Category Archives: Rampa Menua

Iban’s Myth and History: Migration from Kapuas River Part 1


In these very early times, because of the presence of spirits all around them, settlers in Borneo frequently discussed the nature and dwelling place of the gods and spirits, to find the best way to worship and pay respect to them. The Muslim missionaries had already started to arrive to trade and spread their Islamic teachings to this part of the country. They had already established their foothold in the islands of Sumatra and Java and gradually weakened the Hindu Majapahit Empire. 

It was at about this time, at a place called Ketapang in Northwest Kalimantan, there lived a very famous Iban ancestor named Bejie. The Muslim missionaries had frequently spoken of the almighty god named Allah whose abode is high in the sky.  The people began to believe that this god is living above all other deities of this world. On hearing this, Bejie thought of an idea to visit the almighty Allah in the sky to ask god personally about the best way for his people to worship and pay respect to god. He called for a large meeting of his people to discuss the construction of a stairway, on the tallest enchepong tree in the country, to reach heaven. They all agreed to his proposal hoping that they could reach god’s house in heaven.

The ladder was constructed from ironwood (belian) trunk. The base of the ladder was planted at the base of the enchepong tree branches to reach the next branch. Eventually, after some years, the top of the ladder stood above the cloud. As Bejie and his men, all dressed up to visit almighty Allah in the sky, made a final climb to heaven. As they proceed up the ladder, the enchepong tree unfortunately gave way due to the sheer weight of the ironwood ladder. Its root had been rotten and eaten away by termites throughout the construction period. As the ladder collapsed, Bejie and his followers fell headlong to the earth. The ladders landed on various rivers throughout the west-central Borneo. Any ironwood trunk which may be found inside many rivers, are known as “Tangga Bejie”, and it is a taboo to use it to construct any part of the longhouse as it would bring bad omen to the house owner.

Before the construction of the ladder, Bejie had assigned his brother named Bada to lead his people. Bejie had also begot a son named Nisi whose praised name was “Bunga besi enda semaia makai tulang”. Nisi begot a son named Antu Berembayan Bulu Niti Berang who was the father of Telichu, Telichai and Ragam. Ragam was the mother of Manang Jarai (or Manang Tuai – the first Iban shaman).

After the death of Bejie, their people moved to Kayung. There were other Iban along the coast at the time, especially at Trusan Tanjong Bakong and in general around the mouth of Kapuas River. After Bejie’s descendant had settled there for quite sometime, Arab traders arrived in large sailing ship from Jeddah. They do barter trade with the Ibans exchanging clothes and spices for rice and jungle products. This was the first time the Iban had ever seen woven clothes. Before then, they had only lion clothes and skirts made from barks of trees.

As more Arab traders and Muslim missionary came to trade with the Ibans, many Ibans were converted to this new faith. Soon, divisions began to appear among the Iban leaders between those who adopted the Muslim faith and those who still followed traditional beliefs. Those who chose to follow traditional ways of life began to separate themselves and moved up river in large number. Those who were prepared to accept Islamic teachings, stayed at Kayung. They began to call themselves the Malay of Pontianak, Sampit, Kayung, Sukadana and Sambas. In time, they began to marry new Malays who had come to trade in Kalimantan, especially the traders from Minangkabau in Sumatra.

Due to the tolerances of the Iban people, no reported incidents were recorded in their songs with regards to this manner of separation or with Muslims in particular. This tolerance has been the major factor that contributes to the prosperity and harmony of the Iban people living together with other people of different races and religions to this present day. Infact, the Ibans thrive well under this circumstance because they are hardworking people, a tribute found in the pioneering spirits of their ancestors. Only those who were crazy for power and wealth brought major conflict to this country, not the tolerant and resilient Ibans.

The Ibans then moved further up the Kayung until they reached a place called Ulu Landak. After settling there for sometimes, some of them migrated up the Melawi River. After settling along the banks of Melawi River for three generations, their leaders, Raja Ningkan, Sagan-Agan, Bedali and Jugah called for a large meeting to discuss further migrations. They agreed to migrate and separate from their relatives, and they built many large boats with the help of those who wished to remain behind. It is also to be noted that all the material wealth or properties that the Iban people value today is the same as that which was valued by the people of Malawi in the past, especially the old Chinese jars and brasswares.

From Melawi, they separated and moved to the Sintang River where the passed a large areas of farmland. They looked for the owner of the farmland and were told that the farmland owner had moved to Pontianak and that they could farm there that year only as the informer could not guarantee that the owner would not return to reclaim the land. They started to plant padi that year and had a bountiful harvest. After the harvest, they left the area to live at the mouth of Sintang River for one year.

From Nanga Sintang, the Iban went up the Kapuas where they meet other people. They found that not many people had settled along the right bank of the Kapuas River, as majority of them preferred to live along the more fertile land of the left bank. From the main Kapuas River, they went up the Sakayam tributary. From the mouth of this river, all lands on both banks are owned by the Mualang Dayaks. It took them two full days to reach the first Mualang Dayak Longhouse from its mouth. They stayed only a few nights in the Mualang Dayak Longhouse.

In their conversation with the Mualangs, Jugah and Bedali told the Mualangs the story of their movements since they left the Kayung settlement. They told the Mualangs that they had separated from their relatives who had been converted to Muslims by the Arab missionaries to avoid conflict and religious persecution. They told them that they had lived in the Melawi and had migrated down the Sintang River to look for new lands in which to settle. They asked the Mualangs whether they might give them land to live on. The Mualangs told them that although there was still a lot of virgin forest on both banks of the Sakayam, as the Iban had seen, all the land belongs along both banks had been claimed by them from its mouth up to the settlement they had reached.

The Mualang further told the Iban that all the lands above their settlement belonged to the Chengkang Dayaks, and then further up to Balai Kerangan, the land belonged to the Sebaru Dayaks. All land beyond that belonged to the Remun Dayaks.

The Iban told the Mualang that they did not want to migrate further and wished to settle alongside the Mualang there. The Mualang agree only if the Iban agreed to live in the same longhouse with them. The Iban finally agreed to live in the same longhouse with the Mualang. They lived many years with them, and a great number of them intermarried, becoming Mualang.

After the Iban had greatly multiplied; they separated from the Mualang and moved to the Sanggau River. Here they lived much closed to the Bugau Dayaks. After some years of staying there, the moved to Semitau under their chiefs, Raja Ningkan, Jenua, Jugah, Rawing, Jimbun, Sagan-Agan and Jengkuan. All these chiefs were brave men. Due to their bravery and aggressiveness, all other Dayaks were afraid of them.


Iban’s MYTH and History: Migrations and the Origins of Iban Culture

In ancient times, when the island of Borneo was still only sparsely inhabited, those who dwelled there lived in fear of many kinds of demons, dwarfs and spirits. These beings might either look after men or else punish them with death if they broke taboos.

As spirits (antu) were everywhere, men had to be very careful in what they said and did. They could not speak arrogantly when they fished the river or hunted the forests. If they did so, boasting that they could easily obtained fish or game, their efforts would come to nothing. 

Then, this is where, we have ‘Jaku Kelaung’ (indirect), which the spirit couldn’t understand.

Instead of 
1. Aku deka nginti pagila (Im going to fishing tomorrow) – Which is wrong (Direct, the Spirits understand them)
We use,
2. Aku deka “Bemain Ai” (Nginti/Fishing) nganti hari “Bekalih Batang” (Pagila/Tomorrow)

Similarly, an individual was strictly forbidden to mock other living things; if he did so, the spirit would destroy him with kudi, a violent supernatural storm in which a culprit and all his belongings were turned to stone (batu kudi).
Houses and human beings believed to have been petrified in the past can still be seen in many places in Sarawak.

Selamat Pulai Bujang Berani

Saritu pungka laki berasai nyamai di lempuang tangkai ati,
sepengudah pegi ngetan ka nengeri,
saritu pulai ka menua diri,
begulai ngau sida ambai peruji ati ka udah duluk ngejang pegi.

Naka pengaga di lempuang kandang dada, 
keno melanyi anak sendia,
laban saritu pulai ka menua amai,
sepengudah lama ngejang,
ngetan ka menua kitai.

Iban nyentuk bebadi nyawa laya sulai,
badu meh sida tusah ati, 
laban ka saritu sida anak ayam bujang gangam kitai,
deka begulai enggu sida ka udah rimpi laya padam,
ka udah dulu pulai ka sebayan…

Selamat Pulai Bujang Berani…

Dikarang: Philip Johnny (Rengayung Miri)

Iban Longhouse Architecture

Trace back my posting history, the very last were written back to the end of last year. So this is my 1st posting for the year 2011. I’m sorry for being such a lazy butt but half of the 2011 have been a busy months for me. But anyway, thanks to those who came and stop by my blog though there haven’t been any updates for last 7 months.

Today, I’d like to answer the questions that have been popped in my email for several times, –  Longhouse Archutecture

I’m sorry to keep you waiting (those who asked) – Thus, I recommend that if you have questions that need a quicker response, please ask me via twitter at ( @AllenCharlie ).

        One of the common social-cultural characterisrics shared by the indigenous communities of Borneo is their dwelling structure – The longhouse architecture, where a whole village lived under one roof with each family owning individual apartment and its related space. 

I will explain the respective functions of the basic structure of every longhouse.

1. Tanju (Open Gallery):
The space used for this part is mainly for activities that require the use of outdoor and sunshine, such as drying rice, pepper, othet crops and clothes. Here it is also used for ceremonial performances during ritual festivals (Gawai) such as offering (Miring).

2. Ruai (Rofted Gallery):
This is the covered gallery for multi-purpose daily avtivities, such as mending tools, making fishing nets, weaving mats or ceremonial blankets (pua kumbu). It is also a place for meeting, entertaining visitors to the longhouse. It is a sleeping area (Pantar) for unmarried men, and male visitors. Ritual performances are also conducted here, especially for funeral ceremonies (Rabat). It can be said that the ruai is one of the most important aspects of longhouse living that provide space for interactions between residents (Randau Ruai), especially for bringing up children and their schooling in customs and cultures of the community.

3. Tempuan (Common Walkway):
The narrow space that is between the bilek and the ruai that runs lengthwise from one end of the longhouse to the other is known as tempuan. This space is in fact the proper passage-way along the longhouse. It is an accepted practice to walk along this passage rather than use of ruai when one move from one bilek to the otger. The reason for this is that the tempuan is commonly owned, whereas the ruai spaces is individually owned by the family that has the ruai facing their bilek. At the end of the tempuan are the entrances that lead to the house ladders (Tangga Rumah). In the past when rice has to be milled manually, the women folks used the tempuan as a place to husk (Nampi) and pound (Nutuk) the rice.

4. Bilek (Family Apartment)
This is the family room for members to have their meals and privacy, when they wish to be away from the rest of the household. It is the place where the family’s heirloom and properties are kept, such as tajau etc. Married men and women folks sleep in there. Here also is where cooking is done and the family has their meals. In some modern longhouse, the apartment inside is large enough to have several divisions to serve as saperated bedrooms.

5. Sadau (Loft):
The loft is mainly use for storing farm implements and the year’s rice supply of the family. It was used in the past as sleeping place for the family’s young unmarried women. Nowaday, modern longhouses use the loft as family’s bedroom. Some longhouse kept the tradition passed down enemy’s head (Antu Pala) in this area, normally at the loft spaces of the head of the longhouse (Tuai Rumah).

The above are the different sections and individual functions of an Iban longhouse. 

In general, other Borneo’s ethnic longhouses have similiar section and functions. Iban’s longhouse example does give the general outline of longhouse architecture, and a general impression of longhouse living, that are common to all ethnic groups who have adopted the longhouse system.

My Childhood’s Longhouse Experience

Like me, some of you may have grown up in the era of wooden longhouses, built from the ground up by our forefathers.

Normally these type of houses are built far from the city, surrounded by fruit trees, chickens and lots of green which make up a natural playground.

As an Iban kid who born in 1980s, I used to play in this kind of environment. I loved playing with grass, stones, puddles, mud, building wooden bridges, dams and canals. It’s a wonder why I didn’t grow up an engineer.

Maybe because I hated maths… 🙂

With the greenish environment which makeup a natural playground, the experience to live and grown up in the era of the wooden longhouse is something worth to share with you, especially with the youngsters today.

Unlike you, when I was a kid, I woke up every morning quater to 7 or maybe by 7 would be the latest. Or else I’ll feel sorry to myself, regreat why would I spend a my time in bed when the beauty of nature await me to be explore. I woke up this early for a reason. Its not like because of Ben 10 will start at 7. Or maybe because of the coco crunch await me on my kitchen table. Or maybe because I need to go for the art class tuition by 8. That’s not it! The reason I wake up every morening is something that different from those of the reason you wake up early. Not by force, but by intention.

You can’t resists to wake up early when little bird singing right outside of your window, when little insects sang a jungle song, when the morning breeze blew colder than your aircond… when you thinking of to start a day with a smile. 🙂

The riverbank near by is an official meeting place for a every kids every morning and evening. The crystal clear water call me by name, though its cold as ice, it can’t stop me and the kids to flip floop dunk ourself into the water. We swim, we play, who can’t we teach. Basically, the world is ours. This kind of environment brought us together and the bond were tight.

Its good to be friend with human rather than computer.

There is no Fish and Chips, but we have fresh BBQ fish, which is far more delicious and healthy than the so-called wastern food. Though we don’t have a cheese burger at that time, we have something that almost similiar. I can still remember how delicios is the “Roti Sebayan” or some of us called it “Roti Penat” or “Roti Tababr”, when I dunk them into my hot coffee. – Kopi Cap Ah Moi.

At night, we don’t watch Power Rangers like you do. Since there is no electricity, what more to say TV? So the main source of news and entertainment for old folks is the radio. But for us, the kids, we don’t really give a damn about the entertainment, we don’t care about the news or what happened in the world those day.

All we know, the world is ours, so what we do is, play and play and play.
In the day time, we explore the nature. At night, we play hide and seek.

Apart all that, like me, I believe kids at my time do enjoy the “Randau Ruai”. Its something like a story telling section where we’ll faced our grandparents and the old folks sit at “Ruai” and listen to their “Ensera” or story in English. The stories were interesting, its cover up all the topic from the fantasy and the myth to the history of our origin and the languages. See, we don’t need a tuition class to learn all that. Furthermore, I don’t need a MP3 to sing me a song to sleep at night.

Like what I’d mention in the beginning of my story, I play stones, puddles, mud, and those of the things which may be dirty to you. We don’t buy toys but make toys. We don’t play XBox’s Street Fighter, but we do sometimes watch the cockfighting. We don’t need a monthly payment for martial art class as the old folks will teach us “Kuntau” for free. Dance classes, “Ngajat” for free. Music classes, all for free!

In line with the modernization and development. The longhouse you know today is not a longhouse that we known yesterday and it may change again tomorrow. Though most of my young times spent in the city, but the life to live and grown up in the longhouse environment is something that can’t never be forget. Thanks to my parents for those wonderful experience and memories.

Eventhough the wooden longhouses now transformed to concrete, the jungle surrounding now change to a flowers in the pot, the river now is a drains, and the chicken in the cage, there are the thing that remain the same.

The bond amongs us..
and I hope, forever, it will stay that way.

Biau Benak Sri Aman

Enti pasar Kuching enda ibuh dibanding,
laban chukup terang pandang jelas lampu kuning,
Enti sema hari lemai padam nyang panas manding,
dia kitai sama rindu sereta ransing,
mai diri sebilik ngerindang ati,
ngagai tebing ai Kuching,
ngiga penyamai pun pengelantang.

Enti menua miri enda ibuh ditusi,
endang tampak terbilang lanji-lanji,
alai temuai datai serata nengeri,
ninting bulan lebuh peremisi,
meda pengerami pengerinchah menua.

Menua Sri Aman sigi melan-melan,
alai benak mangka tiap ari ninting bulan,
keba tiap taun datai bulan chukup uan,
diatur Pesta Benak alun lelengai,
kena nyambut temuai datai ari rintis ai ngelan,
betabi jari bejabat tangan,
nanda ke basa kitai Iban,
nyambut bala temuai datai.

Lebuh maya pengawa bakanya,
lalu tepantai main Iban,
pekit keling pekit kumang,
bemain ka engkerunung betebah ka tawak,
bebukat ke silat penchak kuntau
pekit ngajat pekit bebiau asal Iban
kena merantingka suling dabung geman
kena ngetanka adat Iban
ngambi enda puntan lalu lelang.

Dikarang: Allen Charlie