Baserayong ngena pua kumbu nyambut antu pala

Below it is said by Vernon Kedit Jolly that pua kumbu is used to receive antu pala or human skulls to be exact and not the freshly-killed bloody heads. The fresh head is already cleaned (dikerok) i.e. the brain thrown away, and all the skin and any flesh removed and thrown away into the river, leaving only the bone skull which is then dried out (disalai). So, no rottening and blood at all!

But before cleaning the head, a bit of the brain will be taken using a sword tip and mixed with a sticky rice, and this mixture will eaten by the man doing the cleaning as follows:

Temenggong Jinggut says the only time he witnessed the smoking of a head was when he was a young man during the Japanese occupation. He says: “We had killed two Japanese soldiers. Their heads were taken to a longhouse just below Nanga Mujong (in the Baleh district) for the ceremony. Our heroes returned with the heads, walking the length of the longhouse ruai (the roofed verandah) past a long line of admiring spectators. After various rituals the heads were taken to the stream by an elderly and experienced expert in preserving heads.

“I noticed that the man first made a clean cut from under the chin and close to the jaw, right to the back of the head, removing the stump of the neck. He then proceeded to widen the occipital hole with the pointed end of his parang. He next sliced one end of a piece of rattan.

“He then placed the splayed end of the rattan strip into the occipital hole and dug out a bit of the brains. He placed it in some glutinous rice and swallowed quickly. He did not vomit. (If he were to throw up, the Ibans believe that the man would fall ill and die because his semangat (spirit) was weak).

“He then began cleaning out the hole with the rattan strip with a vigorous twisting and poking movement (like using a bottle brush) while holding the head in the water. In this way the soft matter was easily washed away by the water and removed.”

After that the expert removed the eyes of the victims with his parang (sometimes the eyes are not removed, in which case leaves are placed to cover the eyes so that they will not bulge or pop out during smoking). The heads were then wrapped in several large scented leaves gathered from the river bank, and tied with rattan strips. The heads had to be tied properly so that the jaws would not fall off. The heads were hung on a bamboo rack, consisting of a horizontal pole with both ends attached to a pair of angled uprights tied together and smoked for three days until they were completely dried out. During the smoking of the heads more ceremonies were held.

Ref :

However there is another story to the above scenario as per JA Lambert who said the fresh head is straight away brought into the longhouse to immediately end the morning period and received by a woman who is wearing (beserayong) a pua kumbu and using a winnowing basket or an stone plate.So, in this case, it does not matter whether they receive the fresh head or cleaned skull as the pua kumbu is worn over the shoulders of the woman who receives the head.

Nevertheless, it is said that the fresh head is straight away dried up over a gentle fire (bedilang). This is probably not true because it can be seen nowadays only the skull is kept and smoked over the gentle fire. So, the fresh head must be cleaned first before safe-keeping it. The cleaning can be after arrival back home, immediately after the ending of the mourning ceremony to avoid staining and rottening smell and before the Enchaboh Arung ceremony to celebrate the new skull.


Kebuah pengawa ngayau tu dikereja mega bepun ari pengawa ke ngetas ulit pemati orang ba menoa nya. Lalu sebedau ulit nya diketas, dia orang ka nyadi kaban belayan iya ke udah parai nya lalu mai sida serumah baum ka mansang bejalai ka ulit. Laban nitih ka adat asal bansa Iban kelia orang ke bejalai ka ulit nya sigi ngiga pala munsoh ti lalu dibai sida iya pulai ke menoa, lalu dipanjong ka sida ba pala tangga leboh sida iya datai ba rumah panjai diri empu, ke lalu dikumbai orang “Mangka Ka Selaing” ti lalu ditimbal enggau palu setawak orang ke dirumah sereta ditiki ka sida iya baka adat orang niki ka bujang berani. Pala munsoh ke baru ulih nya lalu disambut orang ka indu ngena chapan tauka chapak batu, beserayong ka pua kumbu lalu disambut ngena jako ansah nyambut antu pala.

Udah nya baru sida serumah “Naku Antu Pala” nya niti rumah, nyentok ka nyau datai ba ruai orang ke ngulit nya tadi. Udah antu pala nya datai ba ruai orang ka ngulit, nya baru ulit diketas. Tembu ulit diketas dia antu pala nya tadi lalu dibai ngagai ruai tuai ba rumah panjai nya, lalu diengah ba bedilang tampun sereta lalu terus disalai, dikembuan nyadi ka pesaka bujang berani kena nyilih pemarai sida serumah nya tadi. Udah nya baru sida serumah nya niri ka “Gawai Enchaboh Arung”



Again in the article below, JA Lambert said that the leading woman who is skillful in weaving will wear (beselampai) pua kumbu to receive the head using a winnowing basket or a stone plate.


Udah bala sida ke pulai nurun ngayau nya tadi mangka ka Selaing, dia sida iya lalu ngasoh orang ka nyadi seruan sida madah ka orang ti tuai di rumah ngambi ka nyendia ka diri ka nyambut pala munsoh ka udah ulih sida nya tadi. Nyadi leboh sida iya baru ka niki ka rumah dia mega orang indu ke tau jari, tau gar, tau takar, nemu ngembun, nemu betenun lalu diasoh orang beselampai ngena pua kumbu sereta nyambut antu pala (pala munsoh) nya ngena chapak batu tauka chapan. Dia orang indu ka bukai lalu nyangkah nyambut antu pala nya tadi besilih-silih naku antu pala nya niti rumah nyentok ka antu pala nya nyau datai ba bedilang ke ka alai sida nyalai pala munsoh nya tadi.




Debunking a myth in using pua kumbu to receive head trophies

By Vernon Kedit Jolly

There have been a lot of stories about pua being used to receive the fruit of headhunting expeditions. But the idea of a bloody head dripping with blood and then wrapped up unceremoniously in a pua kumbu is really a myth. A very gory myth that works well with the romanticism of the era.
     In actual fact, when warriors return with trophy heads from a raid or battle, they do not bring their trophy heads directly into the longhouse. They would clear an area within earshot of their longhouse, and make camp there for seven nights. The trophy heads would be cleaned and then smoked over a gentle fire to dry them out. At the same time, the women back at the longhouse would start preparing the feast and most importantly, repairing or re-starching their prized pua kumbu for the enchaboh arong ceremony (the ritual of receiving a trophy head). Everybody would know that the warriors returned safely but everybody would keep up the pretense that they are still away on the raid.
      On the eighth morning, the warriors would dress up in their finery (presumably smuggled out of the longhouse to them by a precocious younger brother or cousin) and begin their procession from the clearing to the main stairs of the longhouse. Music would be played on gongs (also presumably smuggled in the dead of night the night before from the longhouse) as the men make their victorious approach, not unlike jubilant Caesar entering Rome to much fanfare. The women would also have woken up early and prepared themselves and all the ritual objects for the ceremony. Food and wine would be waiting in the longhouse communal gallery. Maidens would dress up and wait to be courted by the brave warriors.
      Upon reaching the stairs, the lead warrior would present his trophy head (or heads) to either his wife (if he is married) or his mother (if he is unmarried) with much shouting and yelling of war cries. The woman receiving the head would be waiting with a large plate in her arms over which a pua kumbu would be meticulously draped. The angle and the manner is very important as the most potent motif on the pattern must touch the base of the trophy head when it is placed on the pua. The trophy head, by now fully dried out and hair perfectly combed, would be placed carefully on the pua kumbu in the plate. The man would hold the head above the cloth while the woman would adjust the angles of her arms to find the best ‘repository’ position for the head. The pua kumbu is not wrapped around the head. It merely serves as a base cloth for the head. The woman would then welcome the head as she would welcome a new born babe, singing a lullaby to the trophy head as she gently cradles and rocks it (known as the naku pala). It is at this point that the powerful spirit of the pua is then believed to envelope and negate/neutralise all negative forces of the enemy’s head. Then the next warrior in rank would do the same, until all the warriors have presented their heads. No wild dramatics. All very civilised.
      Then the heads are taken out to the tanju (open air verandah) where the enchaboh arong ceremony proper begins. After chants and prayers and blessings culminating in the climactic ritual bite (the women bite the heads as a sign of victory over the enemy – this bit, I agree, is somewhat gruesome and horrific), the heads would then be placed in rattan baskets and then hung in the longhouse over the entrance of their respective owners’ bilik.
      That is why you will never have blood stains on any pua kumbu for the simple reason that all trophy heads are smoked and dried for seven days and nights before they are ceremonially presented to the longhouse. Any stain a dealer tells you is a blood stain is an outright lie to inflate his profits. Or if there really is a stain, it would most probably have come from food or drink spilt on the pua during festivities. The only time I have seen real blood stains on a pua was when a slaughtered sacrificial cockerel in its death throes flicked a few droplets of its blood onto the nearby displayed blanket during a miring (blessing ceremony), which annoyed its owner immensely. Nasty business as animal blood has a horrid stench. We like our cloths clean and unblemished, more so if they are masterpieces of high status. So if you hear fanciful stories of human blood stains on a pua kumbu, just smile and enjoy the tale.

This exposé was first published on, and republished here with the author’s gracious permission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s