The origin of omen birds

The Origin Of Iban Omen Bird.

The origin of omen birds

On his second visit to his grandfather Sengalang Burong longhouse, Sera Gunting told his grandfather that he had no success in doing things that the men do in the human world. In war expedition, he had not been able to take an enemy head, and while farming, he failed to get enough padi for food. Because of all this, he was ridiculed by everyone as being the god’s grandson for nothing. He then asked his grandfather for charms to ensure success in all his future undertakings. Sengalang Burong did not reply, but instead asked Sera Gunting whether his people observed the calls of the omen birds.

“If you never listen to the call of omen birds, no amount of charms will make your work prosper”, said Sengalang Burong, “and these omen birds are all my son-in-laws; Ketupong (Rufous Piculet), Bejampong (Crested Jay), Embuas (Banded Kingfisher), Pangkas (Maroon Woodpecker), Beragai (Scarlet-Rumped Trogon), Kelabu Papau (Diard’s Trogon), Burong Malam (actually a cricket) and Nendak (White-Rumped Shama). Only when you draw water from the river (nyauk), you need not harkens to the omen birds – because the river will never dry up”, he said.

Then Sengalang Burong explains the system of augury to Sera Gunting. “Look!” said his grandfather, “that gallery on the right closest to mine belongs to your uncle Ketupong, the next belongs to your uncle Beragai and next is that of your uncle Pangkas. On my left side, closest to mine is the gallery of your uncle Bejampong, followed by your uncle Embuas and your uncle Kelabu Papau. Attached to Kelabu Papau’s apartment is your uncle Nendak’s dwelling place. The call of your uncle Nendak is not as effective as your other uncles. His call is only good as traveling omen and need not be observed unless this bird flies across the road”. Nendak is a poor client who lives in a room without a verandahs attached to Kelabu Papau’s apartment.“Before you start farming”, continued Sengalang Burong, “you must go out to seek a tambak burong. This is a twig or plant you plucked out with your hand the moment you hear the call of an omen bird. This plant is then brought to the land where you wish to farm that season to be used in a ritual like manggol”.

Sengalang Burong then relate the basic guidelines on how to apply omen birds in farming, as below:

  1. When you start to farm, listen to the call of Ketupong (right), which must be followed by the call of Beragai (right). This omen foretells that you will obtain a plentiful harvest that farming season and great happiness will ensue.
  2. If you start to farm with the call of Embuas (left) and followed by Bejampong (left), it foretells that your farm that season will be undisturbed and its results plentiful.
  3. If you start to farm with the call of Bejampong (left), it must be followed by the call of Embuas (left), it signifies that your farm will be properly burnt.
  4. If you start to farm with a call of Ketupong (right) and later followed by a call from Bejampong (left), it foretells a very bad luck for that season and it is called burong busong, as my son in laws have disrespectfully spoken across my gallery.
  5. If you start to farm with a call of Beragai (right) and later you hear a call from Bejampong (left), it also signifies bad luck as it brings sorrow to your family in that season.
  6. If you start with a call of Embuas (left) and later you hear a cal of Pangkas (right), this is known as dua matahari (two suns), which means death will occur within the family.
  7. If you start to farm with a call of Beragai (right), and later you hear a call of Kelabu Papau (left), it also signifies that death will soon come to your family.
  8. After you have finished your work of ngundang panggol (visiting the offering made at the preliminary clearing stage of a farming season) you may hear a call of Kelabu Papau (left) which signifies that evil spirit will not bring you bad luck; rather your farm will be safe from their attack.
  9. Within the period of seven days during ngundang panggol, you must not hear the call of any omen birds, other than Nendak, which is not very harmful.
  10. If during the nebas and nebang (clearing and felling) you hear or meet a mousedeer, barking deer, ingkat, bengkang or belengkiang (lizard), it means that the slaves of Sempulang Gana will assist you in your work.
  11. Any animal seen approaching from the front, while a person is working his land is called a laba, which means good luck is coming. But if any animal approach from behind, it is known as burong nyubok and it brings bad omen most unexpectedly.

Sengalang Burong also told Sera Gunting that all omens observed during a farming season would also signify future success in war, marriages, obtaining wealth and reputation. In addition to that, Sengalang Burong gave Sera Gunting his own charms called Pengaroh Mali Balang Kayau, the most effective charms for a war expedition. Besides this, he also gave him a boar tusk charm (taring babi), a sugar cane shoot stone (batu tebu) and a deer horn (rajut tandok). Having equipped Sera Gunting with these charms, Sengalang Burong gave him his most ancient “nyabor” sword of which he said, “no one who has ever used this sword before has failed to obtain an enemy head”.

So with these charms, and his grandfather’s weapon, the young Sera Gunting joined his uncles to learn the proper conduct of a war expedition. A short time after they have left the house, he saw his uncle Beragai step off to the right side of the path, where he laughed and return. Responding to this, Ketupong commanded their warriors to halt and perform ngusok rituals (chewing betel nut). This omen is called sandik belantan chawit and signifies that enemies will be struck with a sword from the left hand side to the right hand side of the body similar to the manner fine clothes are worn over a left shoulder.

From there they walked rapidly until they reached a place where they would spend the first night of their expedition. This practised is called langsi malam diau sahari, literally means “vigilant by night, silent by day”.

On the third day, they walked on again until they reached a place where they would spend the night and waited another two days to observe langsi dua hari. After the two days halt, Pangkas went to the right side of the path where he uttered a war cry. The warriors said that Pangkas is respecting the langsi. After he had shouted, the warriors were very happy as it signifies that their expedition would be a successful one.With this assurance, the warriors marched on rapidly to the enemy country. Near the enemy country, Bejampong stepped to the left side of the path to give a war cry and returned to the main. Sera Gunting was told that this is a very good omen as it weakens the enemy.

They then continued their march into the enemy territory and at about noon, Embuas stepped to the left path and started to weep and returned to the main path again. Sera Gunting was again told that this is a very good omen as it signifies the weeping cry of the enemies over their dead warriors.

From there they journeyed again until Kelabu Papau jumped to the left side of the path and coughed and rejoined the warriors again. Sera Gunting was told that this omen signifies that the enemies would not be able to see them when they attacked, because Kelabu action would blind them, which is called madam ka suloh mata munsoh (literally means, switching off the visions of the enemies).

Early in the evening, they reached the enemy longhouse where they halted and observed their enemies until midnight. At midnight they moved in and surrounded the enemy longhouse. Finally, at dawn they attacked, while most of the inhabitants were still sleeping. Sera Gunting killed three enemies within a very short time. After the enemies had surrendered, the warriors looted the house and returned home victorious.

On his return from this successful expedition, his grandfather told Sera Gunting that it was not necessary to teach him further about the omens of war as he has seen and learnt enough of these omens used on a war expedition. This war omens were then learned and observed by successive generations of Iban warleader such as Unggang “Lebor Menoa”, Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana “Bayang”, Linggir “Mali Lebu” and many others.


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