Brief History of the Iban Migration into Sarawak

Brief History of the Iban Migration into Sarawak

The Ibans form the largest percentage of Sarawak’s population, making up some 30%. Formerly the ‘Iban’ were better known as ‘Sea Dayak’, due to their frequenting of the sea (Roth 1968: 143) for piracy (Jensen 1974: 16). The Iban of Sarawak migrated from the Kapuas River (which is now part of Kalimantan, Indonesia) into Batang Lupar during the sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries (Sandin 1967; Freeman1970; Pringle 1970; Jensen 1974). According to Masing, from the mid Batang Lupar, the Iban migrated into Sarawak in three main directions to;

a. The North-West: Lupar River, Bukit Balau

From here, Iban proceeded westward into the Sebuyau, Sadong and Samarahan river basins.

b. The North-East : Saribas-Skrang River (Sandin 1967)

This group came into contact with the pre-existing population of the Baketan and the Seru. The Baketan, after some initial resistance, accommodated themselves to the way of the newcomers, while the Seru strongly opposed Iban incursions. A number of the Seru were converted to Islam and thereby became ‘Malay’.

c. The East : Ulu Ai, Engkari, Lemanak

From here, Iban proceeded eastward into the Baleh river basin (Masing 1997).

Figure: Iban migration direction from mid Batang Lupar

In the olden days, Ibans are reputed to be the most fearsome headhunters on the island of Borneo. But nowadays headhunting is no more practiced in Sarawak and the Iban of today are the hospitable people. You may visit the Iban longhouse & you will be warmly welcomed. Please refer to the Visitors Guide section.


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