The origin of Iban from Bejie

Thursday, September 2, 2010


In the beginning of Iban genealogical times, in the times of Bejie, we lived in the world whose state was in chaos and characterized by supernatural calamity and disaster like floods, storm, diseases and petrification (kudi). Fish and turtles came out of the water, their “natural element” and attack our ancestors living on land. Then, out of these chaos eventually, comes an order and created a more habitable universe regulated by the rules of adat.

For the Iban, it is the adat, above all, that embodies universal order. In its most general sense, the term adat refers to the normative rules and understandings that regulate human affairs and govern relations between humankind and the unseen supernatural and everyday visible worlds.

Adat also supplies the moral order that makes Iban people living as a human society possible. Indeed, for every longhouse is perceived of as an adat community. Here the personal independencies so highly valued by the Iban are tempered by mutual economic and ritual interdependencies, expressed chiefly in obligations of kinship and community. For example, the shared responsibilities of defending our territory (mantau menoa), bedurok during farming season, samakai gawai etc.

These interdependencies are further buttressed by complex code of adat – a notion, which subsumes behavioral norms, rules, procedures and injunctions, and the legal mechanism, modes of redress, and sanctions by which these are preserved and enforced. These are evident in various rites and rituals performed in Iban way of life from cradle to grave, in procedures in settling disputes, rules in governing one’s conduct under various social or moral settings, appraisal system to accord level of respect for individual achievement on various aspect of life (e.g. war leader, manok sabong, tuai adat, lemambang, manang, etc).

The chief social function of adat is to assure harmonious relations between longhouse members. But more generally, adherence to adat is thought to sustain a moral order that makes human society possible, while at the same time, it preserves its members in a state of ritual well-being in relation to the gods, spirits and powers of nature. Thus the correctness of adat, when properly followed, is demonstrated by the continued well-being of all those who adhere to its rules.

Expressed outwardly, these well being takes the form of social harmony and can be seen in the health, fertility and material prosperity of longhouse members and in the condition of their crops and in the plants, animals and natural features of their domain. Any serious breach of adat is said to threaten this well-being and so jeopardize not only the moral order, but also relations with the natural and unseen worlds as well. Thus, serious breaches of adat lay the community open to spiritual attack, social discord, crop failure, succumb to floods and natural calamities. The myth that follows tells essentially the story of adat’s creation.

The Adat Creation – Adat Berumah

In the mythic past, in the times of Bejie, the Iban people lived in caves and they live by hunting, fishing and gathering fruits. While living in caves they started to develop tools for their daily use and learn to utilise certain plant or animal skin for clothing to protect them from cold or tropical heat. Better equipped, they began to wander further from their cave and started to meet other people who settled at the edge of the forest and coastal areas.

It was at this time that Bejie and his followers met coastal traders who wanted to change their nomadic way of lives to a more settled communal lifestyle and also to introduce islamic teachings to them. This prompted Bejie to build ladders up a tall enchepong tree in order to meet the mohamedian god whose domain is in the sky as told by a muslim cleric. While Bejie was busy building ladders on the tallest enchepong tree to visit god, he asked his brother named Bada to lead his people.

Bada led his people to hunt, fish or gather fruits as usual getting further and further away from their cave. One day, while they were returning from a long hunting trip, they were caught in a heavy rain and thunderstorm. While the women rushed towards the cave in the heavy rain, the men who were left behind began to build temporary shelter called dunju made of leaves to protect themselves from the heavy rain and cold. When they arrived in their cave later, the womenfolks were surprised to see that they were home dry despite the heavy rain. From then onward, the Iban started to build temporary shelter to protect themselves from bad weather whenever they wander further from their domain.

Soon, from temporary shelter, they learn to appreciate the comfort of living in a temporary hut called langkau and started to leave their cave. From langkau, their ideas expanded and started to build a temporary communal longhouse called dampa. This enable them to live and work together. The first dampa was built small and it was soon congested. They had to expand it bigger and longer to accomdate everyone and also to accomodate daily domestic activities like cooking, indoor work space, sleeping, food and material storage. This gave way to the building of the first longhouse.

When Bada and his men built the first longhouse, they were faced with a mysterious problem. Everytime they planted the poles on the ground, it fell off again the next day. This happens every time when they wanted to continue their construction work the next day. While they were puzzled by what is happening, a stranger appeared at the edge of the forest.

The stranger asked Bada what they were doing. Bada explained to the stranger the mysterious happening they encountered when constructing their longhouse. The stranger asked if they observed certain rules or adat when constructing a house. Bada told the stranger that they do not have any established rules and procedures for building a longhouse. The stranger then replied that it’s no wonder they encounter problems and difficulties in their construction work, as they do not have any established rules and procedures.

The stranger then taught Bada the proper rules of constructing a longhouse. He started by explaining that the land is owned by Petara Semarugah (God who created the land). Offerings and permission must therefore be sought from him before anyone can use the land for any purpose. This is done by following the procedures:
Every head of a family who wants to build an apartment in a longhouse must take part in the ngerembang ceremony (to locate the suitable site and location of the longhouse).

The longhouse chief, whose pole will be constructed first, must look for 5 right hand call nendak omen bird plants (tambak burong Nendak Kanan) and 3 left hand call of nendak omen bird plants to be placed on the hole of the first pole.

Offerings (piring) must be made before planting the first pole.

A pig or chicken must be sacrificed on the first hole and the first pole.

Rock crystal (batu kuai) and a piece of iron must be placed inside the first hole.

After the first pole is in placed, a mumban plant must be planted on the first hole next to the pole.

The offering (piring) and pig blood or chicken blood are the payment (tasih tanah) made to Petara Semarugah which is followed by prayers (sampi). The reason for placing the rock crystal, iron piece and mumban plant is to signify that the longhouse built will be strong and will not be washed away by flood of other natural disaster.

After finished teaching Bada and his men the rules to be followed, the stranger informed that his name is Puntang Raga and is actually sent by Petara Semarugah himself to teach them the proper rules and procedures to be followed. He then disappeared from their sight. After this, the Ibans grew in numbers and lives a more settled life. Cultures, arts and way of life developed rapidly in the next generations to come.

Posted by tya ngayau at 12:40 AM


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