Iban’s Custom and Cultures: The Origin of Adat Nguai


Previously, I’ve posted the post about ‘Nguai’ in Iban. So I thought of, its about time to translate them into English – And add up a little info that I missed in the sister post. – Where did Nguai tradition came from?

          In the ancient days, the Ibans were very particular about their daughters and sons going to marry. This was because ‘nguai’ was a very important issue in the social and economic system of the Iban people.– In the modern day of Iban, though the ‘Nguai’ system seems not so significant anymore, but its a tradition that will take place during the wedding ceremony. And mostly, people nowaday will choose ‘Tengah Hari’, means not ‘Nguai’ to anybody.

Basically, there are 2 adat exists in the ‘Tikah Iban’
1. Ambi Indu – (Take the women – The women will ‘Nguai’ to her husband.
2. Anjung Lelaki – (Send the man – The man will ‘Nguai’ to his wife.

Some you may wonder, what is this ‘Nguai’ anyway? 

          Nguai is a practice to decide whether the woman should stay with her own family (Not Nguai to her husband) or not (Nguai to her husband) after the marriage, and VICE VERSA. 

          Should an Iban family has only a daughter, her intended husband and his family should agree to let him live with the girl’s family. His social status would then be of a son-in-law who becomes a part of the family – physically, socially and economically. If his family did not agree with the terms and conditions, the mariage will not take place and the girl’s family will have to find another suitor. However, if the man is the only son in the family, then his family sets the rule. The marriage would not take place if the girl’s family did not agree with his rules. 

So, where did this practice came from?

          There is a folktale pertaining to the tradition which has passed down in Ulu Skrang. 

          Lemiah, a fair Iban maiden, came from a good family who owned a lot of jars, padi fields, silver ornaments and brassware. They were well-known for their generousity. She was an only child and it brought a great deal of sadness to the family as they had to be on a look out for a son-in-law who could stay with them. From a very early age, Lemiah demonstrated her intelligence and friendliness. She had made friends with all the children in the long house, particularly, a good boy named Assan who had a little limp. All the children helped in the padi fields belonging to their own family. Both Lemiah and Assan were the best little workers in the padi fields and everyone admired them for their speed and diligence. 

          Soon, it was time for Lemiah’s parents to decide with whom Lemiah should be married to. A young man from another long house was selected and the family and kinfolks were over the moon. There could not have been a better choice. Lemiah, however, was disappointed that Assan was not the chosen one. Her famiy thought Assan was not suitable for her. Worst of all, he could not leave his house to live with her family as he too was the only child.

          Assan was sad when he heard that Lemiah was to marry someone else and went into the jungle to hunt. After many days of travelling, he was weakened by his sorrow. However, his guardian spirit came to his aid in the form of a hornbill. The hornbill understood his good intentions and deep love for Lemiah. So he told Assan to ask Lemiah to follow him to the waterfall next to the long house on the next full moon before she was to be married. Assan was not sure what would be the outcome, but he believed in his guardian spirit and did as he was told. On the night of the full moon, Lemiah left the long house only too willingly to follow Assan. 

However, just as they reached the waterfall, the gongs in the long house were sounded and the villagers came afterthem. They had broken the customs and Lemiah had broken her marriage vows. The anger of the families permeated the whole forest and caused the leaves to tremble. The sound of the gongs echoued through the hills. Lemiah and Assan were trapped as they could not cross the waterfall. At last, they jumped into the water. The villagers were shocked by this desperate act and returned home empty handed. Lemiah’s parents were heartbroken for they had lost their only child. Assan’s family too was saddened and they took the blame for causing this shame. 

          They had to pay their fines and also had to move out from the long house. Such was the punishment dealt out by the headman.

Kitai Iban sigi patut bekunsika buah penemu ti manah enggau pangan diri, baka ke beduaka lampang rusa, bebagika lampang babi, ngenjuk lampang pelanduk, betetakka lampang bayak. Ngambika utai ti berat tau nyadi lempung, utai simpi tau segala, utai bingkuk tau lurus. Bekunsi kitai buah penemu ti manah enggau pangan diri ngambi ke bansa kitai tau pegari ditemu dunya, bediri sama tinggi, duduk sama pemaruh enggau bansa bukai. - Nadai salah mejah seruri, sigi endang dianti-anti. :)

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