The Iban peopleare also called ‘Land Dayaks‘ and are well known in history as fierce head hunters back in the day. These days, the Iban tribe are more known for their ethnic traditional dances, farming, weaving skills and making Pua Kumbu (a traditional hand-weaved cloth). Most of the Ibanpeople still reside in longhouses throughout Sarawak. Some of them still in the original state where most of them have been relocated to more modern government supported longhouses. At the Sarawak Cultural Village, you get to see a traditional ethnic Iban longhouse. Following the walkways at the village, you will be lead to each of the tribe houses here.
On entering the Iban Longhouse, you will see that it is divided into three areas. A main hall in the middle (Ruai), multiple rooms (Bilik) and a veranda (Tanju) outside. An Iban longhouse usually has about 30 to 50 families living in individual rooms of the longhouse. The longhouse has a chief or headman (Tuai Rumah) who acts as the sheriff. I recently read somewhere that there was one longhouse which was over a kilometer long with a thousand families many years ago in Sarawak. Can you imagine the length of that longhouse? I would have loved to visit that place.
Inside the main community space or hall of the Iban Longhouse, you will see an assortment of items such as hand carved birds, gongs, jars and weapons mounted on the walls. These weapons are called Parangs, forged by the Iban warriors for their head hunting days and nowadays used mainly for ceremonies and traditional Iban dances. The old tradition of head hunting has been replaced by Berjelai or “journey”, where the current young man would leave the Iban community to prove himself in the outside world and then returning to community with modern amenities like clothes, electrical items and other material items instead of beheaded skulls.
A section in the corner of the Iban longhouse displays a number of antique gongs and a beautiful carved Iban Burung Kenyalang (Hornbill Bird) in various colors. I would love to have one of these in my house but they cost in the thousands of ringgit. I ended up getting a smaller one from a real Iban village which I will share with you on another posting.
Walking inside the Iban Longhouse, you will see various poles, looking like coat hangers, I never did get a chance to ask what they were for but they looked really beautiful.
Deeper inside the longhouse, you will witness an actual Iban lady weaving the famous Pua Kumbu cloth. It is a dying trade where very few people know how to do this. A very tedious process, an intricate Pua Kumbu cloth can take up to 3 months to be made. And this is one of the reasons the price of the Pua Kumbu is really expensive. Some of the shops in Kuching town do sell them if you are interested.
“Pua Kumbu represent the soul of Iban culture. It is a woven mythological tale about the weaver and her affiliation with the spirit world. The weaving is considered sacred and is believed to be able to mediate between man and the spirit world when spiritual power is woven into it with its designs conceived” – Taken from MySarawakCraft
One of the biggest celebrations throughout Sarawak is the Gawai Festival. For the Ibans, the Gawai Dayak or the Rice Harvesting Festival is celebrated on a national scale for the state which falls on the 1st of June yearly. This public holiday is also treated just like the Christmas holidays for the rest.
During the Gawai Dayak festival, Iban people will get together celebrating by visiting each other, dancing, catching up and offering Rice Wine (Tuak) to visitors. If you ever plan to visit Sarawak, try to make it during the Gawai Festival which lasts for about a week. Most villages and towns would be celebrating this event on a large scale so check with the local tourism on festive activities during this period.
Iban people are also talented musicians and dancers. During the main festivals of Gawai Dayak (Harvest), Gawai Kenyalang (Hornbill) and Gawai Antu (Festival of the Dead), the people will bring out their traditional instruments and celebrate but playing and dancing. Some of the Iban dances (Ngajat) are pretty amazing when you see them live. By the way, I will also be making another posting as I visited a real living Iban village deep in the jungles of Sarawak on one of my trips.
At the village, you will witness the basic Iban lifestyle and see how they used to live. Performers will be there to show you some of the dances, culture and also weaving of the Pua Kumbu. Please note they have timings for this at the Iban Longhouse as they have special shows at the auditorium featuring all the Sarawak cultural dances.
Traditional Iban Longhouses are built from timber and tied with creeper fiber where the roof is usually made from thatch leaf and the floors are made from strips of wood. If you visit a traditional living longhouse out in Sarawak, the flooring’s are usually made from stripped jungle bamboo.
One thing at the Longhouse here, you will not be able to try to Tuak (Rice Wine) drink as this is a show village. But if you visit an actual Iban Longhouse, you will be served the real Tuak or even a more potent brew called Langkau. Many travel agents arrange for actual longhouse trips so if you are interested, please inquire with them as it is worth the visit.
Iban people are very hospitable and welcome you to the longhouses with open arms. Some of the longhouses even have a homestay program. The nearest longhouse you can visit around Kuching is about an hours drive where the deeper ones can take up to 6 hours by road. Finally, if you are short of time when visiting Sarawak, make it a point to visit the SCV as it is here that you can see the multi-tribes of Sarawak in one day. A visit well worth every cent paid and no regrets I promise.