Muja Menua… appeasing the angry gods

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Muja Menua… appeasing the angry gods

IN 1924 a Muja Menua miring ceremony was held to mark the end of hostilities between the Kayans and Kenyahs and the Ibans in the upper reaches of the Rajang.

CHIEF PRIEST: Nabau, chosen by the elders to lead the grand ceremony, the Muja Menua.

The hostilities was a result of the tribes literally colliding into each other as the Kayans and Kenyahs move downstream from the headwaters of the Rejang and Baleh towards Kapit while the Ibans spread upstream from Kapit.
The peace treaty was brokered by one of the more colourful officers of the Brooke reign, Gerald MacBryan and cleverly enforced by the holding of the Muja Menua miring in November that year.
In the Iban tradition the Muja Menua is the highest level of miring, the ceremonial prayers and rituals to appease the spirits and gods for sins committed against humanity and nature.
Such is the level of Muja Menua that it was never held again until this year and coincidentally also in the month of November and in the upper reaches of the same river — the Rajang.
However, the Muja Menua held on Nov 17 this year was not to cement a peace treaty but to seek forgiveness and appease the gods for the ravages wreaked on the environment by the people through logging and other activities.
Apparently the devastation of the environment in the headwaters areas of the Baleh which is a tributary of the Rajang had so angered the spirits of the forests and mountains that they brought on massive landslides that caused logs, branches and other debris tumbling into the river resulting in the most massive logjam ever seen in Sarawak.
On Oct 17 the people living along the Baleh and Rejang were flabbergasted by the sight the mighty rivers choked a solid mass of logs, trees and branches floating down stream like Nabau the Iban mythical serpent — some estimated the logjam to be 250 kilometres long.
Although the cost of the physical damages caused by the floating logs was small, the environmental damage was massive and unlikely to be fully gauged. Fish, prawns and other aquatic life in the rivers were suffocated by the silt and mud churned up by the logs.
Although the river folk had a field day picking up dying fish and prawns in the river, their hearts were filled with misgivings and fear for the future.
The Ibans in Baleh have expressed their fear and believed that the reason behind the massive debris along the Baleh/Rejang Rivers was the wrath of the gods who were angry with the loggers as the tractors and bulldozers have damaged their abode at Ulu Sg Melatai.
For some, they believed that the indiscriminate pollution at the domains of the spirits of the rivers, jungles and mountains at Ulu Sg Melatai have caused the gods to move out from their domains and caused the massive movement that resulted in the massive debris being washed down the rivers.
During a meeting with 12 Iban village chiefs held at Rumah Tujai, Ng Sebiro, Entawau, Baleh on Oct12, they have told Dato Sri Dr James Masing, the Minister of Land Development that a grand miring ceremony must be held to appease the spirits as soon as possible.
Masing had said then that he would have to discuss the matter with the Majlis Adat Istiadat the kind of miring ceremony that would be most appropriate to appease the deities, and more so, the wrath of the local people.
“The ceremony will hopefully appease the gods as well as the local people. At this stage, they only blamed the loggers but we must stopped their anger otherwise they vent it out at the government.
“My top priority now is not only to appease the people but also the gods whose wraths could worsen the already tense situation,” Masing told thesundaypost after meeting.
For the Ibans in Baleh their wrath was justified as their livelihood had been devastated by the logjam causing a complete lost of fish and animals from their jungles which they claimed as their ‘supermarket’.
“But we are very angry with the loggers because the ‘Baleh Tsunami’ or logjam is caused by them. They have made the abode of the gods too noisy with their tractors and other heavy machineries which made the gods to get angry and shake the forest and resulted in the devastation,” said Tuai Rumah Sebaung, Ng Melamah, Baleh.
They said the disrespectful ways of the loggers to nature have created an enmity between them and the local people.
Masing, himself a Christian, who earned his PhD in anthropology through his research on Iban studies stressed that the miring ceremony was not against the Christian teachings as it is part and parcel of the Iban’s culture and tradition.
“Miring is part of the socio-religious fabric of the Iban community. So there is no reason to think that the miring ceremony is diminishing among the community,” stressed Masing.
It was determined the landslides occurred at Ulu Sg. Malatai, which is a tributary of the Baleh.


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