Iban’s Culture and Belief System – Ritual Festivals

Iban’s Culture and Belief System

Today, a considerable large number of Iban have become Christians. But we maintain our traditional and cultural heritage which in many way originated from our old belief systems. For example, our modern “biau/ai ansah” sacred words were taken from the Holy Bible.

Our traditional beliefs constituted mythical and legendary heroes (The people of Tansang Kenyalang,Panggau Libau, etc) and deities. In our traditional beliefs, we believed in the spiritual sphere, where spirits have have to be placated from time to time to gian their favour with ritual festivals. 

Iban traditionally celebrate 3 main types of ritual festivals.
(i) those connected with the cultivaton of rice
(ii) festivals connected with health and longevity
(iii) those that were connected with warfare and prestige

During such festivals, besides the customary observance of ritual, there’s usually much drinking of the locally brewed rice wine (tuak), and much merriment and dancing and display of elaborate and colourful traditional custumes.

In our traditional beliefs, we concieved the world as a place where every objects has a soul of its own and that in daily activities, the sould of men (mensia) and that of Gods (petara) or spirits (antu) often influence one another. It is from this idea of the world that Iban traditional cultural values and social sanctions derived.

In mortal life of Iban’s beliefs system, our soul acts as a medium of communication with the unknown powers through dream (kenyap/mimpi) and other spiritual encounters when the Gods appear before the fortunate few. It is from such dream experiences, that we see many Iban creative culture’s work of art, such as the intricate and striking ‘ikat’ weaving, our highly symbolic and rich oral literature in sacred texts (pengap, biau, sampi, etc) during Gawai, songs and legends.

There was also the old religious practice of augury in which we believed that our Gods communicate with us through the calls of birds (Sengalang Burong and Family) and other visible signs made by the action of animals or insects. This is in fact a system of devine guidance for the well being of man. For this reason, special ritual experts (Lemambang/Manang – Bart) are consulted before we undertake any important activity, such as beginning of the annual cyclenrice cultivation (Gawai Batu), building a new house (Gawai Pangkung Tiang), or before going on important expeditions.

Now, such practices have been abandoned (Not Completely), for those of us who’re Christian, we substituted the above traditional ritual practices with Christian practice of prayers and sprinking of the holy water.

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