AJAT ENGGAU GENDANG IBAN (DANCES AND MUSIC)
The Iban perform many kinds of dances accompanied by the music of gongs and drums. These dances include the ngajat, bapencha, bakuntau, main karichap, 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.
Compiled by Gregory N. Mawar