Iban Skrang Migration to Bintulu
Original source: Penghulu Jalin Anak Penghulu Jelani
Originally written by Mr. Francis Linggang
Submitted for weblog publication by Mr. Alfred Assan
Scouting for new land to settle:
During the last decade of the 1800, at the times of Rajah Charles Brooke, a number of Skrang Iban, led by Penghulu Jelani, went for a trading venture to the Bintulu region. While there, they look for wild rubber like jelutong, jangkar, kubal, dambar kelasau, nyatu rian and various rattan materials which they could trade for cash. They traveled to the Pandan area, Ulu Kemena, Sera region and eventually setting up base camp at Sebauh. This trading venture is also taken as an opportunity for them to scout for potential new settlement for their community in line with their past pioneering ancestors activities for sustainable development of their descendant.
After they returned to Skrang from this trading venture, Penghulu Jelani, together with two of his followers, Penghulu Merdan and Jengging, organized a trip to Kuching in 1884 (remembered as the year of Karakatau volcano eruption – Lampong Pechah). Their purpose was to meet with Rajah Charles Brooke and seek permission from him for his people to settle at their newfound land in the Bintulu region.
In Kuching, they went to the Istana and were escorted to meet Rajah Charles Brooke. Penghulu Jelani recalled in the later years that he was very much intimidated by the personality of the Rajah. When the Rajah asked him the purpose of his visit, Penghulu Jelani nervously explained that he would like to seek permission for his followers to settle at a place called Sera in Bintulu region. Rajah Charles Brooke immediately approved the request. He promised Penghulu Jelani that he would inform the Administrative Officer in Bintulu (Kunsil), Abang Galau, about his approval.
In 1886, Penghulu Jelani led his followers from Tajur, Skrang and migrated to Sera in Bintulu. Other people in the area also followed and they includes those from Rembai, Entulang, Mujan, Nyakai and their relatives who had settled in the Undup region decades earlier. As for Penghulu Jelani followers from Tajur, he had representatives from fifteen bilik joining him in his team. Their names were remembered as follows:
1. Penghulu Jelani Ak. Rekan – as Tuai Bala (Pioneer Leader)
2. Bantan Apai Linggang – Tuai Burong
3. Jalin Ak. Mambang
4. Rurong apai Nilie
5. Bandan apai Jimbun
6. Buja apai Akat
7. Jamban apai Tambong
8. Chaong apai Tayok
9. Ningkan apai Midah
10. Guyak apai Dana
11. Meta apai Banyu
12. Tuah apai Jalang
13. Tama apai Mat
15. Ibum apai Lugo
Jamban Apai Tambong left the team to join East India Company to fight against the Matsalleh rebel in Sabah. He was replaced by a man named Bantam who had just returned from fortune seeking journey (pegi) to Salimbau Islands in Indonesia and to Kelantan in Peninsula Malaysia.
In Simanggang, they bought a large boat from the Balau dayak. They barter trade the boat with a large brass canon weighing 120 katies. Unfortunately, the boat did not have enough capacity to contain all of them and so some of them decided to rent a schooner named Serurai for $150.00. The left Simanggang town and traveled down the Batang Lupar river to its mouth and crossed the sea passing Saribas and Batang Rajang river mouth until they reached Bintulu town.
Arrival in Bintulu:
Penghulu Jalin and his men was the first Iban pioneer to arrive in Bintulu. Penghulu Merdan and his followers who followed them arrived later in a schooner called Sri Bongkos. Their schooner went aground on the sandy bank at the mouth of Bintulu River due to bad weather. Fortunately nobody was hurt in the incident and they reached nearby Bintulu town safely.
Bintulu was still a small town with about 20 Chinese shop houses. There was a limited road network, and shop buildings were still built on belian stilt with roof made from nipah palm leaves. The Government office was also made from wood, with roof made from split belian wood chips. It was located at the present government office in Bintulu town. There were only four workers in the office including Abang Galau, local Malay, as the Administrative officer.
There were only three houses in a Malay kampong at Sebiu. These people were originally belonging to a local tribe called Sagan. They were converted to Muslim and adopted a Malay lifestyle living in a separate village. Near Bintulu town is another small Malay village called Kampong Jepak, which still exist to this day.
There were only a few Iban seen at Bintulu town that time. They were not settlers but workers collecting jungle products for sale and waiting for any available boat to return to their own longhouse. The jetty at Bintulu town was made of a simple log to reach the place where boats were berthing. Across the river opposite Bintulu town was still a virgin jungle full of wild life.
Prices of goods and jungle products were still low in term of today’s monetary values even though money was hard earned. Padi would fetch $1.00 a basketful (sapasu), a plain cloth (belachu) fetched only 80 cents per roll and one pack of cigarettes (20 sticks lizard brand) cost 15 cents.
Note: Belachu clothing was very useful to the Ibans during the time. It was primarily used as lions cloth (sirat), towels (kain mandi), blankets (pua) and turban (labong).
Penghulu Jalin and his men stayed for three nights at Bintulu town. From there they borrowed a boat from a Malay village and moved up river. They paddled up the Kemena River and reached a place called Pulau Binai. It is a small island on the right hand side of the river. They stayed there for three nights performing a ritual called “ninggang burong” in their temporary hut (langkau arau).
Ninggang burong is a term the Iban used for a ritual they performed to leave behind bad bird omen and dreams. These they leave on their temporary hut. At the same time, they also seek a better omen birds and dreams to proceed with their journey until they reach a place where they wish to build their permanent settlement. The purpose is to seek blessing from God for a successful venture, to start a new life in the new territory and to pray for the success of their descendants in future.
On the third evening of their stay at the temporary hut, they went to the river to take their evening bath. As the bathing place is full, Jalin pulled out a boat and paddled to the opposite side of the river. In the middle of the river he berth the boat on branches of a tree that had fallen to the river. There he lay himself on the boat to take a short nap. When he woke up, he did not see the bathing place he had came down to take his bath earlier. He thought that he had been carried upriver by the rising tidewater. It was then that he realized that something had carried the boat upriver to Nanga Seleju above long stretch of water called Rantau Binai.
The strange thing that happens to him did not easily scare Jalin. He then paddled back to their landing place and took his bath there. That night Jalin dreamt that he met with a dragon. The place where he berths his boat earlier was actually a dragon head and not a fallen tree branches he had taught earlier.
The next day, they left their temporary hut and paddled upriver again until they reach a place near the mouth of Sebauh River, just across the present Sebauh town. There the build a semi-temporary house called dampa, where they would settle and farmed the area for about three years. They planted various fruit trees to lay claim to the area as their orchard (tembawai) for future their descendants. It was for this reason that their descendant earned the right to claim the area as their temuda to this day. This land has been cleared in 1948, to build a Government Primary School for the community.
When Jelani and his men were still living their dampa, there were only two Chinese shophouses built on top of a small hill owned by Ah Tzu and Ah Chai. Currently, a village clinic is built in its place near the present Sebauh bazaar.
Other tribes living in the area at this time were the Penan led by their Chief named Rumbok at Nanga Sebauh, Chief Serudu of Nanga Pandan and Chief Julak of Nanga Labang in upper Kemena. By this time the Penan populations have been dwindling drastically as most of them had been converted to Muslim and adopted a settled Malay lifestyle.
Arrival In Sera
After three years living in Sebauh, they moved to a new place called Sera in 1889, the place Jelani was asking for from the Raja Brooke in Kuching. Chaong apai Tayok was appointed as the first headman (Tuai Rumah) from 1889-1895. Under the leadership of Chaong, they cleared the land for farming at Seruai, Arau, Stajam and along the river between Sebauh and Nanga Sera. From Nanga Seruai, they moved again to the left bank of Sebauh. A primary school, SRK Hermanus Assan, is now built on this old longhouse site.
At this new longhouse, Chaong was succeeded by Bantan apai Linggang as the new headman from 1894-1913. Bantam was formerly their “tuai burong” when they first migrated from Skrang. The settled here for twelve years and moved for the third time to a hill on the opposite side of Sebauh river called Tembawai Tinting.
Under the leadership of Bantan, they farmed at the area at upper Stajam, Seruai, Sera, kelibai, Nansang and to Nanga Dajang. They settled at Tembawai Tinting for seven years. It was here that they decided to make agreement with the Kajebai tribe to clear the land together for farming.
Land Use and Ownership Agreement:
The second group of pioneer from Skrang under the leadership of Penghulu Meredan built their first settlement at Nanga Kaloi, a tributary of Pandan River. In 1902, they suffered a setback due to constant attack by local tribe who had settled in the region earlier. They retreated down river and settled in Seleju, not far from the present Sebauh bazaar.
Other settlers at Nanga Kaloi led by Gerina also moved out towards upper Kamena River and first settled at a place called Teban. Other group led by Serit, Meliau Apai Saging and Rampai Apai Bada brought their followers to Sebauh and settled together with the Penghulu Jalin in Sera. Another group led by Penghulu Renang moved to Sebangkat area, not far downriver from Sebauh. Jengging settled at Senga while Indai Kelawin settled at Ensaie, both in Sebauh region.
Another small group to arrive in Sebauh region were led by Sigan Apai Mari who settled at Senggam. Another group led by Besi Apai Ngunan settled at Sekabai and Bu Apai Ambong settled at Gerong, upper Sebauh. Another small group led by Bu apai Panggau who settled at Sekutan, seek permission from Penghulu Jelani to settle at Sera, as he had not make any formal request from the Rajah for any area in the region to settle in. Penghulu Jelani gave them the permission to settle at Nanga Sabetong in the tributary of Tisei River.
At about the same time, the Kejebai people led by Rampai Apai Bada, Meliau Apai Saging and headman Serit also seek agreement from Penghulu Jelani to farm together with them at Sera while waiting to acquire suitable place to settle down. Penghulu Jelani and his men lay down their condition to allow the Kejebai people to farm together with them, as follows:
1. The Kejebai people to farm the place on temporary basis and shall have no permanent or future claim to their farmed area. The land they cleared and farmed is the property of Penghulu Jelani’s followers.
2. The Kejebai people shall not lay any claim to their farmed area in future.
3. All the fruit trees that grew on all the Kejebai farmed area belong only to Penghulu Jelani’s followers.
Sera People were represented by:
1. Penghulu Jelani
2. TR Bantan
The Kejebai people were represented by:
1. TR Serit
After the gathering, Penghulu Jelani requested that TR Serit and his Kejebai people to build their house temporarily between the Sera area and the Senggam. Until to this day, some of the Kejebai people still live in that area, as they have nowhere to live. Their headmen were Serit, succeeded by Meliau, then Rampai, then Rinting and currently TR Juna.
When Penghulu Jalin died in 1908, they were still living at Tembawai Tinting under TR Bantan. From Tembawai Tinting, Ningkan, Guyak and Meta separated from the group and moved to a place called Semebak in 1911. Meta separated from the group and moved with his followers to Suai region in 1915 where their descendant settled to this day.
TR Bantan and his followers moved out of Tembawai Tinting and settled at Tembawai Anak Raja. In this new settlement, Bantan was succeeded by Jalin Anak Mambang as the headman from 1913-1932 (19 years). During Jalin’s time, the Government appointed Betie as Penghulu, succeeding the late Penghulu Jalin. Betie became Penghulu for four years only. He stepped down and was replaced by Jelani Anak Penghulu Jalin to continue his late father’s legacy as leader of the Sera people.
From Tembawai Anak Raja, they moved for the fifth time to Tembawai Pisang on the right bank of Sebauh River. In 1932 TR Jalin Anak mambang stepped down as the headman and led his follower to migrate to Niah region. He was succeeded by Akat Anak Buja who became the headman for one year only (1932-1933). Akat was succeeded by Nilie Anak Rurong as headman from 1933-1955 (22 years).
During his time as the headman of Sera people, Nilie led his people to settle at Nanga Dajang in Sera in 1934. From this new site they cleared the land on the left bank of upper Sera as far as Nanga Rud. They settled down at Nanga Dajang for five years before moving again for the seventh time, in 1939 to a place called Tembawai Kota also known as Tembawai Bukit on the right bank of Sera river. In 1955, Nelie was succeeded by TR Anggat Anak Manjan as the headman. He served as the headman for 16 years from 1955-1971.
In this new settlement, Penghulu Jalin Anak Penghulu Jelani retired from his penghuluship. He was succeeded by his son Penghulu Abok in 1948. Penghulu Abok was also appointed as Councillor of Bintulu District Council after he won an election uncontested representing Sungai Sebauh constituency from 1963-1965. From 1965 – 1969, Penghulu Abok was a member of State Legislative Council. In 1969, he stand for state election representing Kemena District under Pesaka Political Party. In 1970, he was appointed as Minister of Local Government which he held until 1974. After that he did not seek re-election but remained serving the government as Temenggong until his retirement in year 2002.
During the time of TR Anggot Anak Manjan as headman, he led his people in planting rubber tree as cash crop in 1959. By 1963, the Sera community co-operated to build a school which they named Hermanaus Assan School. The school was build with the co-operation of people from TR Anggot of Sera, TR Juna of Kejebai, TR Gerang of Tisei and TR Nyanggau of Ulu Tisei. The school was named after Mr. Hermanaus Assan Anak Penghulu Jalin, in his honor for being the first Iban in Sarawak to hold a position of District Officer (DO) serving the British Colonial Government, before Sarawak’s Independence in Malaysia. The school became a Government Aided school in 1973 after 13 years as private school.
The Hermanaus Assan School was officiated by the Bintulu Head of Forestry Department, Mr. Belly on 5th January, 1963. The school registered 50 students in its first year and the first teached to teach there was Chegu Hossaini Nahrawi from Kampong Jepak, Bintulu.
During the time of TR Anggot, they moved back to their former place at Tembawai Anak Raja on the right bank of Sebauh, in 1958. By 1971, he was succeeded by TR Sigie Anak Ugam as headman from 1971-1979 for 8 years. Sigie was succeeded by TR Tabor Anak Lasah from 1979 until today (2008). During his time, TR Tabor led his people to move to a site near the present Hermanaus Assan Primary school, in 1992.
The Breakaway Group:
In 1932, TR Meliau Apai Saging moved to Labang and settled under the leadership of Chupong. Bandan Apai Jimbun followed him from Sera and few others from Gerong, in upper Sebauh. They build their longhouse at Nanga Bejuak in Ulu Labang and stayed there until present day.
During the Japanese occupation in 1942, TR Rinting of Kejebai tribe decided to move to Segan tributary. They settled at Nanga Nasau in upper Segan. After the Japanese left in 1945, they moved back to their old Kejebai settlement. In 1957, not satisfied with the agreement they made with Sera people, TR Ranting moved with some of his followers back to Kebulu Jelalong in upper Kemena. The Kejebai people remain there to this day.
The other Kejebai people led by Juna Anak Beliang decided to stay in Sera knowing very well that they do not have ownership to any farmland there. They decided to ask for an ownership to a plot of land from Temenggong Abok Anak Penghulu Jalin, the leader of the Sera people at the time. After consultation with his people, Temenggong Abok agree to give the Kejebai people ownership to a plot of land for them to farm. The land is now located at the site of the present Juna longhouse. Both parties verbally sealed the agreement in 1959, witnessed by Sarawak Administrative Officer, Mr. William Linang at Sebauh Government Office.
At Senggam, one of the Sigan follower named Indai Kerenyit died and was the first to be buried at Senggam cemetery. As she was the first to be buried there, she was given a wooden padi grinder, wooden motar and pounder during her burial. Sigan was succeeded by his son Mari as the headman and Mari was later succeeded by his son Laying.
The Neighboring Allies and Kindred (Sapemakai Menoa).
The people of Sera have nine neighboring allies and kindred as follows:
6. Sidang Tatau
Their boundaries have been clearly demarcated with large portion of the land belongs to the Sera people (approx. 18,000 hectres). It is now the 6th generations of the original Skrang pioneer to Sera and Sebauh region spanning more than a century of peaceful existence. The future generations must preserve their local history, especially with regards to the land ownership and avoid disputes with neighboring settlers. They must remember the hardship of the pioneering days in clearing the lands for future generations.