In the generations that follow, both mythic narratives and genealogies tell of frequent meetings between the ancestors and the spirits. The Remun Dayak story tells of their ancestor meeting with the spirit tiger. In this story, a tiger carries off a young girl. Her father journeys to the longhouse of the spirit tiger in the invisible realm of the souls and spirits and there he took revenge on the killer tiger that have violated proper relations between spirit and mankind, leaving themselves open to human retaliation.
Another similar myth is a story of a man named Jimbun and the spirit crocodile. In this myth, Jimbun’s daughter was captured and killed by a crocodile. Jimbun went to the underwater realm of the crocodile and took revenge for the death of his daughter. There is also a myth of spirits Puntang Raga who enter human world and taught Sarapoh the rules of funerals and observing the mourning periods. The spirit Puntang Raga also appear five generations later and taught Betie Berauh Ngumbang to modify Sengalang Burong’s punishment for incestuous relationship.In other myth, the spirits enters the human world in order to marry mortals by whom they bear ancestral offspring, for example, Jelenggai and Bunsu Bintang Banyak who taught the Iban to follow the movement of Pleiades constellation for guidance for farming on earth, Numpi and Bunsu Patin produce a descendant of Skrang and Saribas people, Salamuda and Bunsu Babi or Dayang Manis Muka who taught the Iban how to predict individual destiny by observing patterns on pig liver, Remi the originator of sabak and a demon named Damu or Rukok who taught the Iban how to conduct raids on enemy territory and establish the first marriage law, Gupi and demon named Gerasi Belang Pinggang made first modification to the marriage laws.
Research & Compile by Gregory N. Mawar
Source materials: by Professor Clifford Sather & Late Benedict Sandin, published on The Sarawak Museum Journal Vol.XLVI No.67, Dec 1994.