OVERVIEW OF IBAN LITERATURE

IBAN LITERATURE

The indigenist nature of Batu Lintang’s ethos, or rather its blending of British education and native arts and ceremony, was to have a decisive influence on a core of motivated pioneering Iban teachers who would set out to modernize Iban culture while preserving what they considered to be the best of its heritage. On 15 September 1958 the colonial government inaugurated the Borneo Literature Bureau (Tawai 1997: 6). Like Batu Lintang and Radio Sarawak, the Bureau aimed at reconciling social and economic development with cultural preservation. The three official aims of the Bureau’s publications in English, Chinese, Malay, Iban and other indigenous languages were:

(a) to support the various government departments in their production of technical, semi-technical and instructional printed materials for the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak

(b) to encourage local authorship and meet local needs.

(c) to help in building up a local book trade (Borneo Literature Bureau Annual Report 1960).

Production started in 1960. The following year, the book of Iban folk stories Rita Tujoh Malam by Anthony Richards (1961) sold the promising figure of 1,765 copies within six months. In the same year the Bureau also published the religious text Jerita pasal Daniel and took over the distribution of Radio Times from Radio Sarawak. The 1962 sales of English and Iban books were described by the Bureau as “encouraging.” Several booksellers reported selling books to illiterate Iban adults who would have their children read them aloud to them. Of the 9 Iban books published, 2 were educational (geography and English), 3 were on Iban custom (adat), and 4 were oral narratives (ensera and mimpi [dreams]). The latter was Benedict Sandin’s important Duabelas Bengkah Mimpi Tuai Dayak-Iban, a collection of dreams by Iban chiefs that had special historical significance. Another prolific author who started publishing this year was Sandin’s kinsman Henry Gerijih (1962) with Raja Lan git, an ensera on Keling and other heroes and heroines from the mythical world of Panggau Libau-Gelong. Finally, A.A. Majang (1962), a former student of Wilson’s at Batu Lintang, published a study on Iban marriage customs entitled Melah Pinang.

In 1963, the year in which Malaysia was created, “the publication of books in Iban continued to play a large part in the Bureau’s activities.” A grant was received from the Asia Foundation and a full-time Iban officer, Edward Enggu, was appointed. Kumang Betelu, a second saga (ensera) by H. Gerijih, and Pelandok seduai Tekura, an animal fable by D. Entingi, were published.

The following year the Bureau celebrated its seventh annual literary competition. Seven Iban manuscripts were sent in, out of which three were accepted. Sandin published Raja Durong, an ensera about the great Sumatran ancestor of Pulang Gana, the Iban “deity of the earth” (Richards 1981: 288) or “god of agriculture” (Sutlive 1994:214). Another previous winner, Andria Ejau’s Dilah Tanah, was published this year. Previously he had been a security guard at an oil refinery in Seria (Ejau 1964). He was therefore well acquainted both with Iban customary law and with the state’s own understanding of law and order. By means of his This literature-related list is incomplete; you can help by [ expanding it].

Ejau and Sandin represent two poles of the modernist-traditionalist continuum running through the entire field of Iban media production. Ejau specialized in transforming oral accounts, metaphors, and imagery into contemporary, power-laden narratives that would “benefit his people.” He was using old linguistic materials through new media technologies in order to promote “modern” practices. Sandin took the opposite route as he sought to salvage as much of the Iban oral tradition as he could for the benefit of future generations. “in other words, we are broke” put differently , he was employing a new media technology to save (selected) “old knowledge” (penemu lama). Their respective 1964 publications exemplify this marked contrast. While Ejau concentrated on modern agriculture, Sandin wrote about the Iban god of farming. Although both authors were undoubtedly the products and producers of a modern Sarawak, the generic divide they bolstered has indigenous, pre-state roots. Jensen (1974: 64) has divided Iban oral tradition into stories about “the origins of Iban custom, the rice cult, au·gu·ry
One who does wrong, especially morally or ethically.wrongdo . Ejau’s contribution was to shift from this “heroic past” to the contemporary Iban world he knew well, but his aim was equally to explain “the potential consequences of wrongdoing.”

In 1965 most books produced by the Bureau sold well, and it was expected that all the English and Iban books would eventually be sold out. The sale of English books increased by 63% and that of Iban by 64%, from 10,233 in 1964 to 16,747 in 1965. The number of entries from would-be Iban authors was twice that of Malay authors and many times larger than that of all other Dayak groups as a whole, as Table 1 shows. That year saw the publication of another book by Henry Gerijih, Aur Kira, a lengthy prose narrative with some poetic interludes on the adventures of Aur Kira,

of culture hero Keling. This work is a cross between an ensera (epic or saga) and a jerita tuai, that is, a “simple prose tale” (Richards 1981). Another 1965 book was William Duncan’s Anak Bujang Sugi, an adaptation of the bardic (lemambang) epic genre known as ensera sugi. In the first part we witness the life and deeds of Bujang Sugi whom the bard’s tutelary spirit (yang) calls upon to visit the sick. In the second part we l earn about Bujang Sugi’s

The deluge of Iban manuscripts received in 1965 caused a backlog of editorial work the following year. Six new Iban books were published, and many more were planned for 1967. Three of the six were by teachers who had trained at Wilson’s Batu Lintang in the 1950s: Ijau Berani, an ethnohistorical account set in 19th century Sarawak by Jacob anak Imang, and one ensera each by Norman Pitok and Lawrence Ijau. However, the number of Iban manuscripts sent in declined dramatically from the previous year’s 28 to a mere 10 in 1966:

Table 2

Number of manuscripts by language sent in for the 9th Borneo Literature
Bureau annual competition, 1966.

20 English 2 Kadazan
17 Malay 1 Bau-Jagoi
15 Chinese 1 Bukar-Sadong
10 Iban

Source: Borneo Literature Bureau Annual Report (1966).

Another important change, this time qualitative, was the recognition by the Bureau that whereas most previous entries had been first records of “stories handed down orally for many generations,” henceforth, original A document formerly used to commence a lawsuit in English courts.

George Jenang, aged 19, took up the challenge and published Keling Nyumpit, an original ensera, in 1967. Meanwhile, A.A. Majang chose to publish in a new, para-journalistic genre: Iban reportage. His Padi Ribai deals with the rumors that spread across the Rejang in the 1950s that Pulang Gana, the god of farming, had passed away and his son, Ribai, was sending padi from overseas to grow in river shallows (Richards 1981:289). Also in 1967, Andria Ejau himself published a sequel to Dilah Tanah, his morality novella mentioned earlier. In this new book, Madu Midang, Ejau resumes his preoccupation with social change and its effects on Iban culture. Two of his early themes re-emerge here:

(a) the peasants’ need to understand the new laws regulating migratory emanating from or pertaining to migration. farming, and

(b) their need to modify their customary law (adat) to allow for new developmental tools–in this case the wireless radio. He exemplifies the latter with an episode in which the longhouse elders ban the use of radio for a month in accordance with the adat regulating mourning (ulit). Thus, the community fails to learn about a dangerous fugitive presently roaming their land. One day the ne’er-do-well arrives and, posing as a government official, cheats the community out of their meager

A number of traditional stories were also published in 1967, including H. Gerijih’s Raja Berani, B. Inin’s Bujang Linggang and P. Gani’s Bujang Abang Bunsu. The main event of the year at the Bureau, as far as Iban publishing was concerned, was the launching of Nendak, a magazine intended “for Ibans who are unable to read with facility in any language other than their own.” The target readers were adolescents and young adults, both male and female. In order to attract them, a “wide variety of material” was designed (BLB Annual Report 1967:3-6). Appendix 1 captures some of that diversity. In its 10-year long history, a total of 125 issues of Nendak were published. Besides being a rich repository of Iban lore, Nendak provides us with a privileged insight into the role of Iban intellectuals in state-sponsored efforts to modernize Iban culture and society on a wide front, from customary law through political organization, and from agriculture and health to home economics.

In 1968 Andria Ejau put out Batu Besundang, a morality novella (ensera kelulu) that opens with a government-appointed native chief (Pengulu) instructing the residents of a remote longhouse on the proper way of celebrating Gawai Dayak Gawai Day or Gawai Dayak, a festival celebrated in Sarawak on 1 June every year is both a religious and social occasion. The word Gawai means a ritual or festival whereas Dayak , the annual pan-Dayak Festival invented by the Iban-led government in 1965 to match the Malay and Chinese festivities
In 1968 a second “original work” was born, Janang Ensiring’s Ngelar Menoa Sarawak, a passionate ode to Sarawak written in the pantun genre, i.e. “a song sung in rhyming pattern” (Sather 1994:60). Ensiring, who was 19 at the time, shows great love for both Sarawak and the 5-year old Malaysia. His pantun traces the history of Sarawak, from the cave-ridden, bloody chaos of prehistory, period of human evolution before writing was invented and records kept. The term was coined by Daniel Wilson in 1851. It is followed by protohistory, the period for which we have some records but must still rely largely on archaeological evidence to through several stages of increased adat law and order to the glorious cry of Malaysian freedom from British colonialism in 1963: MERDEKA! (Ensiring 1968:32). To the young poet, life before the Brooke Raj

(1841–1946) Dynasty of British rajas that ruled Sarawak (now a state in Malaysia) for a century. Sir James Brooke (1803–68) served with the British East India Company and fought in the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26) before using his family was hardly worth living:

Bekereja samoa nadai meruan Their travails saw no profitable ends
Laban rindang bebunoh ba pangan For they were busy murdering their
friends
[…] […]
Sida nadai Raja megai They had no Rajah to rule them
Adat nadai dipejalai Had no adat to guide them

3. nature of modern Iban ethnohistory

The study of especially native or non-Western peoples from a combined historical and anthropological viewpoint, using written documents, oral literature, material culture, and ethnographic data. is a synthesis of foreign (British and Malayan) and indigenous elements. The foreign component supplies a view of nations as steadily marching along history towards greater unity and prosperity (Anderson 1983:23), whereas the Iban tradition has adat regulating all spheres of life and severely punishing those who threaten the collective harmony.

Another case in point is Sandin’s 1970 ethnohistorical account, entitled Peturun Iban (“Iban Descent”). It recounts the history of the Iban people from their origins in the Kapuas, in present-day Indonesian Borneo, through their migrations into Sarawak, to the long pacification

sea god, stiller of storms on the ocean. [Norse Myth. process under the White Rajahs The White Rajahs refer to a dynasty that founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946. A Rajah (or Raja) is a king or princely ruler in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The coaling station of Brooketon in Brunei was named after the Brooke family. culminating in the surrender of the last Upper Engkari “troublemakers” in 1932:

Nya pengabis pengachau Iban dalam Sarawak. Udah bekau tu nadaf agi orang deka ngaga pengachau ke nusah orang maioh. Ati berani agi dikembuan bansa Iban tang sida enda ngemeran ka nya agi. Sida berumah manah lalu besekula nunda pengawa enggau pemansang bansa bukai ke sama diau begulai enggau sida dalam menoa Sarawak tu.

This was the end of the Iban troubles in Sarawak. Henceforth nobody would cause suffering to the general population. The Iban are still endowed with brave hearts yet they pay little heed to them. They now build good solid houses and send their children to school following the example set by the other (27) races with whom they share Sarawak (Sandin 1970: 123, my translation).

Iban readers are here again given a teleological framework, employed this time by Sarawak’s foremost ethnohistorian who combines oral and written materials in order to prove that the state saved the Iban from themselves.

Other works published in 1968 included Sandin’s Leka Sabak, a complex ritual dirge

a. A funeral hymn or lament.

b. A slow, mournful musical composition.

2. A mournful or elegiac poem or other literary work.

3. , various ensera by Andria Ejau and S. Pelima, and a collection of riddles (entelah) by Boniface, Jarraw, a BBC-trained broadcaster and ngajat dancer. At the end of the year, officially owing to poor sales results, the Bureau decided to concentrate on less Iban titles. The 11th competition yielded the following harvest:

Table 3

Number of manuscripts by language sent in for the 11th Borneo Literature
Bureau annual competition, 1968.

22 English
19 Malay
15 Iban
8 Chinese
1 Kadazan

Of those 15 Iban books received, only 2 saw the light in 1969: an ensera by Andria Ejau entitled Aji Bulan and a ritual dirge by Rev. Fr. Frederick Rajit entitled Sabak Kenang. This Anglican priest from Betong, in the Saribas, learnt the pagan dirge from his mother–a characteristic example of that region’s fertile syncretism

The year 1970 was more productive. A set of Iban language textbooks was published, namely Michael Buma’s memorable Pelajar Iban 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 series, based on traditional folk tales–which the Iban leader Sidi Munan saw at the time as an encouraging contribution to the survival of the Iban language. In addition to Sandin’s aforementioned ethnohistory, E. Kechendai, a broadcaster and regular contributor to Nendak, published a book of animal fables (ensera jelu) aimed at the 10-15 age group, and Ong Kee Bian, a guide to modem pisciculture

In 1971 Sandin put out a bardic invocation, a prayer requesting and inviting the presence of God. to the gods, entitled Pengap Gawai Burong, J.J. Awell a collection of mostly animal fables with a moral intent (cherita kelulu), and C.M. Liaw an ensera. The following year Andria Ejau brought out his third morality novella, Pelangka Gantong. Again a longhouse community has difficulties coping with modernity, and again the wise local councilor comes to the rescue. The problems are by now familiar to Ejau’s readers: land ownership, new political structures, and literacy.

This year a new author, Joshua Jalie, put out Pemansang mai Pengerusak, also a morality novella on rural development. Jalie’s peasants have been blessed with a school, a road, and a rubber scheme. Alas, they soon squander
1. To spend wastefully or extravagantly; dissipate

2. their profits gambling at the cockfights. To compound matters, most of them still believe in ghosts (antu). “Since when have the rats run away from our spells?” says an unusually enlightened villager. “The government has already given us poison to kill the rats but the others insist on following the old ways.”In the preface, the author had made a clear distinction between rural Iban “who know better” (sida ti mereti agi) and those who “are still blind, who are not aware of the means and aims of development” (sida ti agi buta, ti apin nemu julok enggau tuju ator pemansang). Finally, also in 1972, W. Gieri had an ensera published on the adventures of a jungle ogre (antu gerasi). Here we have again a contrast of the Ejau-Sandin kind identified earlier. While one author ridicules his rura l brethren’s belief in spirits and ogres (antu), another tries to salvage for POSTERITY, descents. All the descendants of a person in a direct line. a most prominent member of that supernatural family, one whose name was traditionally used in the longhouse to quiet unruly children. Their contrast reveals the contradictory nature of the wider modernizing project embarked upon by the early generation of media producers, caught up in preserving for the future what they, as urbanized literate Christians, had discarded in their own lives.

The only Iban-language book published in 1973 was a collection of short stories translated from Kadazan, a major Sabahan language. In 1974 two ensera by G.N. Madang and K. Umbat and a primary school textbook by C. Saong were brought out. Another two ensera, by S. Jawan and T. Geboh, came out in 1975.

The Bureau ceased to exist in 1977 when it was taken over by the Federal body Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Malay for The Institute of Language and Literature) (abbreviated DBP) is the government body responsible for coordinating the use of the Malay language in Malaysia and Brunei. . In its last year of existence, B. Sandin (1976) put out Gawai Pangkong Tiang, based on a bardic invocation (pengap) recited during the festival of the same name; A. Joseph published an ethnohistory (jerita tuai), and T. Geboh an ensera. Finally, Andria Ejau brought out another morality novella: Tanah Belimpah. It contained episodes on the advantages of modem medicine over shamanic, a member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events. (manang) rites, on those of wet rice over hill rice cultivation, on the commendable efforts of the school authorities to create a Malaysian people (bansa Malaysia), and on the great potential of a newly arrived technology called “television” to bridge the gap between rural and urban schools. We shall understand shortly just how tragically ironic Ejau’s patriotic optimism would prove to be.

The significance of the Borneo Literature Bureau

To the literary scholar, the Bureau’s books are an “excellent source” for the study of Bornean languages and literatures (Steinmayer 1990: 114), a study still in its infancy. As Sutlive (1988: 73), an authority on the Iban language, has remarked:

Thirty-one years ago… John Derek Freeman (b. August 15, 1916, Wellington, New Zealand; d. July 6, 2001, Canberra, Australia[1]) was a New Zealand anthropologist best known[2] told me that Iban folklore “probably exceeds in sheer volume the literature of the Greeks.” At the time, I thought Freeman excessive. Today, I suspect he may have been conservative in his estimate.

At a time when much of the oral tradition has disappeared, Iban books provide “unparalleled insights into Iban social philosophy and epistemology ” They are “instructive about Iban values of achievement and self-reliance, of discretion, of restraint, of self-effacement and understatement” (Sutlive 1994: xxii). They also teach us about an under-researched area of study in Borneo: gender (see Appell and Sutlive 1991). Traditional Iban society was undoubtedly male-dominated. All the most venerated activities-pioneering, farming, headhunting-were the prerogative of men; they were designed to enable a man “to become something else” (Sutlive 1977: 158). A close reading of the Bureau’s stories on Keling and Kumang reveals how trouble often starts when a woman breaches a taboo, forcing Keling or another male hero to intervene and restore order. We said earlier that in modern Iban ethnohistory the White Rajahs “saved the Iban from themselves” by restoring order. Similarly, Sutlive (1977: 164) concludes that in Iban na rratives women “must be saved from themselves,” from their jealousy and naivety-by men. (30)

At any rate, thanks to the unrelenting work of Benedict Sandin Benedict Sandin (1918-1982) was an Iban ethnologist, historian, and Curator of the Sarawak Museum in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. He also served as Government Ethnologist to the Government of Sarawak. , Henry Gerijih, and other Bureau authors, Iban oral literature is today far better recorded than that of any other Bornean ethnic group (Maxwell 1989: 186, Sather 1994), even if some scholars have doubts about the usefulness of the Bureau’s books, in which the oral accounts have been “abridged and edited making them almost unreliable for serious studies” (Said 1994: 58). One neglected research area, however, has been the significance of the Bureau’s books not for posterity but rather in terms of the 1960s-1970s attempts to develop a modern, literate Iban culture. This was precisely my aim in the preceding pages: to situate the books in relation not to a timeless past or a scholarly future, but in the contemporary flux of a rapidly modernizing Sarawak. Three concluding remarks are called for:

First, the vision driving the Bureau’s editors and authors was to modernize the native societies through social and economic development while preserving what they considered to be the best of their rich oral traditions through literacy. At the same time Sarawak had to be protected from the related threats of racial conflict, a belligerent Indonesia, and communism. We have seen some of the ways in which the Bureau’s authors, notably Andria Ejau, served their government. In all cases they were animated by the paradoxical project of having both to change and to preserve Iban culture. What Iban culture did they draw upon? Not a wholesale “pristine Iban culture” (Freeman 1980: 7) untouched by modernity, but rather, local oral fragments of an eroded “tradition” (adat Iban) that Ejau and others reconstructed piecemeal as they went along. Yet salvaging a story in print is a radically different action from telling a story in the semi-darkness of an ill-lit and illiterate longhouse gathering. It is part of the collective “objectification

1. To present or regard as an object: “Because we have objectified animals, we are able to treat them impersonally”
….. for more information.” of Iban culture undertaken by these pioneering media agents. Writing about the Bidayuh, formerly known as Land Dayaks, Winzeler (1997:224-5) applies Wagner’s (1981) notion of “objectification of culture,” a process whereby implicit practices are rendered explicit as “custom” or “heritage.” To Wagner, such processes are part and parcel of the inventiveness of all human societies. Other anthropologists, however, have considered them to be unique to Western modernity. Winzeler seeks a middle ground. He argues that Southeast Asian societies adopted cultural objectifications of Indic and Islamic origin (notably ugama or religion, and adat or custom, respectively) well before the arrival of Europeans. Yet the tendency “to turn native lifeways into matters of objective contemplation and selection of ethnic traditions” was greatly intensified under colonial and post-colonial governments.

From the above discussion, it may appear as if there were no resistance to the modernizing drive of these media producers. A closer reading of their texts, however, suggests a constant struggle to persuade reluctant rural Iban to modernize their ways, particularly in Ejau’s educational work. Elsewhere (Postill 1998 and 1999, chapters 5-6), I argue that their efforts, at least in the Saribas and Skrang rivers, have paid off, This is born out by a history of ideas The history of ideas is a field of research in history that deals with the expression, preservation, and change of human ideas over time. The history of ideas is a sister-discipline to, or a particular approach within, intellectual history. and media practices in these areas I have written from the perspective of local media consumers. Today, there is little resistance to “development” (pemansang) in its myriad institutional forms, from Christianity through agriculture to health and education.

Iban print media: from boom to bonfire

According to Leigh (1983: 160), the three key political issues in the decade that followed independence (1963-1973) were federal-state relations, the opening-up of native land to commercial exploitation, and the debate over whether English or Malay was to be the medium of instruction in Sarawak. The first Chief Minister of an independent Sarawak “through Malaysia” was an Iban, Stephen Kalong Ningkan. He was seen in Kuala Lumpur as a confrontational Dayak, especially because of his strong defence of English as the language of instruction and government and his reluctance to take on Malayan civil servants. In fact, like many other Sarawak leaders at the time, he considered the union with Malaysia as a “treaty relationship between sovereign nations” (Leigh 1983: 162).

In 1966, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Not to be confused with Tuanku Abdul Rahman, the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Federation of Malaya. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah , made use of emergency powers to remove Ningkan from power. (32) Instead, he installed a more pliable Iban: Tawi Sli. The Tunku was a firm believer in the need for a strong national language, “for language is the soul of the Nation” (Leigh 1974: 88). He was convinced that under Tawi Sli “there was a much better chance of the people developing a Malaysian consciousness” (Leigh 1974: 105, fn 79). The language issue was finally settled under the following Chief Minister, Abdul Rahman Yakub, a Melanau Muslim, in favour of Malay (33) (Leigh 1983: 163). With Ningkan went the political support needed for the development of modem Iban-language media. Appendix 3 shows how the golden period of new Iban titles at the Borneo Literature Bureau came to a sharp end in 1968. Allowing for the backlog created by the deluge of new manuscripts reported in 1965, it is safe to assume that the drop was linked to the new, unfavorable political climate.

From the mid-1960s, the Iban (and other Dayaks) increasingly lost political ground to the Malay-Melanau Muslim elites. The only outlet for Iban discontent with the slow pace of rural development, the opposition party SNAP, was financially weak and finally joined the government coalition in 1976. All through this period there were token Iban/Dayak representatives in the state cabinet, but the real power always resided with the Melanaus and their Malay allies (Jawan 1994: 124).

Borneo Literature Bureau producers and authors were struggling to preserve a language and a culture that in the mid-1960s lost out to the new national language imported from Malaya. Iban-language radio and literature were complementary media: the former used oral/aural means, the latter, visual means to achieve the same goals. Their target audience was in the politically weak rural areas, away from Kuching’s corridors of power, increasingly linked to those of Kuala Lumpur. The cultural system from which the authors of books and scripts drew oral knowledge and to which they contributed literate knowledge was rapidly becoming a subsystem within an expanding national polity.

Twenty-seven years ago, Leigh (1974:94) predicted that “the Iban school teachers may yet prove to be a politically pivotal group.” That appears to have been the case, to some extent, in the 1987 elections (Leigh 1991). I now turn to the abrupt end of the Iban medium with which those teachers were most actively involved. This event arguably thwarted the development of Iban as a language of high culture and social critique. (34) Oral tradition in Kuching has it that soon after Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka

Language planning and development agency, took over the Borneo Literature Bureau in 1977, they had all the books in Iban and other Bornean languages buried. Shortly afterwards, the mass media grave was discovered by a reader who rescued some of the books. To prevent future finds, my informants allege that the new cultural authorities resorted to a traditional agricultural practice known as “open burning.” If this is true, what in the 1960s had been a modest literary boom, ended up feeding a bonf ire.

DBP officials appear to be nervous on the subject of Bornean languages. For instance, Z. A. Zulficly (1989) has stated that the role of his agency is to publish works “in the national language or other vernaculars” (my emphasis) and that it “does not disregard Sarawak’s principal aspiration in relation to its literature and local socio-culture, most importanly above and beyond all other consideration; “above all, you must be independent” above all, most especially , its oral tradition in the form of folklores in order that such folklores will not be obliterated

Jonathan Singki, the editor of the Iban-language magazine Nendak from December 1975 until its reported in November 1977, offers a different explanation for the insignificant output of Iban books under DPB. Singki, who now devotes his energies to Malay-language texts, argues that Iban authors, and in particular the committee set up to publish Iban textbooks, are not sufficiently professional. Instead of sending Camera Ready Copy manuscripts, says Singki, they send in crude printouts in need of a great deal of editorial work that causes huge delays.

Other urban Iban I talked to privately suspect that there are political reasons behind these “technical delays.” A case in point is Andria Ejaus manuscript Layang Bintang, a morality novella on rural development he wrote in 1972 in which he warns rural readers of the perils of sheltering communist-terrorist (CT) guerrillas. This ensera kelulu won a 1973 BLB award, yet the Bureau never printed it. It was only in 1984, after a hiatus of 11 years, that Ejau learnt that his manuscript would not be published by DBP because it had been originally sent to the Borneo Literature Bureau,38 an organization no longer in existence (Ejau 1985:5). DBP were willing, however, to return the original manuscript to Ejau. Fortunately for him, that same year (1984) the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) was founded. One of their very first tasks was to publish Layang Bintang, which finally came out in 1985 (by which time the anti-communist message was somewhat dated!). The rationale behind such an expenditure was enunciated in unequivocal terms by the Chairman of SADIA, Sidi Munan (1985:3): “For if we LOSE OUR LANGUAGE, we will LOSE OUR PEOPLE,, (39)–a slogan tellingly reminiscent of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister’s aforesaid Before, already said, referred to, or recited.

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