This page is a collection of popular Iban folklores, fables and tales. As an introduction for this page, I wish to share the origin of the Iban comic hero, Apai Aloi, which was researched and compiled by Professor Clifford Sather in 1978. This is also a tribute to and our fond memories of the original source person for this fable, Lemambang Luat Anak Jabu, of Sepuna Longhouse, Ulu Paku, Saribas.
ORIGIN OF THE IBAN COMIC HERO APAI ALOI:
A Saribas Saga Version
By Clifford Sather
To an Iban of traditional upbringing there is probably no imaginary character more familiar than the comic hero Tambap or Apai Aloi. The present paper records a long Saribas saga, or ensera, concerned with the origin of Tambap and the events of his early life before he married and became the familiar Apai Aloi of Iban children’s fables1.
The later exploits of Apai Aloi, his wife and children are the subject of a great body of Iban cautionary tales, told to youngsters by their elders, generally at bed time (Sandin 196b, 1965a, 1965b, 1965c, 1965d, 1965e, 1967a; Sather 1978). These tales contrast with the sagas of the equally mythologized Orang Panggau, the heroes and heroines of the Gellong and Panggau Libau spiritual worlds. To the Iban, the Orang Panggau, particularly Keling and Kumang, represent personifications of the ego-ideals of manly courage, resourcefulness, and womanly beauty. By contrast, Apai Aloi is a negative chastisement, the fool who forever suffers rebuke and disaster as a result of his own misdeeds, stupidity and greed. He represents a negative ideal of how not to behave. His relations with his wife, Indai Aloi, parody conjugal ideals. He is hen-pecked and cuckolded; he cheats his family of food and causes them to go destitute (Sandin 1960,1965c). His relations with his friend, Apai Sumang-Umang, similarly make mockery of friendship, as the two continually seek to take advantage of each other (cf. Sandin 1965 a, 1965d). In all these tales Apai Aloi is ultimately the loser. In everyday speech, the terms aloi, saloi, sali-ali, or paloi are used to describe a foolish or silly person, who, through avarice or lack of wit, brings about his own undoing.
Apai Aloi, for all his foolishness, is nonetheless an ambivalent figure. The ambivalence associated with his character is neatly expressed in Tambap’s origin as recorded here, as partly human, partly demonic. Moreover, his human nature is of heroic proportions. In this story, Tambap’s foolishness is overshadowed by his extraordinary cunning. Juxtaposition with the heroes of Gellong is signified by the location of his house, downriver from Gellong, yet within the same spiritual realm, and by his involvement, depicted here and in other saga, with the Orang Panggau. In concluding this saga, the story-teller takes note of this ambivalence by observing that, while Tambap is an important person (pengawa), a hero, his conduct is very different from that of other Iban heroes.
The present saga is partially an etiological tale. It is concerned essentially with Tambap’s personal origin. It also accounts for his stupidity and irrational fear of the ngingit beetle. This latter fear appears as a humorous element in many fables in which Indai Aloi mimics the beetle’s call to terrorize her husband, much as parents use the nightly calls of insects and animals to frighten small children into obedience. In one story, for example, Apai Aloi secretly roasts a wild boar in the forest in order to avoid sharing it with his family. Guessing his intention, Indai Aloi conceals herself closeby and frightens her husband by mimicking the ngingit, causing him in an effort to quiet the insect, to throw the roasted meat, piece by piece, to where she and her children are hidden, until at last he flees in terror when all of the meat is gone (Sandin 1960: 639-40). In recounting Apai Aloi tales, the story-teller generally gives the hero a peculiar nasal voice (idol), which, in oral presentation, gives an additional comic aspect to his character. The origin of this peculiarity is also described. But in addition, the present ensera is very largely an account of Tambap’s journey to the home of his father. The journey theme is a recurrent one in Iban culture, both in mythology and actual life. The present saga resembles in this respect major Iban etiological myths, such, for example, as those concerned with the origin of incest rules, of rice and the knowledge of augury (Sandin, in press). Similarly the invocation of gods and spirits is frequently expressed in journeys and counter-journeys and in actual life there exists the counterpart in past migration and in the travels of men in search of wealth (pegi or bejalai) or to places of special sacred association to acquire spiritual guidance (nampok). The journey described here is Tambap’s travels to and from the realm of the demonic spirits in the course of which he gains riches, magical charms and the accoutrements of a traditional warrior.
Apai Aloi stories are told to children, particularly by grandparents, who often act in Iban families as caretakers of younger, pre-adolescent children, especially if the mother has a still younger child to look after or the parents are away at their fields. Part of the ambivalence associated with Apai Aloi’s character derives from the nature of these stories as children’s fables. Although it is not so evident in this saga, in most Apai Aloi fables Jung’s analysis of the “Trickster” figure in American Indian mythology (1956) might equally well be applied to Apai Aloi, particularly his view of such a figure as a personification of unreason and subconscious impulse, in opposition to the “enculturated” individual, restrained by rationality and internalized social and moral norms. The opposition is expressed in the Iban ensera tradition by the contrast of Apai Aloi with the hero-ideals of Keling and the other Orang Panggau. The ambivalence of Apai Aloi’s character reflects, I would argue, the similarly ambivalent status of children themselves, to whom these stories are addressed, who are likewise seen by the Iban as having only imperfect mastery over their impulses. Moreover, Apai Aloi suffers for his irrationality and lack of restraint. Thus, though basically comic stories, often hilariously so, most Apai Aloi fables have also a moral, or heuristic element. In the end, it is the hero who brings humiliation upon himself for his amorality and base self-seeking is essentially self-destructive.
The present ensera was recorded from Lemambang Luat anak Jabu of Sepuna longhouse, Ulu Paku, Saribas. On the morning of June 6th, 1978, Mr. Benedict Sandin and I travelled to Sepuna longhouse in order to discuss with Lemambang Luat questions relating to the use of farming charms for which this elderly bard is an acknowledged expert. We arrived to find the Lemambang bedridden, but through his family he let it be known that he was not only willing to discuss these matters with us, but, for a suitable fee, he would relate a long ensera, the complete text of which, he said, is known only to himself. I readily agreed and record here, at the conclusion of this paper, the complete text, except for minor grammatical corrections, exactly as he related it.
Lemambang Luat was born in 1886. He has been a practicing bard for nearly seventy years and is today the most senior and experienced Lemambang in the Paku. Although ill, his memory is unimpaired. By his own account the present ensera has a long history. He originally learned it as a child from his grandfather, Lanchang anak Legam, who, in turn, is said to have learned it from Naga anak Empari and his wife, Landan. Empari was the son of the famous Saribas war leader, Uyut “Badilang Besi”. From a genealogy published by Benedict Sandin (1967b: 97), Uyut “Badilang Besi” appears ten generations above his current descendants who are now reaching marriageable age, and seven generations above Mr. Sandin himself. Thus, if the Lemambang’s testimony can be relied upon, some form of this saga has been in existence for at least eight generations.
Lemambang Luat anak Jabu passed away on 25.4.1980 at the age of 96. His vigils were attended by mourners from Sungai Pelandok to the headwaters of the Paku and by guests from the Krian and Rimbas. His passing marks the loss of one of the revered Paku bards in living memory.
THE ORIGIN OF APAI ALOI (ENSERA ASAL PENATAI APAI ALOI)
The story of Apai Aloi begins with a woman named Rutih. Rutih lived with her parents at Nanga Engkaramoh, downriver from Gellong. In time she married a man named Tunang Rebuam. Tunang Rebuam had no house, but lived in a cave. According to legend, after his death, he became the Antu Nguap. After she and Tunang Rebuam had lived together for a time, Rutih conceived, and in due course she gave birth to a daughter, whom they called Sarai.
One day after Sarai had reached maidenhood, she went to the newly fallowed land of her family to collect flowers. Before she set out, her mother instructed her not to gather the flowers that grew under a tapang tree, for fear that these flowers might be taju, or “bait”, by which a demon meant to catch a mortal victim, as no one knew who had planted them there. But when Sarai reached the fallowed field, she could find none of the flowers planted the year before in her family’s “seed pillow” (panggal benih), as they had not reseeded themselves, but had disappeared. Desperate in not finding any flowers to take home, she disregarded her mother’s instructions and gathered those from around the base of the tapang tree. Many kinds of flowers grew there, including bunga limau and bunga setangan. But the moment she finished picking them, she heard a thunderous, rumbling noise, sounding very loud. At first she thought it must be the sound of a gale blowing, but the trees were not stirring; neither was it an earthquake, for the ground was not shaking. Frightened, she fled at once, and as she ran, she dropped the flowers she had gathered along the way. When she reached home, the rumbling sound ceased.
Three nights later Sarai was courted by an unknown stranger, who had never come to visit her before. She asked him many questions.
“Who are you?”, she asked. “Your nails are like the blades of a lungga knife, your fingers feel like arrows, and your calves are like the belia beater.”
“I have come to visit you because you have gathered my flowers – taken my bait. I have come to marry you”, spoke the stranger.
“But what is your name?”, asked Sarai.
“I am known as Gadu”, he replied.
“And where do you come from?”, asked Sarai again.
“From very far away, from the edge of the sky”, Gadu answered.
Sarai then informed her mother that she and the stranger wished to marry and, as they were serious, her mother had no objection and gave her consent. Shortly afterwards Sarai and Gadu became man and wife.
After living together for some time, Sarai gave birth to a son. The boy inherited the same singularly handsome features his father possessed. In time his father gave him the name of Raja Beginda. Unfortunately, as Raja Beginda grew up he became exceedingly greedy and ate all sorts of things, including the gills of eels (ansang keli) and the white spot near the gills of the baung fish (kelupa baung), which caused him to become stupid. Seeing him thus, people made fun of him by giving him the name of Tambap, meaning Fool.
When he reached boyhood, his father Gadu told Tambap and his mother that it was time that he, Gadu, left them and returned to his original home at the edge of the sky, since he was allowed to remain with them for only seven years. Before he departed he gave Tambap a jar – “Indai Ranai”, a luai loincloth, a badi andai knife, a blowpipe, and a beaded hat (selapok marik). The following day he left and returned to his own country at Perenching Tisi Langit Kuning Baka Siring Tangkong Burong, Selasa Ujan Nyala Baka Tangga Gempong Jabong, leaving Tambap and his mother at Nanga Engkaramoh.
Some years after his father had returned to his own country, Tambap reached young manhood. One day he told his mother that he wished to visit his father. His mother replied that she had no objection, provided he did not stay away for more than a month, since she had no one besides her son to help support her. On the day of his departure, Tambap gathered together everything he needed. He put on his leg bands (simpai kima) and his luai loincloth. He took up his badi andai knife and the blowpipe given him by his father. When all was ready, he started on his journey and left his home at Nanga Engkaramoh, downriver from the settlement of Tutong at Gellong. He walked the whole day. At dusk he reached the foot of a mountain called Gunong Nyemugut. As it had grown dark, he spent the night there.
In the morning he began his journey again, climbing up Gunong Nye¬mugut mountain. Around midday he was surprised to hear the voice of a woman calling to him.
“Oh Tambap, please come in for a visit”, he heard the voice say.
“No, I cannot, for I am in a hurry”, he answered.
“Even so, stop for awhile”.
“Who are you?”, asked Tambap.
“People call me Bunsu Ruai, Dara Bajik Kelandik Kaban Temuai, Dara Bunsu Mandi Tumu Besepar Bangkai”, said the voice, thus making known her name to him. “Now stop for awhile”.
“No, I won’t!”, Tambap replied.
“If you refuse to visit me, you will suffer puni by and by; if you do not touch them, my honeyed breasts which are like the ejected charms (lua ) of the hornbill, will curse you and my cheeks will also curse you, which are like the smooth eggs of the kepayang hen”, said Bunsu Ruai.
“No matter”, Tambap replied. “For, in truth, your breasts are ugly, like the stems of the kepayang padong fruit, and your cheeks are ugly, too, as if stained by green chicken droppings.” With these words, he continued on his way without stopping.
Tambap thus journeyed, traveling the whole day without stopping, until he at last reached the top of a mountain. On its summit he saw many longhouses inhabited by people. He chose, however, to go to a single, solitary house, standing separated from the others, and consisting of only one door. At the foot of the entrance ladder to this house, he inquired as to whether a stranger might enter.
“May I enter?”, he asked.
“Yes, you may enter, but, as there is no one to entertain you on the gallery, please come into the bilek”, replied the voice of an old woman from inside the house.
Tambap entered the house and went straight to the family bilek. There he found an old woman. He seated himself and the woman welcomed him, asking him where he came from.
“Where do you come from, grandson?”, she asked.
“I come from Nanga Engkaramoh, a short distance downriver from Gellong”, he answered.
“And what is your business here?”
“I have come to see my father who is named Gadu,” Tambap replied.
“Oh, Gadu is my nephew,” the old lady said.
“Who are you, then?”, asked Tambap.
“I am Grandmother Jelebok. If you are the son of Gadu, then you are my classificatory grandchild”, said the old woman. Grandmother Jelebok then called for her daughter, who was in the loft weaving, to come down and meet the guest The young woman descended from the loft. Her name was Endu Nain Kai Bekain Mali Rimpi, Besandol Andol Kai Besanggol Lepi Sakali.
“When did you arrive, nephew?”, she asked Tambap.
“I just came a moment ago, aunt”, he answered.
Tambap spent the night in the house. He and the women talked of many things and it was very late before they fell asleep. The next morning before he resumed his journey he asked Grandmother Jelebok the name of the country he had reached. She told him that it was known as Bukit Tandok Labong. Before he started off, Grandmother Jelebok also gave him a charm, ubat sangga bunoh, which she rubbed on his body to protect him during his travels. This done, Tambap departed and traveled without stopping, until just before midday, he suddenly collapsed, falling head first upon the ground. He fell spralling to the right like a spear shaft, to the left like a bone-handled spear and forward like the head of the shaft. And so it was that all of a sudden Tambap fainted for no apparent reason.
While he was unconscious, Bunsu Langau, the meat-fly goddess, defecated inside his throat, his ears and nose. He was awakened by the fly’s defecation. When he regained consciousness he saw a young woman laughing at him. Her name was Bunsu Langau, Dara Nyerida Tau Tepat, Kumang Tukang Tau Keramat. In his rage, Tambap took up his blowpipe intending to shoot her.
“Oh, please don’t shoot me”, the maiden pleaded. “If you spare me, I will give you two charms, an “ear stone” (batu pending) and a “lucky stone” (batu bidik), which will make you as lucky as I am.” Bunsu Langau then rubbed Tambap’s hands with the “ear stone” and the “lucky stone” charms. From then onward he had amazing powers of hearing and never failed to understand what people were saying.
“From now on, Tambap, you shall be able to hear for long distances; as long as you can make out people’s voices, however faint they might be, you will be able to understand what they are saying, just as we flies always know where rotten things are to be found.”
When she had finished, Tambap began his journey again. He traveled all day until he reached a house at the top of a mountain. He stepped up to the foot of the entrance ladder and called up from the ground below.
“May I enter your house.”
“Yes, please enter”, replied the voice of an old woman from inside. Having received him, the old woman asked, “Where do you come from and what is the purpose of your visit?”
“I come from Nanga Engkaramoh, downstream from Gellong,” Tambap replied, “and I am traveling in search of my father Gadu who lives at Perenching Tisi Langit Kuning Baka Siring Tangkang Burong, Di Selasa Ujan Nyala Baka Tangga Gempong Jabong.”
“Oh, then you are my classificatory grandchild, for Gadu is my cousin’s son. I am known to people as Antu Ribam”, said the old woman. She then called for her daughter, Dayang Ketupang Dayang Lingkau, Endu Berunu Pandau Ligau, who was weaving in the loft. She came down from the loft and the two women conversed with Tambap. Later Tambap spent the night there. The next morning, as they were talking, he asked what the name of their country was, and the old woman told him that it was known as Bukit Alun Tenun.
That morning Tambap set out again on his journey in search of his father. He had not gone far before he met the Antu Lembok Puki who tried to urinate on him. At the time he was still close to the house of Antu Ribam. The encounter so frightened Tambap that he could not continue, but turned back and hastily returned to Bukit Alun Tenun. When he reached the house of Antu Ribam, he told his grandmother of his meeting with the Antu Lembok Puki and how it tried to urinate on him. The old woman then gave him a petrified vulva charm (batu puki).
“If the spirit tries to urinate on you again and if you are lucky, its urine will turn to stone, but, if you are unlucky, you will get wet,” Antu Ribam said.
Tambap resumed his journey, now carrying the petrified vulva charm. But this time, the spirit was nowhere to be seen, and he continued on his way unmolested.
Tambap traveled throughout the day, stopping only at dusk when he reached the foot of another mountain. In the distance he saw a great many houses, as numerous as the leaves of the edible bukau plant (yam), but they were unconnected with one another. He went towards one of these houses, which consisted of three doors. When he finally reached the foot of the entrance ladder, he again inquired.
“May I enter your house?”
“Yes, you may, Igat”, answered the-voice of a man from inside the house. “Please come in.”
Tambap was thus welcomed by the man, who aksed, “Where do you come from, Igat, and what brings you here?”
“I come from Nanga Engkaramoh, downstream from Gellong, and I am traveling in search of my father Gadu”, answered Tambap.
“Oh, Gadu and I are cousins, so therefore we are kindred. I am Bunsu Kamba”.
As they talked, Tambap asked why the houses there were not joined together in longhouses.
“Well,” the man replied. “As to that, in the past we had many enemies who tried constantly to attack us. Therefore we built our houses separately, so if they succeeded in burning down some of our houses, others remained where we could stay. If some were burned, in other words, there were always others left standing”, he replied.
“But why did these people want to attack you?”, asked Tambap.
“That was because, long ago we owned a great deal of valuable property, such as jars, precious plates, cups, bowls, and a large piece of gold, the size of a barking deer. All this property we hid long ago under a melebu tree. Incidently, are you able to recognize the melebu tree?”, Bunsu Kamba asked Tambap.
“Not really”, the young man replied. “But people have told me what it looks like. Its trunk is rather whitish, its buttress roots are a little thin, and its leaves are a bit dark and long, like curling smoke. It is thus that people have described it to me.”
That night Tambap stayed in the house of Bunsu Kamba. Before going to sleep, the people persuaded him to accompany them the next morning to search for the melebu tree, as it was apparent that he could recognize it.
Early the next morning they all journeyed into the forest in search of the melebu tree. They found many melebu tree, but they were all still small. At last, after a long search, they found a very large melebu tree with a trunk two fathoms (dua pemerap) in circumference. They set to work at once digging up the earth around its base. In a short time they began to find many valuable plates and bowls, such as chapak kerugi, chapak keremuja, pinggai peturus, pinggai tebal, and others equally precious. But though they continued to work until late in the evening, they still could not discover the piece of gold as large as a barking deer. When it was quite late, they returned home, taking back with them the valuable plates and bowls they had found. That night after dinner, Tambap told the people that he could not go with them to search for the gold the next morning, as he wished to proceed on his journey.
The next morning he continued his travels. Before he set off, Bunsu Kamba asked his daughter, Endu Temuku Tampok Lemba, Dayang Ketupang Runga Taya, to guide Tambap on his way. The two walked the whole morning until they came to a large fig tree (kara). Here Tambap stopped to shoot the birds that had gathered to eat the kara fruit with his blowpipe. The birds that he killed, he gave to the daughter of Bunsu Kamba. Alter waiting for him to finish shooting the birds, the girl told Tambap that she could accompany him no further, but must return home. So they parted company and each went a separate way. It was very lucky for Tambap that Bunsu Kamba’s daughter did not trick him and cause him to loose his way in the forest.
Presently, after journeying from the kara tree, Tambap arrived at the edge of a lake. He was afraid to wade across it, as it was large and looked as if it might be deep. So he recited a prayer, in the manner of Menani Manang Chellong, feeling alone and helpless in the forest.
“Where are you, the gods who watch over me, who created me; I wish to pay a visit to my father Gadu,” So prayed Tambap.
The moment he finished, an undan bird  appeared, coming to carry him across the lake. Tambap climbed onto the undan bird’s back. As it skimmed across the lake, flying fast, the tips of its wings splashed the water, so that Tambap was bathed and his loincloth was soaked. When he reached the other side, he dried himself and his loincloth in the sun. While he was drying himself, he heard someone digging in the ground somewhere out of sight. Although a distance away, he could plainly hear what this person and his companion were saying, because of the power of the “ear stone” charm given to him by Bunsu Langau. He heard the two persons talking, and this is what they said.
“What are you doing?”, he heard one person asking the other.
“I am hiding my ten eggs, for otherwise, if they are not hidden, they will be eaten by Grandfather and Grandmother Gumba”[ 23], the other replied.
Tambap then walked slowly towards the place where he heard the sound of the voices speaking. As he approached, he was seen by Bunsu Beluku, who asked him, “Where are you going, Tambap?”
“I am on my way to visit my father, and I wish you to show me the way”, Tambap answered her.
“Not I”, Bunsu Beluku replied.
“If you do not show me the way to Grandfather Gumba’s house, I will tell him where the ten eggs you value so are hidden”, Tambap threatened. Thus Bunsu Beluku had no choice but to accompany him to Grandfather Gumba’s house. As they approached the house, Bunsu Beluku told Tambap that she could go no closer, as she feared that Grandfather Gumba would eat her. Hearing his walking stick, the beluku turtles always submerge themselves quickly beneath the water.
So Bunsu Beluku took leave of Tambap and the latter went on slowly to Grandfather Gumba’s house. As he climbed the entrance ladder, he saw the old man sitting meditating on the gallery. His head was like the rintong, the bark receptacle used to receive wild honey from the bee trees; his eyes were like the Iban egg plants (buah terong) his teeth like jagged rapids; and his head was huge and totally hairless. He was very pleased when he saw Tambap coming.
“Come here, welcome, grandchild”, he said. He called to his wife, telling her of Tambap’s arrival.
“We gain tonight, like the adze reworked by the smith; we are lucky tonight like the adze handle that is refashioned from wood. For our grandchild has come to visit us this night.” So spoke Antu Sepapa, warmly greeting Tambap. His wife came out of the family room and lovingly embraced Tambap.
“Where are you going, grandchild?”, the wife of Antu Sepapa asked.
“I am going to visit my father Gadu”, he replied.
“Gadu is my cousin’s son”, she said.
Tambap was asked by the couple to stay with them for awhile. He agreed. While he was living with Antu Sepapa  and his wife, Tambap noticed that they kept great stores of smoked and salted meat, which was very coarse in appearance. He also discovered that the spirits never ate rice, but lived only on meat. After he had been living with them for awhile, the couple told him that they wished to sleep. They explained that it was their custom, first, to sleep for half a month and, then, to stay awake for half a month.27 Before they went to sleep, they told Tambap that, while they slept, he should eat the store of smoked and salted meat set aside for him. In addition they gave him a rice pounder (alu), which the spirits said he should strike them with to wake them up, if he encountered trouble while they slept. Having given him these instructions, the couple fell asleep.
The spirits had been sleeping for three days and nights when Tambap got into difficulty. It happened that before he went to sleep he left the salted meat close to where he slept. The delicious smell of the meat attracted a rat (tikus belanda), which approached his sleeping place and bit off the end of his nose which smelled of meat. He was in great pain and cried out, not knowing what to do. He took up the pounder and with it struck the two spirits on the chest. They woke up and started to repair Tambap’s nose. They managed to put the end of his nose back in place again, but the septum was lost, leaving him with only one nostril so that forever afterwards Tambap has spoken with a curious nasal voice (idol ) He stayed for another two or three days and then set out alone again to seek his father.
Thus it was that some days after Tambap temporarily lost the end of his nose, he took leave of Antu Sepapa and his wife and resumed his travels. He journeyed all day alone. The country that he now passed through was low-lying, but densely wooded with huge trees. At dusk he reached the banks of a river, where he saw a woman bathing. She wore brass ornaments on her legs and her hair was just turning grey. When she saw Tambap, she invited him to bathe in the river also. But he declined, saying that he was cold. While he waited for the woman to finish bathing, they talked. He told her that he came from Nanga Engkaramoh, downstream from Gellong, and was on his way to visit his father Gadu. The woman was very surprised to hear this, because Gadu was her husband and she had never heard that he had had another wife. Tambap, too, was surprised. After she finished her bath, the woman accom¬panied Tambap to her longhouse. His father Gadu was very happy to see his son, after so many years, and greeted him affectionately when they arrived. His father looked after him and his step-mother treated him just as if he was her own child. The food he was given was much better than that provided by Antu Sepapa, but Tambap’s original voice never returned.
After staying for four days with his father and step-mother, Tambap told them that he must return to Nanga Engkaramoh because his mother lived alone with no one to help her. But his father and step-mother persuaded him to stay with them for another two days. That night, after they had all gone to sleep, the sound of the ngingit beetle was heard. This beetle is thought by those who are foolish to blind anyone it finds asleep. Hearing the sound of the ngingit beetle, Tambap’s step-mother quickly woke him up. In order to frighten the beetle away, she called out.
“We are all awake.”
After Tambap had heard the voice of the ngingit and was told of its habit of plucking out the eyes of anyone it finds asleep, he came to fear it greatly. From then on, he was afraid whenever he heard its voice.
Two days later, the time came when he could no longer postpone his departure for home. Before he left, his father asked him to choose a knife to take with him, as he was an expert blacksmith. Among the many that were offered, Tambap chose a single kris for its fascinating workmanship. He also chose a rattan hat decorated with human hair (ujok bok) and a woven baju kechepak tunic. From his step-mother he accepted only a cooking spatula (sendok), and asked for none of the ubat jedian, or wealth increasing charms, she owned. After he had chosen the spatula, his step-mother told him that it had special powers and whoever licked it would not be hungry again for seven days afterwards. After all was made ready, and these things were given to Tambap, his father and step-mother led him down to the river landing. For in returning home, he had decided to travel by river, making use of his father’s jong boat, which was three fathoms long and one fathom wide.
Setting off, Tambap allowed himself to be carried downstream by the current. Before long he again met the undan bird.
“Oh, you, Tambap. Beware! There is a stone island ahead; you must not approach it, or otherwise a great calamity (kudi) will occur. It is Cat Island (Pulau Kudi Mayau)”, said the undan bird.
But Tambap paid no heed to the bird’s counsel. Instead, he paddled on carelessly and so presently his boat ran against the rock. At once the sky grew dark, a storm arose and waves threatened to sink the boat. But luckily it stayed afloat, and as the storm subsided, Tambap found himself at the town of Ribai Dayak. At the landing place he saw a large trading vessel anchored. He steered his boat toward the shore, but as the water was still rough, he could only reach the stern of the large boat, and there he secured his own boat.
In this way Tambap came to spend the night aboard his perau. During the night he heard the Malays who owned the boat talking. They were from the kingdom of Raja Suran, located beneath Gunong Mesuat mountain. They had arranged a guessing contest, called belujum, with the people of Ribai Dayak. They planned to wager their large boat full of valuable cargo against the Kayu Sagu Alu, a magical tree belonging to the people of Ribai Dayak. If anyone of Ribai Dayak could guess correctly the number of sebih fruit inside a sack they carried aboard the boat, the boat and its cargo would be theirs. The correct number, which Tambap overheard them mention, was one hundred and ten fruit. If, on the other hand, the people guessed wrongly, then the Kayu Sagu Alu, the magical tree which gave its owners whatever they wished for, would be theirs. Listening carefully, Tambap thus heard the Malays say that the number of sebih fruit was one hundred and ten, due to his acute hearing.
The next morning, Tambap went to the jetty not far from where the belujum contest was to be held. He took with him the kris that his father had given him and put on the ujok bok hat and the baju kechepak tunic. He was a tall man, but appeared even taller in the plaited rottan selapok hat. He was a large man, but appeared even larger wearing the woven cotton shirt. His appearance was truly handsome and imposing.
“Come here, sir”, said the Malays, welcoming Tambap. “Let us start the belujum contest.”
“But first, please tell me, what is the meaning of belujum?”, Tambap asked, pretending not to know.
“Belujum means that if you successfully guess the number of sebih fruit inside this sack, you will win our boat; but if you guess wrongly, you loose the Kayu Sagu Alu”, the Malays answered.
Still feigning ignorance, Tambap accepted the wager. Then he spun himself around and around, holding, as he did so, the kris given him by his father. This he did in order to fool the Malays, as he already knew the number of fruit in the sack. Then he stopped, and said.
“One hundred and ten fruit is the answer.”
“Alas, we are beaten”, said the Malays. “Our boat belongs to you.”
“I do not wish to take your boat, for then you will have nothing to sail home in”, Tambap replied.
And so it was that he took only the valuable cargo, consisting of brass-wares, like large tawak gongs, different sounding engkurumong gongs, drums, and other things, which he transfered to his own boat. Having finished loading, Tambap departed from the country of Ribai Dayak, where he had so easily gained great riches.
For a long time he paddled his boat downriver, until he reached the country of Batu Titi Ba Nanga Bepampang Tujoh Nanga Saka Ulak Jawa, Ai Beranti Tujoh Nanga. He landed his boat and went directly into a house standing nearby. Entering, he was surprised to meet Simpulang Gana.
“Oh, I have not met you for a long time”, said Simpulang Gana, welcoming Tambap.
“Yes, we have not met for quite some time”, replied Tambap. As they talked, Tambap asked Simpulang Gana, “Why have you come to this country?”
“The situation is this”, said Simpulang Gana. “I have married Endu Serentum Tanah Tumboh, the daughter of Raja Semarugah. After our marriage, we went for the nyundang pinang rite to the house of my elder sister, Dayang Putong Kempat. One day my sister was taking a bath in the river immediately downstream from my wife. We had warned her against doing this, but she paid no heed to our warnings. Afterwards, the lower part of her body became rotten. Our efforts at treatment failed to cure her. As a last resort, we set her adrift downriver. Fortunately, Ini Manang found her, took her away, refashioned her body and restored her beauty. After that Pati Melayu Raja Bunsu purchased her from Ini Manang for a stone charm, a batu pengajih.  I am now visiting her and my brother-in-law, and that is why you meet me here.”
Simpulang Gana then continued his story, saying that he had come particularly at this time because his brother-in-law was at war with Raja Kumbang. “So far we have not been able to defeat his forces. This is because we have not been able to drink a gourdful of water, and thus Kumbang’s troops are able to attack us. We would be grateful for your help”, Simpulang Gana told Tambap.
“If you have need of my assistance, I would be willing to help in anyway I can”, Tambap replied.
That night Tambap instructed the followers of Pati Melayu Raja Bunsu to gather all the entawa fruit they could find. He then ordered them to throw the fruit into Raja Kumbang’s fort. Next morning, when Raja Kumbang’s troops rose, they rushed at each other, trying to get the entawa fruit, mistaking them for gold. As they struggled with each other, the fort was left defenceless and in disaray. In this state, the followers of Pati Melayu Puteri Bunsu were able to slip through the defenses and enter the fort. Thus Raja Kumbang was defeated and he and many of his followers were taken captive. Raja Kumbang begged for mercy, asking Simpulang Gana not to kill him or his followers. In return for sparing their lives, Raja Kumbang promised to supply Simpulang Gana with boats anytime he might need them. Raja Kumbang was able to make this promise because he possessed a follower, Gadin, who snared deer for him; another, Meliba, who netted fish for him at the river mouth; Mawing who rolled his cigarettes; and Mambu who wore a coat with tinkling bells, and among his kinsmen were many expert boat-builders and other skilled artisans.
After that Pati Melayu Puteri Bunsu took Tambap to be his brother-in-law, as a token of gratitude for his help in defeating Raja Kumbang.
The next day Tambap left the country of Pati Melayu and journeyed up river to Gellong. Simpulang Gana also departed, setting off up the Limau Janting river. When Tambap arrived at Nanga Engkaramoh, many people came down to the landing place to greet him. They helped him carry his riches. His mother was overjoyed to see him return safely with so much property.
Sometime after his return from visiting his father, Tambap’s mother decided that the time had come for her son to marry, seeing that he was now a man of wealth. Thus it came about that a marriage was arranged between Tambap and Chelegit of Gellong. Although Tambap spoke with a very curious, nasal voice, he was, nonetheless, a very rich man, so that none of the prominent men of Gellong, such as Simpurai, Keling, or Pungga, raised objections. Following his marriage, he built a fine house for himself entirely of iron-wood. From this marriage, Tambap had a daughter, Kumang Begok, and sons, Aloi, Atop, and Imba. Later he came to be known as Apai Aloi, or Father of Aloi, from the name of his eldest son. But in his actions, Tambap behaved, and displayed a mentality very different from other important people, and his subsequent doings are described in many stories.
1. I wish to acknowledge, with gratitude, the invaluable assistance of Benedict Sandin who carefully corrected and commented upon an earlier draft of the ensera text and translation recorded here.
2. Gellong, or Gellong Batu Benang, is the legendary settlement of the spiritual heroes and heroines who are led by Tutong and Ngelai (see Sandin 1977: 188).
3. The Antu Nguap is a spirit that is believed to live in secluded places. Here it may be heard by passersby making a yawning sound, nguap, hence its name. On the Paku River there is a deep pool called Lubok Nguap where the voice of this spirit is said to be often heard by river travelers and fishermen.
4. The panggal benih, literally the “seed pillow”, is a small plot within a family’s rice field in which its sacred strains of rice are planted (see Sandin 19§7c: 252). Planted here, too, are flowers (bunga tanam) and other sacred plants, meant to safeguard and give pleasure to the padi. Flowers planted in the field are typically collected and dried above the hearth and later burned when spirits are invoked.
5. The belia is the hardwood beater used with the Iban back loom.
6. Ansang keli and kelupa bating are among the foods prohibited to children because of a belief that they cause those who eat them to grow up dull-witted and forgetful.
7. The badi andai is a type of knife carried traditionally by Iban warriors; the beaded selapok hat was traditionally worn by warriors on the warpath or when attending festivals.
8. Perenching Tisi Langit Kuning baka Siring Tangkong Burong. This name means, literally, “The country at the edge of the sky where the sun sets, which glitters brightly like the beak of the (hornbill) bird”. The remainder of the name, “Selasa Ujan Nyala baka Tangga Gempong Jabong”, is a poetic description of its beauty with a characteristic martial emphasis, literally, “passed by the sun-lite rain like the tufts of hair that decorate the handle and scabbard of the warrior’s sword’*. Elements of this name, particularly the sunset (langit kuning), sun-lite rain (ujan nyala) and the edge of the sky (tisi langit), have special meaning in Iban spiritual cosmology. Thus the association of Tambap’s father with the edge of the sky, where the sun sets, identifies him with the realm of the demon huntsmen, or antu gerasi.
9. Bunsu Ruai is the argus pheasant goddess.
10. Lua is a difficult concept to translate, but basically it refers to anything ejected from an animal, bird, fish, reptile, or human being. In this context, it refers to stone charms ejected by the rhinoceros hornbill (kenyalang).
11. Concepts related to the Iban notion of puni are wide-spread among the indigenous people of Borneo and the Malayan Peninsula. Most commonly puni describes a supernatural punishment that follows upon refusal to accept an offer of hospitality, particularly a refusal to partake in food or drink offered by others. The concept also sanctions the requirement to proffer hospitality, for, puni may also befall those from whom hospitality is withheld. In very general terms, anyone who experiences deprivation may suffer puni, whether this is a result of his refusal to accept hospitality or is due to the failure of others to offer it, including even sexual deprivation, as is implied here. Punishment most commonly takes the form of the sufferer being bitten by an animal, particularly a reptile, generally a venomous snake or crocodile.
12. Here Tambap is making a humorous play on a common Iban metaphor which likens the well-formed breasts of a woman to fruit of the kepayang tree (Pangium edule). He suggests, ungallantly, that Bunsu Ruai’s breasts resemble not the fruit, but the fruit stems.
13. A type of charm that protects the traveler from spiritual and human danger.
14. From its name, presumably a spirit in the form of a vulva.
15. “Igat” is a common Iban name of endearment (buah gaga’ or buah ayah), used for a boy or young man by his parents, grandparents or other senior kinsmen.
16. Chief of the Antu Kamba. The latter are elusive forest dwarfs, generally ill-disposed towards human beings, who are thought to dwell in downriver forests where they feed upon the sour fruit of the maram palm (called buah asam paya by the Saribas Malays).
17. Here the reduplication of words in the Iban text, e.g. burak-burak, etc., indicates uncertainty. Tambap is stressing that he has only heard these things described; he does not know them himself for certain.
18. Pemerap is an Iban measure of circumference. A tree is one pemerap in circumference if a man, placing his chest against the trunk and extending his arms around each side, can just touch his finger tips together at back of the trunk. Two pemerap are measured by two men standing at opposite sides of the trunk.
19. The names given by the Iban to different kinds of ceramic bowls and plates.
20. It is commonly believed that the Antu Kamba causes people, particularly children, to lose their way in the forest. In doing so, it often appears in a human form to misdirect the unwary traveler. One such incident involving a mother, her child and a small girl occurred at Teru, Rimbas, while I was staying in the Saribas in April, 1977.
21. A legendary shaman of mythic times; not to be confused with the famous “transformed” Manang Chellong of the Saribas (Sandin 1957).
22. Burong undan is the Wreathed hornbill (Aceros undulatus, Shaw). This bird has special spiritual associations to the Iban. Its spiritual home is mentioned in the timang (along chants of the Gawai Antu) and it figures as a messenger that carries food oflerings to the spirits of the dead at the end of the initial period of mourning (pana).
23. Mythical tortoises that are thought to attain great size.
24. Chief of the beluku; the latter are mythical river turtles.
25. The reference is to the supposed predatory habits of the ancient Gumba tortoises.
26. Here the identity of Tambap’s host is revealed as the Antu Sepapa, or Antu Gerasi Papa, the most fearsome of all the demon huntsmen.
27. The roaming of the Antu Gerasi Papa is associated with the middle phase of the lunar month. During this period, for approximately half of each month, from the 10th to the 25th day, and reaching, a peak during the full moon, these spirits are thought to wander abroad in search of victims. Thus Antu Sepapa and his wife remain awake for half of the month, during the time they hunt the earthly world for human “game”. For the remainder of the lunar month, these spirits are thought to be inactive.
28. This form of speech is called idol. As was mentioned, when the story-teller recites the speech of Apai Aloi, he frequently adopts such a voice, which adds, of course, to the comic effect of the character he creates.
29. The name of this beetle is onomatopoetic and derives from the shrill sound it makes, “ngit-ngit”. Howell and Bailey, in their Sea Dayak Dictionary (1900: 109), write of the call of the ngingit beetle: “When heard at midnight everyone wakes up and turns 0ut, even the children are roused. It is believed that if this omen is disregarded the hearer will suffer blindness”. In fact, however, adult Iban do not ordinarily believe this story and here the fact that Tambap takes it seriously is seen as an indication of his foolishness. His wife, Indai Aloi, often plays upon his credulity and imitates the ngingit’s call to frighten her husband, (cf. Sandin 1960: 640). Curiously enough, Howell and Bailey appear to take this belief at face value. Indai Aloi, who is sometimes represented as being as silly as her husband, has a somewhat similar fear of the berukap (frogs). Sometimes at night children are admonished to behave properly or, it is said, the berukap will bite them on the backside. In this connection, it should be remembered that Tambap fables are told to children and the latter, when still young, are often intimidated by adults into obedience with frightening tales relating to the calls of insects and animals heard at night.
30. The ujok bok is a rattan hat decorated with the hair of enemies worn traditionally by Iban war leaders of the Saribas. It was worn on war expeditions and to the Gawai Burong festival. The baju kechepak is a cotton tunic which was formerly woven by the wife of a warrior for him to don on important festive occasions.
31. Ribai Dayak was a legendary Dayak community which is believed to have flourished in Western Borneo in ancient times, before the Iban migrated to Sarawak.
32. The identity of the kingdom referred to here is uncertain and may, perhaps, be purely mythical. There is no actual mountain by the name of Gunong Mensuat known to the present day Iban of Saribas.
33. The Iban agricultural god (see Sandin 1967d).
34. The porcupine king.
35. The first formal visit paid by a newly wedded couple to the bride’s longhouse after marriage; generally marked by a brief celebration.
36. This reference to an elder sister (aka’) of Simpulang Gana is troublesome. In the most complete summary account of nis spiritual ancestry, based on ritual texts and other oral sources Sandin 1967c: 245-49, 1968:,1-5, 1977: 185), Simpulang Gana is represented as having only one sister, who is younger than himself, Ini Inda, mentioned below (note 37). Association of Dayang Putong Kempat with Simpulang Gana is singularly unusual. This is not to suggest that mythic traditions concerned with the gods are necessarily in full agreement. However, this particular reference appears dubious also because of its connection with nyundang pinang, which is a visit to the wife’s relatives, not those of the husband.
37. Ini Manang, also known as Ini Andan, Ini Indee Rabong Hari, or Ini Inda Rabong Menoa, is the divine healer, or shaman goddess, and is generally thought to be Simpulang Gana’s younger sister (see note 36).
38. This charm is possessed only by the gods and spiritual heroes and gives its owner the power to perform miracles.
39. When ripe, the skin of the entawa fruit is golden colored.
40. Figuratively the description here is meant to indicate his wealth and numerous following.
41. Here Lemambang Luat is being careless, perhaps. Strictly speaking, Simpurai, Laja, Keling and Pangga are leaders and warriors of Panggau Libau, not Gellong, although in Iban belief, they are closely related to the heroes of Gellong.
42. Iban naming practice is complex, but as a general rule, personal names are avoided between adults and teknonyms are used instead. These are generally taken from the name of the first-born child or grandchild, preferably a son or grandson. Thus Tambap and Chelegit are known as Apai Aloi and Indai Aloi, “Father of Aloi” and “Mother of Aloi As Lemambang Luat states here, Aloi is the name of their eldest son, but there are many regional variations on this name, e.g., Saloi, Sali-Ali and others.
Howell, William and D.J.S. Bailey:
1900: A Sea Dayak Dictionary. Singapore: American Mission Press. Jung, C.G.
1956: On the Psychology of the Trickster Figure. IN: Paul Radin, ed. The Trickster, A Study in American Indian Mythology. New York: Philo¬sophical Library.
1957: Salang changes his sex. Sarawak Museum Journal, 8(10): 146-152.
1962: Tragi-comic Tales of Apai Salui Sarawak Museum Journal 9:638—647.
1965a: Apai Saloi catches a Tok Tuak bird. Sarawak Gazette (May 31,1965), 91 (1287): 155-156.
1965b: Apai Saloi sells salted durian paste, tempuyak. Sarawak Gazette (June 30, 1965), 91 (1288): 191-192.
1965c: Apai Saloi eats the deer meat. Sarawak Gazette (October 31, 1965), 91 (1292): 304-305.
1965d: Apai Salui and Apai Sumang Umang build new houses. Sarawak Gazette (November 30, 1965), 91 (1293): 339-340.
1965e: Apai Salui with sago flour. Sarawak Gazette (December 31, 1965), 91 (1294): 378-379.
1967a: Apai Salui sleeps with a corpse.-Sarawak Museum Journalt 15 (30/31): 223-227.
1967b: The Sea Dayaks of Borneo before White Rajah Rule. London: Macmillan.
1967c: Simpulang or Pulang Gana. The founder of Dayak agriculture. Sarawak Museum Journal, 15 (30/31): 245-406.
1968: Raja Simpulang Gana. Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.
1977: Gawai Burong: The Chants and Celebrations of the Iban Bird Festival Penang: Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia.
In preparation. Iban Adat and Augury. Penang: Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia.
1978: Iban Apai Aloi Fables and the Story of how Indai Aloi lost and regained her vulva. Sarawak Gazette (October 31, 1978). 104 (1445): 163.
This article is copied directly from my collection of published articles written by Professor Clifford Sather. A tribute to him for painstakingly doing the research and compiling all these data from a bedridden man, late Lemambang Luat together with Late Benedict Sandin in order to preserve our Iban cultural heritage which could easily be lost forever.
Copyright: This is an open-access article which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited as Gregory Nyanggau Mawar, Iban Cultural Heritage website at https://gnmawar.wordpress.com The author has declared that no competing interests exist.
This page has the following sub pages.
- Ensera Jubang
- Ensera Asal Penatai Apai Aloi (Iban Version)
- Ensera Lama Iban
- Ensera Engkajemu Seduai Engkajuang
- Ensera Gajah Lelang
- Ensera Malu Tekuyong
- Ensera Mimpi Rimau
- Ensera Pelandok Numbit Bandir Tapang
- Ensera Puntat
- Ensera Tekura Abis Akal
- Ensera Tekura Pechah Kerubong
- Ensera Telu Baya
- Jerita Antu Kara
- Ensera Mali Tiong
- Ensera Anak Mit Vol.1