IBAN CUSTOMARY LAW FOR LAND AND AGRICULTURE

LAND AND AGRICULTURE

When settlers first arrived in a new area, they felled the trees (berimba) for agricultural purposes along the banks of the rivers and streams they intended to settle.

Each group of migrants was led by a pioneering leader under whose guidance virgin forests were cleared by bedurok, or family labor exchange, in order that each family might own at least fifteen pieces of temuda land.

In accordance with custom, an Iban who marries into another longhouse and joins his or her spouse’s family is no longer entitled to inherit ancestral lands left behind in the former longhouse area.

Only lands which are officially titled can be claimed wherever the owner lives in the country; otherwise rights of use are contingent upon the family’s continual residence within the longhouse where the land is located.

The Iban values his lands as darah daging, “blood and flesh”. He knows that he and his descendants will not be able to live a decent life, if his lands are taken away or sold to pay debts.

They prefer to hold on to the lands (tanah pesaka) which their forefathers founded with sweat and blood many generations ago. These people are not attracted by modern developments in their district or elsewhere in the state.

They feel that it is an irreparable loss to leave behind the temuda-rimba and buah-tanah they have inherited. The customary land rights they hold are precious to the heart and mind of the Ibans and other indigenous people of Sarawak.

They represent the fortress of their survival which they have defended from before the earliest days of Brooke rule to the present.

When the Pleiades (bintang tujoh) appear in the zenith of the sky at night, the farmers will start to do their initial clearing (manggol) with ceremonial offerings (piring). They do this work over seven successive days with their ears plugged with leaves or grass in order not to hear the voices of omen birds and animals.

The Ibans are dedicated agriculturists and correspondingly a significant portion of adat law and custom relates directly to farming.

Sometime during the month of May (bulan lelang, “Wandering moon”), after every family in the longhouse has agreed to farm together in a single long stretch of land (bumai bedandang),

When the Pleiades (bintang tujoh) appear in the zenith of the sky at night, the farmers will start to do their initial clearing (manggol) with ceremonial offerings (piring). They do this work over seven successive days with their ears plugged with leaves or grass in order not to hear the voices of omen birds and animals.

By this time of the year the flowers of bansu tree upriver have already fallen three times which indicates the coming of the new farming year. Downriver flowers of the putat tree are falling. In addition, bamboo shoots are sprouting in great numbers, fern tops are appearing everywhere and kulat taun (a variety of mushroom) are growing in abundance on the ground. All of these are taken as signs that the time for planting has arrived.

When the new moon of June appears in the sky, the farmers respect it with a day holiday (diau ka anak bulan) so that they will not be wounded by weapons throughout the coming farming year. On this day, too, the far­mers must cook their food in the family kitchen of the longhouse (mandok ka dapor).

After manggol is over, farming families start to cut the bush, nebas, till about the end of July. On the eighth of every lunar month they are required to stay away from work in order to respect the kedang mansang moon. Five days later the farmers again stay away one day to respect the kira biak moon that falls on the thirteenth of each lunar month.

The fourteenth day of the lunar month is called the kira tuai moon and precedes the bulan peranama (full moon) night that is also known as tulak matahari tumboh and matahari padam. This day must be respected with a day holiday during which food must be cooked at the family kitchen in the longhouse according to the adat dapor.

The sixteenth day of each lunar month is called engkeleman nyambil, the seventeenth is engkeleman mandang, and the eighteenth is engkeleman bubok or engkeleman keli. During the latter is a variety of shrimp (bubok) and a type of fresh water eel (keli) are spawning in abundance in the sea and the rivers, respectively.

On the nineteenth of the lunar moon, the farmers stay away from work to respect the tebarerak rumpang moon – when the moon starts to wane gradually. The twenty-second is known as kedang surut, last day of the second quarter of the lunar month.

Early in August the farmers start to fell (nebang) the trees on their far­ms. This work lasts for approximately two or three weeks. It is followed by the ngerekai season, when the dead trees are left to dry for about one month.

In early September all farmers hope for good weather to fire their farms. After the burning is done, the farmers and their families will stay away from work for one day in order to observe ngerara ibun, a day when one should not see any half-dead or dying animals, birds or other creatures in their tegalan, or burnt padi fields.

Early on the second morning after burning the farm, a senior woman of the farmer’s family starts to dibble five holes for planting seeds in the ground. This work is known as ngenchuri tegalan. The holes must not be made around the stump of a tree in order to prevent the earth from becoming sticky when padi is later sown in the whole farm.

On the second day after burning, the farmers and their sons start to build a farm hut, langkau, as well as to gather the unburnt tree trunks and creepers into heaps for reburning. While they are engaged in this way, the women plant the seeds of gourd (labu), cucumber (entimun), pumpkin (entekai), wax-gourd (janggat), long bean (retak), mustard (ensabi), maize (Jagong) and varieties of bunga rambu and other flowers.

Early on the third day, as the Pleiades appear in the centre of the sky at around 04.00 a.m., that is shortly before dawn, all members of the farmer’s family start to plant their padi. The Tuai Umai is responsible for setting the time and informing the other farmers. But before dibbling can begin the farmer himself must first make a sacrificial offering to the deities of the land, Semarugah and Simpulang Gana. He prays for their blessing on his family’s efforts in their padi fields throughout the whole year.

When this is finished, the men start to dibble holes in the earth with dibble sticks (tugal) while the women sow the seeds into the holes they make. Before the farmer can plant his ordinary padi, he must first plant his family’s padi pun – the sacred padi which the family plants each year around a pelasar platform where the farmer has put the of­ferings and where the sacred engkenyang lily is planted.

After the padi pun has been planted, the other varieties of padi are sown each day. After all his or­dinary seeds (benih) have been planted, the farmer starts to sow first the seeds of white glutinous rice, benih pulut burak next the seeds of red glutinous rice, benih pulut mirah; and last the seeds of black glutinous rice, benih pulut chelum. It is a major taboo for an Iban farmer to plant any other kind of padi before his glutinous padi.

The consequence of not planting the padi pulut (glutinous rice) in its proper order is unavoidable death to a member of the farmer’s family sometime during the year.

In addition to this taboo, no Iban farmer should make his farm in the following manner:

a) Under no circumstances should the farm be narrow or constricted (genting) in the middle of the total area farmed. It is a traditional belief that should any farmer make his farm in this manner, a member of his family, possible even the farmer himself, will meet unavoidable death sometime during the farming year, either through illness or accident.

b) No Iban farmer would dare to make his two padi fields with another man’s farm at the centre (bajengok), for this is also believed to cause him or a member of his family to die unavoidably during the year.

c) No Iban farmer may make his farm across the total area being farmed by another family in the community (nyengkar, or mutus ka dandang). If he does so, a member of his family or himself will certainly die in that particular year.

d) No Iban farmer may make his farm only a few fathom distance from his former farm (jerami). If he makes his farm in this manner, it will cause unavoidable death in his family within the year.

There are a number of Iban farmers who cannot plant the gourd (labu) or carry its fruit through their farm. This taboo is known as mali labu.

A few families have a somewhat similar taboo on the planting of ginger (lia) in their farm or other gardens. The presence of ginger affects the eyes of the farmer or his family. Both of these taboos are inherited, and must be observed by suc­cessive generations of bilek members.

There are also a number of farmers whose padi fields must not be visited by other people early in the morning during the dibbling season before the farmers themselves have started to work. This taboo is called mail pagi, or “morning taboo”.

No Iban farmer dares to risk making his farm simultaneously at pun dandang and at ujong dandang, at the first and last farm site in the stretch of farm land worked during the year by members of the longhouse. The result of breaking this taboo is an unavoidable death within the family during the year.

After the farmer has finished planting his padi, he and the members of his family are free to do other work, such as tapping rubber or planting vegetables or other cash crops, until October when women start to weed (mantun) their farms. They usually finish this work in early December, when the padi is coming to ear.

After the weeding is over, the women are again busy with plaiting the many kinds of baskets used at harvest time in February and March.

During and after the harvest, the farmer and his grown sons carry the padi in huge takaran or lanji baskets from the farm to the longhouse. After they have finished with the berangkut, the repeated carrying of the padi to the longhouse, they thresh the padi with their feet to separate the grain from the stalk. The women win­now away the empty husks and the grain is dried in the sun for some days.

After the padi grain has been dried and winnowed twice, the farmer’s family store the grain in bins made of tree bark in the loft above the family bilek. But before the padi is brought to the loft, the farmer and his wife will perform a simple ritual by first oil and perfume the bins with coconut oil and myrrh. Having done this, a hen is killed and its blood is used to smear the bins and a short prayer is recited. The grain is then put into the bins. If the harvest is abundant, the farmers may be able to fill up to seven bins.

During the farming months, i.e. from June to April, if anyone acts con­trary to farming adat, the offender is fined as follows:

1) If anyone quarrels with another person in the padi field, and one cuts the other’s augur mark, paung burong, or his family’s sharpening stone, batu umai, the offender is fined sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife. The blood of the sow is used for smearing the paung burong marker or the batu umai whetstone. The Tuai Rumah and Tuai Umai take the nyabor knife and the money.

2) If anyone cuts another farmer’s sacred lily plant, engkenyang12, in his padi field, the offender is fined as in No. 1 above.

3) In accordance with farming custom, three days after the work of dibbling is completed, the main path which leads to the farms must be marked with a sign, so that no one will use the road for three days. If anyone is found to break this taboo, he is fined as in Nos. 1 and 2 above.

4) If a man strips off the tree bark, or cuts the heart of palms or removes the creepers and rattans growing at the edge of another farmer’s rice field, the offender will be fined sigi jabir $1.00, a chicken and a knife (duku).

5) If a man steals anything in another’s rice field early in the fanning year, he is to be fined sigi panding, $2.00, a chicken and a knife.

6) If a man steals anything in another’s rice field in the middle of the farming year, i.e. during the weeding season, he is fined sigi jabir, $ 1.00, a chicken and a knife.

7) If a man steals anything in another’s rice field when the padi grain is ripening, i.e. before harvest time, he is fined sigi menukol, 50 cents, and a chicken.

8) If a man steals anything in another’s farm during or at the end of harvest, he is fined sa-uta iring manok, 25 cents, and a chicken.

9) If a man steals another man’s sharpening stone, batu umai, he is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, a pig, a knife and an iron adze. The blood of the pig is used to smear the stone.

10) If anyone burns another’s whetstone, the offender is fined as in No. 9 above.

11) If anyone steals the ginger from another’s padi field, the offender is fined sigi alas muda, $4.00, and two chickens. The stealing of eggs in the padi field is also dealt with in the same way, as these two items are believed to be panas (“hot”) and can endanger the owner’s health.

12) If anyone steals the fish from another’s fish traps (bubu or ensenga) placed in his padi field, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, a chicken and a knife.

13) If anyone cuts down a tree at the edge of another’s farm without the lat­ter’s approval, the offender is fined a chicken, a knife and sigi jabir, $1.00.

14) If anyone reaps his or her Job’s tears while other farmers are still harves­ting their padi, the offender is fined sa-uta, 25 cents, and a chicken, the blood of which is used to smear the other’s farms.

15) If anyone eats food or fruit while walking along the road at another farmer’s padi field, the offender is fined a chicken and a knife.

16) If anyone cuts a tree inside the area of another farmer’s farm, the offen­der is fined a chicken and a knife.

17) If anyone destroys the pandong altar where sacred whetstones (batu umai) are placed during the celebration of the gawai batu festival, the of­fender is fined by the Tuai Umai (farm chief) sigi alas ngerang, $5.00, a sow (babi sepa) and a nyabor knife.

18) If anyone destroys the pandong altar where the anak padi infested by pests is placed during the celebration of gawai ngemali umai festival, the offender is fined as in No. 17 above.

19) If anyone destroys the pandong altar where the padi ears are placed during the celebration of the gawai matah harvest festival, the offender is fined sigi panding, $2.00, two chickens, a knife and an iron adze.

20) If anyone destroys the pandong altar where the padi grain is placed during the celebration of the gawai besimpan (storing the padi grain in bins) festival, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00, a chicken and a knife.

21) If during the celebration of the gawai ngambi sempeli (a feast for reaping the last ears of padi), anyone disturbs the pandong altar where the padi grain is placed, the offender is fined sigi menukol, 50 cents, and a chicken.

22) If anyone disturbs the speaker (orang begeliga) while he gives a speech at any of these feast, the offender is fined sigi jabir, $1.00.

http://gnmawar.wordpress.com/adat-iban/part-1-iban-adat-law-and-custom/

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