The story of Penghulu Munan anak Pengulu Minggat

Quarrel between Penghulu Munan and Mr. Bailey.

After Penghulu Minggat died in Sumatra in 1890, Mr. Bailey, the Resident of the Second Division, installed a man named Ampan as penghulu to succeed the deceased chief. But Penghulu Ampan was a man of strange character. He would not reserve Penghulu Minggat’s Pulau Papan, Pulau Baan, Pulau Rutan and Pulau Danan in the Ulu Awik. The setting aside of such pulau was the way in which chiefs of the country sought to reserve large trees for canoes and rattan to tie the beams of new longhouses when they were built.

Due to Ampan’s behaviour, Munan, the eldest son of Penghulu Minggat, his brothers and his late father’s followers became very upset. They could not approve of such a thing, since according to tradition each river occupied by the Iban must have a reserved forest in which trees and rattan can grow. In order to safeguard his father’s reserved forest, Munan went to Penghulu Garran “Lembang Batu” of Paku and the OKP Nanang of Padeh to seek their advice regarding the matter. It may be recalled that the Paku was Penghulu Minggat’s native land, so naturally his son Munan in his despair sought the advice of his relatives in the Saribas.

While Munan was away visiting the Paku and Padeh chiefs, Ampan went to report to Mr. Bailey who was at that time visiting the government headquarters at Kabong in the lower Kalaka. He told Mr. Bailey that all was well in his district, except that Munan, the son of Penghulu Minggat, was absent in the Saribas urging Penghulu Garran “Lembang Batu”, OKP Nanang and others to rebel against the government. Without further investigation Mr. Bailey became violent. He summoned Munan to come at once and meet him at Kabong. While in the Saribas, Munan was told by his relatives that it was traditional for Iban in each river to reserve special areas for Pulau Papan, Pulau Baan, Pulau Rutan and Pulau Danan, as his father Penghulu Minggat had correctly done in the Awik River.

When Munan arrived home, he found a summon awaiting him from the Resident to an urgent meeting at Kabong fort. While he was preparing for this, the rumour reached him that he was sure to be arrested due to his disagreement with Ampan, the new chief of the area. This rumour upset Munan very much. So he and his followers went to Kabong in a big warboat to meet the Resident.

When Munan’s boat arrived at the jetty below the fort, Mr. Bailey came down the plankwalk with two pistols in his hands and called for Munan to come out of his boat without delay. Hearing this, Munan suddenly took up his sword and went out to meet the Resident. He was closely followed by a man named Jungan, later the Penghulu of Sabelak. Seeing the danger, Pengiran Matali, the senior Native Officer who accompanied Mr. Bailey, urged that neither Bailey nor Munan try to harm the other physically. At the same time the Pengiran suggested that their quarrel should be settled by the Rajah personally, and he offered to escort Munan to Kuching with an explanatory letter from the Resident. This suggestion was promptly agreed to by Mr. Bailey and Munan, and Pengiran Matali took Munan by boat to meet the Rajah in Kuching. On his arrival in Kuching, Munan was straight away detained in the prison at Pangkalan Batu to await the Rajah’s decision.

After some time in the prison, one night Munan dreamt a strange dream. In it he thought that he met the Ranee, the wife of Rajah Charles Brooke, who told him that he (Munan) would not meet with any trouble and that early the next day he would be released from detention. So it was that the next morning at about 9.00 a.m. the Rajah and the Ranee came to the prison and ordered that Munan be freed and returned to the Kalaka immediately.

Munan was joyful, but his hatred of Mr. Bailey was growing stronger and stronger. After he had stayed some time in his mother’s house at the Awik, he returned to his wife’s house in the Julau where he was a penghulu. It should be explained that Munan had married Subang, an adopted daughter of Layang and Tambong. Tambong was the only daughter of Libau “Rentap” who had migrated to the Entabai after he had been defeated at Sadok in 1861. From the Entabai, after the death of Libau “Rentap”, the family had moved to the nearby Julau River. While Munan was living in the Julau, the people of the Ulu Ai, under chiefs Penghulu Ngumbang “Brauh Langit” and Penghulu Bantin “Ijau Lelayang”, became restless. Due to their hostile activities, the Rajah ordered Munan to attack them, and he did so in 1898. During the expedition he and his warriors killed 18 people from Lubang Baya, and went down the Batang Ai as far as Nanga Kaong. Besides killing these enemies he also took some captives. After the raids were over, he returned down the Batang Lupar past the Simanggang fort to Sibu. The news of his victory over the enemy spread round about, surprising everyone including his arch rival Mr. Bailey at Fort Alice, Simanggang.

Later in 1903, due to his meritorious service and bravery in assisting the government in various punitive expeditions, the Rajah ordered Munan to move from the Julau to Pulau Kertau near Sibu. Shortly after he had settled down at Kertau, the Rajah conferred on Munan the title of Penghulu Dalam, carrying a monthly salary which he enjoyed till his death in 1914. Furthermore, due to his wisdom and influence over the Rajang Iban, the Rajah appointed him a full member of the Council Negeri in 1906, a post which he held till his death. He succeeded Pengarah Ringkai of Rantau Anak, Betong, whose appointment was from 1889-1902 and the OKP Nanang of Padeh, Saribas, who had served from 1891-1901.

Penghulu Dalam Munan attacks Rumah Jimbau, Ulu Engkari.

In 1902 Penghulu Bantin of the Ulu Ai and the people under Penghulu Munau apai Laja and his son Kana of Engkari rebelled against the government. To disrupt the peace, Bantin and Kana and their fighters attacked people at several places, parti¬cularly their neighbours, the people of Lemanak. Consequently, the Rajah commanded Munan, the Penghulu Dalam of Sibu, Penghulu Insol of the Padeh, Saribas, and Penghulu Banta of the Skrang to attack the rebels at Engkari. Banta’s and Insol’s forces went to war according to the date decided upon by the Penghulu Dalam.

In the course of the war, the forces from Saribas and Skrang were badly beaten by the enemy. Thirteen of their warriors were killed. But in spite of this defeat, Insol took a firm vow to fight the enemy till all his warriors had safely returned to their own ground.

With the lower Rajang and Kanowit Iban, numbering altogether abput 900, Munan set out from Kanowit. He passed the headwaters of the Katibas and went on to the headwaters of the Engkari, where he found the traces of an encounter only a few days old which had taken place between the Skrang and Saribas forces and the enemy. From the number of dead found, it was evident that there had been severe hand-to-hand encounters. It was feared that the Skrang and the Saribas had lost twenty or more men.

Seeing this, Munan realised that the Skrang and Saribas under Banta and Insol must have gone ahead of him several days earlier. He was unable to join them due to the distance and because he was not certain of the route they had taken. In this way the war plan was complicated, and the Saribas and Skrang forces suffered because of it.

Munan ordered his force to stop not far from a big house under a headman named Jimbau. It was said that this house contained many Ulu Ai people who had come to reinforce Jimbau, when the Saribas and Skrang were known to be approaching. Here Munan called a council of war to select three of his most trusted warriors to spy on the house that coming night and a dozen others to guard the main force by watching for the enemy in case they came to attack them by surprise.

After these warriors had gone out on duty, Munan called three of his leading warriors, Ajah of Binatang, Ajah of Entaih and Ajah of Melangan. He suggested that if any of the three failed to kill an enemy, he should never again be called Ajah. Though this was spoken as a joke, Munan’s words strongly encouraged the three Ajahs in the coming assault.

At about midnight the spies came to the enemy’s house, where the people were celebrating the feast of enchaboh arong, in which the bards sang their chants of praise to Singalang Burong, Lang Betenong, Keling, Bunga Nuing, Laja and Bunga Jawa and other gods of war, who had given them an easy victory over the enemy. While one of Munan’s spies sat quietly below the floor of the house, just where Bantin and other leaders were sitting, he heard a certain woman coming to speak to Kana. She told him that in her sleep early that night, she had a very bad dream. “In my dream,” she said, “I saw a great number of the enemy attacking us in this house.” She warned Kana and the others to prepare for fighting. Hearing this, Kana asked who this enemy could be, since the Saribas and Skrang forces had been defeated and the survivors had all gone back to their places. “I do not believe any other enemy can suddenly fall down from heaven to attack us,” said Kana. Hearing these words the leading spy took his companions to rash back to inform Munan about what they had heard and seen during their spying.

After Munan had been told that the enemy was celebrating an enchaboh arong festival in honour of the head trophies they had taken a few days earlier, he commanded the force to march and attack the house before dawn the next morning. On their arrival at the house the three Ajahs and seven others including Banyi apai Ibi of the Julau took the lead and fought the enemy along the gallery (ruai) of the longhouse. It being still early in the morning a considerable number of the enemy was drunk and so was easily killed by Munan’s fighters.

While these men entered the house, the rest of Munan’s fighters waited for the enemy to come out of the house down the ladders of the individual open platforms (tanju) and from the family rooms (bilek). When the fighting was at its height, Munau apai Laja and his son Kana, trying to escape, carried Munau’s daughter down the ladder from the tanju. Because of their pemenga charms, Known as “Batu Lichin”, a Chinese and an adopted son of Munan, waiting for them below the ladder, was shocked and taken aback, which give the chance for Kana, his father and his sister to escape unhurt.

After the fighting was over, Munan ordered that the house be burnt along with three others in the same vicinity. After the fighting was ended it was found that 53 of the enemy had been killed including the stragglers and 5 captives taken by Munan. Only two of his men were missing.


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