Careers for Iban men




Ibans are concern about being respected by their countrymen during and after their lifetime. In order to earn these respects, a man should be kind and just in his dealings with other people. He should be diligent, adventurous and brave in all that he does, in order to become a trusted leader.


After a man is married he may become a crew member on a trading boat which sails to foreign ports to trade. After he has gained property by such trading, if he is just in his dealings with his trading mates, he is likely to be elec­ted by others, as he grows older, to be the leader of such a venture. On ac­cepting leadership, he must learn seriously the arts of sailing his own boat and the diplomacy he will need in contacting peoples in foreign countries. If his first and second trading ventures are successful, then he will be known as Nakoda, if he has sailed to Brunei, Sabah or the Philippine Islands of Palawan and Mindanao. If he sails his boats even further, to New Guineas, Celebes, Java, Sumatra, Singapore or the Malayan (now Malaysian) states, he is called penghulu perahu pelayar (Penghulu of the sailing boat).


The Iban who only concentrates on planting padi at home will try to grow more padi than his family can eat. The proceeds from sale of his extra padi will be used to purchase valuable jars, gongs and brass cannons and boxes for the inheritance (pesaka) of his family. In Sarawak nearly all of the priceless antiques purchased by famous farmers, sailors and traders in the last century are still in the possession of their descendants as heirlooms to the present day. These, particularly the valuable jars, are blessed by the lemambang during the Gawai Tajau festival, causing any descendant who sells these valuables in future years, depleting his family’s inheritance and estate, to be cursed.




After a man has prospered in farming at home or in trading ventures overseas, in the past he might have become a fighter in wars. After a man has successfully killed one or two enemies in battle, his warleader may confer on him a praise name (ensumber). From that day onwards, he will be called by his ensumber rather than by his original name. In due course he is known by other people as raja berani if he acquired material wealth from these ventures, or simply a bujang berani, if he had not been a prosperous farmer or sailor before.


This is not the end of an Iban man ambition. If a warrior is the descendant of a leading warrior (kepala manok sabong), or a war leader (tau kayau or tau serang), he is likely to be appointed by his war leader as a leading warrior on the warpath, provided he displays ability and courage. And if he is successful in this, and his conduct also proves him to be just in his dealings with his comrades-in-arms during the war, he is entitled to lead the fighters to fight in small wars known as kayau anak.


After leading a few kayau anak wars he may be entrusted by his followers with the leadership of a larger scale invasion of their enemy’s territory with larger numbers of fighters. After he has led his warriors to fight in a major expedition, his status is elevated to the rank of tau kayau. From his success in leading these battles he would be acclaimed by all the warriors in the country as a great war leader, tau serang, who has the power to declare war on the people of another country and responsible for defending his country from invasion by enemies.


During the wars of former times, these warriors and war leaders cap­tured enemies whom they either enslaved or sold in exchange for jars and other material wealth. They also looted their foes’ property (perapasan) which their descendants still inherit to this day.



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