Feedback about ngayau in Leka Main (Puisi Rakyat Iban): An Analysis of Form and Function

Qoute: Masyarakat Iban sering kali digambarkan sebagai satu bangsa yang kejam,garang dan agresif. Ini kerana kisah ngayau (memotong kepala) telah dieksploitasi dan disalahtafsirkan oleh orang Barat yang menggelar Sarawak sebagai Bumi Pemotong Kepala. Sesungguhnya, tanggapan demikian amatlah tidak tepat kerana kaum Iban adalah satu bangsa yang sangat baik, penyayang dan pemurah (Melling, 1988). Sebenarnya ngayau dilakukan oleh orang Iban pada zaman silam semata-mata untuk tujuan mempertahankan diri daripada dicabar, dipermain-mainkan dan diganggu oleh kaum lain termasuk pencerobohan masuk orang asing seperti orang-orang Rajah Brooke dahulu. Bolehlah dikatakan bahawa masyarakat Iban hanya membunuh semasa ngayau(ekspedisi perang) sahaja, bukan pada sebarang masa sesuka hati. Lelaki Iban yangmembawa balik kepala musuh akan mendapat ensumbar, iaitu gelaran nama (nama puji-pujian) seperti Bujang Berani (wira/pahlawan Iban) dan sebagainya. UNQOUTE

Quote: Sebenarnya ngayau dilakukan oleh orang Iban pada zaman silam semata-mata untuk tujuan mempertahankan diri daripada dicabar, dipermain-mainkan dan diganggu oleh kaum lain termasuk pencerobohan masuk orang asing seperti orang-orang Rajah Brooke dahulu. Unquote

Nampaknya sebab-sebab yang dinyatakan di atas (iaitu “dicabar, dipermain-mainkan dan diganggu oleh kaum lain”) untuk sanggup melakukan ngayau adalah kurang konkrit dan tidak berapa jelas. Kalau setakat “dicabar, dipermain-mainkan dan diganggu” tanpa pertumpahan darah, adakah kaum Iban akan ngayau untuk memenggal kepala musuh kerana dikatakan sebelum itu “kaum Iban adalah satu bangsa yang sangat baik, penyayang dan pemurah (Melling, 1988).”?

Bolehkah sebab-sebab ini diperkuatkan dan ditambah-tokokkan lagi dengan bukti-bukti daripada sejarah Iban dan Sarawak sendiri seperti pointed di bawah?

Saya fikir tesis ini akan dibaca oleh ramai orang, jadi mungkin perlu untuk memperjelaskan lagi beberapa isu atau aspek kehidupan kaum Iban daripada kurang menyeluruh dan kurang difahami oleh para pembaca.

Can we agree that it is very important to clarify a few issues regarding Dayak Iban’s customs and traditions such as headhunting, ngayap, Gawai Burong or Gawai Kenyalang especially in a PhD thesis like this one?

Here I would like to try clarifying the origin and reasons for headhunting among Ibans.

The origin and reasons for headhunting were as follows:

1) To end the mourning period as started by Serapoh who was told by an antu (ghost spirit Puntang Raga) to get a fresh head to open the morning jar. See Early Migration Part 1 by Benedict Sandin.

Serapoh was told by spirit/antu Apai Puntang Raga about the correct rule of mourning the dead:

6. The sacred mourning jar is not to be opened except by a warrior who has managed to obtain a head; or by any man who can present a human head which he obtained in a duel; or by a man who has returned from a sojourn in enemy country.


2) Serapoh went out with a jar to invite a fight with anybody and at last, exchanged his jar with a Kantu boy which he beheaded to use the boy’s fresh head to open the mourning jar and end the mourning period.

3) Upon hearing the boy’s news of being beheaded (yang dianggap kejam) by Serapoh, the Kantu came to ngayau (attack) his longhouse in retaliation for the boy’s beheading. This resulted in the what is known as the Iban versus Kantu enimity war (kayau anak). The war was only ended later by an antu Damu “Rukok” who married the sorrowful Remi who was the only daughter left after Serapoh’s 3 sons were killed by the Kantu in their huma farm.

After the submission of the Kantu tribe, Rukok then started to teach Sampar on the proper conduct of war by a war leader as follows:

1. If a war leader leads a party on an expedition, he must not allow his warrior to fight a guiltless tribe which has no quarrel with them.

2. If the enemy surrenders he may not take their lives, lest his army be unsuccessful in future warfare, fighting empty handed war raids (balang kayau).

3. The first time that a warrior takes a head or captures a prisoner, he must present the head or captive to the war leader in acknowledgement of the latter’s leadership.

4. If a warrior takes two heads or two captives, or more, one of each must be given to the war leader; the remainder belongs to the killer or captor.

5. The war leader must be honest with his followers in order that in future wars he may not be defeated (alah bunoh)


4) Following this practice, headhunting is meant for and used to ngetas ulit. In fact, OKP Dana “Bayang” requested permission from James Brooke during the Saribas Treaty signing by presenting him a pua kumbu Lebor Api to ngetas ulit for his late wife.

5) After that, kayau anak (small attack) to get several fresh heads or serang (major war expedition) with a large party (up to several thousands on several hundreds prahus (boats)) became a prestigious practice to show bribery or virility such as to become Raja Berani (Chief Warrior), Bujang Berani (manuk sabung or leading warriors) or simply to bedengah i.e. to be able to kill and behead an enemy).

As a raja berani, he is entittled for the first fresh head obtained by any of his warriors according to the established ngayau rules and can perform the ngerandang jalai during gawai (festivals).

As a Bujang berani, he is entittled to possess his enemy skulls beheaded by him and to perform ngelalau jalai dance during gawai.

Those who have killed an enemy (bedengah) can drink sacred (ngirup ai jalung) during gawai antu.

Major serangs known to this day were:

a) Kayau to Sambas by OKP Dana “Bayang” during which expedition a cannon named Bujang Timpang Berang was obtained as a perampasan (spoil) and a golden handled keris taken by Libau “Rentap”, This very same cannon was used by OKP Nanang and Luyoh (sons of OKP Dana ” Bayang”) and Libau “Rentap” to defend his fort (kubu) at Mount Sadok during the third expedition by the Brooke’s bala (troop). By this time, Libau “Rentap” declared himself to be the Raja Ulu (literally translated as King of the Upper region) in contrast to Rajah Brooke who was the king in Sarawak (Kuching) region or negeri (state) which is basically a ili (hilir in Malay or downstream area of a river which in this case is the Sarawak River whose mouth was known as Muara Tebas)

b) Unggang “Lebur Menoa” was said to lead a serang or kayau to negeri Sarawak (Kuching) which was regarded as one of the states by Brunei during the Brunei Sultan’s conversion to Islam ceremony. It was told that he killed many enemies that the bodies were like ditebas (like grass cleared using a parang) so the Sarawak river mouth was called Muara Tebas.

c) Kayau Lus led by OKP Dana “Bayang” against the Undup to settle old disputes between Skrang Ibans and Undup Ibans,

These three major examples of major assaults can be seen as basically inter-tribal wars and appear carried out or incited by the urge to show virility or bravery in search of fresh heads and looting (perampasan).

6) After James Brooke was proclaimed as the Rajah (Governor) Sarawak, he probably felt compelled to stop the inter-tribal headhunting within the Sarawak river, Balau/Undup rivers and Lundu/Tanjung Datu areas especially by the Saribas Ibans and to end their enimity which he might deem wasteful and degenerative in nature to the people in this region and he labelled as or equated this headhunting to piratical activities. So, he engaged the British Royal Navy eg Captain Keppel.

By this time, he already made friends and alliances with those Malays in Sarawak river, Dayaks in Lundu area (due to previous kayaus eg the Muara Tebas incident) and the Balau/Updup area who were at that material time already in enimity with the Saribas Ibans. So James Brooke easily got his allies from this people nearby the Sarawak river area.

First he crushed Linggir “Mali Lebu”‘s troop at the Battle of Beting-Maru sand bar. A few days later, he attacked the Saribas Ibans’ settlements at Padeh, Paku and Rimbas. This forced the Saribas Ibans to send the women and children to upper river areas and finally to surrender (takluk or nundok) to the Brooke at Sarawak (Kuching now).

7) After all Ibans surrendered to the Brooke, all the subsequent punitive expeditions sanctioned and/or led by the Brooke were basically directed or ordered by the Brooke quell or defeat rebellions in order for the rebels to stop attacking and killing other people and to surrender to the Brooke.

Several examples of major punitive expeditions by the Brooke are:

a) Three expiditions against Libau “Rentap” at Bukit Sadok.

b) Kayau Buntu by Rajah Brooke’s flotella whose local Dayaks were led by Pengulu Dalam Munan against the rebellious Ulu Ai Ibans during which expedition about a thousand participants out of ten thousands died due to cholera outbreak on the way to Ulu Ai.

c) Kayau Kayang/Kenyah at Nanga Pila by the Brooke’ troop consisted of mainly Ibans led by Pengulu Dalam Munan (son of Pengulu Minggat who died in Panai Sumatra) who married Tambong an adopted daughter of Libau “Rentap” and thus, son in law of Libau “Rentap”.

It should be noted that the first two examples were basically intra-tribal wars directed, ordered and led by the Brooke, were they not? Perhaps, the statement that ” Only Dayaks can kill Dayaks” befits the Brooke’s attitude in mobilizing of free troop by taking advantage of existing enimity between various tribes in Northwest Borneo area (Sarawak now) and the tendency or culture of headhunting among this local people.

It should be highlighted that no disputes that cannot be solved amicably and Ibans have the rules for peace-making purposes as follows:

a) “adat pati nyawa” whereby the killer is to pay the deceased family a certain amount of fine and

b) adat bebaik “bebanchak babi” seperti di Kapit.

c) other customary conventional methods include betelesai, berandau, baum, betugong, becara with the leader escalating from tuai rumah to pengulu, pemanca, pengarah to temenggung.

d) devine intervention methods or contests between disputing parties such kelam ai (nyabung), berapat nyelam di ai, bechelok betung, bepalu.

Perhaps it should be listed the relation ebtween the Iban men’s social ranking status and their respective adat tebalu after their deaths:

1. If the deceased was a Great War leader (tau serang), the fee in his honour will be sigi menaga, $16.00.

2. If the deceased was a minor war leader (tau kayau), the fee in his honour will be lima belas igi jabir, $ 15.00.

3. If the deceased was a leading warrior (kepala manok sabong), the fee in his honour will be empat belas igi jabir, $ 14.00.

4. If the deceased was an ordinary warrior (manok sabong), the fee in his honour will be dua belas igi jabir, $12.00,

So in summary, the origin and reasons for headhunting were:
1) to ngetas ulit (to end mourning period)
2) to take revenge in inter-tribal war eg the Iban-Kantu enimity war
3) to occupy new lands eg Mujah “Buah Raya” against existing tribes
4) to take revenge in intra-tribal war eg between Ibans in Batang Ai from which some fled to Batang Kanyau and then Sg Katibas
5) To take revenge by participating in punitive expeditions sponsored by the Brooke i.e. disabung bala Rajah Brooke eg Bukit Sadok against Libau “Rentap”, Bukit Stulak against Bantin, Nanga Pila against the Kayan/Kenyah.

Ulih nuan meri cunto renong kayau laban nadai ulih dibaca dalam internet? Aku tertemuke tesis nuan tu laban ngiga (searching) leka renong kayau dalam intenet.



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