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.


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