Iban Adat Law and Custom
1. IBAN CUSTOMARY LAW
In traditional Iban religion, the longhouse community is the principal congregation, or body of persons who participate in common rituals. For this reason the Iban pay careful attention to relationships between longhouse members. Children are instructed to respect their community elders and live decently in accordance with customary adat and the norms of their community. By the same token, both secular norms and ritual injunctions are closely related, and only in abiding by both may the Iban live harmoniously with one another and gain the favor of the gods and spirits.
The principal guardian of customary adat is the longhouse headman, or tuai rumah. Most longhouse headmen are descended from the pioneers of past migrations who originally settled the area in which the community over which they have authority is located. The responsibility of the headman is to look after the affairs of his anak-biak, or followers, and, as a matter of course, he is expected to know every aspect of customary adat. If a dispute is referred to the headman, he will attempt to settle it with the help of the Tuai Umai or Tuai Burong (the farm leader or augury expert, respectively), and other village members who are well versed in customary adat. The Tuai Burong is an expert in various kinds of augury as well as being well versed in the genealogies and history of his community.
The fines (tunggu) imposed by the Tuai Rumah are different in value from the fines imposed by the district chief (penghulu) and District Court magistrates. In Sarawak’s Second Division, the Penghulus can impose the following fines:
If the offence is the most serious form of incest, which is believed to cause disaster to the land and its inhabitants (ngudi menoa), the Native District Court magistrates, with the recommendation of the Penghulu, can impose a fine of one and a half piculs each on the two offenders. In other Divisions in Sarawak, all fines imposed by both Tuai Rumah and Penghulu are reckoned in mungkul. The value of a mungkul is one dollar ($1.00).
For the least serious cases, the Tuai Rumah may impose fines in the form of eggs (telu manok), nails (paku lawang), cups (mangkok), plates (chapak) and bowls (pinggai). Such minor fines are called sa-uta iring manok and are generally paid by the friends and relatives of the disputants. The fines imposed by the Tuai Rumah for more serious offences are as follows:
In the remote areas in Sarawak, the Iban still pay fines for minor cases at fifty cents for a jabir, the value of which is normally one dollar. This rate of equivalence is in strict accordance with the ancient value decreed by the Brunei regime before the beginning of Brooke rule in 1840. The Iban call it “Jabir Iban” in contrast to “Jabir Perintah”. Fines were traditionally the property of the Tuai Rumah or were distributed by the headman among those who took part in the judgment.
In addition to the imposition of fines in cash, if the offence is a major one, that is, if it provokes kudi, the wrath of the gods and spirits, the offenders are required to sacrifice one to two sows (babi sepa) or two male pigs with tusks (babi tumboh taring). The blood of these animals is used to purify the land and water against the sin committed. Besides this, the offenders are also requested to produce a knife (duku), a small jar (kebok) and an iron adze (beliong)*. The kebok is given to the Tuai Rumah and the duku and beliong are given to the man who kills the pig or pigs.
In ancient times if a hunter killed another man by mistake, the killer was required to compensate the deceased’s relatives with pati nyawa compensation of two valuable old jars. Failing to pay this, the killer was surrendered to the deceased’s family to become their servant (jaum). His descendants after him remained servant of the deceased’s family unless they liberated themselves by paying compensation or were voluntarily freed by their owners.
If a warrior killed his fighting mate by mistake while on the warpath, the killer must also pay pati nyawa compensation of two valuable old jars to the deceased’s family. Failing to pay this, he must surrender himself to become their servant together with his descendants.
When the Tuai Rumah learns that a serious offence, such as adultery, has been committed, he must sacrifice a chicken at once. The significance of this sacrifice is that it calls public attention to the offence and indicates that it is now under formal juridical review, and that the parties involved are no longer permitted to resort to private vengeance or self-help. He must act at once, as any delay might result in bloodshed, in which case the Tuai Rumah himself is liable to be fined. Traditionally an injured husband or wife had the right to retaliate in the case of adultery provided the adulterous couple were found inflogran te delicto and the retaliation was carried out at once.
BEGAU ENGGAU PANGGIL (ALARM AND CALL)
Before the use of writing, the Penghulu and other Iban leaders had traditional means of calling together persons to attend legal hearings and for other reasons, particularly to assemble war parties.
In ancient times, when a war leader wanted to lead his people in war, he usually sent an urgent temuku tali (“ string with knots”) to call together his warriors. Attached to each string was a chicken’s feather and small piece of half-burnt wood. The meaning of these articles was that the message carried by the string must be transmitted in a great hurry and quickly relayed from one longhouse to another day and night, till it reached its final destination. Feathers are said to symbolize the swiftness of flight and the half-burnt wood, the torches to be used at night in carrying the message from one longhouse to another. The message itself was transmitted verbally. Each knot in the string signified one day and had to be untied each morning by the recipients. On the day when the last knot was untied, all the warriors who had armed themselves would arrive at the warleader’s longhouse to join the war expedition.
If a chieftain summoned anyone to attend his court, he also sent them a string, but with knots only. One knot has to be untied each day by the recipient; and on the day he untied the last knot, he had to attend the court as requested. The same method is still used in the remote areas in Sarawak to call guests to attend festivals.
The other method used by ancient war leaders to summon their warriors was to send their most trusted warrior from one longhouse to another, with a sharp spear (sangkoh) heavily decorated with the hair of enemies. On arrival at each fighting man’s longhouse, the bearer of the spear informed his comrades-in-arms that they were requested to join the warpath on a certain day. On receiving this message, each warrior started to arm himself with weapons such as nyabor, langgai tingang, surong bila, ilang and pedang swords; terabai (shield), sumpit (blowpipe), sangkoh, bujak, perambut and berayang spears. A day or two before the war party was due to set out, all the fighters assembled at the war leader’s longhouse, sufficiently provisioned by their wives with rice and cakes. These methods of calling people to war ended in about 1900.
From 1900 to about 1922 when a Penghulu wished to call for someone to attend his court he dispatched his official labong (turban), which was relayed from one longhouse to another till it reached the person concerned. After this, a new method of calling people was for the Penghulu to send an official tungkat (rattan stick) with a symbol of the Rajah’s crown on the top of the stick. This official stick was sent from one longhouse to another till it reached the person being summoned.
If the message was an urgent one, a chicken’s feather and a small half-burnt piece of wood were tied to it, so that it would be relayed by day and night from one longhouse to another without delay.
If a longhouse failed to relay the official tungkat, its headman was fined five katies (M$3.60) by the Penghulu. Failure to pay this fine was punishable by four months in jail.
From 1930 onwards the official tungkat from the government or from the Penghulus were made from a 4” x 2” x 1” piece of wood with a letter attached to them, and were also sent like the earlier tungkat from one longhouse to another till they reached their destination. In the present era the use of the tungkat has been abolished which, if I may say so, gives the impression that the authority of the government has lessened.
If an individual feels he has a grievance against another person which cannot be settled privately by the two of them, he may call upon the Tuai Rumah and request that the headman judge (di pechara) the case of convening a formal hearing (bechara).5 Before he calls a bechara, the Tuai Rumah will ordinarily attempt to bring about an amicable reconciliation by calling the two parties to a small private meeting (baum mit or berandau). The Iban make a clear distinction, in this connection, between a bechara, a formal hearing in which a judgment is rendered, and a baum mit, literally, “a small meeting”, in which the Tuai Rumah or another community leader acts simply as a convener and impartial mediator. Occasionally the Tuai Rumah may act on his own initiative in calling a meeting, without being first requested by others to intervene, should a grievance or breach of adat come directly to his attention. As a general rule, every Iban Penghulu and Tuai Rumah proceeds to convene the hearing based on the basic principle:
Utai besai gaga mit; Utai mit gaga nadai.
Make large things small; A small thing becomes nothing.
In other words, every leader must attempt to resolve disputes in such a way as to assure a maximum degree of consensus between the principals involved, and, if the matter is a petty one, that is “a small thing”, he seeks, through private meetings, to make it “nothing”, and so avoid public litigation. In a petty case, the Tuai Rumah may even offer to compensate the aggrieved party himself, or may encourage the friends or relatives of the disputants to do so, in the interest of bringing about a quick and mutually acceptable resolution of differences.
There is an additional saying, which the Penghulu or Tuai Rumah may cite, namely, that the law is like a cobra (adat baka tedong): it is harmless, if undisturbed, but if stepped upon, it may bite; that is to say, a person who insists upon litigation runs the risk of being found in the wrong and fined (i.e., “bitten by the law”).
However, if a case cannot be settled informally, the tuai rumah will then call a bechara. A time is set and the two parties are notified, witnesses and members of every family in the community are informed, and, if necessary, messengers are dispatched to call people back from their farms. On the appointed evening, after dinner, the tuai rumah spreads mats on his section of the gallery (ruai). As people gather, the principal disputants are called forward and made to sit facing each other before the tuai rumah and senior family heads. The tuai rumah then calls upon the disputants to present their accounts, beginning first with the plaintiff. After each party has spoken, the testimony of witnesses (saksi) is given and discussion is open to questions. Finally, after each side has stated its case, the hearing is opened to a general discussion which continues until the tuai rumah is satisfied that the issues involved in the dispute are clear and that each party has had an opportunity to air its case fully. He will then call upon several of the elders present to express their opinions. In stating their views, the elders, who are recognized for their knowledge of adat, are expected to cite precedent and draw parallels with previous judgments made in similar cases by former headmen and regional leaders.
Having heard the views of the elders, the tuai rumah proceeds to make is judgment. In doing so he carefully cites the rules of adat relevant to the case and, upon the basis of the courts’ deliberations, judged one party or the other to be at fault. He then sets the fine to be paid by the party he finds in the wrong, fixes the time in which payment must be made, and informs the party of its right to appeal against his verdict to the Penghulu’s court.
If one of the disputants is dissatisfied with the Tuai Rumah’s judgment he may lay the matter before the Penghulu. As a rule, the Penghulu will only agree to hear a case that has already been heard by the plaintiff’s tuai rumah that is to say, the regional chief accepts cases only on appeal, after he has been assured that the matter has been heard in the disputants’ home community.
If the Penghulu agrees to review a case, he sends out his official tungkat to notify the two parties, their tuai rumah and witnesses, so that they may all be present on the day fixed for the hearing. He will also call upon elders from his own community to be present to assist him in judging the case. Saribas adat stipulates that a Penghulu must be assisted by at least two elders to insure the impartiality of the courts’ judgment and he may seek the advice as many others as he likes. The deliberations ordinarily begin in the morning, but are otherwise similar to those of the tuai rumah ‘s court, except that after the two parties and their witnesses have stated their case, the Penghulu will call upon the tuai rumah for their opinions. In rendering a final judgment, the Penghulu will choose his words carefully so as not to anger the party he finds in the wrong. He will specify clearly the reasons by which he arrived at his verdict, saying that in accordance with the views of the elders and the recognized rules of adat, he is compelled to levy a fine, which he then fixes, upon the party at fault. Again, the litigants are informed that they may lodge an appeal with the District or Native Court within two weeks. Otherwise, he declares the matter settled.
Both the Tuai Rumah and Penghulu, as we have said, will ordinarily attempt to persuade the parties in any dispute brought to their attention to resolve their differences privately, or, if this is not possible, they will seek to contain the dispute and prevent it from developing into serious litigation in accordance with the principle of making what is large, small. There are a number of pressures on the disputants that favor their efforts. For one, the disputants will frequently not wish to have their dispute made public, and, if the guilty party knows that he is in the wrong, he may simply pay a fine directly to the Tuai Rumah in order to avoid the embarrassment of an unfavorable bechara.6 Also the severity of fines increases as cases move from the Tuai Rumah’s court, through the Penghulu’s court, to the Native or District Court, and this, too, discourages needless appeals. This is not to say, however, that the principles of adat are not important to the Iban, for a common saying is “that by traveling with the adat stick”, the tungkat adat, “one is able to stay to the right course”, that is, in the path of right conduct. However, the principles of adat must be tempered by common sense in the overriding interest of maintaining harmonious relations. (“When you sleep, let memory be your pillow, when you travel, let adat be your walking stick” meaning “Enti tindok, bepanggal ka pengingat, enti bejalai, betungkat ka adat”.)
If either party knowingly fails to appear, after having been summoned to the court, he or she is liable to fine. The matter is generally treated as an insult against the man empowered to hear the case. Refusal to attend the Tuai Rumah’s court carries a fine of sigi jabir and failure to answer the Penghulu’s summon is fine, five katies. Those who show contempt of the court, by disturbing the Proceedings, or by verbally abusing the judge after having been found at fault, are also liable to fine. Anyone guilty of behavior disrespectful of the court, is fined at once, before the hearing is allowed to continue.
In the past a dispute might be settled, or an accused individual might seek to establish his innocence, by means of a formal contest or ordeal. Traditionally the Iban performed four types of ordeals:
1. Kelam ai or selam ai, a diving contest in which the victor was the man who remained under the water longest. Generally the disputants engaged stand-ins to champion their case and wagers (entaroh) might be staked on the outcome. Elsewhere (Sandin 1957: 125-27, and 1971: 28-29) I have discussed diving ordeals in some detail and recorded the legendary origin of this type of legal contest. The last known diving contest in Sarawak occurred during the Japanese occupation between those accused of the murder of Mr. G.R.H. Arundell and his family at Lubok Antu and their principal accuser and the outcome was cited in the later military trial of the accused in early 1948.7 In the past the most common issue settled by selam ai concerned hereditary rights of ownership over fruit groves and bee trees.
2. Nyelam, literally means “to dive”, but, in this case, it is used to describe a cockfight organized to settle a dispute. Disputes settled in this manner are ordinarily those that arise in connection with a cockfighting contest (ba maia nyabong manok), particularly disputes over bets (tui or entaroh) or over the outcome of a contest, and when they occur, they are prescribed by the tuai sabong, the cockfighting leaders. Nyelam is the only form of contest that is still practiced by the Iban.
3. Bachelok betong, an ordeal in which the disputants dipped their hands into boiling water inside a bamboo, with victory going to the one who was able to keep his hand longest in the water.
4. Bachelok api, a contest, otherwise identical to bechelok belong, in which the disputants thrust their hands into a fire. In the late 1920’s the Brooke Government officially disallowed all forms of ordeals and today they no longer form part of the legal procedures of the Iban. They are mentioned here for their historical interest.
In earlier centuries, when a dispute over land arose between different communities, and neither side would voluntarily agree to withdraw its claim, the matter might be settled by a fight in which the two sides were allowed to use only wooden clubs. This conventional contest was called batempoh. The side that lost the fight was compelled to withdraw its claim and the contested land was awarded to the victors. Although only wooden weapons were used, these contests were serious affairs. If a man was killed during the batempoh, the leader of the party to which he belonged was required to compensate the deceased family with a valuable jar. This was one of the reasons why a successful leader in the past must be a man of wealth. Jars were formally pledged before the contest began and a leader’s followers or hired champions would join his side only with assurance of compensation for loss of life.
The batempoh required long preparation and was conducted under strict rules. Before it could take place, the contest had to be sanctioned by all of the leaders having authority within the larger region in which the contesting communities were located in order to prevent it from developing into open warfare, particularly should deaths result. These leaders also determined the time and place of the contest, negotiated the precise terms of its outcome, witnessed the agreement of the two parties to these terms, supervised and judged the contest itself and enforced strict compliance with the terms of the contestants’ prior agreement. Despite these safeguards, the likelihood of bloodshed and the possibility of internecine warfare arising from a batempoh were clearly recognized and leaders in the past sought to persuade the disputing parties to submit their claims to mediation, rather than resort to combat. As a result, very few actual cases of batempoh are known to have occurred. Among the Saribas Iban there are only three known instances in which a resort to clubs was proposed and in each of these cases the danger was averted and the dispute was eventually resolved through mediation, without a contest.
The last such occasion occurred in the latter half of the 19th century when the Paku leader Adir “Bungkok” discovered that Iban from the Bangkit tributary of the main Paku River had crossed the watershed dividing the two rivers and were farming lands at Ulu Ketunsong, a branch of the Pelawa stream (cf. Sandin 1967: 42). Adir and his son-in-law, Linggir “Mali Lebu”, pledged one menaga jar each, while four additional jars were pledged by other Paku leaders. But shortly before the batempoh was to take place, a minor leader named Kerbau succeeded in persuading the Bangkit people to return voluntarily to the other side of the watershed. For his diplomacy, Kerbau was rewarded with one rusa jar.
In the past the Iban also recognized a form of private self-help called bepalu by which a cuckolded husband might retaliate upon a rival guilty of adultery with his wife by the use of a club or other wooden instrument. Unlike betempoh, which represented a public contest between disputing communities, bepalu was a form of personal, or private retaliation in which the injured party took action directly against an adversary, usually by stealth, with the intent of administering a sound beating.8 But the procedure was also dangerous. Fatalities sometimes resulted and occasionally led to counter retaliation. The early Brooke government suppressed the convention by severely fining those who resorted to it.
BUILDING A LONGHOUSE
The Ibans highly respected one another’s longhouses. They keep in their family room (bilek) all of their property, jars, brassware, and other heirlooms, the accumulated wealth of past and present generations. Moreover, they expect people of other races when visiting them to respect their longhouse as much as they do (cf. Medway and Sandin (1959) for an account of the rules that apply to a visitor to the longhouse). Not surprisingly the construction of a new longhouse is an event of major importance that is closely regulated by adat. When a longhouse is old, it is the duty of the Tuai Rumah to call a meeting of his followers to discuss the building of a new longhouse. If all of the household heads agree to such a plan, every able bodied man in each household is requested to collect sufficient ramu (wooden materials), such as posts, beams, rafters, floor-joists, planks, shingles, and so on, for construction of his family’s section of the structure. It requires approximately one year to complete this work.
After the families have collected sufficient materials for their individual section of the house, the Tuai Rumah will call another meeting to ascertain the readiness of each family. If all families report that they have completed the work of gathering ramu, the Tuai Rumah with the help of the Tuai Burong or Augur will then decide upon an auspicious date for clearing the site (ngarembang) for the new longhouse.9
A few days before the date on which the clearing of the new house site is to take place, the Tuai Rumah will go into the forest to seek favorable omens in the following order:
- If the new longhouse is to be built downriver from the previous house site, he seeks to hear on his right hand side the call of a Nendak bird. As he hears it, he will at once pull up a sapling from the ground to mark the event, known as tambak burong, which he takes home for safe keeping.
- Early the next morning, the Tuai Rumah again goes to the forest for the same purpose. When he hears the call of the Nendak bird from the right hand side of the path, and after he has pulled up a sapling to mark its hearing, he returns home with his tambak burong.
- Early on the third morning he again goes into the forest. This time he seeks to hear the call of the Nendak bird from the left hand side of the path. As he hears it, he will mark it by pulling up a sapling. Having done this, he returns with his last tambak burong.
- If the new longhouse is built upriver from the former site, the Tuai Rumah will seek the calls of the Nendak bird two mornings from the left hand side of the path and one morning from the right hand side. He does this on three successive mornings.
Early on the morning of ngarembang (clearing the new longhouse site), the Tuai Rumah first buries his tambak burong in the ground under the site of his proposed family bilek near the centre of the house site. Having done this, he returns to the village to lead all of the family heads back to the site where they start the sacred work of clearing.
Every man will clear the bush at his own house site with great care, so that he can hear or see clearly the voice or flight of the omen birds.10 Any omen encountered on this day predicts the kind of life the man’s family or other families in the longhouse will experience in the future while living in the new building. The clearing of the site and the later construction of the longhouse are sacred tasks, the performance which is thought to determine the community’s collective material and spiritual well-being.
After the ngarembang is over, the members of every family are requested by the Tuai Rumah to gather their building materials at their own house sites. From this day onward all must strictly follow the adat berumah rules as follows:
- Three months after ngarembang, all of the builders are required by adat berumah to erect in the morning a tiang pemun (foundation post), which is followed by the erection of the other posts later in the day. Shortly before erecting his tiang pemun post, the Tuai Rumah will oil, and then smear it with the blood of a sow which has produced piglets (babi sepa). While doing this, he recites a short prayer to beseech God (Bunsu Petara) and the hosts of spirits, particularly the ancestral spirits, to bless his new house, so that all who live in it will prosper in the future in all they do. He also prays for their good health. After he has finished his prayer, the post is inserted into the hole into which salt (garam), a small piece of gold (mas), the skins of langgir fruit and a twig of mumban (a shrub that grows along the river bed) have been put. After the erection of the Tuai Rumah’s foundation post, the members of each family will erect their own posts. If anyone fails to erect his posts on this day because of a lack of necessary materials, he will be fined one chicken, a knife and an iron adze by the Tuai Rumah. The imposition of this fine is to neutralize the taboo of balang rembang, i.e. for having desecrated the sacred clearing of the new house site. After each family erects its tiang pemun, the top of the post is covered with white cloth.
- If a family has dug the post holes, but fails to erect its posts in them, the family head is demanded by the Tuai Rumah to cover each hole with a plate. This fine is imposed for the neutralization of the taboo of balang lubang, i.e. for leaving the holes unfilled. The plates used for covering the holes are taken by the Tuai Rumah.
- If a family fails to erect its section of the longhouse at the site its members cleared, but instead moves to another site, the family head is permitted to do so only after he has paid a fine of one sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, for the neutralization of the mail nyinggah taboo.
- If after the offender has paid a fine, as in No. 2 above, he again fails to erect his post within a month, he is fined two chickens (known as babi tudoh), a knife and an iron adze.
- After the offender has been fined twice, he is again warned by the Tuai Rumah to erect his posts within another month. If he fails to do so, he is fined one sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, to neutralize the taboo of balang entak.
- If after all of the posts have been erected, one or two builders fail to lash the beams to them within one month, the offenders are fined one sow (babi sepa), and a nyabor knife each, for the neutralization of the meragai tiang taboo.
- If after the posts of all the other families have been erected, one fails to erect his posts as required by adat, he is fined one sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife to neutralize the taboo of balang tiang. The blood of the sow is smeared first on the foundation post of the Tuai Rumah’s bilek and then on the posts of the other bilek in the longhouse.
- After all of the beams have been lashed (kebat) to the posts, every family is requested to make the house roof. If anyone fails to make his section of the roof within a month, he is fined as in No. 3 above, to neutralize the taboo of balang kebat.
- As soon as the house has been completed, the Tuai Rumah and Tuai Burong will lead all the families into the new building. Before moving in, each family must first build its dapor (kitchen) in the new house. Anyone who fails to move into the new longhouse on the same day with the rest is fined as in No. 7 above.
- Anyone who fails to erect his kitchen at the completion of his family apartment (bilek} is fined one chicken, a knife, a small jar and sigi panding, $2.00, to prevent the longhouse building from becoming “cold” (chelap) in a spiritual sense.
- If the kitchen has been erected by the family, but its members fail to cook food at it as demanded by adat dapor (the kitchen rules), the family head is fined one chicken, a knife, a jarlet and sigi panding, $2.00.
- All longhouse kitchens must continually be used for cooking food. If a family leaves its family room (bilek) to stay elsewhere, its members are required to cook their food in the longhouse kitchen at least twice a month, i .e. at full moon and on the first day of each lunar month. Anyone who breaks this rule is fined as in No. 11 above.
- 13. If a family in the longhouse fails to cook at its kitchen as demanded by the kitchen rules, the offenders are to be fined two chickens, a knife and an iron adze to prevent the whole longhouse from becoming spiritually cold. The family is allowed to ask its relatives to cook only twice a year at its family kitchen in the longhouse and the other times they must do it themselves.
- If a family dismantles its longhouse kitchen, they must replace it within a month. Failing to do so, the family head (tuai bilek) is fined one chicken, a knife and sigi panding, $2.00.
- If anyone in the longhouse falls ill due to the failure of another person to cook his food in his kitchen as demanded by the kitchen rules, the offender is fined one sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and one tepayan jar to alleviate the effects of violation of the tungkal dapor taboo, i.e. incurable illness and death.
- If a family in the longhouse wants to join their relatives in another longhouse, and wishes to dismantle the family room at the end of the long-house, the family head can do so only after paying a fine of one sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and a tepayan jar to neutralize the mupor taboo, meaning to “cut from the end”. Today, the dismantling of a room at the end of a longhouse, while other people are still occupying other parts of the building, is strictly forbidden by the government.
- If a family wishes to dismantle its bilek at or near the middle of the long-house, it can only do so, after it has paid a fine of one sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife, and sigi alas ngerang for the neutralization of the mungkang ka rumah (to “vacate the house”) taboo. Today, the government has ruled that a family may move away, but not destroy its bilek as long as anyone is still living in the longhouse.
- No family is allowed to abandon its bilek before the expiration of three years following its initial occupation. If a family deserts its bilek in such a way, the family head will be fined one sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and sigi alas ngerang, $5.00.
- After paying fines, as in Nos. 16 and 17 above, the offenders may move out, but are not permitted to destroy the walls of their bilek without the approval of the Tuai Rumah. If they obtain his approval to do so, they must pay a compensation of one chicken, a knife and sigi jabir, $1.00.
- If a person destroys a door, wall or other house materials while quarrelling with another person, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, one chicken and a knife. The materials he destroyed must be either replaced or paid for in cash according to the cost estimated by the Tuai Rumah.
- If anyone trips at another’s bilek due to rotten floors, the owner is fined one chicken and sa-uta iring manok, 25 cents.
- If a man cuts, shoots or kills another man’s chicken, dog or cat out of anger inside the longhouse building, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, and also must pay the cost of the animal or fowl he has killed.
- If a man tears, cuts, breaks or in some other way destroys another man’s belongings in anger, he is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, and one chicken, the blood of which is used to smear the owner of the property he has destroyed.
LAND AND AGRICULTURE
Iban longhouses are commonly found along the banks of rivers. Each longhouse controls an area of land originally claimed by its pioneering ancestors, perhaps, hundreds of years ago, as in the case of Second Division Ibans in Sarawak, the boundaries of which are typically marked by natural features, such as ridges and streams.
Iban migration into the Third Division first took place around 1840 from the Lemanak, Skrang, Ulu Ai and Layar rivers of the Second Division. When settlers first arrived in a new area, they felled the trees (berimba) for agricultural purposes along the banks of the rivers and streams they intended to settle. Each group of migrants was led by a pioneering leader under whose guidance virgin forests were cleared by bedurok, or family labor exchange, in order that each family might own at least fifteen pieces of temuda land. One Piece was cleared each year and these lands are inherited by the respective descendants of each pioneering family, and have ordinarily remained in their Possession, to this day.
The Ibans started to migrate north of the Rajang River in about 1870. Migration continued until all of the Divisions in Sarawak were populated by Ibans in the l950’s. The Ibans who settled in the upriver areas generally planted more rubber and pepper vines than those who settled tanah paya, or swamp lands, in the lower rivers. The hilly temuda lands were mainly used for yearly shifting Padi cultivation. The lower river Ibans farmed the swampy lands in wet rice or Planted coconut and sago palms.
In accordance with custom, an Iban who marries into another longhouse and joins his or her spouse’s family is no longer entitled to inherit ancestral lands left behind in the former longhouse area. If such an individual has no siblings living in his or her original family bilek, these lands are left under the guardianship of the Tuai Rumah, who has authority to allow other members of the longhouse to make use of them until one of the former owner’s heirs can re-establish the ancestral bilek and reclaim its lands.
Only lands which are officially titled can be claimed wherever the owner lives in the country; otherwise rights of use are contingent upon the family’s continual residence within the longhouse where the land is located. This means that if an Iban migrates from one river to another, he will automatically loose rights to all of his temuda lands which have no official title. If he has no sibling living in the village these lands will become available for use by the people of the longhouse he has left and are subject to reapportionment by the Tuai Rumah.
The Iban values his lands as darah daging, “blood and flesh”. He knows that he and his descendants will not be able to live a decent life, if his lands are taken away or sold to pay debts. For this reason, many land disputes were brought to the courts for settlement during the Brooke rule from 1880s to 1910s, and some of these cases took several decades to settle.
Nowadays, many Ibans prefer to move to tanah paya in downriver areas (Ili). The reason is because they realised that it is easier to plant padi on swampy lands than on hilly lands in the Ulu areas. But for others, the feeling is just the opposite. They would not move, no matter how hard their life is. They prefer to hold on to the lands (tanah pesaka) which their forefathers founded with sweat and blood many generations ago. These people are not attracted by modern developments in their district or elsewhere in the state. They feel that it is an irreparable loss to leave behind the temuda-rimba and buah-tanah they have inherited. The customary land rights they hold are precious to the heart and mind of the Ibans and other indigenous people of Sarawak. They represent the fortress of their survival which they have defended from before the earliest days of Brooke rule to the present.
The Ibans are dedicated agriculturists and correspondingly a significant portion of adat law and custom relates directly to farming. Sometime during the month of May (bulan lelang, “Wandering moon”), after every family in the longhouse has agreed to farm together in a single long stretch of land (bumai bedandang), all minor disputes over farm boundaries are brought before the headman and must be settled amicably by the Tuai Rumah before the initial clearing (manggol) can begin. Those judged to be offenders in such a dispute are fined by the Tuai Rumah one chicken and sigi jabir, $ 1.00.
When the Pleiades (bintang tujoh) appear in the zenith of the sky at night, the farmers will start to do their initial clearing (manggol) with ceremonial offerings (piring). They do this work over seven successive days with their ears plugged with leaves or grass in order not to hear the voices of omen birds and animals.
By this time of the year the flowers of bansu tree upriver have already fallen three times which indicates the coming of the new farming year. Downriver flowers of the putat tree are falling. In addition, bamboo shoots are sprouting in great numbers, fern tops are appearing everywhere and kulat taun (a variety of mushroom) are growing in abundance on the ground. All of these are taken as signs that the time for planting has arrived.
When the new moon of June appears in the sky, the farmers respect it with a day holiday (diau ka anak bulan) so that they will not be wounded by weapons throughout the coming farming year. On this day, too, the farmers must cook their food in the family kitchen of the longhouse (mandok ka dapor).
After manggol is over, farming families start to cut the bush, nebas, till about the end of July. On the eighth of every lunar month they are required to stay away from work in order to respect the kedang mansang moon. Five days later the farmers again stay away one day to respect the kira biak moon that falls on the thirteenth of each lunar month.
The fourteenth day of the lunar month is called the kira tuai moon and precedes the bulan peranama (full moon) night that is also known as tulak matahari tumboh and matahari padam. This day must be respected with a day holiday during which food must be cooked at the family kitchen in the longhouse according to the adat dapor.
The sixteenth day of each lunar month is called engkeleman nyambil, the seventeenth is engkeleman mandang, and the eighteenth is engkeleman bubok or engkeleman keli. During the latter is a variety of shrimp (bubok) and a type of fresh water eel (keli) are spawning in abundance in the sea and the rivers, respectively.
On the nineteenth of the lunar moon, the farmers stay away from work to respect the tebarerak rumpang moon – when the moon starts to wane gradually. The twenty-second is known as kedang surut, last day of the second quarter of the lunar month.
Early in August the farmers start to fell (nebang) the trees on their farms. This work lasts for approximately two or three weeks. It is followed by the ngerekai season, when the dead trees are left to dry for about one month.
In early September all farmers hope for good weather to fire their farms. After the burning is done, the farmers and their families will stay away from work for one day in order to observe ngerara ibun, a day when one should not see any half-dead or dying animals, birds or other creatures in their tegalan, or burnt padi fields.
Early on the second morning after burning the farm, a senior woman of the farmer’s family starts to dibble five holes for planting seeds in the ground. This work is known as ngenchuri tegalan. The holes must not be made around the stump of a tree in order to prevent the earth from becoming sticky when padi is later sown in the whole farm.
On the second day after burning, the farmers and their sons start to build a farm hut, langkau, as well as to gather the unburnt tree trunks and creepers into heaps for reburning. While they are engaged in this way, the women plant the seeds of gourd (labu), cucumber (entimun), pumpkin (entekai), wax-gourd (janggat), long bean (retak), mustard (ensabi), maize (Jagong) and varieties of bunga rambu and other flowers.
Early on the third day, as the Pleiades appear in the centre of the sky at around 04.00 a.m., that is shortly before dawn, all members of the farmer’s family start to plant their padi. The Tuai Umai is responsible for setting the time and informing the other farmers. But before dibbling can begin the farmer himself must first make a sacrificial offering to the deities of the land, Semarugah and Simpulang Gana. He prays for their blessing on his family’s efforts in their padi fields throughout the whole year.
When this is finished, the men start to dibble holes in the earth with dibble sticks (tugal) while the women sow the seeds into the holes they make. Before the farmer can plant his ordinary padi, he must first plant his family’s padi pun – the sacred padi which the family plants each year around a pelasar platform where the farmer has put the offerings and where the sacred engkenyang lily is planted.
After the padi pun has been planted, the other varieties of padi are sown each day. After all his ordinary seeds (benih) have been planted, the farmer starts to sow first the seeds of white glutinous rice, benih pulut burak next the seeds of red glutinous rice, benih pulut mirah; and last the seeds of black glutinous rice, benih pulut chelum. It is a major taboo for an Iban farmer to plant any other kind of padi before his glutinous padi.
The consequence of not planting the padi pulut (glutinous rice) in its proper order is unavoidable death to a member of the farmer’s family sometime during the year. In addition to this taboo, no Iban farmer should make his farm in the following manner:
- Under no circumstances should the farm be narrow or constricted (genting) in the middle of the total area farmed. It is a traditional belief that should any farmer make his farm in this manner, a member of his family, possible even the farmer himself, will meet unavoidable death sometime during the farming year, either through illness or accident.
- No Iban farmer would dare to make his two padi fields with another man’s farm at the centre (bajengok), for this is also believed to cause him or a member of his family to die unavoidably during the year.
- No Iban farmer may make his farm across the total area being farmed by another family in the community (nyengkar, or mutus ka dandang). If he does so, a member of his family or himself will certainly die in that particular year.
- No Iban farmer may make his farm only a few fathom distance from his former farm (jerami). If he makes his farm in this manner, it will cause unavoidable death in his family within the year.
There are a number of Iban farmers who cannot plant the gourd (labu) or carry its fruit through their farm. This taboo is known as mali labu. If a gourd plant is found growing in their farm, it has to be pulled out at once. The farmer must smear the spot in which it was growing with the blood of a pig or with that of two chickens. Failing to do this, the result will be the death of the farmer or some member of his family within the year. In order to prevent gourds from finding their way into his fields, as soon as the burning of his farm is over, the farmer will make a rough path along the outside of his farm for other people to use when carrying their gourds or gourd seeds. A few families have a somewhat similar taboo on the planting of ginger (lia) in their farm or other gardens. The presence of ginger affects the eyes of the farmer or his family. Both of these taboos are inherited, and must be observed by successive generations of bilek members.
There are also a number of farmers whose padi fields must not be visited by other people early in the morning during the dibbling season before the farmers themselves have started to work. This taboo is called mail pagi, or “morning taboo”. In order to enable other people to walk along his farm early in the morning, the farmer must go to his farm before the others in his longhouse in order to plant three holes of padi and to eat three mouthfuls of rice before the others arrive at their fields. If anyone asks him questions while walking along his farm before the farmer has finished planting and eating the rice, the offender is fined one pig or two chickens and sigi panding, $2.00. The blood of the pig or chickens is used for smearing the farm. Breaking this taboo results in unavoidable death to the farmer or other members of his family during the year. This taboo, again, applies to the entire bilek family and is inherited from one generation to the next.
No Iban farmer dares to risk making his farm simultaneously at pun dandang and at ujong dandang, at the first and last farm site in the stretch of farm land worked during the year by members of the longhouse. The result of breaking this taboo is an unavoidable death within the family during the year.
After the farmer has finished planting his padi, he and the members of his family are free to do other work, such as tapping rubber or planting vegetables or other cash crops, until October when women start to weed (mantun) their farms. They usually finish this work in early December, when the padi is coming to ear.
After the weeding is over, the women are again busy with plaiting the many kinds of baskets used at harvest time in February and March.
During and after the harvest, the farmer and his grown sons carry the padi in huge takaran or lanji baskets from the farm to the longhouse. After they have finished with the berangkut, the repeated carrying of the padi to the longhouse, they thresh the padi with their feet to separate the grain from the stalk. The women winnow away the empty husks and the grain is dried in the sun for some days.
After the padi grain has been dried and winnowed twice, the farmer’s family store the grain in bins made of tree bark in the loft above the family bilek. But before the padi is brought to the loft, the farmer and his wife will perform a simple ritual by first oil and perfume the bins with coconut oil and myrrh. Having done this, a hen is killed and its blood is used to smear the bins and a short prayer is recited. The grain is then put into the bins. If the harvest is abundant, the farmers may be able to fill up to seven bins.
During the farming months, i.e. from June to April, if anyone acts contrary to farming adat, the offender is fined as follows:
- If anyone quarrels with another person in the padi field, and one cuts the other’s augur mark, paung burong, or his family’s sharpening stone, batu umai, the offender is fined sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife. The blood of the sow is used for smearing the paung burong marker or the batu umai whetstone. The Tuai Rumah and Tuai Umai take the nyabor knife and the money.
- If anyone cuts another farmer’s sacred lily plant, engkenyang12, in his padi field, the offender is fined as in No. 1 above.
- In accordance with farming custom, three days after the work of dibbling is completed, the main path which leads to the farms must be marked with a sign, so that no one will use the road for three days. If anyone is found to break this taboo, he is fined as in Nos. 1 and 2 above.
- If a man strips off the tree bark, or cuts the heart of palms or removes the creepers and rattans growing at the edge of another farmer’s rice field, the offender will be fined sigi jabir $1.00, a chicken and a knife (duku).
- If a man steals anything in another’s rice field early in the fanning year, he is to be fined sigi panding, $2.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If a man steals anything in another’s rice field in the middle of the farming year, i.e. during the weeding season, he is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If a man steals anything in another’s rice field when the padi grain is ripening, i.e. before harvest time, he is fined sigi menukol, 50 cents, and a chicken.
- If a man steals anything in another’s farm during or at the end of harvest, he is fined sa-uta iring manok, 25 cents, and a chicken.
- If a man steals another man’s sharpening stone, batu umai, he is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, a pig, a knife and an iron adze. The blood of the pig is used to smear the stone.
- If anyone burns another’s whetstone, the offender is fined as in No. 9 above.
- If anyone steals the ginger from another’s padi field, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and two chickens. The stealing of eggs in the padi field is also dealt with in the same way, as these two items are believed to be panas (“hot”) and can endanger the owner’s health.
- If anyone steals the fish from another’s fish traps (bubu or ensenga) placed in his padi field, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If anyone cuts down a tree at the edge of another’s farm without the latter’s approval, the offender is fined a chicken, a knife and sigi jabir, $1.00.
- If anyone reaps his or her Job’s tears while other farmers are still harvesting their padi, the offender is fined sa-uta, 25 cents, and a chicken, the blood of which is used to smear the other’s farms.
- If anyone eats food or fruit while walking along the road at another farmer’s padi field, the offender is fined a chicken and a knife.
- If anyone cuts a tree inside the area of another farmer’s farm, the offender is fined a chicken and a knife.
- If anyone destroys the pandong altar where sacred whetstones (batu umai) are placed during the celebration of the gawai batu festival, the offender is fined by the Tuai Umai (farm chief) sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife.
- If anyone destroys the pandong altar where the anak padi infested by pests is placed during the celebration of gawai ngemali umai festival, the offender is fined as in No. 17 above.
- If anyone destroys the pandong altar where the padi ears are placed during the celebration of the gawai matah harvest festival, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, two chickens, a knife and an iron adze.
- If anyone destroys the pandong altar where the padi grain is placed during the celebration of the gawai besimpan (storing the padi grain in bins) festival, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If during the celebration of the gawai ngambi sempeli (a feast for reaping the last ears of padi), anyone disturbs the pandong altar where the padi grain is placed, the offender is fined sigi menukol, 50 cents, and a chicken.
- If anyone disturbs the speaker (orang begeliga) while he gives a speech at any of these feast, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00.
ADAT CONCERNED WITH HUNTING, FISHING, FRUIT AND HONEY COLLECTION
A. Nyarin (Trapping the sambur deer with jarin rattan nets)
If a man sees a sambur deer (rusa) in the jungle, he will return immediately to inform the experienced trackers (orang penyidi). As soon as the latter are informed, one of them, possibly with a companion, will track the animal as quietly as possible in order to find the location where it is likely to rest at noon.
After they have found the exact resting place of the animal, the trackers return home to inform their friends so that they can gather their jarin nets and organize a trapping party. The trackers instruct the latter to hang their nets in a long line at a place where the animal is likely to run when it is chased by their dogs. After this the jarin owners set out. When they reach the location as instructed by the trackers, they set up the jarin trap and then hide themselves in the bush in front of their individual jarin.
As they hide themselves in the thickets, two groups of orang bakey, or those who are tasked to frighten the game, come and guard each side of the area with shouts, while the beaters (orang pengemba) who have come with dogs rush forward towards the place where the animal is thought to be resting.
As the dogs bark at the game, the beaters and orang bakey both encourage the dogs with shouts of “hasss, hasss, hasss” and “deeh, deeh, deeh”, interchangeably. On hearing these noises, the dogs bark and chase the animal towards the line of jarin traps. When it runs against one of the nets, its neck is caught in its nooses. At this moment, the owner of the net comes out from the bush to kill the animal with his knife. As soon as the game is killed, its slayer calls for all his friends to help him bring it home.
In the village the meat is divided between all who participated in the nyarin (trapping) as follows:
- The meat of the posterior part from the base of the tail to the third vertebra is taken by the catcher of the game, including its hind legs (semaliong).
- The head of the game down to the end of its ears is also taken by the catcher or the jarin owner.
- One of the forelegs (berang sepiak) is divided equally between the beaters (pengemba) and orang bakey groups, while the other leg (berang sepiak) is shared by the trackers (orang penyidi).
- The rest of the meat is shared equally by all the participants in the trapping expedition, the jarin owners, including the owner of the net in which the game was caught.
B. Ngasu (Hunting expedition) with dogs, knives and spears
The ngasu (hunting expedition) is usually done by a few experienced orang pengasu hunters, who are accompanied by a number of dogs. Occasionally, it lasts for a full day and animals such as rusa (sambar deer), babi babas (boars) or kijang (barking deer) are the principal game sought. If an animal is killed, its killer takes the posterior part of the carcass including the two hind legs (semaliong), its head, and his personal share. The rest of the hunters receive one share each of the remainder.
C. Madal (Trapping wild boar with Badal net)
The badal net is made either from fiber of the ijok palm or from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree (tekalong).
If a villager sees a wild boar rooting the earth at a contracted part of a cape (tanjong), or outer bend in a river, he will return to fetch his weapon in order to kill it, or inform his friends, so that they may trap it jointly with the badal nets sometime in the coming night when the boar returns. Late in the evening the trappers with their badal nets come to the place and hide themselves very quietly in the bush near the boar’s track, in order to find out whether the animal has gone to the end of the cape to root the earth. If the latter is inside the cape, the trappers hang their badal, while one of them goes to the village to ask their friends to bring the dogs. When the latter reach the end of the cape with their dogs in a boat, they land them with shouts of “hass, hass, hass, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh”. The dogs then start to search for the scent of the animal. As they find the scent, they start to bark and chase the animal towards the badal nets. As the boar runs into the badal, it is entangled in the net. The owner of the net kills the game at this moment.
In the village the meat is shared among all the participants, after its posterior part, including the semaliong has been taken by the catcher. The man who found the boar while rooting the earth gets one of the forelegs, while the other leg is divided by the owners of the badal and dogs (ukui). The remaining meat is shared equally between the owners of the nets and dogs. Besides this, each bilek family of the longhouse is given a share.
D. Nimbak Jelu (Hunting with a shotgun)
The people of the longhouse like to wander in the forest in order to hunt animals, especially during the fruit season, when both jungle fruit trees and those that are planted bear fruit.
The favorite time for hunting is in the evening. As the hunter comes to a tree where he wants to wait for the arrival of an animal, such as a wild boar, he climbs onto one of its branches to wait in ambush. When the animal comes, he shoots it with his gun.
After an animal is killed, the slayer cuts off its head to take home. On his arrival at the longhouse, he asks the people to fetch the game and inform them where the carcass can be found.
The boar is brought to the longhouse by many people. On arriving, it is cut up and its meat divided into shares. The killer of the game takes the posterior part, its head and one of its semaliong, while each bilek in the longhouse receives a share each. Those who fetched the game from the jungle receive one share each in addition to their family share.
E. Nyala ikan (Communal fishing with nets)
During the dry season the people of the longhouse customarily fish with nets along the rivers. The favorite place for communal netting is at well known lubok, or deep pools where fish are abundant.
Everyone in the village participates. When the catch is divided in the evening each net owner is given a share, and men, women and children are all given a share each. A woman who is pregnant receives two shares, as it is believed that her unborn child is also entitled to a share.
F. Napang (Collecting honey from a bee tree)
In Sarawak there are many old tapang (bee trees) which have been preserved by the people for many centuries. Some of these trees are called tapang tuai and are owned by the many descendants of the man who first located them.
When a tapang tree contains a swarm of bees, one of its owners will make a cross (pesindang) near it to show that he is claiming the honey combs on its branches. No one else may thereafter collect the honey without his approval.
After he has claimed the honey, he will look for a man to climb the tree for him. If a climber agrees to do it, the man claiming the honey will ask two men to make a rintong receptacle in which the bee nests are lowered from the tree and a tebarong vessel in which the honey combs are stored. Both are made from the bark of the enteli tree. In addition torches are also made from tree bark (kulit engkajang) to be used by the climber to smoke out the bees.
The collecting of honey from a bee tree always takes place on the night of the last day of the lunar month or on the night of the first and second days of the new moon. At these times the young bees are abundant and the honey is plentiful.
Everyone living in the longhouse of the man claiming the honey may join in collecting it if they wish to. Early in the day they build a line of huts around the base of the tapang tree, where they will stay during the night. After all the participants have arrived the claimer of the tree arranges for one or two men (orang merok) to press the honey from the combs, while another two receive the receptacles lowered by the climber or climbers from the tree top.
As darkness fall, the climbers start to climb the tapang tree. As they drive off (muar) the bees, one of them sings a ritual song called timang tapang, as he does his work, asking the bees not to sting them.
When each receptacle has been filled with combs, it is lowered to the ground by rope where it is received by those who have been appointed to do so. On receiving the receptacle, the combs are placed in the vessel (tebarong), where the receivers press them by hand to extract the honey.
During the climbing of the tree, if the climber sees a cat like animal appear somewhere on a branch, he has to be very careful, as this animal is believed to be an antu rembia, a spirit which guards the bee tree. If the climber has encountered bad dreams or omens the night before he is to climb the tree, the rembia may cause him to meet with a fatal accident, such as falling from the tree to his death, unless he postpones the climb. Shortly before daylight, the climbers stop collecting the combs. When they return to the ground, the combs and honey are divided among the participants as follows:
- Each climber receives two shares.
- The man who put up a cross to show his claim to the tree also receives two shares.
- The two men who received the receptacles as they were lowered from the branches also receive two shares.
- The two men who pressed the honey from Ithe combs receive two shares.
- The participants, men and women, boys and girls receive a share each.
- The wax only is divided by the climbers, and those who pressed the honey from the combs and the receivers of receptacles according to the shares mentioned above.
G. Nubai (Tubai fishing)
Tubai fishing is a method of fishing that makes use of the poisonous roots and fruit of the tubai randau or akar tubai vines and the tubai buah trees. In Sarawak the Iban and other indigenous people form two kinds of nubai parties. One is to poison fish in the main rivers, while the other is done in Small streams. The former is a large-scale operation, organized communally by all the people of that particular river region, while only the people of one longhouse in whose area the stream is located perform the latter.
Tubai fishing is always done during the dry season of the year, which is from June to August. A week earlier, all the Tuai Rumah and elders in the area meet to discuss the day and the place in the river for fishing. After the day has been agreed upon and the amount of tubai, which each longhouse has to supply, has been discussed, the longhouse headman with their anak-biak must bring their tubai to the agreed place, where it is pounded early on the morning of the fishing day.
When the people arrive with their tubai at the spot agreed upon, each man erects a rough dunju shed along the gravel bed for his family to stay in during the night prior to the fishing.
At about 3 a.m. known as agi dinihari dalam, the Tuai Nubai orders that the tubai roots be pounded in the canoes, while the buah tubai (fruit) is pounded in shallow parts of the gravel bed. As soon as all the tubai has been thoroughly pounded, the canoes are sunk in the river by an elderly senior descendant of a pioneer of the river area who has been chosen as the leader of the fishing party. After he has done this, the tubai flows down the river to stupefy the fish. At this time if anyone sees the fish struggling and floating in the water, it must not be interfered with to avoid the jelungan, i.e. to prevent the stupefying fish from dying in the river. It is believed that disturbance of this sort may spoil the success of the fishing completely.
When the tubai has flowed down to a certain stretch of water or to a big pool down river, the Tuai Nubai will first paddle his boat to examine carefully whether the fish have died or not. If he is satisfied that the fish are dead, he spears them and at the same time asks the rest of the people to start gathering fish with their weapons such as berayang and perambut.
At the end of the fishing, no division of the catch is made, other than a share given to each longhouse that produced the tubai.
If the tubai fishing is done only by the people of one longhouse in a stream within their own area, the fish they collect will be equally divided among the participants, including the children, babies on their mothers’ back and the ones in wombs of their mothers.
In ancient times before a large gawai was celebrated, such as the Gawai Burong and Gawai Antu, tubai fishing was carried out by the sponsoring longhouse and the catch salted and smoked in order to provide provisions for the feast.
Today this method of fishing is regulated by the government and those who wish to engage in tubai fishing are expected to obtain prior permission from the local District Officer, although not all do so and individual violations are relatively frequent, and are highly destructive especially when insecticides or chemical poisons are used to kill fish, rather than the traditional tubai.
FINES FOR DISTURBANCES CREATED DURING NON-AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS
- If anyone disturbs a professional wailer while she is reciting her dirge in the carved tomb hut (nyabak ka sungkup) during the celebration of the Gawai Antu (festival for the souls of the dead) the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00.
- If a man disturbs a group of elders while they are preparing the sacrificial offerings for any festival, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00.
- If a man disturbs a bard, or lemambang, while he is reciting a long prayer (nyampi) for any of these festivals, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00.
- If a man breaks the seats (pantar) used during a feast, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, and must make good any materials he has broken.
- If anyone disturbs a group of warriors who are preparing the offerings, orang nasak ka gawai burong, for the Gawai Burong (bird festival celebration), the offender is fined a sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and sigi alas ngerang, $5.00.
- If anyone breaks a ritual pole used during the Gawai Burong (Bird festival), the offender is fined a sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and sigi alas ngerang, $5.00. In addition, the broken pole must be replaced as quickly as possible.
- If anyone breaks the pandong shrine used during the Gawai Burong, the offender is fined as in No. 6 above.
- If anyone breaks the tiang sawi (ritual pole) used during the Bird Festival, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, two chickens, a knife and an iron adze. The broken pole must be replaced immediately.
- If anyone breaks the tiang sandong (ritual pole) used during the Gawai Burong festival, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, a pig, a knife and an iron adze. The breaker must replace the pole immediately.
- If anyone breaks the ritual poles, tiang sandau liau and tiang mulong merangau used during the Gawai Burong festival, the offender is fined a sow (babi sepa), a nyabor knife and sigi alas ngerang, $5.00. Again, the poles must be replaced immediately.
- If anyone breaks a ritual pole, tiang ranyai, used during the Gawai Burong festival, the offender is fined as in No. 10 above.
- If anyone breaks the ritual pole, tiang mudor ruroh, used during the Gawai Burong festival, the offender is fined two sows, a nyabor knife, and sigi rusa, $8.00. The breaker must replace the broken pole immediately.
- If anyone damages the decorations or fastenings holding a skull (antu pala) during the Gawai Burong celebration, the offender is fined sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife. Whatever the offender has broken must be made good at once.
- If anyone breaks a carved ceremonial hornbill used during the celebration of the Gawai Burong festival, the offender is fined sigi rusa, $8.00, a sow that has given birth twice to piglets and a nyabor knife. The breaker must repair the part of the statue broken at once.
- If anyone breaks any of the materials used for the sungkup hut during the Gawai Antu celebration, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and the broken part of the sungkup hut must be repaired immediately by the offender.
- If anyone damages the garong baskets used during the Gawai Antu celebration, the breaker is fined sigi panding, $2.00, and the basket must be replaced or repaired by the offender.
- If anyone damages the rugan (bamboo altar) where the daily offerings are placed before and during the Gawai Antu celebration, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00, a chicken and the altar must be replaced at once.
- If anyone damages another family’s belongings, such as traditional Iban dress, etc. during the Gawai Antu celebration, the offender is fined sa-uta iring manok, 25 cents, and a chicken. The cost of the property damaged must also be paid.
- If a man cuts a sacred cordyline plant (sabang gawai batu) planted by the bard to mark the celebration of the whetstone festival (Gawai Batu), the offender is fined sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife.
- If a man cuts a sacred cordyline plant (sabang garong) which marks the celebration of the Gawai Antu festival, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, a pig, a knife and an iron adze.
- If anyone cuts a cordyline plant, which marks the Gawai Tajau jar festival, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If in anger a man wounds another’s cat or dog outside the longhouse, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, and must also pay compensation for the animal killed or injured.
- If a person makes an accusation against another person without cause, the offender is fined a chicken, a knife and sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a man boasts that he will harm an innocent person, he is fined a chicken and sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a man in anger destroys a rail on which someone’s clothes are usually hung, he is fined a chicken and sigi jabir, $ 1.00.
- If an angry man tears someone’s clothing, he will be fined a chicken and sigi jabir, $ 1.00; in addition to this, he must also pay the cost of the thing he has torn.
- If a mischievous person scratches another person with his or her nails without cause, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00.
- If an angry person spits at another person without cause, the offender is fined a chicken, a knife and sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a person curses another, and later on the person who was cursed falls sick or is wounded by a weapon, the one who cursed him is fined tungkal sumpah (“a sudden injury or accident caused by a curse”), i.e. sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow and a nyabor knife.
- If two persons are quarrelling in the longhouse, and if both of them break something either belonging to one of them or belonging to a third person, both quarrelers are fined sigi alas muda, $4.00 each, and each must pay a chicken, a knife and an iron adze. In addition, they must pay the cost of whatever they have broken or damaged.
- If a person or persons who have quarreled in the longhouse do not pay the fines imposed on them; and if another person in the longhouse falls ill or is wounded by a weapon in due course, the offender or offenders will be fined sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife.
- If a person opens the mosquito curtain of a man and his wife’s while they are sleeping inside it, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00.
- If an angry man cuts the strings of another’s mosquito curtain while the latter is asleep inside it, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a bachelor courts (ngayap) a maiden at night and the former spreads a story that he has had sexual intercourse with the girl, and this is not true, he is fined sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a man falsely maintains that he has had sexual intercourse with someone else’s wife, he is fined for butang rangkai (“attempted adultery”) sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a maiden scratches a married man with her finger nails, or vice versa, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00.
- If a person causes shame (malu) to another person, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00.
- If one person accuses another of stealing or destroying his or her belongings, but the accusation is wrongly made (salah sangka), the offender is fined for tunggu nikal, i.e. sigi jabir,$l.00
- If a bachelor presents a quid of pinang-sireh or a cigarette to a married woman, and vice versa, with the motive of secret love, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00, for committing butang pinang adultery.
- If a man enters another’s family room (bilek) with the intention of persuading the wife of the owner of the room to commit adultery with him, and if the latter refuses, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, for ngachau bini orang, disturbing another’s wife.
- If a stranger who is staying in another man’s house commits adultery with his host’s wife, both offenders are fined sigi jabir, $1.00, each for committing butang ngeladang adultery.
- If a bachelor courts (ngayap) a maiden at night and the latter follows him to his family bilek without the approval of her parents, the bachelor is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00. The girl’s parents and relatives also have the right to take the girl back to her own bilek.
- If a bachelor or maiden elopes with the spouse of another person (berangkat), the offenders are both fined sigi alas muda, $4.00 each.
- If a husband or wife suspects the other of wishing to commit adultery, but no adultery is committed within six months as suspected, the one who raised the suspicion is fined tiga sigi jabir, $3.00.
- If two persons are quarrelling and, one of them cuts a post of the house in anger, the offender can be accused of boasting of what he will do to harm his opponent. In due course the former is fined sigi panding, $2.00, a chicken and a knife for committing an offence called tungkal nyakap.
- If a person while quarrelling carries with him or her an iron tool (senyata besi) to cross another’s family bilek, he shall be fined sigi jabir, $1.00, a chicken and a knife. If the offence is committed during the farming season, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, two chickens and a knife.
- If two persons curse one another while quarrelling, the one who first cursed his or her opponent is fined a chicken and a knife for strengthening the other’s soul as a defence against the effect of the curse that was uttered.
- If a man in his wrath damages someone’s boat or fruit tree, he is fined sigi panding, $2.00, a chicken and a knife for committing an offence known as tungkal sula.
2. ADAT RELATED TO MARRIAGE, INCEST AND ADULTERY WITH IN-LAWS
In addition to rules of adat that regulate everyday social relations and the annual farming activities of persons residing in the same longhouse, a major area of adat concerns marriage and relations between the sexes. A significant portion of all bechara cases judged by a Tuai Rumah have to do with sexual delicts and domestic problems between husbands and wives, and included here, under the heading of incest, are several of the most serious offences recognized in traditional Iban law. Later in this study I treat divorce and the customary rules regulating the ceremonial aspects of marriage; but here my concern is with those rules that are related specifically to incest, kinship and affinal relations and the remarriage of widows and widowers.
INCEST AND ADULTERY
- If a man marries his grandniece or a woman marries her grandnephew, the offenders are fined sigi panding, $2.00, and sigi jabir, $1.00 respectively. In addition to this, a chicken and a knife have to be produced by the man and his spouse.
- If an adopted son has sexual intercourse with his adopted sister (sama anak iru), the act is considered as incest. The man is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and the woman sigi panding, $2.00. In addition to this, they are ordered to produce two fowls, a knife and an iron adze. The blood of the fowls is used for purifying the land and is allowed to flow into the earth. The pair is not allowed to marry, as they are considered as menyadi ukui (brother and sister).
- Once a couple marries, their parents are thereafter forbidden to marry each other due to the fact that they are now related by the marriage of their children, as isan (co-parents-in-law), unless the man pays a fine of sigi alas muda, $4.00, and the woman sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a man or a woman has sexual intercourse with his or her stepchild (anak tiri), the man is fined sigi rusa $8.00, and the woman sigi alas muda, $4.00. In addition they must produce two fowls, a knife and an iron adze. They are also forbidden to marry.
- If a step-brother commits sexual intercourse with his step-sister, the man is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and the woman sigi panding, $2.00. In addition they must produce two fowls, a knife and an iron adze. They are not allowed to marry.
- No child of a man’s first wife (anak dulu) may marry or have sexual intercourse with a child of his second wife (anak dudi). In ancient times, the punishment for an incestuous union of this sort was the execution of the couple by their being pierced with sharp bamboo spikes (pantang enggau aur). Execution was required in order that the country might be purified with their blood. At the present time a man is fined dua belas igi jabir, $12.00, and the woman sambilan igi jabir, $9.00. In addition both are requested to produce a sow (babi sepa) each, the blood of which is used to purify the land and the water of the river, so that the earth may not quake, the landslide or the river flood. Even after payment of these fines the incestuous couple are not allowed to marry.
- If a man or a woman wishes to marry his or her first cousin’s son or daughter, the marriage can only be approved provided that the couple pays the fine of besapat ka ai in the form of the articles and animals listed as follows:
- Two sows (babi sepa), the blood of which is used for purifying the land in order to avoid earthquakes and erosion caused by heavy rain and high winds. The blood of another sow is used for purifying the river water to avoid flooding after the incestuous couples have bathed in it;
- A blowpipe (sumpit) for piercing spiritually the holes of lighting. Again this is done to prevent floods;
- The woven blanket (pua kumbu rayong) for spiritually covering the pockets at the edge of the river (ungkap) to avoid landslides;
- One long sword (pedang panjai) for slashing the moving clouds in the sky, so that heavy rain can be stopped;
- A woven blanket (kain kerabaya) for waving away the black clouds in the sky;
- An iron adze (beliong lajong) for cutting the roots of the lensat fruit tree during the purifying ceremony in the river.
- A large plate (pinggai besai) in order that the couple may not spiritually slip with the erosion of the earth;
- A white shell armlet (rangki siti) is to be thrown into the river before the incestuous couple mingle the blood of a sow (babi sepa) in its waters; and
- A tepayan jar for the enclosure of the souls of all of the people in the district spiritually endangered by the marriage.
All of these articles are given to the senior men who participate in officiating the besapat ka ai bathing ceremony, with the exception of the shell armlet (rangki) which is thrown into the river. The slain pigs are buried as no one wants to eat them due to the fact that they are used to purify the land and water from sin. Finally, the man is fined sambilan igi jabir, $9.00; the woman $7.00.
- If a man or a woman marries his or her second cousin’s daughter or son, the number of pigs killed for the ceremony is two, together with the rest of the articles as mentioned in No. 7 above. In addition to these, the man is fined tujoh igi jabir, $7.00, and the woman sigi alas ngerang, $5.00; the ceremony is conducted in the same way as in No. 7 above.
- If a man or a woman marries his or her third cousin’s daughter or son, the couple is not required to bathe in the blood of a pig in the river. Instead the blood of the pig killed is used only for the purification of the land, so that pests will not damage padi and other crops. In addition the bridal couple is requested to produce a knife and an iron adze plus sigi alas muda, $4.00, to be paid by the bridegroom and sigi panding, $2.00, to be paid by the bride. This form of incestuous marriage is called bekalih di darat. An appointed elder kills the ceremonial pig.
- If a man or a woman marries his or her fourth cousin’s daughter or son, the bridal couple is required only to bite a piece of steel (ngetup besi) to strengthen their souls, so that they can live a long life.
- If a man or a woman marries his or her fifth cousin’s daughter or son, the bridal couple is required only to cut down a fruit tree each (batebang buah) to strengthen their souls. The fathers of the marrying couple do the felling of these trees.
- If a man or a woman marries his or her sixth cousins daughter or son, the bridal couple is required only to bite a piece of salt (baketup garam) in the presence of chiefs and senior men to strengthen their souls.
- No Iban is allowed to marry or commit sexual intercourse with his brother’s or his sister’s daughter and vice versa. If an uncle has sexual intercourse with his niece or an aunt with her nephew, the man is fined $8.00, sigi rusa, and the woman $7.00, sigi alas barejang. In addition to this, they are required to customary adat law to purify the land with the blood of two sows (babi sepa) that have given birth several times to piglets. Moreover adat law disallows their marriage. If they marry after the district chief has fined them, the Penghulu must bring the case to the District Court for the magistrate to decide further fines or imprisonment.
- An Iban man is strictly forbidden from marrying more than one wife at a time or a woman from marrying more than one husband. If either takes a second spouse without receiving a formal divorce from his or her previous partner, the spouse will accuse the offender in the Penghulu’s court of committing adultery. If the case is sustained, the man is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and their second marriage is not approved until the first marriage has been formally terminated by divorce. In the case of a man, he is also fined for divorcing his former wife. The fine is 20 katties, half of which goes to the government, and half to the injured party.
- In ancient times if a man committed adultery with the wife of a war leader, he was fined fourteen jabir, $14.00, and the woman was fined the same amount. If in ancient times, a man committed adultery with a well-known warrior’s wife (bini manok sabong), he and the woman were each fined twelve jabir, $12.00.
- If a man or a woman runs off with and marries another person’s spouse, the of fenders are both fined sigi alas muda, $4.00 each.
- If a man and a woman of the same name (satamang) want to marry each other, their marriage is officiated with the besapat ka ai bathing ceremony, as in the case of incest, after the name of either the man or the woman has been changed. They must produce all articles required for the ceremony including a sow. In addition to these items, the bridegroom is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and the bride sigi panding, $2.00.
- If a father or a mother commits sexual intercourse with his daughter or son, the father must produce a sow that has three times given birth to piglets, and his daughter a sow that has produced young twice. In addition, the father is fined sigi rusa, $8.00, and the daughter enam igi jabir, $6.00. In the case of the mother, she is fined enam igi jabir, $6.00 and her son sigi rusa, $8.00. In ancient times the offenders were executed with sharp bamboo stakes in accordance with the teaching of the deity Sengalang Burong to his grandson Sera Gunting. At the present time the offenders are strictly forbidden from marrying each other.
- If a husband or a wife accuses his or her spouse without cause of committing adultery (nyangka butang) the offender who makes a false accusation is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00.
- If a husband or a wife secretly presents a ring to someone else’s spouse, and the two appear to love one another, they will be accused of committing butang tinchin adultery. In this case the man is fined sigi panding, $2.00, and the woman sigi jabir, $1.00.
- If a man disguises himself as the real husband of a married woman, and by doing so, he sleeps and has sexual intercourse with her, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, for committing butang nyaru adultery.
- If a spinster or maiden conceives, but does not report her case to the Tuai Rumah until the third or fourth month, and if anyone in the longhouse falls sick or is wounded in due course, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and must produce a jarlet for kurong samengat, the enclosure of souls. This offence is known as tungkal kandong.
ADAT TEBALU – WIDOW/WIDOWER FEES
In accordance with custom, after a person’s death, his or her widow or widower is known as balu. As required by customary adat all widows and widowers must show respect to the relatives of their deceased’s spouse by paying a fee (tebalu) not earlier than six months after the spouse’s death. Only after this fee is paid are they permitted to remarry. The amount paid to the deceased’s relatives depends on the deceased’s status as follows:
1. If the deceased was a Great War leader (tau serang), the fee in his honour will be sigi menaga, $16.00.
2. If the deceased was a minor war leader (tau kayau), the fee in his honour will be lima belas igi jabir, $ 15.00.
3. If the deceased was a leading warrior (kepala manok sabong), the fee in his honour will be empat belas igi jabir, $ 14.00.
4. If the deceased was an ordinary warrior (manor sabong), the fee in his honour will be dua belas igi jabir, $12.00,
5. If the deceased was a great noble chieftain (kepala tuai menoa), the fee in his honour will be lima belas igi jabir, $ 15.00.
6. If the deceased was a famous Penghulu of aristocratic family, the fee in his honour will be empat belas igi jabir, $ 14.00.
7. If the deceased was a wealthy aristocrat, i.e. a man who never failed to get more than enough padi each year as well as being successful in his other undertakings, the fee in his honour will be empat belas igi jabir, $14.00.
8. If the deceased was an ordinary Penghulu, the fee in his honour will be tiga belas igi jabir, $ 13.00.
9. If the deceased was a very famous Tuai Rumah, i.e. one who has done good works for his followers and the people in his district in general, the fee in his honour will be tiga belas igi jabir, $ 13.00.
10. If the deceased was only an ordinary Tuai Rumah, the fee in his honour will be either sabelas or dua belas igi jabir, $ 11.00 or $ 12.00.
11. All male aristocrats are honored with a fee of sapuloh igi jabir, $10.00,
12. The tebalu fee of ordinary people should not exceed sambilan igi jabir, $9.00 (depending upon the important work he has done during his lifetime). If he did nothing important, he will be honored with a lesser amount of tebalu fee.
13. The tebalu fee of people of low status should not exceed enam igi jabir, $6.00.
14. If the deceased was the wife of a great war leader (bini orang tau serang) and, at the same time she was an outstanding weaver (indu takar, indu gear) of the finest quality of blankets (pua kumbu), the fee in her honour is sapuloh igi jabir, $10.00. If she is not a weaver, her tebalu fee is sambilan igi jabir, $9.00.
15. If the deceased was extraordinarily clever at weaving blankets (pua kumbu) and is known as indu sikat, indu kebat, the tebalu fee in her honour is sambilan igi jabir, $9.00.
16. If the deceased was a good hostess to visitors (indu temuai, indu lawai), the tebalu fee in her honour is sambilan igi jabir, $9.00.
17. If the deceased was diligent in preparing food for visitors who came to her family bilek, (indu asi, indu ai), her tebalu fee is from lapan to sambilan igi jabir, $8.00 to $9.00, respectively.
18. If the deceased was always alert in looking for vegetables for those who visit her family (indu tubu, indu paku), her tebalu fee is from tujoh to lapan igi jabir, $7.00 to $8.00.
19. All deceased women of aristocratic families are honored with a tebalu fee of not less than tujoh igi jabir, $7.00.
20. The tebalu fee for a woman of low status shall not exceed enam igi jabir, $6.00.
- If a widow and a widower marry each other before they have compensated their respective former spouse’s relatives in a ngambi tebalu ceremony, they will be accused by the latter of committing berangkat2 tulang, eloping marriage. This is regarded as a grievous offence for which the widower is fined tujoh igi jabir, $7.00 and the widow sigi alas ngerang, $5.00. In addition, they are required by the Tuai Rumah to produce a pig, a knife and an iron adze.
- If a widow and a widower have sexual intercourse, they are accused of committing a butang antu offence, and are fined sigi alas muda, $4.00 each.
- If a widow or a widower has sexual intercourse with another person, he or she is accused of committing a ngemulu antu offence, and is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00 each.
- There are two kinds of tebalu fees, which the widow or the widower may be required to pay; one is called tebalu mata, “unripe tebalu” and the other is tebalu mansau, or “ripe tebalu9”. The former is paid at the expiration of six months following the death of the spouse and its payment enables the widow or widower to remarry freely. The latter is a vow made by the widow or widower not to remarry before he or she has built a tomb hut for the deceased during a Gawai Antu festival. If this vow is broken, the offender and his partner will be fined according to the type of offence they have committed, i.e. adultery or elopement.
ADULTERY WITH IN-LAWS
- If a married man commits adultery with a woman who is his parents’ first cousin, the man is fined sigi alas betandok, $7.00, and the woman sigi alas muda, $4.00, two chickens, a knife and an iron adze.
- If a married man commits adultery with a woman who is a second cousin of his parents, the man is fined sigi alas barejang, $6.00 and the woman tiga igi jabir, $3.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If a married man commits adultery with a woman who is the third cousin of his parents, the man is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00 and the woman sigi panding, $2.00, a chicken and a knife.
- If any person commits adultery with a relative of his or her parents-in-law of the same categories as in Nos. 1, 2, and 3, the offenders will be fined the same amounts as shown above.
3. ADAT RELATED TO DEATH AND MOURNING.
ADAT MATI ENGGAU RABAT (DEATH RITES AND NIGHT VIGIL)
Immediately upon death, all members of the deceased’s family and other relatives present at the death bed will weep for the deceased for about ten minutes or more. At this time two pestles are laid at the passage (tempuan) at both ends of the longhouse, in order to stop the ghosts of former relatives from entering the house from the other world. The corpse is then cleaned with a soapy lather made from the pounded skins of the langgir fruit. Having done this, three yellow marks of turmeric (kunyit) are made on the deceased’s forehead. As this is done, his or her hair is oiled and combed after which the body is dressed in good clothes as instructed by the teachings of the god Pun-tang Raga to the ancestor Serapoh many generations ago.
After the corpse has been dressed, it is laid on a number of beautiful rattan and bemban (reed) mats inside the bilek. On the family gallery outside are hung the best pua kumbu blankets from a rope tied to four posts to form a sapat, or a partition, around the corpse some nine feet square and about five feet from the floor. Failure to erect the sapat will cause all of those who gather to mourn the deceased to be liable to sickness.
As soon as the sapat is made, the corpse of the deceased is brought out of the room and placed inside it. When the body passes the door which divides the family bilek from the gallery (ruai), a senior woman of the family will throw a few grains of padi on the corpse and recite a brief prayer so that the family’s rice shall not be dissipated after the deceased has departed to the other world (sebayan).
When the corpse of the deceased has been laid properly inside the sapat, the women members of his or her family will lead their other relatives in weeping for the deceased, and this generally continues for some time. The deceased’s personal belongings are displayed on an empty box near his or her head, and hung above the deceased’s body are some clothes known as baiya pandang – the clothes which he or she leaves with family in this world to be later on displayed during the besarara bunga and the Gawai Antu rites. A small fire is kept burning day and night on the hearth at the passage near the deceased’s feet. This fire must not be extinguished until after the funeral rites are over.
Shortly after the fire has been lit the head of the deceased’s family (tuai bilek) calls for a meeting of all people in the longhouse at his gallery (ruai) to discuss the sending out of invitations to other longhouses to attend the night vigils for the deceased. At this juncture the people of other families will always agree to the number of night vigils the deceased’s family suggests, provided that meat, other food and refreshments are sufficient to feed the guests. They help the deceased’s family with about five dollars per family for the cost of meat only. All the families themselves pay the cost of other food individually. When the meeting is over, two men are chosen to send out the invitations, one to downriver longhouses and the other to upriver longhouses. At the same time, if the deceased’s longhouse has no professional wailer (tukang sabak) available, one has to be invited from another longhouse in the vicinity, and an additional messenger is dispatched for this purpose.
The guests arrive from afternoon until sunset. They bring with them various kinds of presents, such as glutinous rice (beras pulut), money and chickens. At about 6p.m. the wailer starts to sing her dirge. She sits on a chair near the deceased’s head with her face partly covered by a handkerchief as she wails the chants. She recites the whole night with only occasional stops for food and drink.
At 8 p.m. the guests are invited politely by their hosts to sit in a long row along the gallery (ruai) of the longhouse. After the guests are seated in order, a number of young men from each family bilek bring out food and wine for the dinner, which lasts for about one hour.
After the dinner is over, all of the young men who served the guests have their own meal in their family room, while the guests outside are invited and spread out to other family sections of the gallery.
At about 10 p.m. coffee, bread or other light refreshments are served to the guests along the communal gallery. When this is done all senior guests, such as Penghulus and Tuai Rumah, are specially invited to sit in a row at the deceased’s family upper gallery (panggau) and at other families’ sections of the gallery at both sides of the deceased’s bilek.
After all of the guests have taken their seats, a spokesman on behalf of the deceased’s family stands up to relate to all present the story of the deceased’s life and of the illness which led to his or her death. He mentions briefly that due to the deceased’s death his family and the people in the longhouse will mourn for him for three months. Within this period, no one is permitted to make merry or to shout while passing the longhouse compound. If a feast must unavoidably be held in the longhouse due to a serious illness, it can only be held after a fine of sigi panding, $2.00, known as pemampul pending (to cover the ears), has been paid to the deceased’s family. To conclude his speech the speaker thanks all of the guests for their presence, as many of them have left their business in order to render help to the deceased’s family and the other families of the longhouse.
After the speaker has finished his speech, a number of young men serve the guests with hot and cold drinks. The gathering generally lasts an additional one and a half hours.
Shortly after the gathering has concluded, the hosts again arrange the seating of the guests in a long row on the communal gallery of the longhouse. When this is done, a supper is around 2 a.m. is served at every family section of the gallery, which lasts for about an hour. After supper is over, the guests and hosts are free to talk about things of interest, such as about their farms, until coffee is served again at around 4a.m.
At about 5 a.m., the deceased’ body will be put into the coffin. At this time an elderly woman will give the last material food to the deceased so that he or she will not be hungry while journeying to the far away other world. When this is done, the deceased’s spouse will put a ring on the deceased’s finger to indicate their separation. Having done this, the corpse is placed in the coffin by the men, while the women weep noisily round about. At this time the wailer finishes her chants of lamentation.
At around 5.30 a.m., just before daybreak,2 the coffin is carried by the attendants to the cemetery either by boat or overland, depending on its location. A man walks in front of the coffin carrying a sempun torch to light the way. On arriving at the cemetery a fowl must first be killed, the blood of which is smeared on the earth where the grave is to be dug. Some rice (beras) is also thrown on the site of the grave. Having done this, the diggers start to dig a six-foot deep hole. When the digging is in progress, the other members of the burial party cook some food at the river bank nearby.
When the grave is completed, the coffin is lowered into it together with the deceased’s personal belongings (baiyd) intended for his future use in the other world, menoa sebayan. The head of the deceased is placed towards the downriver, as according to traditional belief, he will forever rest in the land of the Mandai Mati3 spiritual world.
If the deceased was a shaman or manang, his head must be placed towards the upriver, as his soul, according to traditional belief, will forever rest on the lofty top of sacred Mt. Rabong,4 a holy mountain where the first Iban Menjaya Manang Raja was consecrated manang ball (a transformed shaman) by Ini Inda,5 the spiritual head of the manangs. Menjaya Manang Raja was the brother of Sengalang Burong, the Iban god of war.
As soon as the burial is completed, a marker is planted in the ground over the deceased’s head. Having done this, the mourners take their food at the cooking place on the riverbank. All then return to their respective house.
On arriving at the deceased’s family house, all of the senior people in the community are expected to go to the deceased’s room to witness an elderly woman, preferably the eldest in the longhouse, eat the sacrificial asi pana, usually consisting, of three balls of black rice.6 Each ball indicates one day during which the longhouse people may not work outside the longhouse building. If the people agree not to work within a pana period of three days, then the chief mourner eats only one ball of rice each morning. Within the three days of the pana the deceased’s family room will be kept dark, as it is taboo to open any of the windows. The meaning of this is that dark in this world is bright in the other world.
On the morning that the pana period is ended, the windows of the deceased’s family room must first be smeared with the blood of a chicken before they are formally opened by the elderly woman who ate the asi pana.
Shortly after the last asi pana has been eaten, the deceased’s valuables are placed securely in a lengguai (brass box) bound with rottan cord for three months during the formal mourning period.7 This box should be kept in a place in the room where it cannot be reached or disturbed by children or stepped over.
If the three-day mourning period occurs during the dibbling or harvest season, the farmers can compensate the deceased’s family sigi jabir, $1.00, in order to be able to work in their padi fields, provided they return to the longhouse each evening. This compensation is called pana benda. Also friends and relatives from other villages, who are not subject to the mourning taboos, may help.
Three evenings before the conclusion of the pana mourning period, at sunset, the deceased’s family must light a fire and make offerings at a spot (Palan tungkun api) near the longhouse set aside for this purpose. The reason or making this fire is to prevent the deceased’s soul from wandering in search of food prepared by the living. In addition to this, the Iban adat mati runs as follows:
- If a deceased is the first person buried at a new cemetery, he must be given enough material objects, such as a wooden rice mill (kisar), a rice mortar (lesong), a pestle (alu), a winnowing basket (chapan) and carrying baskets of various kinds and sizes, i.e. umpok, agak, raga, takaran, baka, selabit, and sintong, a knife (duku), an iron adze (beliong), axe (kapak), a dibble stick (tugal) and a jar (tajau)’, for his use in a new community founded by him in the other world. The burial of such objects is not necessary for later interments.8
- If anyone opens another family’s grave in order to steal the goods (baiya) given to the deceased, the offender must pay a fine of a genuine tajau rusa jar and all of the goods he stole must be paid for in full.
- If a man cuts down a tree in or at the edge of a cemetery and the tree breaks down a sungkup tomb hut, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and the sungkup must be repaired immediately.
- If a man burns a cemetery compound, he is fined by the community one genuine tajau rusa jar.
- If a man shouts joyfully when passing a mourning longhouse, he is fined sigi jabir, $1.00.
- If the people of the mourning longhouse are invited by people of another village to attend a feast, they can attend only if the hosts will compensate (i) the deceased’s family sigi jabir, $1.00, and (ii) the people of other families sigi jabir, $ 1.00, in total.
- If the feast chief fails to compensate his guests who are still mourning for the dead, he (the chief) is fined sigi panding, $2.00, and a chicken.
- If a man destroys a hut where the three night fire is lit for a dead person before the tungkun api period is over, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and a pig, the blood of which is used for smearing the hut.
- If an old man or woman dies after all his or her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have died, it is no longer necessary for the surviving relatives (if any exist) to mourn his or her death. But if the deceased has a child still living, the latter must mourn the death.
- If a baby dies before his first tooth has erupted, a night vigil to honour his death is not necessary. If his parents wish to have a night vigil for him, they must announce publicly that they want to give him a shell armlet (rangki) to symbolize his tooth, so that the baby may be respected with a night vigil. If this is not done, the child is considered to be stillborn. If he is respected with a night vigil (di-senggai) before his burial, during the future Gawai Antu festival a basket called Buah Belimbing is ceremonially given to him.
- If twin babies die, one after the other in the same hour or day, they may be kept in a single coffin with a partition to separate them. After they have been interred, their tambit ulit, i.e. the sacred articles inside a brass box as a sign of mourning period, may be placed inside a single box instead of two. The procedure of opening the mourning period may take place earlier than the mourning for the adult deceased as agreed to by the longhouse community. During the future Gawai Antu festival, they can be given a basket called Buah Limau each.
- If a child dies when he is about to reach the age of young bachelorhood, i.e. teenage, the basket given to him at the Gawai Antu is called gelayan.
- If a child dies in his adolescence, the basket given to him during the future Gawai Antu is called Buah Melanjan.
- If anyone shouts while quarrelling in the mourning longhouse, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00.
- If a person in the longhouse is dead, but a man outside the longhouse building shouts as he is enjoying himself, he is fined sigi panding, $2.00.
- If anyone disturbs the baiya pandang clothes hanging above the deceased’s corpse, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00.
If two persons from different bileks die on the same day, or one dies before the body of the first has been removed from the longhouse for burial, the families living in the apartments between the two bileks, if they do not directly adjoin one another, will demand compensation for kena kepit antu, for the ritual danger in which they are placed, from the two families of the deceased as follows: both families must provide, each:
a. One bowl (pinggai),
b. One knife (duku),
c. One adze (beliong), and
d. One kebok jarlet.
These articles are required to strengthen the souls of those living between the two bileks and the kebok jarlet is meant to enclose their souls and so protect them from angat (spiritual “heat”). Also the two dead persons must be buried on the same day.
NGETAS ULIT (FORMAL CLOSING OF THE MOURNING PERIOD)
Some days after the three-month ulit mourning period has expired, the deceased’s family gathers together the people of the longhouse to their ruai gallery for the family head to inform them of his family’s intention to close the mourning period with a ngetas ulit ceremony. He will beg all the people to stay at home the next day to witness the opening ceremony. After this, the restrictions of the ulit period, unlike pana, fall only on the deceased’s family.
Early in the morning, after the deceased’s closest relatives have arrived from neighboring longhouses, all of the people gather together in the deceased’s family bilek. After they are seated, a warrior in full wardress shouts three times as he enters the house. Replying to the warrior’s shouts a man at the deceased’s gallery beats a tawak gong several times.
When the warrior enters the family room, a chicken is handed to him for him to wave over the lengguai box where the deceased’s valuables have been kept during the three months mourning period. As he waves the chicken above the lengguai box, the warrior beseeches the gods to bless the mourners and other people in the longhouse so that they may live in good health after he has opened the ulit.
After the warrior has ended his prayer, he cuts the rottan strings which were used to tie the box. Having done this, he opens the box and takes out the valuables contained inside it.
After the warrior has opened the mourning period (ngetas ulit), all of the deceased’s relatives, men and women, young and old alike come forward to ask the warrior to cut bits of their hair with his knife.9 The fee for opening the ulit is a knife (duku), a plate (chapak) and a jarlet (kebok). All of these articles are taken by the warrior and become his personal property.
After the ngetas ulit is ended, drinks and food are served to all present and, after this, the guests may make merry with musical instruments and so on.
BESARARA BUNGA (SEPARATING THE FLOWERS)
A month or two after the opening of the ulit mourning period, the deceased’s family will now sever the bonds of affection between the deceased and the members of his or her family remaining in this world in a final rite of farewell. To accomplish this, manang, or shaman, is invited by the bereaved family to recite the incantations of the besarara bunga ceremony, meaning, literally, “the separating of the flowers”. Ordinarily this is done as soon after the opening of ulit as possible because the Iban believe that the dead may endanger their loved ones and cause their death so that their souls may join them in the other world, if these ties of affection between the living and the dead are not spiritually separated.10
The shaman usually performs this ceremony at night on the deceased’s family’s section of the gallery (ruai). Therefore, all the people of the longhouse and the family’s few closest relatives who have come from other villages to take part are seated on the gallery near the upper pantar facing the shaman who conducts the besarara bunga and sits with his back to the communal passageway.
Before he starts to perform the ritual, the shaman demands that a piece of cloth belonging to the deceased be hung on a bamboo rail above a small jar set out on the ruai floor into which are placed stalks of the sacred bunga telasih flowers (Ocimum sanctum) or flowering branches of the wild emperawan tree. The jar represents a pagar api, a spiritual fence of fire. Nearby is placed a plate of food offerings.
Eventually, at about 10 p.m., the manang recites his long incantation of leka pelian besarara bunga. He only pauses occasionally for drinks and to smoke or chew a pinang sireh quid.
At midnight the makai salau supper is served on the ruai by young men who bring the food from the deceased’s family bilek, where it is prepared. But before anyone begins to eat, the manang must first throw away the pedara, special food given to the deceased and his friends who have come from the other world to attend, to the ground below the house floor. After this is done, the manang leads the other people to eat their meal. Until the pedara offering is made no one who has come to attend the pelian may leave the longhouse.
An hour later, the manang again continues to recite his chants. Eventually, when he mentions the sadness of the deceased upon learning that his bonds of affection with the members of his family in this world are now severed, that the souls of the living and the dead are now parted, the manang cuts in two the branch or flower stalk with his knife. The flowers used in the pelian must always have two stalks or branches, one facing the manang said to be pointing towards the world of the dead, the other facing the guests pointing to the world of the living. The shaman must cut only the branch pointing towards the world of the dead. As he cuts the flowers accompanied by the words of his chant, some of the deceased’s close relatives weep openly. After the severing of the flower stalk, the manang continues his chants till around 3 a.m. After breakfast in the morning the deceased’s family will pay the manang’s fee with a chicken, a knife, a jarlet, a fathom of calico belachu cloth and $5.00.
When the manang performs any kinds of pelian ceremony, including the besarara bunga, no one is allowed to disturb him. If anyone disturbs him, the offender is fined as follows:
1. If a man disturbs the manang while he is in trance, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $l.00.
2. If a man, due to his ignorance destroys the taboo sign (pelapa) made by the manang to stop strangers from coming into the longhouse while he is performing a pelian ceremony, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, a knife and an iron adze.
3. If anyone comes into the longhouse which is still under taboo set by the manang, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00 and a chicken. In this particular case all visitors to the Iban longhouse are requested first to enquire whether the house is free from taboo (mali) before they enter it.
4. If a man cuts down another family’s sacred cordyline plant (sabang ayu) planted by the manang for the strengthening of the owner’s health after completion of the pelian ceremony, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, two chicken, a knife and a jarlet.
4. RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS
To the Iban mind, the deities are the messengers between the principal god of creation, Bunsu Petara, and man and are similar in power to the prophets of the proselytizing religions of Islam and Christianity. In folklore and the song cycles deities are remembered and celebrated by the Iban. Each deity taught the people the way to worship God (Bunsu Petara) with offerings in various festivals and smaller ceremonies, such as follows:
1. Bedara mata i.e. “unripe” ceremony for making an offering to God and His deities, and
2. Bedara mansau i.e. a “ripe” ceremony for making offerings to God and His deities.
These two kinds of bedara are small ceremonies held by the Ibans in their family bilek, in the case of bedara mata, and at their family gallery (ruai), in the case of bedara mansau. They are held specially to call for the deities to bestow a blessing on the family, especially if one of its members is ill or is going abroad in search of wealth.
In the past when warriors returned successfully from the battle field, the people of the longhouse held a traditional festival of Enchaboh Arong to celebrate the enemies they killed and the loot they had brought home. The mothers, sisters or sweetheart of the warriors will formally receive the skull of the enemies with their best blankets (pua kumbu) at the landing place of the longhouse. The feast of Enchaboh Arong lasted a day and a night and was celebrated on the communal galleries and open-air verandah (tanju) out side the main longhouse building.
Occasionally a man may be informed through a dream that a deity, mythical hero or the spirit of a deceased ancestor wants him to hold a makai di ruai ceremony, i.e. a feast to be held at midday on the communal gallery (ruai). For this ceremony the feast chief appoints the longhouse elders to make offerings to God and to the particular deity or spirit who has asked him to hold the feast. After the offerings have been made, one of the elders recites a long prayer (sampi) to beseech God and the deities and their followers to bless the feast chief so that he can successfully do his future work in good health. After the prayer is ended, a meal is served on the communal gallery.
Sometimes a man is inspired in a dream by a deity or the spirit of a deceased ancestor or other close relative to hold a sandau hari festival which is bigger than a makai di ruai ceremony. To this feast, the people of the longhouse invite guests from other villages. Gawai Sandau Hari means “day time festival” and is celebrated on the open-air verandah, tanju, only during the daytime.
As soon as the guests have arrived and are received by the hosts along the ruai, the feast chief waves a cock along the longhouse gallery to invite all who have come to be seated upon his tanju which has been decorated for the occasion with good mats and woven blankets to attend his feast.
After all of the guests have taken their seats in order, three to five warriors each make from three to five offerings to God and the spirits. Having done this, one of the warriors stands up with a cock in his hands to recite a long sampi prayer to call for the deities and the universal spirits to come to the feast with blessings and charms of all kinds. He beseeches the almighty God in his mercy to grant to the feast chief and his people good health and prosperity in times to come. After the recitation of this prayer, the young men serve the guests with tuak wine on the tanju. After the guests have drunk the tuak wine, expert drummers perform gendang pampat music on ketebong drums.
As the quick music is booming, three to five warriors perform their ray ah dance around the sacred Kalingkang pole which is carefully raised at the middle of the tanju. At this moment it is believed that Sengalang Burong, the god of war; his sons-in-law, Ketupong, Beragai Bejampong, Embuas, Pangkas, Papau and Nendak; and their wives from the heavens are spiritually present and mingling with the hosts and guests on the tanju.
The music from the drums continues, accompanied by the tinkling sound of iron adzes struck by a chosen warrior. This music is made for Sengalang Burong’s sons-in-law to join the rayah dance spiritually with the warrior dancers. At this time another warrior burns wild flowers and crabs on a hearth to welcome the coming of spiritual guests from the Panggau Libau and Gellong worlds. These guests are Keling, Laja, Simpurai, Pungga, Tutong, Ngelai, Renggan and others.1 If these wild flowers and crabs are not burnt on the hearth (bedilang) the unfortunate human guests would faint (luput – pansa arong) by the presence of these spiritual heroes.
After the dancing ceremony around the sacred pole is over, the spirits are believed to return to their own home. The guests and senior hosts are served food along the open tanju. After the meal is over, the feast chief waves a cock to inform all the people that his sandau hari festival is now coming to an end. As soon as the announcement is made, the guests disperse; some return to their own longhouse immediately, while others continue to drink tuak wine with the hosts till sunset.
The most important festivals to be celebrated by the aristocratic chieftains and their descendants are the nine stages of Gawai Burong, the bird festival. This is one of the greatest of all Iban ceremonies. Although initiated by a single individual, the whole neighboring longhouses along the same stream to which the gawai sponsor belongs is caught up in the preparation for this festival, and the anticipation of attendance generates tremendous excitement among the longhouses within the region in which it is held. The stages of this festival are as follows:
1. Enchaboh Arong is a feast for receiving the heads of enemies killed in war.
2. Gawai Kelingkang, the sacred pole is made of payan bamboo, about nine feet high, with a jar as its knot (bungkong) at the middle of the pole.
3. Mulong Merangau feast, the sacred pole is made from durian wood, and is cleverly carved like an old sago palm tree when all its fruit has fallen to the ground.
4. Gawai Sandong, the sacred pole is made from the selangking tree.
5. Gawai Lamba Bumbun, the sacred pole is made from the heart of the selangking tree.
6. Gawai Mudor Ruroh, the sacred pole is made of a bunch of spears, which have been used in fighting against the enemy in various wars.
7. Gawai Ranyai, the sacred pole is made from a bunch of warrior’s spears.
8. Gajah Meram feast, the pole is made of a strong wood with branches decorated with skulls and isang palm leaves, and
9. Gawai Gerasi Papa, the sacred pole is a statue of a demon hunter (antu gerasi papa).
Other than these stages or sub-festivals, another that must be mentioned here is the Gawai Ngaga Kenyalang (a festival held for the making of a Rhinoceros hornbill statue). In the Paku, Saribas, only chief Saang; Linggir, the son of Uyut “Bedilang Besi”; and Jiram “Rentap” celebrated this festival. The statue made by Saang was burnt by James Brooke and Captain Henry Keppel when they attacked Linggir “Mali Lebu” house at Paku in 1843. The one made by Jiram “Rentap” is now at Matop longhouse in the Paku, while the one made by Linggir, the son of chief Uyut’ “Bedilang Besi”, was burnt with the entire longhouse at Senunok in 1944.
According to genealogies, ten generations ago chief Saang held a “Gajah Meram” feast in order that he might tie in two rows the skulls he and his warriors had collected during their pioneering days in the Paku sub-district. These heads were burnt with the longhouse of Penghulu Kinyeh, the son of chief Linggir “Mali Lebu”, at Beduru, Paku, in 1898.
When he lived at Nanga Ngelai in the Paku chief Libau “Buban” seven generations ago held a similar feast as that celebrated by chief Saang to tie forty-two skulls in a row. These skulls are still intact at Samu, Paku, to this day. In the Padeh, Saribas, chief Orang Kaya Beti “Tajai Ngindang” once held a feast he called “Bunga Ketunsong” which was similar to the “Gawai Ranyai”. Another Padeh chief who celebrated the “Gajah Meram” feast was Orang Kaya Akun “Bedindang”. These skulls used in the celebration are still in the possession of his descendants at Nanga Geraji, Padeh, to this day.
In the Layar River a warrior named Saban, when he lived at Tanjong Serian, held a “Gawai Ranyai” to mark his conversion to Christianity sometime in the early 1880s. The leading bard who sung the ritual songs for this feast was Lemambang Berinau of Skrang.
In the upper Padeh, a warrior named Belaka of Sungai Sibau once held a feast he called “Gawai Meligai” to celebrate his success in killing a number of enemies in a war led by the Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana “Bayang” to Singkawang near Sambas in what was then Dutch Borneo.
In the Awek, Saratok, Penghulu Minggat and his brothers, Menggin and Enchana “Letan”, celebrated 3 types of Gawai Burong in a single festival, namely: Ranyai, Mudor Ruroh and Lamba Bumbun, to mark their pioneering wars against the inhabitants of the area four generations ago. At Kumpai, Kerian, Chulo “Tarang” held a festival of Lamba Bumbun shortly before his conversion to Christianity five generations ago.
In the Skrang, Libau “Rentap” once held a Ranyai feast to celebrate his victories at Mt. Sadok against an invasion by the Tuan Muda Charles Brooke in about 1858.
At Nanga Bunu Skrang, Kedu “Lang Ngindang” once held a feast he called “Gawai Kalingkang” to pray for victory against the government’s invasion of his longhouse in 1879.
GAWAI SAKIT (Curing the Sick Rituals)
It is the responsibility of the immediate family member’s to seek cures for any member of their family who has fallen sick. It will be reflected in the member of their society on how much trouble and care they take to seek treatment for their sick family members. The whole longhouse members will make effort to give assistance to the affected family.
When an Iban is sick, the first thing his family will do to cure him is to celebrate a “Bedara Mata” or “Bedara Mansau” ceremony. At either one of these ceremonies, offerings are made to the deities and the spirits of past manangs, so that they will come to treat the sick person with miracles and spiritual charms.
If the sick man is not cured by the Bedara ceremonies, the family will call for a manang to perform a pelian ceremony for him. The kind of pelian performed depends on information the manang obtains from his quartz crystal (batu karas or batu ilau). The kinds of pelian ceremonies are as follows:
In his pelian chants, the manang invites Menjaya Raja Manang and the souls of great manangs of the past to come to assist him with charms and miraculous healing.
If the sick man is not cured by these pelian, the family will hold a Gawai Sakit festival for his recovery. To conduct this rite, a group of bards (lemambang) is invited to sing their pengap songs. When the feast is about to end, a sacrificial piglet is ceremoniously killed in order to obtain information from its liver which is carefully examined by the bards and other experts present.
The indications of the piglet’s liver can vary. If its liver and gall are “too good” i.e. the shape of the liver is excellent and the water inside the gall bladder is clear (chiru) instead of being green, it is not good, but indicates that the sick man cannot be cured of his sickness. If its gall is green and tiny veins appear under the thin outer tissue of the liver, it indicates that the sick man will soon be cured. But if the indication is doubtful to the minds of the bards and other experts, the conditions of the sick man in the future remains likewise doubtful; he will either be cured or not.
If a sick man cannot be cured by treatment and ceremonies of the dukun, manang or lemambang, sometimes he begs his relatives to send him to a retreat (nampok) at the top of a mountain or near a waterfall known to be inhabited by spirits. His is left alone in a solitary place with offerings and expects to meet the spirits he hopes will come to cure him. In other words, he recognizes that his illness is beyond human cure and seeks the direct intercession of the spirits who may or may not come to his aid. If he cannot be cured, then he awaits death.
GAWAI PANGKONG TIANG
A year or more after the completion of a permanent longhouse, the Tuai Rumah will formally discuss in a meeting with his people the celebration of a house warming festival called “Gawai Pangkong Tiang”. If all of the people agree to hold such a feast, a group of bards (lemambang) is invited to invoke Anda Mara, the deity of luck, with their pengap songs to bless the new building.3 In addition to this, the people of neighboring villages are invited to attend the festival. But before the celebration is held, two men and two women of unblemished character are appointed to do the following:
1. The two women are to prepare the sacrificial offerings and on the eve of the feast oil all the foundation posts with kepayang oil.
2. Some time during the feast, the two men are to sit inside a pua kumbu (woven blanket) enclosure. One of them holds a bamboo container of cooked glutinous rice in his hand.
While the two men are sitting inside this enclosure (serayong pua), which is placed around the foundation post (tiang pemun), the owner of the post invites the guests to take their seats at his section of the gallery in order to witness the ceremony.
After the guests have taken their seats in order, the two men start to do their work in the following manner:
a. The first man strikes the post with the bamboo container filled with glutinous rice.
b. The second man says, “Akai! Why do you strike me without cause?”
a. The first man replies,” Because you do not help me obtain wealth!”
b. The second man says, “How can I help you, as you have not asked me to do so with offerings and prayers.”
a. The first man says, “Now I pray you to eat my offerings, so that you will help me to find wealth and happiness.”
b. The second man says, “If you give me sacrificial foods, then after this feast you will obtain wealth and happiness easily. In due course, your name will be heard by peoples of many races in this country.”
Details of this festival have been published on the article entitled Gawai Pangkong Tiang.
GAWAI BATU (WHETSTONE FESTIVAL)
Shortly before the initial clearing (manggol) of land for farming, the Tuai Rumah and Tuai Burong will call a meeting to discuss the celebration of the Gawai Batu or Whetstone festival. This feast, is agreed upon, should be held late in May or early in June. It is not a yearly festival, but is held once in approximately four years, when the growth of padi is deficient and harvests are abnormally declining.
For the Gawai Batu, a group of lemambang (bards) is invited to sing their pengap songs in which the deity Raja Simpulang Gana is called upon to bless the whetstones belonging to the farmers of the longhouse. In addition to the bards, an old man who is a successful farmer is invited to clean and oil the whetstones early on the festival eve.
The bards arrive at the longhouse in the afternoon of the festival day. On their arrival, the Tuai Burong in the space in front of the longhouse receives them. From there they sing their songs along the path and up into the longhouse, where they encircle the communal gallery before they take their seats along the section of the gallery belonging to the feast chief (tuai gawai). Here a shrine has been erected onto which are placed the whetstones and charms to be blessed during celebration.
That night, after dinner and the berayah dances are over, the bards start to sing their pengap chants along the communal gallery. These continue through the whole night, with occasional pauses for food and drink.
Early next morning a sacrificial piglet (babi dipeda atau) is killed, the liver of which is examined by the bards and experts present. The condition of this liver foretells the fortune of all of the farmers in the community for some years to come, till another Gawai Batu is held in the longhouse.
Early next day after the feast is over, every family head starts to do the initial clearing (manggol) of bush on their farm land.
GAWAI UMAI (FARMING FESTIVAL)
Shortly before the weeding season is to start, if the growth of padi in the farm is seriously damaged by insect and other pests, it is the duty of the Tuai Umai to discuss this matter with the other farmers. Two courses of action may be followed. Either a Gawai Umai festival may be held, if the pest damage is particularly serious, or only an ordinary Ngemali Umai (taboo on the field) ceremony. If the latter course is taken, the dukun umai will treat the fields using his charms, after which he declares a three-day taboo on the farms in the particular area he treated.
If all agree to hold a Gawai Umai festival, the Tuai Umai will ask the members of each family to brew the necessary tuak wine. Early in the morning a man from each family makes a frame to be put over a fire for roasting of glutinous rice used in preparation of tuak. While doing this at the boat-landing place (Pangkalan) on the riverbank, three successive gendang rayah are performed by men in the longhouse. As soon as the gendang rayah music is over, the women folk start to soak their beras pulut (glutinous rice) in the river.
Eventually before dawn of the next morning, the Tuai Umai waves a chicken along the longhouse galleries to ask the people of every family to cook their glutinous rice in the frames they have erected at the pangkalan. As the people start to do this work, men in the longhouse again perform gendang rayah. At this time the Tuai Umai will first go to a special platform (duran) to make three offerings to God and the deity Raja Simpulang Gana. The Tuai Umai remains at the duran until all of the rice has been cooked. This should be completed by about 6 a.m. when the cooked rice is brought back to the house by its owners to be fermented for tuak wine.
After breakfast men in the longhouse start to prepare the many things needed for the nimang pantar ceremony which will be held during the coming night, when the bards sing their pengap chants to bless the family’s wooden seat specially erected for the festival. On this day, too, invitations are sent to neighboring villages to invite other people to attend the feast. That afternoon, the Tuai Umai, who has now been appointed to direct the festival procedure, asks a senior woman in every family to collect the pests, such as bugs, mole crickets, caterpillars, and young padi plants which have been badly infested by pests in the fields. These they wrap with leaves and put in a special hut near the longhouse. While they are still in the padi fields, the people in the house spread their best mats (beranchau tikai) on the floor of their respective sections of the gallery where guests will sit when they arrive.
Shortly after the house has been properly decorated for the guests, the bards arrive. The hosts outside the longhouse building with the beating of gongs and drums welcome them. After the bards have been received with cakes and tuak wine, the feast chief leads them in procession to the longhouse. The bards who walk behind him sing their pengap chants. As they pass each family gallery, the maiden who welcomes them offers them a small glass of wine. When the procession reaches the other end of the longhouse it turns back to the feast chief’s gallery, where the bards are asked to take their seats.
As the bards are sitting in a row on the feast chiefs gallery, they are served by the hosts with delicious cakes, other food and tuak wine. This reception lasts for over half an hour.
After dinner that night, the feast chief waves a chicken along the galleries to inform the people that a ritual berandang jalai dance will be performed soon by the man who will kill a ceremonial piglet (anak uting dipeda atau) for the feast. As he starts his rayah dance along the gallery, men at the feast chiefs’ section of the gallery perform gendang rayah music. After the dancer has encircled the longhouse gallery three times he takes his seat at the feast chief’s upper gallery.
Shortly after the dance is over, the feast chief waves a cock again to ask the members of each family to make a shrine (pandong) on the gallery where their individual offering may be placed. As soon as the pandong have been made, the bards start to sing their ritual chants and they continue until late afternoon.
When the bards have stopped singing their chants, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the women of every family to soak their glutinous rice in the river. As the women soak their rice, men in the longhouse inform the universal spirits that the preparation for a festival is underway in the village by performing three successive gendang rayah.
At about 3a.m. the feast chief again waves a chicken to ask the men and women to cook their glutinous rice on the frames near the riverbank. At this time another three gendang rayah are performed by men in the longhouse to signal the feast chief and others to go down to cook their rice. When the feast chief arrives at the duran platform, he makes an offering to God, the deity Raja Simpulang Gana and the spirits. At day break the rice is cooked and brought back to the house by its owners.
Eventually, at about 7 a.m., a ceremonial cockfight is held on the open-air tanju of the feast chief. This game lasts about an hour. As soon as it is over, a meal is served to all along the galleries. After the meal is finished, the feast chief waves his chicken to ask the people to erect a big meligai platform where padi pests collected earlier by the women are placed during the night of the Gawai Umai celebration. After the meligai has been completed, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the old man who had been chosen to kill a piglet to make offerings to the deity Rajah Simpulang Gana with the help of few other elders, including a man who has been asked to look after the young padi plants (anak padi) which have been brought home by the women with the pests.
After the offerings have been made to the gods, the feast chief waves his chicken to ask a senior woman from every family to form a procession with the bards to fetch their young padi plants from the hut outside the longhouse building.
Immediately after these women have put their individual anak padi inside a ranjok carrying basket, the bards they follow in procession again sing their chants as they walk slowly along the path towards the longhouse. As they enter the longhouse building, the procession encircles the gallery three times. The final round stops as it reaches the meligai platform where an old man cleans the anak padi with holy water and ties the plants with string. After they are cleaned and tied, the old man returns the plants to the meligai platform, which is then covered with pua kumbu blankets.
As soon as this is done, an expert makes a jong, a small sailing boat, from the spathe of an areca-nut palm. In this boat are placed all the pests, such as bugs, mole crickets and caterpillars that the women have collected from the padi fields. These are set adrift in the river at the end of the feast.
After the jong is completed, two men carry a winnowing basket (chapan) each and starting from the feast chiefs passage beg for useless articles from each family to be given to the antu rua, the spirits that cause rice and other property to be quickly exhausted, so that they can remove bad luck from the families of the longhouse. As the two men reach each end of the longhouse, they throw away all these unwanted articles together with the winnowing baskets to the ground below, with the following words:
O ni kita antu sial, antu pachal, Rinan saan kita utai tu, Ngagai tasik besai, ka menoa bukai. Anang agi minta, anang agi nanya ngagai kami.
Oh ye spirit of waste, Carry these articles with you, to the overseas and far away lands. Do not beg anymore from us.
Shortly after this, guests begin to arrive from other villages. After they are seated in a long row along the gallery of the longhouse, they are offered food and drink. This ceremony is called nyambut pengadang, reception of guests.
Eventually, at around 8p.m., dinner is served along the family galleries. After this, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask men, women, boys and girls to form a procession along the galleries of the longhouse for the combing of the piglet’s hair (nyugu babi).
This procession is led by the man who was asked to kill the piglet in the morning and who brings a sharp spear. Behind him is a woman who carries a plate of offerings. Next to her is another woman who carries water in a brass kettle (labu kendi). The maidens and young men in their traditional Iban dress follow them. The young men carry a bottle of tuak wine each, while the maidens each carry an empty glass in their hands.
After the procession has encircled the longhouse galleries three times, it turns and goes on to the feast chiefs open air verandah, where a piglet’s hut has been placed. On reaching the hut, the first woman feeds the piglet with the offering she carries. As she feeds it, she prays that the piglet’s liver when the animal is killed in the morning will produce an excellent indication to the farmers, that their farms that year shall bear abundant grain. After this, the second woman pours the water from the brass kettle on the piglet. After she has bathed it, she combs its hair with a comb and makes a similar petition as the first woman. When this is done, the procession returns to the longhouse building where the young men and maidens offer tuak wine along the family galleries to the guests.
Shortly after the nyugu babi procession has ended, the feast chief waves his chicken again to inform all that the dances of ngerandang jalai and ngelalu are to be performed by the dancers along the galleries as has been mentioned above.
After these dances are performed by the man who killed the piglet and the man who cleaned and tied the anak padi respectively the feast chief again waves a chicken to inform the people that the bards are about to sing their ritual chants (pengap) along the longhouse galleries.
As the bards are singing the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the hosts to arrange the sitting of the guests in a long row along the upper galleries: When this is done, a chicken is waved again by the feast chief to inform the people that a procession of ngalu petara, welcoming the arrival of the deities and universal spirits, is to take place soon along the longhouse verandah.
This procession is led by the feast chief himself. Behind him walks a speaker. Two women follow them; one brings a plate of offerings, and the other throws popped rice (letup) as she walks. Behind them are the maidens and young men who carry glasses and tuak wine. In the rear are the young men who perform music with gongs and drums.
After they have encircled the longhouse galleries twice, the senior guests start to ask why they have held such a procession with a number of men and women and maidens and with music of gongs and drums. In response to the guests’ question, the speaker explains to his audience, repeating his explanation at each gallery, as follows:
Malam tu kami sarumah tu nyadi gawai umai, nya alai kami ngambi Simpulang Gana sama enggau Petara Aki, Petara Ini kami, ka lalu di-alu kami ngena piring ngena ading tu, awak ka sida muru ngebu ka antu penyakit umai ka ngachau ngaregau utai ke ditanam kami. Kami minta pinta kami tu bisa, Ngambi ka kami bulih padi bulih puli.
Tonight we in this longhouse are holding a farm festival to which we invite Simpulang Gana, together with the spirits of our pioneer ancestors. We welcome them humbly with these offerings, so that they may mercifully drive away the pests, which damage the padi in our farms. We ask that our prayer be promptly answered, so that our farms may produce an abundance of padi.
As the speaker ends his speech, a senior guest stands up and answers him with the following words:
Nyadi aku tu ngari ka samoa kami ke duduk ba ruai tu,
Nyadi pengawa kita sarumah tu ngena bendar,
Laban kita begawai ngemali umai nunda adat aki,
Adat ini kita empu,
Kita ga nunda ajar Raja Simpulang Gana.
Nya alai laban Petara sama kena padah kena tunggah
Petara seduai Simpulang Gana,
sama enggau Petara aki,
Petara Ini kita,
Sama bisi magang datai ditu malam tu.
Sida iya mai ka kita Pengaroh ka gembar tuboh,
Ubat bai sida serangkap genap,
Kena kita muru ngebu ka penyakit umai ka tasik besai,
Ka menoa bukai,
Nya alai laban nya,
ba ujong taun tu ila,
Bulih meh kita padi ka di jual ngagai orang dagang,
Awak ka kita raja mara diau di menoa.
On behalf of all the guests at this gallery,
I must congratulate the people of this house,
For holding this traditional festival of Gawai Umai,
Following the teaching of the deity Raja Simpulang Gana.
By your invitation and prayers,
The God almighty,
And Raja Simpulang Gana,
Together with the spirits of your famous ancestors,
Are spiritually with us here tonight.
By their presence they will save you from trouble,
And by their miracles and charms all the pests
Which have damaged your farms,
Are driven away to foreign lands overseas.
We can assure you that at the end of this year,
You shall reap a very good harvest,
For you to sell to the traders in this country.
After the ngalu petara is over, the young men and maidens offer tuak wine and food to the guests. After this, the hosts invite the guests to change their seats from one gallery to another in the longhouse. As they sit at each family gallery, the hosts offer more drinks and food.
At about 3 a.m., when the bards sing the ngua pengaroh chants, most of the older guests take their seat near the meligai platform at the feast chief’s gallery. Here they hear Raja Simpulang Gana’s wife bless all her family padi charms that Raja Simpulang Gana and his followers will bring with them to attend the Gawai Umai feast, which the people in the longhouse are celebrating.
The singing of the ngua pengaroh chants lasts for an hour. After the bards have finished with the ngua songs, they continue to sing until they mention the spiritual arrival of Raja Simpulang Gana and his followers at the festival. At this time, this is approximately 6 a.m., the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the people to form a procession to welcome the arrival of the deity and his followers. This procession is like the ngalu petara procession mentioned above. As the procession ends, two senior bards sing the chants nenjang Raja Simpulang Gana to a feast chief who now acts as Raja Simpulang Gana. After this, they and other bards sing the denjang songs to other senior farmers who sit in a row at the feast chief’s upper gallery. They mention that the deity and his male followers present to each farmer various kinds of charms for successful farming in future years. After the badenjang is over, the bards continue to sing the chants until the time when a procession for killing the piglet is held.
This procession is like the nyugu babi procession mentioned above. After the two senior women have fed the piglet with offerings and combed its hair, the man pierces its throat with a sharp spear. After the piglet has died, another man removes its liver carefully and places it on cordyline leaves in a large bowl. After he has done this, he presents the piglet liver for the bards and experts to divine. At this time the procession disperses.
It takes about half an hour for the bards and expert diviners to read the piglet liver carefully. If the result is favorable it indicates that a good harvest will take place at the end of the year. The abundance of the coming harvest is believed to depend very much on the indications received from the atau babi liver.
As soon as the reading of the piglet liver is ended, the bards continue with their songs till the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the people that the time has come for all of them to witness the ceremony of ngundor ka Antu Penyakit Padi (sending away the pests in a sailing boat). For the occasion, a small procession is formed led by a man carrying a basket in which the pests to be placed in the sailing boat have been collected.
The procession is accompanied by the music of gongs and drums. As it reaches the boat landing place (pangkalan), the pests are carefully placed near the offerings inside the boat. Before the feast chief sets the sailing boat adrift, he recites the following prayers:
Oha! Oha! Oha! Tu aku ngundor ka kita,
ngagai menoa kita empu.
Empangau pulai ka Salimbau,
Merak pulai ka Pontianak,
Ulat pulai ka Pemangkat.
Kita ga udah di bekal kami
enggau chukop piring, chukup ading,
Datai kita din ila nya baru kita,
Beridup ka upa apong, upa mulong,
Beridup ka paku jerai, ka sumbok melai.
Lantang senang kita diau din ila,
Anang nikal kitu agi.
“Oha! Oha! Oha! Now I send you pests to
sail away to your respective countries;
Empangau(bug) go to Salimbau,5
Merak and Buntak (crickets) go to Pontianak,
Ulat (worms) go to Pemangkat,
I have provided you with sufficient provisions for your
In your country you may feed on the hearts of palms,
And at your country you will eat tops of wild leaves,
Be satisfied with your new life,
Do not come back anymore.
After this ceremony is ended, all the people, bards, guests and hosts, return to the longhouse. On their arrival the guests are asked to sit in a long row along the lower galleries for the hosts to serve them with a morning meal (makai pagi). This meal lasts about an hour.
As soon as the morning meal is over, women and damsels dress themselves beautifully and with great care for the badenjang indu ceremony. At this ceremony the feast chief’s wife leads one or two women from each family to sit in a long row on the lower gallery. As they come out from their rooms these women bring with them a bottle of tuak wines each, in addition to plates of delicious cakes and buns.
After the women and maidens who participate in the badenjang ceremony have taken their seats, the senior bard starts to sing his denjang song to the feast chief’s wife. In it he says that she sits between Raja Simpulang Gana’s wife and her eldest daughter who present to her various kinds of charms so that she may become expert in weaving blankets of highest quality and mats of many patterns. After the bard has ended his song, the feast chief’s wife offers him a glass of tuak wine and, at the same time presents him with a few dollars of money in appreciation of what he said in his song.
Shortly after the senior bard has sung his song to the feast chief’s wife, another bard next to him in seniority sings his song to the wife of the longhouse headman. In his song he sings that the former sits between the elder daughters of Raja Simpulang Gana, who give to her many kinds of charms which may cause her to become an excellent hostess to many visitors as well as to become a successful farmer. When the song is ended she also offers a glass of tuak wine to the bard and a few dollars of money in appreciation of what he has mentioned in his song.
The badenjang sometimes lasts till night if the longhouse is an especially long one. After the badenjang has ended, the bards also finish their chants, thus ending the feast.
As for the guests, most of them return to their villages shortly after the reading of the piglet’s liver, i.e. after they learn its indication. The younger guests generally remain in the longhouse till the end of the feast.
Early next morning the meligai is demolished. All of the offerings on the brass trays (tabak) inside it are divided equally by the farmers who take these offerings to their farms. As soon as this division is made, the farmers go to their farms to make preparation for a three day taboo period.
When they return, each farmer makes a barrier at the main road which leads to his farm, so that for three days from that day onward no one may pass it.
GAWAI ANTU (FESTIVAL FOR THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD)
The Gawai Antu festival is one of the greatest and merriest and is held in honour of the spirits of the dead, at least once in fifteen years. All Ibans of the Saribas, Kalaka and Skrang feel guilty if they are unable to make a sungkup tomb hut on the graves of their relatives in their life time and which is only done during the celebration of this feast.
The Gawai Antu festival is very expensive. It takes at least two full years to prepare for it financially. A number of expensive things are needed for the celebration, such as a number of bulls, pigs and hundreds of chickens. In addition, dozens of bottles of liquor, brandy, whisky, gin and arak must be purchased besides the tuak wine brewed by the Iban themselves in the longhouse. Prior to the celebration of the feast, two smaller ceremonies are held. One is a Gawai Beban Ramu Sungkup which is celebrated the night before the collection of the materials made from belian wood to be used in constructing the sungkup hut. The other is a ngeretok celebration held on the night prior to the making of the hut by the carpenters. To each of these ceremonies all close relatives far and near are invited to help. These two ceremonies also require a lot of meat and liquor, in addition to tuak wine.
About a week before the Gawai Beban Ramu Sungkup ceremony is held, the Tuai Rumah calls for a meeting to appoint a man to be the feast chief (Tuai Gawai). According to custom the feast chief should be a man whose deceased kinsman was the eldest in the longhouse among those who are being honored by the gawai, provided that the deceased was not a person of low rank. If the oldest of these being honored was a person of low rank, a man whose deceased was next in age will be appointed to become the feast chief. After a feast chief has been appointed, it is his duty to direct the people of the longhouse in making preparations for the festival.
That same night the feast chief and others will set the day for the beban. Once the day has been agreed upon, the chief asks the members of every family in the longhouse to cook glutinous rice for brewing tuak wine.
After the tuak has been made, invitations are sent to all of those whom the hosts wish to attend the beban ramu sungkup celebration.
On the morning of the beban day, that is the day on which the materials are collected and fashioned ready for use in erecting the sungkup huts, the feast chief will first make an offering to the spirits. Half of this offering is left in the longhouse while he brings the other half to the place where he will prepare the materials for the sungkup in the jungle. This offering is made so that the spirits of the dead may not hinder the progress of the work in the jungle.6 The people of other families also make individual offerings to the spirits in the jungle at the same time, but it is not necessary for them to make offerings in the longhouse, as this has been done collectively by the feast chief. While working in the jungle the workers enjoy themselves with tuak wine and food.
After all the materials have been collected and fashioned, they are taken back to the longhouse. They must not be carried into the building before the materials of the feast chief have been smeared with the blood of two chickens or the blood of a young pig at the foot of the longhouse ladder and have been brought into the house. The materials brought by the other man must follow the same route as taken by the feast chief, but need not be smeared with blood. The consequence of failure to observe this rule is said to be angat, or “hot”, causing ill health in the community, and the feast chief according to the Gawai Antu adat fines the offender.
While the men prepare sungkup materials in the jungle, the women collect bamboo for making the garong baskets into which the bamboo containers filled with holy wine are put during the Gawai Antu festival. After the women have collected sufficient bamboo, they bring it home along the same path as was used by the men in bringing the other materials into the house. It is not necessary that these bamboo materials be smeared with blood, as they are considered part of the things given to the dead after the Gawai Antu is over.
After all the materials for the sungkup hut and garong baskets are ready, the feast chief holds another meeting to set a day for ngeretok and the weaving of the garong baskets. After the day is fixed, the feast chief and others start to brew their tuak wine and begin to buy or look for chickens and other necessities, other than pigs, from their relatives and friends in other villages.
Three days before the ngeretok takes place, a few men carry invitations to other villages up and down the river requesting their attendance at the feast.
A day prior to the ngeretok day, at about 9 a.m. the feast chief waves a chicken along the longhouse galleries to ask the people of every family to make their pantar seats at the outermost part of the family upper galleries for the guests to sit on during the ngeretok day. When this is done, the men make the duran platform and the frames for cooking glutinous rice at the riverbank. While the men are making their pantar, duran and frames, people in the longhouse beat gendang rayah.
At about 4p.m. the feast chief again waves a chicken to ask the women to soak their glutinous rice in the river. When the women have completed soaking their rice, the older men of each family make their rugan (altar) at the tempuan passage of their family bilek. Here daily offerings are made from that evening onward until the end of the Gawai Antu. These offerings consist of smoked blau fish, smoked keli fish, smoked udun fish, a few slices of janggat fruit and terong (brinjals). Without the inclusion of the latter, according to Iban belief, the goddess Indai Billai, who is thought to visit the longhouse from her home in the other world during the Gawai Antu preparations, will turn the tuak wines of the feast sour.
At sunset men of each family in the longhouse perform the first ngalu antu music. It is performed at every sunset and sunrise from this day until the celebration of the Gawai Antu. Sera Gunting, the grandson of Sengalang Burong, originated this practice when he held a Gawai Antu celebration for his grandfather, following the teaching of Bujang Langgah Lengan, the prince of the other world. Bujang Langgah Lengan is thought to be the husband of Dara Rambai Geruda, the daughter of Raja Niram and Ini lnan of Sebayan. When the ngalu antu music is in the air, the Ibans believe that the spirits of the dead are present and are thronging around to eat the offerings and witness the festival preparations.
After dinner that night, the feast chief makes offerings to the spirits of the dead. After he has made his offerings, other people in the longhouse make their’s. These offerings are placed by each owner at the spot where the carpenters will assemble materials for the sungkup on the ngeretok day.
Before dawn men and women start to cook glutinous rice at the river bank. The women fill the bamboo containers with rice while the men cook them on the frames. At this time the feast chief sits near the offering on the duran platform till the cooking of rice is ended. As the cooking starts, the people in the longhouse perform their gendang rayah music five times successively.
After the rice has been cooked and brought back to the longhouse, the morning meal is eaten. After this meal, the ngalu antu music is performed by men of every family. As soon as ngalu antu is over, the festival cock fights take place on the section of the lower gallery belonging to the feast chief, in order to please the spirits of the dead who are believed to be lingering around in the longhouse. In particular, the cockfighting leaders of the Sabayan world, Ensing Jara and Kedawa, are believed to be present.
Shortly after the cockfights are ended, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask that persons from each family to spread new mats along their section of the gallery. Having done this, he waves a chicken again to ask the hosts to arrange the seats of guests who have begun to arrive in a row (bedijir) along the family galleries. After the guests have been seated, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the hosts to serve (nyibor) the tuak wine to the guests. After this drinking session is over, the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the celebrants that the ngeretok and nganyam event of the Gawai Antu are to start.
At this time all the carpenters started to prepare the materials for constructing the sungkup hut and the selected weavers prepare their materials for weaving the various types of bamboo baskets. The varieties of garong baskets woven by the weavers are as follows:7
1. If the deceased who is given a basket was a baby of three months or younger, the basket woven will be in the shape of buah limau.
2. If the deceased was already able to sit up when he or she died, the basket woven will be in the shape of buah melanjan.
3. If the deceased was already between five to eight years of age when he died, the basket woven for him should be in shape of buah kelapa sambut, a kind of rottan ball.
4. If the deceased had grown to bachelorhood or maidenhood when he or she died, the basket woven is called gelayan.
5. If the deceased had already joined a war expedition or had traveled a number of times to other countries on trading ventures when he died, the basket woven for him should be a garong Tunggal.
6. If the deceased had once or twice led other people on a voyage in order to trade in other countries, the basket woven for him should be a garong ranggong dua with nine tooth-shaped projections at its bottom.
7. If the deceased was a leading warrior (pugu manok sabong) when he died, he is entitled to be given a garong ranggong tiga basket with eleven tooth-shaped projections at its bottom. Its base is decorated with the hair of the enemies he killed.
8. If the deceased was a war leader (tau kayau) when he died, he is entitled to be given a garong ranggong lima called entugin with thirteen tooth-shaped projections at its bottom. Its base is heavily decorated with the hair of enemies.
9. If the deceased was a Great War leader (tau serang) when he died, he is given a garong ranggong tujoh basket which is also called mudor ruroh with fourteen tooth-shape projections at its bottom. Its base is fully decorated with the hair of enemies.
The garong baskets given to women were mostly gelayan type. The ordinary weavers of pua kumbu blankets and tikai bebuah mats were given garong Tunggal type, while the leading weavers were given a red painted basket called lebor api. They were not to be given the garong beranggong, i.e. one placed upon the other as given to men, as they were not warriors and naturally have never killed enemies. The garong basket given to women thus could not be decorated with the hair of slain enemies.
The weavers of garong baskets must be women of good character. They must never indulge in sinful activities such as adultery, incestuous relationship or theft for the hands of such persons are considered to be “unclean”’ and so the work they produced is not recognized by the spirits of the dead. This also applies to those who have been selected to serve the holy wine (ai jalong timang) to the warriors who drink it as mention below. The work of ngeretok should be finished by evening. But if either the making of sungkup huts or the weaving of garong baskets is not completed that day, the carpenters and weavers are permitted to finish their work on the following day.
After the ngeretok is done, the feasters are free to visit their friends and neighbors, other than their relatives, to inform them that they are now preparing a Gawai Antu festival to discharge their obligations toward the members of their family who have died since the last feast was held by making a sungkup tomb hut. They also announce that a ngempi’e ceremony is soon to be held for the people of that longhouse to brew tuak wine for the coming Gawai Antu celebration. The relatives they visited give them chickens, money and beras pulut (glutinous rice).
Some days after the feasters return from visiting their neighbors, the feast chief calls a meeting to set the day for brewing ngempi’e tuak wine. If the families of the longhouse agree to hold it a day later, then the feast chief asks all of the women to pound sufficient rice for the wine.
At noon of the ngempi’e day, the feast chief waves a chicken along the galleries of the house to ask the women to begin their initial pounding of glutinous rice for tuak wine. Gawai adat stipulates that the woman who first pounds her rice be the wife of the feast chief and that she does the pounding at the tempuan passage outside her family room. The pounding must be done here as it is at the tempuan passage that the goddess Indai Billai will sit close to the offerings on the Rugan altar during the night of the Gawai Antu festival. After the feast chief’s wife has pounded her rice, the other women in the longhouse follow suit, each at her respective passage. Only a little rice is pounded on this occasion as most has already been pounded weeks in advance.
Shortly after the women start to pound their rice, the feast chief waves his chicken to ask the people to make or repair the frames (raran) they will use for cooking the glutinous rice and also the duran platforms at the river bank.
At 4 p.m. the feast chief again waves a chicken to ask the women to soak their rice in the river. As the women carry their rice to the river landing place, five men perform gendang rayah in the longhouse. This music ends when the women finish soaking their rice in the river.
At 6 p.m. the feast chief waves his chicken again to ask every family to spread their mats over all the galleries of the longhouse, as a sign that the ngempi’e feast is to begin. After the mats have been spread over the floor of the galleries a ceremony of ngalu antu is started with the music of gongs and a fire is lit at the rugan altar near the daily offerings.
That night all the relatives and friends who were invited to help with the work of ngempi’e are entertained by their hosts with food and tuak wine.
At around 4 a.m. the next morning the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the men and women to start cooking the glutinous rice for the Gawai Antu tuak. As these people are going down to the river bank led by the feast chief himself, other men in the longhouse perform gendang rayah. This music ends when all the rice has been cooked. After the rice has been cooked its owners bring the bamboo containers back to their family rooms. On their arrival, the morning ngalu antu starts, followed by a morning meal along the communal lower galleries. After this, both men and women remove the rice from the containers and lay it out on clean mats. After they have done this, the rice is fermented and put in tepayan jars. In a fortnight’s time the tuak is drinkable.
After the ngempi’e feast is over, the women and their female relatives from other villages start to make various kinds of buns, such as penganan sarang semut, penganan chuan, and penganan sepit, for the coming Gawai Antu. Each family makes at least ten to twelve tins of buns.
While the women are making buns, the men are busy with other work, such as buying bulls, oxen and pigs to be consumed together with the numerous chickens they have reared themselves for the occasion.
After the feasters are satisfied with the number of bulls, oxen and pigs they have bought the feast chief calls a meeting to fix a day for the Gawai Antu to be held. After a day has been agreed upon seven days before the festival day, four trustworthy men are asked to carry the invitation to every longhouse up and down the river.
The day prior to the celebration of Gawai Antu is called hari mantar, – a day the hosts make new seats between the communal galleries and the tempuan passage of the longhouse. At the present time, as the floors of most longhouse are made of hardwood planks, pantar seats are no longer necessary, as they were fifty or more years ago. The waving of a chicken by the feast chief to ask that the pantar be made is nowadays done to symbolize that the hari mantar is celebrated in accordance with the festival rules. Instead of making the pantar seats in the house as in the old days, the workers only repair the old duran platform and the cooking frames (raran) at the river bank, if they are no longer serviceable.
Early on hari mantar day close relatives of the feasters come before the other guests, who will arrive on the Gawai Antu day, in order to help their relatives to kill bulls, oxen and pigs, while the women help with the cooking. Most of the chickens are roasted for the guests to eat during the reception ceremony.
That night shortly after the ngalu antu ceremony, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the women to soak their glutinous rice. As they are doing this, the men play the gendang rayah. The music continues until the soaking of rice is finished.
The dinner takes place along the lower galleries at about 8 p.m. It lasts for about an hour and the hosts serve their relatives with meats and wines of high quality. After the dinner is over, each family invites its relatives to eat various kinds of food in the family room. As they enjoy themselves with food and drink, the hosts tell their relatives that they are very happy to be able to fulfill their duty in holding the Gawai Antu and build the sungkup tomb huts for their departed parents or grandparents and in making the garong baskets.
In answering their hosts, the relatives present will say that the spirits of the departed will, after the Gawai Antu is held, bless the feasters with good luck in all the work they do, as they have not failed to respect their dead with a grand festival. They also pray that the spirits of their ancestors will not fail to give prosperity to the successive generations of their descendants in this world.
At around 4 a.m. the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the men and women to cook their glutinous rice at the river bank.8 After this, the feast chief himself leads the others down to the river bank to do their rice cooking. As he reaches the duran platform the feast chief spreads a mat on the platform where he will sit near the offering he brings from the house. As he sits here the gendang rayah music is booming in the air. It continues until all the rice has been cooked.
The cooking of rice is a very merry time, as many young men and maidens participate in the work. Shortly before sunrise the rice is finally cooked and brought back to the house in bamboo containers.
Shortly after the rice has been brought home, the hosts and their relatives take their morning meal along the lower galleries of the longhouse. After the meal is over, cocks are fought on the feast chief’s verandah. After three rounds the game ceases.
As soon as the cockfighting is over, the feast chief waves a chicken along the communal longhouse galleries to ask every family to spread new mats on the gallery and to decorate the ceiling and walls of their upper gallery with the best woven blankets hung from ropes.
Along the upper gallery (panggau) carpets are spread over the ordinary mats by the richer families, and a number of mattresses rolled with coloured carpets are carefully placed at the outermost part of the panggau for guests to lean their backs on during the feast. The poorer families cover the floor of their panggau with mats of various patterns, while their mattresses are rolled with bekuang mats or woven blankets. Above the heads of the guests along the upper galleries are hung the gold embroidered woven blankets by the rich and ordinary pua kumbu blankets by the poorer families.
Shortly after the longhouse has been decorated with mats and other valuables as mentioned above, the reception of the warriors who have been asked to drink the holy garong wine starts with a waving of a chicken along the galleries by the feast chief.
As soon as the chicken has been waved, the feast chief leads a procession of a few men and women while other men play gendang panjai music with drums and gongs. The feast chief is followed by the Tuai Rumah. Behind them walk two women who carry popped rice (letup) and a plate of offerings. They are followed by those who perform the music.
When the procession reaches the warriors at the space outside the longhouse building, the feast chief invites them to take their seats with him and the Tuai Rumah on a mat which has been spread for the occasion. As they sit here, the feast chief asks the warriors whether they have heard any unfavorable omens on their way to attend the feast. If no omens were heard, good or bad, then the Tuai Rumah only waves a rooster above the heads of the warriors with a prayer for a prosperous and peaceful festival.
If the warriors have heard or seen bad omens on their way to the feast, then the feast chief appeases them with offerings and wine. But if they have seen the cobra (tedong) or a coral snake (kendawang) gliding across their way to the feast, then a special reception will be made for them in the longhouse. After the warriors have drank some tuak wine and eaten a few buns, the feast chief leads the procession back to the house with music of gendang panjai played by young men at the rear of the procession.
As the procession reaches the longhouse, one young man and one damsel who stand at each verandah offer tuak wine to each of the warriors along the longhouse. When the procession reaches the other end of the longhouse, it turns back till it reaches the feast chief’s own ruai, where the warriors take their seats. As they sit in a row at the lower gallery they are received by the hosts in the following way.
First a glass of tuak wine is given to them, known as ai aus, to quench their thirst. After this, each warrior drinks ai untong wine, – fifteen small glasses of wine each in honour of their attending the festival. After they drink their individual share of wine, a man stands up to wave a rooster above the warriors’ heads, with the following prayers:
“On behalf of the feasters in this house, I wave this rooster above your heads to pray to your personal guardian spirits (tua*) for the prosperity of our festival. This rooster I am holding in my hands will wipe away your unsatisfactory dreams and the omens which you have encountered on your way to this feast. Finally I pray to the spirits of our ancestors whom we honour with this Gawai Antu festival to protect both you and us from any kind of illness or bad luck during the celebration of this feast.”
If the warriors have seen either the cobra (tedong) or the kendawang snakes on the way to attend the festival, they are to sit on wooden mortars covered with a pua kumbu blankets while a rooster is waved above their heads as mentioned above.
As soon as the warriors have drunk their wine, a procession is formed for a young man and a maiden from each family to offer more wine lavishly to these highly honored warriors (masu orang ngirup garong). This procession is applauded with shouts and music of gongs and drums while encircling the longhouse galleries three times. As the procession ends the young men pour their tuak wine into the glass in the hand of the maidens for them to offer to the warriors and others who accompany them. The drinking of this wine is enlivened by jokes and laughter.
After this ceremony is over, curried and roasted meat of pigs and chickens is brought out from the rooms for the warriors to eat with wines of various kinds. This reception lasts an hour.
Shortly after the reception of these warriors, another reception takes place for the hosts to receive a group of warriors (orang ngirup ai jalong timang) who will drink the wine blessed by the bards. This reception is similar, only that thirteen, rather than fifteen glasses of wine are given to each warrior.
After these two receptions are ended, a midday meal (merarau) is served along the lower gallery. It lasts about three quarter of an hour to give time for the reception of guests coming from different longhouses.
These receptions are similar in character to the two mentioned above. However the wine given to the visitors will be less, i.e. for the Penghulu ten small glasses, the Tuai Rumah nine glasses, Tuai Burong and other senior elders, eight glasses and the rest less than this. Receptions end at around 6 p.m., when the ngalu antu take place.
After all the guests from each longhouse have been received by the hosts, the feast chief waves a chicken along the lower galleries to inform the people that the dinner will soon be served. At this time the hosts arrange the seats of the guests along the galleries. After this, food is brought out from the family rooms and arranged in a row in front of the guests. After the food has been laid out in order, a host at each ruai gallery respectfully asks the guests to eat the food slowly so that they may have a good meal. The dinner lasts an hour.
Shortly after dinner, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the hosts to arrange the seats of all the guests in a long row known as bedijir along the lower and upper galleries. After all the guests have taken their seats, a chicken is again waved by the feast chief to ask the hosts to serve the tuak wine to the guests along the galleries.
At about 9p.m. the feast chief waves a chicken once more to inform the people that a small procession of begeliga is to take place, when a man will speak to all the people of what things cannot be done while attending the Gawai Antu feast.
The procession is only attended by a few men led by the feast chief, the Tuai Rumah and a speaker. As they walk along the house, at each ruai the speaker warns the people not to cause any disturbances, not to disturb the women and girls in the rooms and anyone steal anything he finds in the house. If any person breaks the adat rules or commits an offence contrary to the warning of the speaker, he or she will be dealt with according to the customary adat of the feast or be fined by the Penghulu and Native District Court respectively. This warning is witnessed by all of the people present.
Shortly after the begeliga procession is over, the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the people that a grand procession of ngalu petara (welcoming the spirits) is to take place along the lower and upper galleries of the house. This procession is led by the feast chief himself, who is followed by the Tuai Rumah, the speaker and behind them a woman who brings a plate of offerings and another who throws the popped rice along the route.
They are followed by other women and maidens who wear traditional Iban dress. Behind them are young men also in their traditional dress and at the rear are the musicians who play music with gongs and drums. This procession encircles both lower and upper galleries of the house three or five times. As the maidens and young men walk slowly along the verandahs in their fine clothing, the guests can see the beauty of their bodies and dress as they pass them gracefully.
At the last round of the procession a senior guest from each family section of the ruai asks the feast chief why he leads such a long, grand procession with men, women, maidens and young men in great number. In answer, the speaker replies that they are welcoming the spirits of their ancestors from the other world who they have invited to come to the feast.
“We hope”, he says, “that they do not come with empty hands, but bring for us various kinds of charms so that we can easily acquire riches and live in good health in the future”.
He admits that these spirits are invisible, but says that the guests present may have been divinely inspired to give them blessings on behalf of the spirits of their ancestors Saang and Bedilang, Kaya and Bana, Linggir and Kadir and Rentap and Minggat respectively.9
“These past chiefs”, he says, “were immortally famous in leading their followers in doing prosperous work of all kinds in our country.”
In answering the speaker, the spokesmen for the guests reply that the spirits of their ancestors are truly present.
“They come here to bless your feast so that all of you can become prosperous in doing your future farming and trading. We so speak on their behalf”, they say “pray for your good health and a happy future, so that all you do in the years to come will prosper.”
As soon as the ngalu petara procession is ended, the maidens and young men begin to serve the guests with tuak wine and other drinks, such as gin, brandy and whisky, in addition to glutinous rice and meats.
When the ngalu petara participants have dispersed, the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the people that the ceremonial dance of berandang jalai will soon be performed by the warriors who will drink the ai garong wine along the galleries of the house with music of the gendang ray ah gongs. As the music is beaten, the dancers dance slowly along the galleries, in full war dress. They encircle the lower galleries seven times.
As soon as these dancers have ended their dance, a second group of warriors who have been asked to drink the holy ai jalong timang wine, perform the ngelalau dance with the music of the gendang rayah. They dance around the lower galleries five times.
After this, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask a group of old men from each village to perform the pupu buah rumah rayah dance for the hosts to respect elders from other longhouse. They dance around the lower galleries three times only.
As soon as the berayah dances are ended, the groups of bards start to sing their timang jalong songs, began by one of the groups singing in the family room of the feast chief. In their songs, the bards mention the coming of the dead led by the spirit chief Raja Niram and his wife Ini Inan from the other world to attend the feast. They are followed by other leaders of Sebayan such as Bujang Langgah Lenggan and his wife Endu Dara Rambai Geruda, Indai Billai, Raja Abu, Raja Ngerai and hundreds of others including the spirits of those who died in the present era.
As the bards start to sing their songs in the room, the hosts outside arrange seats in three groups for the warriors who will drink the holy jalong timang wine. The first group sits in a row along the upper verandah of the feast chief, the second group sits at the upper gallery near the end of the longhouse; while the third group sits at the upper gallery near the other end of the house. In addition to these warrior drinkers, a number of honored guests are invited to sit along side of them.
Shortly before the bards bring the holy wine to the drinkers, three to five women of good character come out from the family rooms in their best dress to sit facing the warriors from the lower side of the upper gallery. As they sit here, the bards come slowly forward, each bearing a cup of holy wine in his hand. They advance towards the warriors and ladies with songs of praise. The audience is deadly quiet so as to hear the wording of the songs which relate how the goddesses, Ini Inan and Endu Dara Rambai Geruda, are looking for truly brave warriors who will drink the holy wine.
As soon as the bards end their songs they place the holy wine cups on a carpet in front of the drinkers and ladies who sit facing each other. In representing the goddesses each lady respectfully hands the wine to the drinker seated opposite. Before each warrior drinks his wine, he first draws his nyabor knife from its scabbard in order to clear the wine with its point. After he has done this, he drinks the wine with fearful war shouts.
After the warriors have drunk the holy wine, another kind of wine known as ai serarai is poured by the women into cups for the highly honored guests to drink. These drinkers are not necessarily warriors, but may be men who achieved success in other masculine occupations.
As soon as the drinking of holy wine is over, those who will drink the holy ai garong wine or elderly shamans (manang) who are present, destroy the rugan altars along the tempuan passage of the house. No young man, or individual lacking special spiritual habit may do this because, according to Iban belief, it can cause a person who is not old or who lacks such power to become an idiot (mamau).
After the rugan have been thrown to the ground, a morning meal called bebungkar ruang is served to the guests along the lower gallery. For this meal the hosts bring out the meat of oxen, pigs and chickens for the guests to eat lavishly and wines of every kind to drink. It is at this last meal that a considerable number of people become intoxicated.
Shortly after the bebungkar ruang meal is over, all the families of widows and widowers call for the relatives of the deceased spouse to gather on their individual ruai to discuss the tebalu mansau fines to be paid to the deceased’s relatives during the Gawai Antu celebration. The amounts to be paid at this time have already been described in Chapter Two. But as these widows and widowers have kept their vow to honour their deceased spouses with a Gawai Antu festival, they are no longer required to pay these fees in money; the amounts mentioned by the relatives are only to signify that the tebalu fees are discussed according to the customary adat of Gawai Antu.
When the tebalu fees are discussed by the widow’s and the widower’s relatives at their individual ruai, the warriors who will drink the holy ai garong wine fashion the bamboo containers in which the holy wine will be placed in the garong baskets at the open air verandah outside the main building.
Shortly after the discussions of ngambi tebalu mansau are over, the feast chief waves a chicken along the lower gallery to ask the hosts and their close relatives and friends to dress themselves for the nganjong garong procession. When they are dressed in their best clothes the three warriors who will drink the holy ai garong wine are each invited to sit on a wooden mortar at one end of the longhouse lower gallery with their head-gear beautifully decorated with feathers of hornbills and their knife scabbards ornamented with the hair of enemies.
The first procession is led by the feast chief. In this procession his family’s garong basket which contains the holy wine is carried three times by a warrior who has drunk the ai jalong timang wine around the lower and upper galleries, till the baskets are handed to the drinker by the warrior. After the holy jalong timang wine has been drunk by the drinker, a warrior who heads the next procession hands his holy garong wine to any of the three drinkers to drink. These processions last several hours and are accompanied by men, women and maidens in their best modern and traditional dress. Behind them walk the musicians who beat their gongs and drums.
As soon as the nganjong garong procession is ended, a beranggap ceremony is held along the lower gallery for the guests to receive presents of glutinous rice, buns, meat and money from the hosts. These foods are eaten by the guests on their way home, so that none will be hungry.
After the beranggap is over, the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the guests that the Gawai Antu festival has now come to an end. The sungkup erected on the tanju for display are now dismantled and taken to a place outside the longhouse to be later set up.
As the festival is ended, the guests from far away villages start for home, while the rest linger with the hosts to drink tuak wine in their family rooms. They will return later in the evening. The close relatives and well wishers stay, in order to help the feasters erect their sungkup tomb huts at the graveyard early next day. That night nothing of importance is done in the longhouse, other than for the tired and sleepless hosts to entertain their relatives and friends with food and wine.
Early next day, all the able-bodied men, women and youngsters carry the sungkup materials, food, cakes and drinks to the cemetery in boats or overland, depending on the location of the graveyard.
Upon their arrival, the sungkup materials are first smeared with the blood of a chicken before they are erected over the graves. As men erect the sungkup huts, women and maidens serve food to the workers in the cemetery. At this time a number of heavy drinkers are drunk and a lot of noise is made. This is a happy occasion particularly for those sponsoring the feast, because they have now fulfilled their duty toward the dead.
Finally, after all the sungkup huts are erected, the garong baskets are hung either inside the huts or from carved poles called tiang jegada planted closely to each of the sungkup huts. All the participants then return home. That evening most of the relatives return to their own houses, after having helped their relatives for a number of days.
5. THE ORDER OF LIFE IN THE LONGHOUSE
In this chapter I describe Iban custom related to the individual life cycle, beginning with birth, continuing through courtship and marriage, and ending with a discussion of the ways in which men and women achieved respect and high social standing in traditional Iban society.1 The Iban are highly egalitarian people and every bilek family shares a strong regard for its independence and the personal reputation of its members. Nevertheless, those who distinguish themselves or enjoy outstanding material successes, and their descendants, are accorded considerable respect by other persons. The Iban take pride in their family ancestry and their connections with renowned leaders and pioneers of past generations. Extensive genealogical histories (tusut) are preserved and orally transmitted by expert genealogists (tukang tusut) and by means of these histories, ancestory may be traced, in some instances, over as many as thirty generations. In addition to the status of ordinary individuals and those of outstanding achievement, the Iban also recognised two categories of hereditary servitude in the past. At the end of the present chapter, I mention these and describe the legal and ceremonial means by which war captives (ulun) and debt-slaves (jaum) were formerly freed by the mutual agreement of the slave and his or her master.
A woman knows that she is pregnant (ngandong enggau nyera) when her periodic menstruation stops. From then onwards, she counts the number of months. As soon as her pregnancy is well along, she feels a longing for many kinds of food, especially for sour fruits.
In the seventh month of her pregnancy, the woman and her husband start to observe a number of taboos (bepenti). They both refrain from doing the following:
1. They are strictly forbidden from making a drain in their padi fields or elsewhere, in order that the child may be easily delivered.
2. They must not cut any creeping plant which obstructs a road or stream, in order to prevent excessive bleeding during the delivery of the child.
3. They must not make a dam in a padi field or in a river for a fish trap nor put a knife into its handle in order that the woman may not have difficulty in delivering her child.
4. The pregnant woman must not pour oil on her palm to oil her hair in order to keep her future child from having a suppurating ear.
5. The husband or wife must not pound a handle when fixing a knife blade into it in order to prevent the child from being born deaf.
6. They must not tap on an egg with a knife or a piece of wood in order that the child may not be born blind.
7. They must not plant a banana tree so that the child is not born with a big head.
8. They must not kill any animal, snake or bird to prevent the child from being deformed or from suffering from a frequently bleeding nose.
9. They must not scrape the husk of a coconut shell so that the child’s head may not be hairless.
10. They must not bring a tortoise into their family room in order to prevent the child from being stuck in the womb at the time of its delivery.
11. They must not dye thread or clothes with indigo, so that the child may not born with black skin.
12. They must not carry sharpening stones in a basket on their back, so that the child may not be born paralysed.
13. They must not touch a corpse or look at a dying animal, snake or bird, so that the child may not suffer from fainting at birth and during his early life.
14. The man must not tie anything permanently before his wife’s delivery of the child so that its birth can be easy.
15. During her confinement the woman must neither weave mats, blankets, baskets nor the husband complete the tikai lampit mats.
16. The man must not repair any leaking of the roof of his house or start to dam the drain in his farm until after his wife has been cured from bleeding some days after her delivery.
Pregnancy lasts nine months and nine days according to Iban calculation. When the child is born, the relatives present make noise with bamboo containers in order to frighten the child so that it will cry and not become a mild man when it grows up. At the present time a shotgun is frequently fired into the air to startle the child.
After the child’s umbilical cord has been cut, the part that remains connected to the navel is sprinkled with dry earth powder from the hearth and this is repeated every day till it has dropped off. When the umbilical cord has been sprinkled, the child is bathed with water and wrapped with warm clothes. The child is then laid inside a cot covered with a woven blanket (pua kumbu).
While the female relatives nurse the child, the midwife (bidan) massages its mother’s stomach; having done this, the bidan rubs the mother’s body with ginger water thoroughly, and then wraps her with a large, long bandage made from the inner bark of the tekalong tree. After she has been wrapped with this bandage, the woman is warmed for thirty days and nights by a fire made from the logs of the kayu malam tree. During this time the husband must continue to keep the more important taboos until the child is able to pull its toes with its fingers. For her own and the health of her baby, the mother should not eat fats, fish with sharp spikes and the cabbage of various palms during this time. Instead, she should eat cooked pulor fruits, kubok and rambai ferns together with smoked small fish and ginger water till her warming period are over. Conservative families may want their daughter to warm herself by the fire up to forty-one days.
ENGKADAH HARI ENGGAU NGETUP GARAM (LOOK UP TO THE SKY AND BITE A PIECE OF SALT)
On the day on which the remains of the umbilical cord drop off, the baby is brought out by his or her grandparents to the family’s open-air platform (tanju) so that the baby can look up to the sky to see the light of day. After this, a tiny piece of salt is put into its mouth so that its body shall become “salty” (masin), i.e. firm and strong throughout its life.
During this small family ceremony one of the baby’s grandparents recites the following prayers at the tanju (verandah):
O hoi! Ni nuan Bunsu Petara,
Ni nuan lni lnda Rabong Menoa,
Ini Inee Rabong Hari
Ni nuan Seragindit ke ngaga langit,
Kami minta kita meda ngila ka anak tu.
Asoh iya gerai, asoh iya nyamai,
Asoh iya bidik, asoh iya lansik diau di menoa.
Gerai iya ko Selampandai,
Gayu iya ko Sentuku.
“O hoi! Where are you the Almighty God
and you Goddess Ini Ina Rabong Menoa,
Ini Inee Rabong Hari.
Together with you Seragindit who created the sky.
We pray you to safeguard this baby.
Grant him health, luck and prosperity all the days of his life.
Also Selampandai for health and
Sentuku grant him long life.”
After this brief prayer, the grandparents bring the baby back to his cot in the family room.
NGAGA NAMA ANAK (NAMING THE CHILD)
Before giving the baby its proper name, it is affectionately called Ulat (worm), irrespective of its sex. On the day of its naming, the infant’s parents call for their relatives to come to their family bilek so that they can assist them in determining a suitable name for the baby. The latter should be chosen from names of the child’s lineal great grandparents or the latter’s brothers or sisters, or their cousins, provided the original name bearer is already dead.
If the name bearer is still alive, his name cannot be given to the baby, for fear that doing so might shorten the life of the living person whose name is used. Instead, the child is named for a more distant relative. The reason for taking a name in the great grandparents’ generation is that the Iban are strictly prohibited from mentioning the name of their father-in-law or mother-in-law in accordance with the teaching of Sengalang Burong as transmitted to his grandson Sera Gunting many centuries ago, so that if the names of nearer ancestors are taken, parents or grandparents might be unable to mention the child’s name.
After a few names have been selected, a ball of rice is made to represent each of the names, and these balls are placed on the floor. The first rice ball Pecked at by a manok tawai cock determines the name given to the child.2
MERI ANAK MANDI (BATHING CEREMONY)
Shortly after the child has been named, its parents will discuss the day for its bathing ceremony in the river. The reason for holding this ceremony, is that if the child is not bathed in the river with offerings made to the deities and spirits, it must not be taken by anyone to bathe in any river; since it will not be protected by Sera Gindi3 and the spirits of fish, turtles and other aquatic creatures from the dangers present in the water.
Early during the night prior to the bathing ceremony, the child’s parents will call for all of the people in the longhouse to meet them at their ruai, in order to inform them that they will hold a bathing ceremony for their child at the river on the morrow. They ask everyone in the house to stay away from work in order to attend this ceremony.
Next morning, when the day is still cool, an elderly man of a well-to-do, long respected family leads the procession with a flag. Behind him walks another aristocrat who brings a rooster. After them walk a woman who carries the child in a beautifully woven blanket. Behind her another woman carries and sprinkles the letup (popped rice) along the road to the river. Behind her are the young men who perform gendang music.
As the procession reaches the pengkalan, the man who carries the flag cuts the water and recite the following prayers:
Ni nuan Seragindi’ ke ngagai ai,
Ni nuan Serangindah ke ngaga tanah,
Ni nuan Serangindee ke ngaga hari,
Ni nuan Serangindit ke ngaga langit,
Nunda adat kita ke kelia ke menya,
Pagitu kami ngena piring ngena ading meri anak mit tu
Kami minta kita meri iya betuah meri iya limpah,
Awak ka iya lantang senang ngidup ka diri di menoa,
Asoh iya kaya asoh iya raja.
O ni kita raja ikan, raja gemian,
Ni kita raja semah kita raja tapah,
Ni kita raja adong kita raja kulong.
O ni kita raja lelabi kita raja genali,
Ni kita raja baya kita raja gumba.
Enti iya tu karam, tengelam,
Kita meh orang nanggong orang melepong ka iya,
Kita meh orang ngemata ka iya leboh belayar ka tasik luar.
Lak ka iya tau pulai gerai nyamai,
nadai apa, nadai nama,
Ka menoa diri, rumah diri empu.
Where is Seragindi, who resides in the water,
Where are you Seragindah, who resides on the land,
Where are you Seragindee, who resides in the light,
Where are you Seragindit, who lives in the sky.
To follow the tradition taught by you long ago,
This morning with offerings we bathe this child.
We ask you deities to give him luck and prosperity in
all he does,
So that he may grow rich in this world.
O Where are you king of fish,
king of the gemian fish,
Where are you king of the semah fish and you king of
the tapah fish,
We call for you king of tortoises and you supernatural
king of the turtles,
Where are you king of the adong fish and you king of
the kulong fish,
Where are you crocodile king and you king of the
We beg all of you to float him if he goes down in a
We beg you to lift him up if he falls into the sea.
If he goes on a long journey,
We beg you to make him safe along the way,
So that he may return in good health to his home.
After this prayer is ended a man who carries the rooster kills it above the place where the child is to have his bath. As the rooster’s blood drips into the river, a woman baths the child in the river where the blood is drifting. Another woman throws coins and beads into the river.
As soon as the child is dipped into the river, one of the bystanders fires his shotgun in the air to deafen them from hearing any omen and at the same time the musicians beat their gongs and drums.
After the child has been bathed, the rooster’s wings are severed and hung from a barbed spear (berayang) thrust blade upward on the river bank, and the basket of offerings is hung from a bamboo.4
After the ceremony is over, the procession returns to the house with music of gongs and drums. Upon their arrival, the child is handed to his mother who brings him to sit on a tawak gong covered with a woven blanket. While they sit there, they are sprinkled over their foreheads with the water from a bowl in which gold and silver has been placed as well as water of the batu penabar burong stone charms which can neutralize omens. After this is done, the family serves tuak wine, soft drinks and buns to their friends and relatives who are present. At noon, a midday meal is served on the family’s lower gallery.
NGUA ANAK (LULLABY SINGING)
When a baby reaches the age of six months, its mother may now leave it in the care of a responsible caretaker, usually an older sister or a grandmother, who will sing lullabies to the baby on a swing. Only when she gives it her breast does the mother return from doing jobs in or outside the house. This means that she must stay close by in order to be able to come when the baby wants her breast. Generally, it is felt that during this time the mother should stay close enough to the longhouse to be able to hear her infant’s cry or the call of the caretaker who has been left in charge of the infant.
In their lullabies, the singers wish for the child to become a prosperous farmer in the future, a successful overseas trader and a gallant warrior. To a female child, they wish her to become expert in weaving excellent blankets (pua kumbu), skirts, shirts, scarfs, mats and blankets of various patterns.5
A child is nursed by its mother at night until she has another child, or if there are no further children, often until the mother is no longer able to nurse. If the nursing is prevented by the birth of another child, the infant may be nursed by its grandmother or an aunt.
MINCHING LABU (FETCHING WATER WITH GOURDS)
At about the age of six, a boy begins to be ashamed of his nakedness. As a matter of course he starts at this age to dress himself, though while bathing and swimming in the river, he still does not cover himself with a towel. A male child at this age is called by the Iban as baru sirat leka, one who is just beginning to wear a loin-cloth.
Similarly a female child is known as baru tau minching labu, one just learning to carry the water gourds, and she now starts to help her mother and grandmother to draw water from the river with gourds.
Boys and girls at this age are still fond of playing the same games. They are fond of bathing, swimming and diving together in the river. While doing this they are not yet ashamed of their nakedness.
ANGKAT BUJANG ENGGAU ANGKAT DARA (APPROACHING BACHELORHOOD AND MAIDENHOOD)
On reaching the age of ten, the girl is coming to the age of angkat dara, young maidenhood, and the boy is approaching angkat bujang, young bachelorhood, respectively.
A girl must now separate herself from her parents and sleep alone on a bedstead newly made for her by her father. In ancient times the most beloved daughter of a leading chief or mighty war leader of the Iban slept in seclusion under the guardianship of female slaves until the day of her marriage. Being secluded this way, she was called an anak umbong and no man above the age of ten was allowed to meet her in her apartment in the loft. Here she was taught by her mother and other experts to weave cloth of all kinds. Everything was provided for her by her female slave attendants.
At this age a boy will start to sleep on his family upper gallery (panggau), provided other bachelors sleep near him on their own panggau. If there is no one to sleep near him, his parents will make a separate bed for him in the room near them.
Also a boy must now be circumcised by a man with expert skill in performing the operation. It is done privately and all young males undergo circumcision for fear, if not, of being called kulup (foreskin) by other people.
As they approach bachelorhood and maidenhood, boys and girls begin to learn the work (belajar gawa) that they will need to do as adults. A girl on reaching the age of seven or eight years is taught by her mother and grandmother to cook food, pound rice and husk padi with a mill, so that she can help them in doing such work for the family. Besides, she must learn to do these jobs for her future as from her early age.
A boy at this age starts to help his father collect small dead tree branches for firewood (ngerangkang). However, he is still considered too young to be permitted to chop wood with an axe or adze. The boy may also accompany his father when he goes to work in the jungle. From this, he gradually learns to do the various tasks he will need to perform in the future.
On reaching the age of thirteen years, a girl is taught to weave baskets by her mother and grandmother. The first types of baskets she weaves are the raga and baka baskets. As she grows older she learns to weave other types of baskets and the tikai bemban mats.
A boy at the same age starts to use an axe or adze to fell and chop trees for firewood and to help his father and grandfather clearing their farm sites.
When a boy reaches the age of fourteen, he realises that he has come to the age of bachelorhood, when he should no longer behave in the way of the younger boys. At this time, his parents and grandparents teach him how to behave well, to be of good manners, to talk with politeness and be friendly with other people.
The boy also begins to join his older friends to court girls at night. The courting of girls at night, ngayap, is traditional to the Ibans. As a matter of fact, all young bachelors must learn to respect the girls he is going to court. He must respect the girl’s sleeping parents and others in the longhouse as he goes to the girl’s sleeping place. On his arrival at the girl’s bedstead, he must wake her up with care in order not to anger her.
After he has woken the girl up, she will ask who he is. In answering her, the boy will avoid mentioning his name. Instead he may say he has no name! On hearing this, the girl may say that she does not know anyone under the sun who has not been given a name by his parents.
“If you do not tell me your name,” she is likely to say, “I will not waste my time at this hour of the night to speak with a man who has no name.”
In answering the girl’s question of who he is, the boy says he is a visitor.
“I know you are a visitor as you are not a member of my family,” she may reply. “I want you to mention your name and where you come from.”
The boy may then reluctantly mention his name.4 It is not a good name,” he says.
After the girl knows who the boy is, she asks why he comes to her?
“Well,” replies the boy, “I think it natural, and it is also the custom, for a bachelor to visit a maiden at night. I come to ask for your consent to marriage.”
“It is a very good visit isn’t it,” she replies, “But I do not believe what you say. You must know that a lot of ants are attracted and die by sugar,” she says.6
The boy says that he has been thinking for sometime about marrying the girl, but he has not dared to visit her until now to tell her of his intention. The girl may reply that she will marry one day, but marry a man who has done something worthwhile to prove himself. “So until you have done something notable, you must not come to me again.” She then politely asks the young man to leave her alone. The latter may try to speak further, but the girl will again ask him to return to his place.
If a girl feels that she would like to marry the young man when he comes to ask for her consent, she tell him, if there is any truth in his request, he must ask his parents to discuss the marriage with them, so that the usual procedure of nanya bini can take place, if both parents agree to such a union.
WEAVING, TRADING VOYAGES AND WAR EXPEDITIONS
At the age of seventeen, a girl was traditionally taught by her mother and grandmother to weave cloth. She is first taught to weave small skirts and scarves. As she comes to master the art, she weaves pua kumbu of relatively easy design.
A young man of this age starts to take an active interest in the conversations of the older people. In this way, he gradually learns the interpretations of omens and dreams used by the farmers, warriors and voyagers in their various undertakings.
After a man has accumulated considerable knowledge, he would have traditionally joined the older people in going on the warpath or in voyaging to foreign ports in order to kill an enemy or buy valuable old jars or other property like brass wares.
Besides those adventures, a man may seek to become a good boat builder, or a carver or become knowledgeable in making of the weapons for his family use. He also is keen to compete with others for success in trapping, shooting or netting fish and other game.
It is at this age also that a man starts to study the history, adat law, genealogies and culture of his people.
BASA RAMA (GENERAL RESPECT)
From early youth, boys and girls are taught by their parents, grandparents and other relatives to respect other people in general and their friends and relatives of the same village in particular. Those who are arrogant or boastful are despised and hated by many, while those who have good manners are liked and respected by all. “If you do not respect others, no one will respect you,” parents say to their children.
A girl is warned by her parents never to frequent the sleeping place of bachelors (panggau bujang). A girl who does so, is called ngandak lelaki (boy crazy or a sensual girl) who looks for men. A girl of this type is despised by people of her society. The young man is similarly told by his parents not to stay longer than necessary in the family room of others, as the room is a place of women. Any man who is in the habit of frequenting other people’s rooms, than the rooms of his close relatives, is called a ngandak indu by the people (“girl crazy”).
PENYIRU ANAK LELAKI (YOUNG MEN LEARN THE CODE OF CONDUCT AND HIS AREAS OF RESPONSIBILITIES)
At about the age of thirteen, a young man is taught by his father and grandfather to be diligent in looking after his fruit trees, rubber plantations and the inherited properties of the family.
At the time of the initial clearing (maia manggul) of shrubs from his family’s farming land, he is told to erect a strong shelter (pelasar), so that he will have a place to sharpen his knives and other tools throughout the remainder of the clearing season. The pelasar should be thickly covered with leaves so that rain will not trouble him when he is working inside it. After all of the big trees have been cut down, their branches should be lopped off properly, so that they can be easily consumed by fire during the firing of the fields.
During the dibbling season all heaps of unburnt timber must be properly made, so that they can be easily refired. After firing, all the remaining logs must be burned again, so that rats will not hide below them. A young man is told always to build a strong farm hut (langkau umai) for his farms, so that his wife and children may live in it happily through the whole farming season.
As soon as his farm has been planted, he is told to fence it so that no sambar deer may graze the leaves of
his padi. When he collects the timbers for making his fence, he is told not to draw them near the edge of his farm, so that monkeys shall not do the same inside his padi field.
After planting is over the young man is told not to eat food or fruits while he is walking or standing or to split bamboo and wood in the farm. If he does these things, it is believed that monkeys will do the same with the plants in his padi field.
Before harvest he is told to erect the pelangka sieves for the use of his family in threshing the padi. At the same time he is told to be quick in making the rims of all his family carrying baskets so that they will be good and strong for carrying and storing the padi during the coming harvest.
Before the padi is stored in the large bark bins (tibang) in the loft, these must first be oiled and offerings must be made to the deities Raja Simpulang Gana and Anda Mara who have given the farmer luck during the year. These offerings must be smeared with the blood of a chicken, and the bins must be perfumed with myrrh (garu).
The young man’s father and grandfather will also ask him to be diligent in planting all kinds of fruit trees, so that his children and grandchildren after him may have sufficient fruit to eat. “You must remember all your family fruit trees, so that no one else may claim them,” they tell him. It was, and is, because of this advice that the Iban today own great numbers of fruit trees along the rivers of Sarawak, including valuable illipe nut trees (engkabang), whose fruit is a source of commercially extracted vegetable fat.
They also teach him to be just. He must not harbor jealousy in his heart or make false accusations against other people. “Anyone who deals unjustly with others is cursed and can never be happy in his lifetime,” they say. “If you gain wealth by cheating other people, you will not be blessed by Bunsu Petara; instead you will be cursed and become ill-fated (sial) all the days of your life, for God will justly judge your wrong-doing.” They affirm also that a man who has been cheated or robbed of his property will regain more than that which he has lost.
They ask him always to be careful in spending money. “You must buy all the essentials to make your family happy. You should not gamble which may lead you to poverty,” they warn him. “All happy families are the wise and thrifty and not those who spent their earnings extravagantly,” they say.
“If you travel you should know that you leave behind work undone, and to pay the loss caused by your absence, you must save as much money as you can, so that when you return home, your wife and children will be happy and contented with your earnings,” they say.
BELAKI BEBINI (MARRIAGE)
A young man may marry at the age of twenty-two, if he is the only child in the family. If he has brothers or sisters, he is likely to marry when he grows older. A girl usually marries at the age of eighteen. At these ages young men and women generally know how to support themselves.
If a young man wants to marry he may tell his parents, so that they may choose the daughter of one of their close relatives for him. If he wishes to marry a particular girl, he may tell them so, so that they may think about it in making a final decision. If they agree to their son’s choice, they will send word regarding their intention to the girl’s parents. If the boy’s request is acceptable to the parents of the girl, then the latter may fix a day for nanya bini, when they can discuss formally the rules they will follow at the wedding of their children.
A day or two prior to nanya bini, the young man’s parents will inform their relatives about the coming wedding of their son to the girl he loves. They also request that three men and three women who are very closely related to them join them in meeting and discussing the coming marriage with the girl’s parents on the nanya bini day.
The nanya bini meeting between parents of the future bride and the bridegroom may take place either during the day or at night. If it is held during the day, the young man’s parents and relatives will come early to the girl’s room. On their arrival the men are asked to take a seat on the mats which have been spread for this purpose along the girl’s family’s upper gallery, while the women are invited to take a seat in the family room.
At about 10 a.m., after the visitors have been entertained with drinks, the girl’s father calls all the people of the longhouse and his relatives who have arrived from other villages to gather at his lower gallery in order to hear his discussion with his visitors. After the people have taken their seats the parents of the bride and the bridegroom inform their friends arid relatives that they have agreed that their son and their daughter should be married if the bridegroom’s parents agree to the payment of adat nikah (marriage price) demanded by the bride’s parents as follows:
1. A bride’s wealth of $100 to $300, depending upon the family background of the bride-to-be, and lower than $100 if she is of low birth.
2. A sigi alas muda, $4.00, to sigi rusa, $8.00, of bunga pinang (ceremonial wedding fee), and sigi jabir, $1.00, to sigi panding, $2.00 again, if the bride is of low birth.
3. One medium size brass gun (bedil) for batang pinang and one bendai gong for tandan pinang if the bride and the bridegroom are of distinguished families. People of common background would not demand the batang and tandan pinang presents from the bridegroom’s family.
If the bridegroom’s parents agree to pay the marriage price, then a genealogist (tukang tusut) will recite the bride’s and the bridegroom’s family trees to see whether the marriage is incestuous or not. Incestuous means in this connection that the couple is kin of different generations. If their union is incestuous to this sense then the bridal parents should inform the Penghulu (district chief) that the coming marriage ceremony of their children will be celebrated with besapat ka ai or bekalih di darat depending on the category of the incest as discussed earlier (cf, pp. 29-30).
At the end of the discussion of nanya bini, the groom’s parents leave a silver girdle (lampit) with the bride as a deposit to bind their promise. A day is then set for the melah pinang or marriage ceremony which must be held within three months. If it is an incestuous marriage, it must be held as soon as possible after the besapat ka ai or bekalih di darat ceremonies in order to avoid kudi (disaster).
A few days after this, the groom’s parents will gather the people of their longhouse to inform them that their son’s marriage has been agreed upon in discussion with the future bride’s parents. The groom’s father also tells them of the day agreed upon for the wedding festival. From this time onwards the groom’s family starts to make cakes and accumulates the derian fees.
The marriage festival (melah pinang) is held in the bride’s house. About one week before the Melah Pinang festival is held, the groom’s parents again call all the people in their longhouse to meet at their gallery as they are to send the belanja (expenses) to the bride’s parents. At this meeting each family in the longhouse presents whatever money its members have agreed to contribute to finance the feast. After the groom’s parents have sent their belanja for the Melah Pinang feast, the girl’s parents will begin to pound rice, brew jars of tuak wine, and buy the necessary bulls, pigs and drinks for the occasion.
Four to five days before the ceremony, the girl’s parents call for a meeting of people on their house gallery. At this meeting, the girl’s father enquires from the heads of each family whether they have finished making preparations for the ceremony. If all preparations have been made, then the bride’s father will inform the people of how many neighboring longhouses he intends to invite to the feast. The people of other families in the longhouse will naturally agree to this and one man is sent to invite the guests upriver while another man is sent downriver. The two men inform the guests to come to the wedding festival early that day so that their reception can be properly performed.
By this point the agreement to marry is considered binding on both parties, and compensation must be paid if either wishes to break the agreement.
1. If a young man makes a promise to discuss his marriage with a girl’s parents and fails to do so according to his promise, he is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, and sigi panding, $2.00, for the cost of pinang sirih wasted by the parents of the girl. If he refuses to pay the fine, the case is brought to the court of the Penghulu for further hearing.
2. If a bridegroom fails to marry his bride after the melah pinang day has been fixed, through no fault of the later, the former is fined sigi panding, $2.00, and sigi alas, $4.00, respectively, the later for the cost of wasted pinang sirih. If the bridegroom refuses to pay the fine, the case is brought to the Penghulu’s court for further judgment.
a. Hari Melah Pinang (Wedding day)
Early on the morning of the wedding day, the groom’s party will come to the bride’s house in long boats which are decorated with beautiful pua kumbu (woven blankets) and flags. As they paddle along the river, the musicians perform the gendang with gongs and drums. The maidens and bachelors are in traditional costumes while men and women wear ordinary suits, kain batik and baju kebaya or baju kurong respectively.
As their boats approach the bride’s landing place a gun is fired once or three times as a sign of their arrival. On hearing this, the hosts fire their guns as a sign of welcome.
After the boats have landed, the guests are received by the Tuai Rumah and his companions at an open space (menalan) with offerings in case the guests have heard unfavorable omens as they paddled along the river.
From the menalan a procession is formed for the guests to enter the bride’s longhouse. This procession is led by the Tuai Rumah who carries a flag. He is followed by a man who carries a plate of offerings and a woman who throws popped rice (letup) along the route of the procession. Behind the elder woman are the maidens in their traditional dress consisting of kain pandak (short skirt), tumpa pirak (silver bracelets), rawai (corset), lampit (girdles), sabit (silver or brass chains), sugu tinggi (tall combs) decorated with coloured metal ornaments (ensuga) on the top of the tiara, silver necklaces (tenggak pirak), and they carry small silver boxes called buah pauh in their hands.
Behind these girls are the bachelors wearing loin clothes (sirat), head gear decorated with hornbill feathers, silver bracelets and ivory armlets on their arms, and swords the scabbards of which are decorated with beads and hornbill feathers are carried at their side. In the rear are the musicians who play the gendang with gongs and drums. As they enter the house they are offered arak or tuak wine by the young men and maidens at each family’s lower gallery along the procession route.
As the procession reaches the end of the house it turns round and finally stops at the bride’s family gallery, where the leading guests are asked by the representatives of the bride’s parents to open the door of the bride’s room with words of praise. After the opening of the door, the male guests are asked to take their seats along the upper and lower galleries facing the bride’s family bilek and along the galleries at both sides. The women guests sit in the bride’s family bilek.
After all the guests have been received with tuak wine or arak and food, they are invited to change their seats. The hosts invite them to sit at their individual section of the gallery where they are served with drinks of various kinds. At noon a midday meal is served along the lower gallery. Sometime after the meal is over, the bride’s parents gather all the people to their gallery to witness the Melah Pinang ceremony.
At the opening of the ceremony a representative of the bride’s family stands up and informs his audience that the bridal parents have agreed that the bridegroom and the bride are to be wed according to the custom of the Iban. At this wedding he begs the Penghulu, Tuai Rumah and all other senior guests to witness the payment of the bride wealth and other articles, as well as witness the agreements made between the two families for the union of their children as follows:
1. If the bridegroom divorces his spouse because she commits adultery, is quarrelsome or otherwise has a bad character, the woman’s family must refund the bride wealth and the gun and gong. In addition to these they must pay the groom $ 150 if the amount of the bride price was $300, which is an additional one-half of the total amount of the bride wealth.
2. If the bride divorces her husband due to his bad character as mentioned in (a) above, the groom will lose all of the bride wealth and other articles.
As soon as the bride wealth has been paid and the marriage agreement has been made public, a senior woman, preferably the bride’s mother or her aunt, will bring out from the family room areca-nut in a small finely-made, carrying basket called a selok to the middle of the lower gallery (ruai). There she is surrounded by the elderly women and male bards, if any are present. As she sits there, she cuts the areca-nuts into three, five or seven pieces in the presence of the groom’s and bride’s relatives. The number depends on the distance separating the bride’s and groom’s community; the greater the distance the more the number.
When this is done, the pieces of areca-nut are put in the selok basket and covered by a beautiful woven blanket. As the selok is lying under the pua kumbu cover, a bard sings a song and pretends to nurse a child. In his song, he prays that in the future the child will become a well-to-do man or a brave warrior. As he sings on and on, he pretends that the child is sleeping. So he stops his song.
A few minutes later another bard sings a song to wake the child up again. He relates that while the child was sleeping it dreamed of meeting the deity of wealth and good fortune, Anda Mara, and the goddesses Kumang and Lulong, the wives of Keling and Laja of the Panggau Libau spiritual world, who gave it charms which can make it wealthy and brave in war. He further says that in time to come the child will become a famous leader of men in many adventures all over the countries round about. A similar dream is related for girls. This enacted dream song reflects the importance attributed by the Iban to dreams as a source of prophesy and divine benefaction, and, of course, is intended here to bring good fortune and success to the future children of the newly married couple.
During the melah pinang ceremony, the guests are served with wine, coffee and delicious food including bread and cakes. As soon as the bards have finished singing their songs of nindok ke anak and ngerak anak, the guests are asked to sit in a long row along the upper and lower galleries. After the seating of the guests has been arranged, the hosts serve them a midday meal. After the meal is over, if the marriage is incestuous, the guests and hosts, led by the Penghulu and other leaders who officiate the besapat ka ai bathing ceremony, proceed to the river to cleanse the bridal couple of their sin. A description of this ceremony was given earlier in the section on “Marriage and Incest” (cf. pp 28-29).
As soon as the bathing ceremony of the bridal couple is over, the bridegroom, his parents and other guests return to their house with the bride in her traditional dress. Seated near her in the bridegroom’s boat is a bride’s maid from the bride’s own longhouse. Also near them are the girls of the bridegroom’s house who have come with the groom to the bride’s house that morning. As the boats are paddled by men along the river, the musicians begin to play gongs and drums and the music continues till they reach their pengkalan (landing place).
Shortly after the bridegroom and others have left for the bride’s house in the morning, a number of women who could not join them decorate the bridegroom’s family room (bilek) by spreading good mats on the floors and displaying the pua kumbu blankets from a cord along the walls of the room.
When the bride arrives in the evening, she is led by a procession of maidens (who return from her house) to the bridegroom’s house. As she enters the building, she is cordially invited to stay for an hour or two with her bridesmaid in the room of bridegroom’s closest relatives. Here they are served with soft drinks and other refreshments.
Sometime after this, the bridegroom’s mother comes to fetch the bride to her room. The latter and her bridesmaid follow her. As she arrives at her spouse’s family room, she is asked by her mother-in-law to sit on the best tikai bebuah mats which have been specially spread for her. As she sits a number of girls of her age from other family rooms in the longhouse, come to talk to her.
In the evening, after she has changed her dress, a dinner is served in the family room and the family eats together. After the evening meal is over, the bridegroom’s father calls for all the people of the longhouse to come to his family room to attend the bebiau ceremony, when the newly married couples are waved with a chicken by a shaman (manang) or a bard (lemambang).
After all the people have arrived, a few young men serve everyone with wine. While the people are still drinking wine, the bridegroom dresses himself on the gallery outside, while the bride dresses herself somewhere out of people’s sight in the room. When the bride and the bridegroom have finished dressing themselves, four tawak gongs are placed side by side along the upper room (bilek atas). These gongs are carefully covered by carpets or pua kumbu blankets.
Eventually the bride and her bridesmaid rejoin those who have gathered. They are seated close to each other on the two tawak gongs. Shortly afterwards comes the bridegroom who is attended by his closest bachelor friend who acts as his best man. The former sits close to the bride, while his best man sits close to him. As they sit here, a shaman stands up holding a chicken in his hands. He waves it above their heads with the following prayers:
Sa, dua, tiga, empat, lima, enam, tujoh,
Tu aku ngangau ka nuan Selampeta ka tau nempa,
Aku ngangau ka nuan Selampetoh ke tau ngamboh,
Aku ngangau ka nuan Selampandai ke tau ngaga kitai.
Aku minta seduai ke baru udah jadi melaki bini tu,
Beranak betalesak enggau peridi diau di menoa.
Aku ngayu ka seduai iya maioh uchu maioh ambu,
Lalu lantang senang diau belama lama,
Tu baru aku ngangau ka Petara
Aku ngangau ka lni lnda,
Meri seduai tu pengaraja diau nguan menoa,
Ngasoh seduai iya bidik,
Ngasoh seduai lansik belama lama.
Aku ngangau ka Menjaya raja manang raja kejakang,
Awak ka seduai tu gerai awak ka ke seduai iya nyamai,
gayu guru diau nguan menoa.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
I now call for your Selampeta,
Who is expert in shaping the human body,
I call for you Selampetoh,
Who is clever at forging the human being.
I now call for you Selampandai,
Who is skilled in designing us human beings.
I pray that this newly married couple,
Becomes prolific with children,
I pray that they shall be successful,
In bringing up their off spring,
I pray to the Almighty God,
And the goddess Ini Inda,
That the couple shall become rich
And prosperous in all they do in the future.
I pray to Manang Menjaya, the chief of all shamans,
To give them health,
So that they may enjoy a long life in this world.
After the shaman has ended his prayer, the young men serve everyone present with tuak wine and arak and the girls serve coffee and cakes.
After everyone has finished drinking, the bridegroom’s parents and relatives introduce the bride to all of their relatives, who are now her uncles- or aunts-in-law, brothers- or sisters-in-law, or cousins-in-law. They also tell her that according to the teaching of Sengalang Burong, the omen god, no husband or wife may call his or her father-in-law or mother-in-law by name, nor mention the names of an uncle- or aunt-in-law down to and including, his or her parents-in-law’s second cousins. “If any son-in-law or daughter-in-law mentions the names of the parents of his or her spouse” (as describe above) they say, “he or she will be spiritually cursed (sial) and become ill-fated (tulah) all the days of his or her life.” It was and is for this reason that the Ibans of all generations are reluctant to mention the names of their mentua, without reasonable cause.
It is required that the well-bred Iban calls his father-in-law, bapa, his mother-in-law, ibu, older brothers- or sisters-in-law, ika, and younger brothers- or sisters-in-law, adi, respectively. In general parents-in-law are known as mentua, including their collaterals as far as relations are traced, while brothers- or sisters-in-law are called ipar, irrespective of their age and sex. After the bebiau ceremony is over all the people go back to their own rooms.
If a bride refuses to be her husband’s wife after they have been legally married, she is fined sigi rusa, $8.00. All the marriage expenses, which the bridegroom has paid for the feast, must be re-paid by the woman’s family. Failure to pay these is referred to the Penghulu for his judgment.
b. Nyundang Pinang (First visit after the wedding)
Three, five or seven days after the wedding day, the number of days corresponding to the number of areca-nut pieces split by the elderly woman during the Melah Pinang ceremony, the man and his wife must pay their first visit of Nyundang pinang to the bride’s house. They will stay there three, five or seven nights, the number again corresponding to the number of areca-nut (pinang) pieces, and then return once more to the husband’s house.
During this first visit, the husband must behave well, especially while conversing with the people of his father-in-law’s house. During the nightly conversations, many people will ask questions concerning genealogies, omens and the general history of migration of the early Iban pioneers in the region from which he comes. In addition to these topics, they will discuss Iban manners and customs. At this time, the young man must say all he knows as well as learn what he does not know from his wife’s relatives. One thing which must be done by him during his Nyundang pinang visit is to fetch plenty of firewood for his parents-in-law. If he neglects this duty, he will be held in low regard by other people who are well-trained in Iban custom, for to fetch firewood during this visit is traditional with the Iban.
Before they return to the husband’s house, the wife and her family must cook a considerable amount of glutinous rice as well as buns for the couple to take back with them when they return to the husband’s house. On the night following their return, almost everyone in the husband’s house visits them. At this time the husband family will serve those who gather with the food and drinks that the couple have brought back from their Nyundang pinang visit. After this visit is over the husband and wife will stay at whichever house they are expected to according to the agreement made between their parents before their marriage.
c. Sarak (Divorce)
Fines for divorce, where one party brings proceedings against the other on the grounds, for example, of adultery, have been described earlier and equal one-half of the total bride wealth transferred at the time of marriage. When divorce occurs by mutual consent (sarak ngena sempekat or bacherai kasih), neither party is fined. Both the husband- or wife may receive custody of the children and, in traditional adat; the other party is not required to pay maintenance (belanja). As soon as the couple’s divorce is agreed upon, and witnessed by the Tuai Rumah or Penghulu, they are free to remarry provided neither of them is suspected of, or is known to have committed adultery.
GAWAI BIRU-IRU (CEREMONY FOR THE ADOPTION OF A CHILD)
If a man and his wife, after many years of marriage, are certain that they will have no child of their own, they are likely to adopt a child in order that he or she may inherit their property after they have passed away and perpetuate their bilek family. Most couples prefer to adopt a child of their closest relatives, such as a nephew or a niece.
However, if their close relatives have no child whom they are willing or able to give in adoption, the couple may adopt the child of a distant cousin or an unrelated friend.
In order to make an adoption legal, the adopters must hold a formal ceremony called the Gawai Biru-iru, in which they publicly announce in the presences of guests, including at least two Tuai Rumah or a Penghulu, and their relatives who, otherwise, would inherit their property if they were to die childless, that the child is hereby adopted to be their own. By this proclamation the child is acknowledged as their legal heir with identical rights of inheritance, as if he or she were the couple’s sole natural child. In future, if any argument arises over the disposal of the couple’s property, the Tuai Rumah or Penghulu who were present at the Gawai Biru-iru, are responsible for safeguarding the rights of the adopted child in court. These rights are identical whether the child is male or female.
During the Gawai Biru-iru the male adopter may carry a spear, as during the Gawai Batimbang ceremony for the manumission of a slave (see pp. 81-83), if the adopted child’s former status is that of a slave or serf. This act signifies that no one in the future may make reference to the child’s previous status, without this being regarded a personal insult to the adopter and his descendants. If the child’s status is the same as the adopter, the latter need not carry a spear during the celebration, although it is today sometimes done by present day Iban out of ignorance of the original significance of the act.
LALAU PENDIAU (GENERAL ETIQUETTE)
After his marriage, a man is taught by his father and grandfather to respect his wife more than anyone else. He must also respect her parents, brothers, sisters and other close relatives, as he does his own kinsmen. He should never cast suspicion on his wife of misconduct with other men, unless he can prove it properly, and not just because he has heard it as rumors.
As a married man he should now work harder than when he was a bachelor. In order to please his wife and her family he should be diligent in providing food by hunting and fishing. If he fails to do these things, he will disappoint his wife and the other members of her family. It is a man’s duty to fetch firewood for cooking food; therefore, he must not let the frame above the hearth (para) become empty of dried firewood.
If a man accompanies his wife to live in her parent’s house, he must always be attentive to his parents-in-law and other members of his wife’s family. If he brings back anything such as meat or fish from the field, he should hand it to his wife, so that she may know that he has done his work well that day.
In order to be a good husband he should never show his bad temper to his wife and family. If he does, he is considered by the people to be an ill-bred man. If he wants to remove his wife from her family in order to live elsewhere, he must do it through mutual understanding, and not through domestic quarrels and anger. If he feels that he would like to join a voyage or trading venture he must inform his wife and her family. If the latter agrees, then he can go with their blessing.
a. Maia makai (Meal times)
When one is taking food it is bad manners for anyone who is sitting nearby to blow his or her nose or spit saliva. It is equally bad manners to do this while somebody else is taking food in a family room nearby. Anyone who behaves this way is said to be an ill-mannered man.
b. Mansa Moa (Passing in other people’s presence)
It is customary for an Iban, if he must walk in front of someone, especially an elderly person, to show his respect with a traditional saying of “excuse me, may I walk in front of you,” with his hands folded to show his way. Anyone who does not do this while walking in front of other people is said to be a man of no manners.
c. Basa enggau temuai (Respect towards visitors or strangers)
Every man wants other people to respect him. If he wants to be respected, then first of all he too must respect other people. And in order to gain respect from others, he should work with diligence and stead-fastness, until he successfully gets all he wants. He should also be just in dealing with people, so that the latter can put their full trust in him. These are the teachings of Iban parents to their children.
If a family is visited by a stranger, they must speak to him and give him food and drink if he arrives at meal time. If he comes at night he should be given shelter and food so that he may not be hungry while staying under the family’s roof. Even the dogs and chicken brought by the stranger is fed accordingly. Ibans of all generation believe that by showing kindness to strangers and animals, the unseen one will be kind to them also.
PEGI ENGGAU BELAYAR (TRADING VENTURES AND SAILING OVERSEAS)
Ibans are concern about being respected by their countrymen during and after their lifetime. In order to earn these respects, a man should be kind and just in his dealings with other people. He should be diligent, adventurous and brave in all that he does, in order to become a trusted leader.
After a man is married he may become a crew member on a trading boat which sails to foreign ports to trade. After he has gained property by such trading, if he is just in his dealings with his trading mates, he is likely to be elected by others, as he grows older, to be the leader of such a venture. On accepting leadership, he must learn seriously the arts of sailing his own boat and the diplomacy he will need in contacting peoples in foreign countries. If his first and second trading ventures are successful, then he will be known as Nakoda, if he has sailed to Brunei, Sabah or the Philippine Islands of Palawan and Mindanao. If he sails his boats even further, to New Guineas, Celebes, Java, Sumatra, Singapore or the Malayan (now Malaysian) states, he is called penghulu perahu pelayar (Penghulu of the sailing boat).
The Iban who only concentrates on planting padi at home will try to grow more padi than his family can eat. The proceeds from sale of his extra padi will be used to purchase valuable jars, gongs and brass cannons and boxes for the inheritance (pesaka) of his family. In Sarawak nearly all of the priceless antiques purchased by famous farmers, sailors and traders in the last century are still in the possession of their descendants as heirlooms to the present day. These, particularly the valuable jars, are blessed by the lemambang during the Gawai Tajau festival, causing any descendant who sells these valuables in future years, depleting his family’s inheritance and estate, to be cursed.
TUAI SERANG ENGGAU TAU KAYAU (WAR LEADERS AND MINOR WAR LEADERS)
After a man has prospered in farming at home or in trading ventures overseas, in the past he might have become a fighter in wars. After a man has successfully killed one or two enemies in battle, his warleader may confer on him a praise name (ensumber). From that day onwards, he will be called by his ensumber rather than by his original name. In due course he is known by other people as raja berani if he acquired material wealth from these ventures, or simply a bujang berani, if he had not been a prosperous farmer or sailor before.
This is not the end of an Iban man ambition. If a warrior is the descendant of a leading warrior (kepala manok sabong), or a war leader (tau kayau or tau serang), he is likely to be appointed by his war leader as a leading warrior on the warpath, provided he displays ability and courage. And if he is successful in this, and his conduct also proves him to be just in his dealings with his comrades-in-arms during the war, he is entitled to lead the fighters to fight in small wars known as kayau anak.
After leading a few kayau anak wars he may be entrusted by his followers with the leadership of a larger scale invasion of their enemy’s territory with larger numbers of fighters. After he has led his warriors to fight in a major expedition, his status is elevated to the rank of tau kayau. From his success in leading these battles he would be acclaimed by all the warriors in the country as a great war leader, tau serang, who has the power to declare war on the people of another country and responsible for defending his country from invasion by enemies.
During the wars of former times, these warriors and war leaders captured enemies whom they either enslaved or sold in exchange for jars and other material wealth. They also looted their foes’ property (perapasan) which their descendants still inherit to this day.
PREMBIAN (FRIENDSHIP NAMES)
The Iban are fond of making up reciprocal names to be used by two or more people in jokingly addressing each other as a token of friendship. These names usually commemorate something done accidentally by either one of them.7
The prembian is an old form of name used by the Ibans. Prembian are also used by the heroes of the Panggau Libau and Gellong spiritual worlds and by the animal heroes of Iban fables. Common prembian names are not only used by men but also by women, and are usually made up while they are still unmarried and are remembered by friends throughout their lifetimes.
BATIMBANG (MANUMISSION OF SLAVES)
The right to own slaves (ulun) and serfs (jaum or pengurang) was enjoyed by Iban leaders and warriors since time immemorial.8 Ulun are captives in war, where as jaum are debt servants who were unable to pay their debts due to poverty. The descendants of both ulun and jaum remain the property of their owners until they can free themselves by paying their debt or by holding a festival called a gawai batimbang, in which they are freed with the mutual consent of their masters.9
From the days of early Brooke rule, the government of Sarawak opposed slavery. In 1880 the second Rajah proclaimed that all slaves must be freed by their owners formally in the Gawai Batimbang ceremony. By this decree, any slave who was able to redeem himself, was allowed to do so by compensating his owner with cash or with valuable jars and brass wares. Those who could not pay the compensation were allowed to free themselves by the Gawai Batimbang ceremony. The last of these ceremonies took place during the 1890’s after which time slavery was officially abolished. Today it is a fineable offence to refer publicly to another person’s slave ancestry.
In order to hold a Gawai Batimbang, a slave is requested to brew a few Jars of tuak timbang wine. In addition, he must produce a three-fathom lengthen of white calico cloth to be used as a hand rail by those who take part in the betimbang procession at the end of the festival. Lastly, he must also produce one fat pig, the liver of which is examined by the augurs. The indication of the liver will foretell the future well-being of the freed slave.
The slave is always a poor man. It will normally take some months for him to acquire the essentials for the feast, but when these are ready, he will inform his master that he is now prepared to celebrate the betimbang festival. As soon as he is told of the readiness of his slave to hold the ceremony, the master will call for a meeting of all the heads of the families of the longhouse to ask for assistance from the well-wishers to provide food for the celebration. The day for the feast is also fixed at this meeting.
A day or two before the festival day, the slave’s master sends his trusted men to call his closest relatives and members of senior families of other villages to come to witness the freeing of his slave by the Gawai Batimbang ceremony. They are asked to come in the evening, as the feast lasts throughout the night and ends only with the sacrifice of the pig early the next morning. When the guests arrive, they are cordially received by the feasters with full respect. They are entertained lavishly with food and wine as at other festivals. In between the dinner, supper and the morning meal, the guests are free to converse with each other about their exploits in war as well as about their trading ventures overseas. The killing and capture of enemies was the principal topic of conversation at this time in the past.
Eventually at sunrise, a procession is formed for the slave master and his relatives to walk along the communal galleries of the longhouse. The leader of this procession is the slave master himself who carries a sharp tembang spear. Behind him comes an old aristocrat who carries a flag, and behind them both, another aristocrat who will kill the pig and finally the slave himself who is dressed in grand apparel. He is followed by a number of women and girls of influential families, and lastly the musicians who beat their gongs and drums. After the procession has encircled the longhouse lower and upper galleries three times, a speaker at each gallery begins to ask why such a grand procession is held with men and women along the house. To answer the question, the slave master speaks as follows:
“As you have seen we have encircled the galleries of this longhouse three times. The reason why I lead a procession is that this morning, I am going to free my slave (so and so) from low status to become an ordinary citizen of this community. After this, if any of you still say that he is a low class man, with this spear, my relatives and I will pierce you. From now onwards this man becomes a free man together with all his descendants after him. It is from today that he and his descendants are free to farm the land of my ancestors and to eat all the fruits in my forefather’s groves and orchards. If any of you disturb him and his children from farming my land, you are responsible for the consequence, if they bring the case to a court of law. So-and-so who I free now becomes my relative and his descendants are related to my people. My friends and countrymen, I want you to remember all I say today. This man and his descendants are the friends of my heirs for ever.”
This question-and-answer set of speeches is repeated at every gallery of the longhouse. The procession then proceeds to the open air verandah (tanju) where the pig is killed.
Once the pig is slain, its liver is removed and carefully placed on cordyline leaves inside a large bowl. The liver is then brought to the augurs who study its indications for the future of the freed slave.
After the indications from the pig’s liver are known, the freed slave shouts three times loudly to indicate that he is now happy after being upgraded to the status of an ordinary citizen. In such joy he serves all the guests and hosts alike with his tuak timbang wine at all family galleries of the longhouse.
6. WEAVING, TRADITIONAL PASTIMES, DANCE AND MUSIC
BETENUN (WEAVING OF BLANKETS)
After her marriage, a woman traditionally sought to gain skill as a weaver1. In order to become an expert, she studied the techniques of her mother, grandmother or other leading weavers in the longhouse. Her ambition was to become indu tau muntang tau nengkebang, one who is able to weave blankets and clothes without seeing a pattern. When she reached that stage of her artistic skill, she next sought to become expert in exposing the thread in the dew at night in order that she might be known as indu takar indu gaar, an artist envied by Iban woman weavers of all times.
Quite a number of these highly skilled women are believed to inherit their ability, due to the fact that they inherit the special charms (ubat) used when exposing (ngembun) the threads in the dew. Ngembun is usually done during rainless nights of the kemarau, or dry months of June, July or August on the open air platforms (tanju) of the longhouse, by a group of women weavers led by a skilled indu takar indu gaar. While exposing their threads in the dew, the weavers do not sleep for fear that rain will spoil the thread.
The thread is made from cotton (taiya). As soon as the padi harvest is over, land is cleared for planting cotton. Land planted with cotton is called empelai taiya. Planting takes place early in April and by the end of July cotton is harvested.
The general height of taiya dagang plants is about 4 feet, while the height of taiya bendar is slightly lower. The taiya bolls are like kapok pods. After they have been harvested, their strong skins are removed with a knife and the cotton is placed in a pemigi, in order to remove the seeds.
After all the seeds have been removed, the cotton is thoroughly cut with a knife known as nganggut taiya. After this, it is placed on a large mat where it is squared to 2’ x 2’ wide. After this the cotton is spun on a spinning wheel to make thread which is wound on a tukal frame to await exposure to the dew.
After this, the thread is exposed on a tall buloh begalah pole for three days and nights. On the fourth day the thread is turned upside down and again exposed in the cool air from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for three successive nights as before. After this, it is shaken to remove dirt and any remaining salty water. After it has been cleaned, the thread is exposed on the tanju to the sun and dew from seven to fifteen days and nights, except during rain, at the end of which time, it becomes very white. When finally removed from the tanju, the thread is soaked and washed in the river. After this it is dried in the sun.
Once the thread is dried, it is placed on a buloh begalah bamboo frame, where it is brushed (disikat) with rice broth mixed with the juice of pounded leaves of lalang grass. Then the thread is cleaned by being thoroughly combed with the husk of a coconut. When the nyikat is done, the thread is removed from the buloh begalah frame and again put in the sun till it is dry.
After the thread is dried it is wound on a frame called a jangkang and then rolled into balls. After this, the thread is dipuntang, i.e. placed on a rough frame, where it is tied with half dried kerupok (pandanus) leaves to straighten it. Both ends of the strands of thread are tied with strings made from the curculigo plant. After the thread had been straightened on the frame, sticks (lidi) are inserted so that the thread cannot move about. From this rough frame, the thread is moved to the tiang tendai (wasp beams); from where it will be placed by two weavers on to the tangga kebat frame, where it is tied up with lemba thread before dyeing.
After the thread has been tied, it is removed from the frame for dyeing. The dyes used are made from the roots of the jangit and engkudu plants. These are cooked together, and to cool them, water is poured into a sulang (brass kettle). After the water has cooled, the thread is dipped into it. This work is repeated three times before the thread is tightly tied with unwaxed lemba strings on a frame called tangga ubong. As soon as the thread has been di-ikat (tied) with lemba strings, it is dipped into blue dye made of tarum leaves,2 so that the untied parts of the thread become blue, while the tied parts remain white.
After the thread is dried, the strings for tying it are removed with a small pen knife, before it is placed on the buloh begalah frame where it is straighten tightly. From this frame the thread is moved to the tiang tenun weaving frame where coloured threads are added to both sides of the dyed threads to make the edges of the blanket. When this is done, the threads are fastened with splits of senggang plant and dried lemba leaves.
Name of design motifs and pattern in the traditional Iban Ikat Weaving:
This design motifs stress the bright red fiery flames.
Design portrays the pictures of elephants
Design portrays the pictures of creepers
Design portrays the images of metal ornaments used for decorations
Design with pictures of logs of equal length
Design with pictures of creeper plant in zig-zag pattern.
Design with opposite number of objects
Design with a variety of curious creatures
Design with pictures of lions, tigers and demons in addition to pictures of other objects
Design with pictures of glittering firefly
Design of a combination of old and modern pictures of various objects
Design with stripes across the heavens
Design with pictures of monitor lizards
Design with pictures of trees opposite one another
Picture of various designs
Design that portrays the picture of drifting clouds
Design with pictures of demon huntsman
Design which depict Beji’s ladder reaches the heavens (langit)
Design with shapes of various objects in the clouds
Design with pictures of sacred lemba bumbun poles used during the Bird festival
Pictures of the stalk of the mythical ranyai palm in the other world
Pictures of the sacred sandong pole of the Bird festival
Tiang Sandau Liau:
Pictures of the sandau liau pole used at the Bird festival
Pictures of projecting roots of the banyan tree (parasitic tree)
Pictures of various interlocked objects.
The names for various pua blankets used for carrying a child are as follows:
The varieties of pua kumbu blankets mentioned above were used in ancient times by wives to receive ceremoniously the heads of slain enemy from the hands of their husbands on the latter’s return from the warpath. In modern times, they are used for decorating the house on festive occasions, for making a roof of boats used for taking the bride to her groom’s house on her wedding day or for making a sapat partition within which is placed the body of the dead during the three days and three nights of vigil before it is buried in the cemetery. These blankets are an important form of property and it is shameful for an Iban family not to own at least one pua kumbu.
As the wife is busy with her weaving, the husband is also busy with other work such as collecting rattan vines for mats and baskets. In addition to doing this, he is also responsible for clearing trees for farming and gardening sites, and for collecting firewood for his family. The more physical work done outside the house is performed mostly by men. All lighter work is done by Women, such as sowing padi, fetching drinking water from the river or pond, cooking food and looking for vegetables in the jungle or tending the vegetable garden. The milling and pounding of rice are also done by women. At the present time, rubber tapping is a work done by both men and women.
MAIN ASAL (TRADITIONAL GAMES)
The Ibans have many kinds of games. In their childhood boys play with toys such as boats, pop-guns, spinning wheels, as well as swinging in the wooden cradles with girls of their age. As they swing they sing various kinds of lullabies together. In addition to this, boys and girls play sula-ula, make believe games, inside and outside the longhouse building at day time.
From the month of June to August men traditionally played with spinning tops (bepangka) all over the country. Top spinning was believed to make easier the felling of trees for new padi fields. Again, in late February the young men traditionally played with tops once more in order to burst spiritually the womb or kandong4 of the padi so as to hasten the ripening of the grain. As men are spinning tops, boys play with small tops made by their fathers. Iban tops are usually made of tough, strong woods such as kayu malam, bait, engkerutak, mengeris, and tapang.
Another traditional game that the Iban universally play in Sarawak is cockfighting, a game said to be first played by the deities. Famous contests between the deity Sengalang Burong against Apai Sabit Bekait, Ambong Mungan against Raja Machan and the heroes Keling and Laja of Panggau Libau against Tutong and Ngelai of Gellong occupy an important place in Iban oral traditions. In Sebayan Raja Niram and Bujang Langgah Lenggan also fought their roosters against those of Ensing Jara and Kedawa. In ancient times, cockfighting was held at least two times a year, the first after harvest from June to July, and the second between cutting and felling, from August to early September, and together were known as Sabong Taun.
As this game was, and is, the traditional sport of the spirits and deities, it must also be held at all major religious festivals to please the gods who are believed to be spiritually present.4 Because of the importance of cockfighting to the Iban mind, there exists an elaborate terminology particularly for the colorations of plumage, and it is believed that there are special times when it is best to fight each rooster according to its colouration.5
On the night prior to a sabong taun day each set of contestants asked two bards (lemambang) to sing the traditional songs called renong kayau, similar to the songs sung by the bards on the night before the warrior’s departure to invade the enemy’s country. In these songs the bards mention the names and actions displayed by heroes of the spiritual worlds while fighting against their foes. As these spiritual and mythical heroes are invited to help the Warriors in fighting their enemy, an offering must be made to the deities and spirits whenever these songs are sung.
AJAT ENGGAU GENDANG (DANCES AND MUSIC)
The Iban perform many kinds of dances accompanied by the music of gongs and drums.6 These dances include the ngajat, bepencha, bekuntau, main kerichap, main chekak. The ajat dance is attributed to a spiritual being, Batu Lichin, Bujang Indang Lengain, who brought it to the Iban many generations ago. Today there are three kinds of ajat dances performed by the Ibans. One is called ajat bebunoh which is performed by warrior dancers; the second is ajat semain performed by men and women; and the third is ajat nanggong lesong performed by men.
When a warrior performs the ajat bebunoh dance with the music of a gendang panjai orchestra, he does it as if he is fighting against an enemy. With occasional shouts he raises his shield with one arm and swings his illang knife with his other arm as he moves towards the enemy. While he moves forward he is careful with the steps of his feet to guard them from being cut by his foe. The tempo of his action is very fast with his knife and shield gleaming up and down as he dances.
The performance of ajat semain is done in slower tempo and with graceful movements. The dancer softens his body, arms and hands as he swings forward and backward. When he bends his body the swinging of his hands is very soft. The performance of ngajat nanggong lesong dance is more or less like the ajat semain dance. Only when the dancer bites and raises the heavy wooden mortar (lesong) with his teeth, does he use extraordinary skill. It is not an attractive dance, although his audience enjoys seeing his trick of biting and raising a heavy mortar and then placing it carefully again on the floor.
When the dancers take the floor to dance, the musicians beat two dumbak drums, a bendai gong, a set of seven small gongs (engkerumong) and a large tawak gong. The music for the performance of ajat bebunoh dance is quicker in tempo than the music for the ajat semain and ajat nanggong lesong dances, as in the dance itself.
As from time immemorial, the people of the longhouse have been skilled in playing all kinds of gendang music. Another important music performed by the Ibans is called gendang rayah. It is played only for religious festivals with the following instruments:
1. The music from a first bendai gong is called pampat
2. The music from a second bendai gong is called kaul
3. The music from a third bendai gong is called kura
4. As the three bendai gongs sound together, then a first tawak gong is beaten and is added to by the beating of another tawak gong to make the music.
Last but not least, is the music played using the katebong drums by one or up to eleven drummers. These drums are long. Its cylinder is made from strong wood, such as tapang or mengeris, and one of its ends is covered with the skins of monkeys and mousedeer or the skin of a monitor lizard. The major types of drum music are known as follows:
1. Gendang Bebandong
2. Gendang Lanjan
3. Gendang Enjun Batang
4. Gendang Tama Pechal
5. Gendang Pampat
6. Gendang Tama Lubang
7. Gendang Tinggang Batang
8. Singkam Nggam
All these types are played by drummers on the open air verandah during the celebration of the Gawai Burong festival. The Singkam Nggam music is accompanied by the quick beating of beliong adzes.
After each of these types has been played, the drummers beat another music called sambi sanjan, which is followed by still another called tempap tambak pechal. To end the orchestral performance the music of gendang bebandong is again beaten.
The ordinary types of music beaten by drummers for pleasure are as follows:
1. Gendang Dumbang
2. Gendang Ngang
3. Gendang Ringka
4. Gendang Enjun Batang
5. Kechendai Inggap Diatap
6. Gendang Kanto
When a Gawai Manang or bebangun festival is held for a layman to be consecrated as a manang (shaman), the following music must be beaten on the ketebong drums at the open verandah (tanju) of the longhouse of the initiate:
1. Gendang Dudok
2. Gendang Rueh
3. Gendang Kelakendai
4. Gendang Tari
5. Gendang Naik
6. Gendang Po Umboi
7. Gendang Sembayan
8. Gendang Layar
9. Gendang Bebandong
10. Gendang Nyereman
Gendang Bebandong also must be beaten when a manang dies and is beaten again when his coffin is lowered from the open air verandah (tanju) to the ground below on its way to the cemetery for burial.
In addition to playing music on the above mentioned instruments, Iban men enjoy the music of the following instruments:
Ruding (Jew’s harp)
Rebab (guitar with two strings)
Balikan (guitar with 3 strings)
The women, especially the maidens, are fond of playing the Jew’s harp while conversing with their visiting lovers at night, with the tunes from the ruding Jew’s harp, the girls and their boy friends relate how much they love each other. In past generations, there were very few Iban men and women who did not know how to converse with each other by using the ruding Jew’s harp. Today very few younger people know how to play this instrument and the art is rapidly dying out.
In ancient times, the Iban, it is believed, did not tattoo their body, throats, thighs, arms or the palms of their hands. They started to tattoo only after an ancestor named Gendup accidentally landed at a spiritual world of Antu Selang Pantang where he saw that most of the men had their bodies beautifully tattooed. As he envied them, he begged that his own body be tattooed by three of the experts, who did it for him using needles and oily soot (arok), working continuously for three days.
After the experts, the Antu Selang Pantang, had completed their work, Gendup asked them to make a tegulun tattoo on the back sides of both his hands. They refused, saying that Gendup must first kill a foe in war.
“If we tattoo the back of your hand before you have killed an enemy in war,” they said, “you shall become layu (withered), gradually became ill, and may eventually die before your time”.
The Iban are afraid, up to this day, to make a tegulun tattoo on the backs of their hands, if they have not yet killed a foe in war.
When Gendup returned to his human world, he related to his friends what he had seen and done while visiting the spiritual world. On hearing his story, a number of Iban were eager to have their bodies tattooed by Gendup copying the patterns made over his body. After this, Ibans of every generation have tattooed their bodies as originally done by Gendup twelve generations ago.
NGUKIR (DESIGN AND CARVING)
The carving of various designs was taught by Sengalang Burong to his grandson, Sera Gunting, during the latter’s visit to his house in heaven. An ukir or carving called “Balu Menyagu” was commanded by Sengalang Burong not to be made below other designs as it depicted the design used by him to carve his own seat. As a matter of fact, this particular design was and is only carved by the Iban on the upper part of a tomb hut during the Gawai Antu festival.
Another design called “Bunga Terong” was taught by Selamuda, a son of Jelenggai, to his son Begeri eighteen generations ago. This design is used by the Iban to carve the pemanjar of the tomb-huts, which jut out at both ends of the rooftop. The favorite design of the Iban is called ukir berandau and is used for carving the posts of the house or for decorating the bedstead of a daughter of a noble chief.
By Gregory Nyanggau Mawar
Taken from a book Iban Adat & Augury by Benedict Sandin & Prof. Clifford Sather.