Adat Creation: Incest Law
The First Incest Law:
During this second visit by Sera Gunting to his grandfather Sengalang Burong longhouse, he stayed with his grandfather and his youngest aunt, Endu Dara Chempaka Tempurong Alang, and not with his mother. As they were of the same age, they played, ate and worked together. Living in this manner, they began to have strong affection for each other and began to fall in love. Sengalang Burong warned them that, as they were aunt and nephew, they must not live as man and wife, which they appeared to be doing in the old man’s eyes and which they strongly denied. A month later, Endu Dara Chempaka Tempurong Alang was found to be pregnant which alarmed the whole of Sengalang Burong’s household.
On hearing this, Sengalang Burong summoned a large meeting in order to enquire into the case. At the meeting, he told those present that his daughter had conceived and that the man responsible was his grandson, Sera Gunting. He told his audience that this is a serious misconduct and strictly forbidden by the rule of Iban law called Pemali Ngudi Menoa.
He asked everyone’s opinion as to what would be a just decision. All present replied that it was for him to judge, because he had settled all similar matters in the past.Sengalang Burong said that according to the law, both transgressors should be put to death.
“But in this case”, he continued, “As Sera Gunting was a complete stranger to us, their lives may be spared. But the child to be born must be killed in order to wipe away the wrath (kudi) of God and the universal spirits.”
Sengalang Burong went on to explain the reason why we would not have them killed by “pantang enggau aur”, or impalement by bamboo spikes, which is the prescribed punishment. This was because “if they were killed, Sera Gunting would not be able to pass on to mankind how a future crime of this kind should be settled.”He then went on to explain the rules of incest and marriage as stated below:
First cousin is permitted to marry, and so are cousins of same generation. Besides father and daughter, nephew and aunt, niece and uncle, mother and son, brother and sister, grandchildren and in-laws, an incestuous relationship, which is totally forbidden, the following persons of different generations (see table below) are NOT permitted to marry unless they undergo the besapat ka ai and other related ceremonies depending on seriousness of the offence:
- A and P are first cousin
- B and Q are children of A and P
- C and R are children of B and Q
- D and S are children of C and R
- E and T are children of S and S
- F and U are children of E and T
If a man and woman in categories 1 and 2 wish to marry (e.g A marry Q or P marry B), they must each produce half of the following items:
- Eight pigs of medium size
- Eight nyabor sword
- A fine of sigi rusa – equivalent to eight ringgit
- Eight beads, axes, plates, bowl.
- One woven blanket (pua kumbu)
- One fathom of calico for a spiritual rail
- Eight ranki (shell armlets)
- One kebok (jar) known as a cage for the soul of the bride and bridegroom.
If the man and woman have lived together before paying the above fines due to poverty, they are not permitted to marry. But if they continue to live together, they will incur the penalty of death by bamboo spikes. If, however, the fines are subsequently paid, they must partake in a ceremony known as besapat ka ai, in which they are dipped in the river, which has been spilt with the blood of four of the eight pigs. These four pigs are killed immediately upstream from where the couple is dipped. The blood of the remaining four pigs is for pelasi menoa, purification of the land.
When a man and woman in categories 2 and 3 wish to marry (e.g. B marry R or Q marry C), they are ordered to produce one each of the items mentioned for categories 1 and 2 above. One of the pigs is to be killed as an offering to the water spirit (antu ai), while the other is to be killed on land as offering to the spirits of the earth, hills and sky. This ceremony is known as bekalih di darat.
When a man and woman in categories 3 and 4 wish to marry (i.e. C marry S or R marry D), they must produce one fowl and two knives. During the marriage ceremony, after the fowl is killed, the bride and her groom must bite a piece of iron to strengthen their souls.
When a man and woman in categories 4 and 5 wish to marry (i.e. D marry T or S marry E), each must bite a piece of salt during the ceremony to strengthen their soul.
For categories 5 and 6, the man and woman at their marriage must each fell a fruit tree in order to wipe away the bad fortune that might otherwise disturb their future lives.
For category 6, the child of a man or woman belonging to this category at the ceremony, both must have a fighting cock waved over their heads and bite a piece of steel to strengthen their souls. This is the least and the last of the taboos of incest for intergenerational marriage.
Sengalang Burong went on to warn Sera Gunting that if the incestuous persons are not dealt with according to these rules, very heavy rain will fall, the rivers flood, and pests will destroy the farms and plantation and landslides will occur.Before he pronounced his final judgment on Sera Gunting and his aunt, Sengalang Burong ruled that no one should mention the proper names of his or her parents-in-law. “Anyone guilty of this,” he said, “will be cursed and be unfortunate in all his deeds, all the days of his life”.After he had finished teaching Sera Gunting the laws of incest, Sengalang Burong demanded that the child born of Endu Dara Chempaka Tempurong Alang be killed at birth and that Sera Gunting must return to the world of men in order to tell his people what they should do in cases of incest.Sera Gunting returned shortly after this and became the most notable leader of Iban adat, religious practices, pioneering and migration activities.
Research & compile by
Gregory Nyanggau Mawar
Source materials: by Professor Clifford Sather & Late Benedict Sandin, published on The Sarawak Museum Journal Vol.XLVI No.67, Dec 1994…..continue Part 6.