BETENUN (WEAVING OF BLANKETS)
After her marriage, a woman traditionally sought to gain skill as a weaver1. In order to become an expert, she studied the techniques of her mother, grandmother or other leading weavers in the longhouse. Her ambition was to become indu tau muntang tau nengkebang, one who is able to weave blankets and clothes without seeing a pattern. When she reached that stage of her artistic skill, she next sought to become expert in exposing the thread in the dew at night in order that she might be known as indu takar indu gaar, an artist envied by Iban woman weavers of all times.
Quite a number of these highly skilled women are believed to inherit their ability, due to the fact that they inherit the special charms (ubat) used when exposing (ngembun) the threads in the dew. Ngembun is usually done during rainless nights of the kemarau, or dry months of June, July or August on the open air platforms (tanju) of the longhouse, by a group of women weavers led by a skilled indu takar indu gaar. While exposing their threads in the dew, the weavers do not sleep for fear that rain will spoil the thread.
The thread is made from cotton (taiya). As soon as the padi harvest is over, land is cleared for planting cotton. Land planted with cotton is called empelai taiya. Planting takes place early in April and by the end of July cotton is harvested.
The general height of taiya dagang plants is about 4 feet, while the height of taiya bendar is slightly lower. The taiya bolls are like kapok pods. After they have been harvested, their strong skins are removed with a knife and the cotton is placed in a pemigi, in order to remove the seeds.
After all the seeds have been removed, the cotton is thoroughly cut with a knife known as nganggut taiya. After this, it is placed on a large mat where it is squared to 2’ x 2’ wide. After this the cotton is spun on a spinning wheel to make thread which is wound on a tukal frame to await exposure to the dew.
After this, the thread is exposed on a tall buloh begalah pole for three days and nights. On the fourth day the thread is turned upside down and again exposed in the cool air from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for three successive nights as before. After this, it is shaken to remove dirt and any remaining salty water. After it has been cleaned, the thread is exposed on the tanju to the sun and dew from seven to fifteen days and nights, except during rain, at the end of which time, it becomes very white. When finally removed from the tanju, the thread is soaked and washed in the river. After this it is dried in the sun.
Once the thread is dried, it is placed on a buloh begalah bamboo frame, where it is brushed (disikat) with rice broth mixed with the juice of pounded leaves of lalang grass. Then the thread is cleaned by being thoroughly combed with the husk of a coconut. When the nyikat is done, the thread is removed from the buloh begalah frame and again put in the sun till it is dry.
After the thread is dried it is wound on a frame called a jangkang and then rolled into balls. After this, the thread is dipuntang, i.e. placed on a rough frame, where it is tied with half dried kerupok (pandanus) leaves to straighten it. Both ends of the strands of thread are tied with strings made from the curculigo plant. After the thread had been straightened on the frame, sticks (lidi) are inserted so that the thread cannot move about. From this rough frame, the thread is moved to the tiang tendai (wasp beams); from where it will be placed by two weavers on to the tangga kebat frame, where it is tied up with lemba thread before dyeing.
After the thread has been tied, it is removed from the frame for dyeing. The dyes used are made from the roots of the jangit and engkudu plants. These are cooked together, and to cool them, water is poured into a sulang (brass kettle). After the water has cooled, the thread is dipped into it. This work is repeated three times before the thread is tightly tied with unwaxed lemba strings on a frame called tangga ubong. As soon as the thread has been di-ikat (tied) with lemba strings, it is dipped into blue dye made of tarum leaves,2 so that the untied parts of the thread become blue, while the tied parts remain white.
After the thread is dried, the strings for tying it are removed with a small pen knife, before it is placed on the buloh begalah frame where it is straighten tightly. From this frame the thread is moved to the tiang tenun weaving frame where coloured threads are added to both sides of the dyed threads to make the edges of the blanket. When this is done, the threads are fastened with splits of senggang plant and dried lemba leaves.
Name of design motifs and pattern in the traditional Iban Ikat Weaving:
1) Lebur Api: This design motifs stress the bright red fiery flames.
2) Bali Begajai: Design portrays the pictures of elephants
3) Bali Berandau: Design portrays the pictures of creepers
4) Bali Mensuga: Design portrays the images of metal ornaments used for decorations
5) Bali Belumpong: Design with pictures of logs of equal length
6) Bali Berinjan: Design with pictures of creeper plant in zig-zag pattern.
7) Bali Belulai: Design with opposite number of objects
8) Bali Menyeti: Design with a variety of curious creatures
9) Bali Kelikut: Design with pictures of lions, tigers and demons in addition to pictures of other objects
10) Bali Sempepat: Design with pictures of glittering firefly
11) Bali Tengkebang: Design of a combination of old and modern pictures of various objects
12) Kumbu Muau: Design with stripes across the heavens
13) Bandau Nulang: Design with pictures of monitor lizards
14) Kayu Betimbau: Design with pictures of trees opposite one another
15) Kumbu Rayong: Picture of various designs
16) Remang Berarat: Design that portrays the picture of drifting clouds
17) Begerasi: Design with pictures of demon huntsman
18) Tangga Beji: Design which depict Beji’s ladder reaches the heavens (langit)
19) Miga Bekurong: Design with shapes of various objects in the clouds
20) Lemba Bumbun: Design with pictures of sacred lemba bumbun poles used during the Bird festival
21) Tangkai Ranyai: Pictures of the stalk of the mythical ranyai palm in the other world
22) Tiang Sandong: Pictures of the sacred sandong pole of the Bird festival
23) Tiang Sandau Liau: Pictures of the sandau liau pole used at the Bird festival
24) Kara Jangkit: Pictures of projecting roots of the banyan tree (parasitic tree)
25) Berasok: Pictures of various interlocked objects.
The names for various pua blankets used for carrying a child are as follows:
Design name in Iban – Design motif in English
1) Begajai – Elephant design
2) Leku sawa – Python coil design
3) Manang iling – Human figure with squint eyes design
4) Orang chayan – Human figure design
5) Gerama murong – Crab design
6) Bengkatak – Frog design
7) Igi nibong – Nibong palm fruit seed design
8) Tangkong sapepat – Small horny excrescence on hornbill beak design
9) Kara Jangkit – Kara parasitic plant design
10) Tali marau – Picture of dry season in the form of long ropes appearing in the sky before start of good weather in June
The varieties of pua kumbu blankets mentioned above were used in ancient times by wives to receive ceremoniously the heads of slain enemy from the hands of their husbands on the latter’s return from the warpath. In modern times, they are used for decorating the house on festive occasions, for making a roof of boats used for taking the bride to her groom’s house on her wedding day or for making a sapat partition within which is placed the body of the dead during the three days and three nights of vigil before it is buried in the cemetery. These blankets are an important form of property and it is shameful for an Iban family not to own at least one pua kumbu.
As the wife is busy with her weaving, the husband is also busy with other work such as collecting rattan vines for mats and baskets. In addition to doing this, he is also responsible for clearing trees for farming and gardening sites, and for collecting firewood for his family. The more physical work done outside the house is performed mostly by men. All lighter work is done by Women, such as sowing padi, fetching drinking water from the river or pond, cooking food and looking for vegetables in the jungle or tending the vegetable garden. The milling and pounding of rice are also done by women. At the present time, rubber tapping is a work done by both men and women.