The Iban Migration to Katibas and Baleh

During the period of James Brooke’s arrival into Sarawak, a series of dispute broke out among the Batang Ai Ibans. Partly as a result of these disputes, some of the inhabitants migrated into Indonesian Borneo and then returned back to Sarawak and became the first Ibans to populate the Katibas tributary of the Rejang. They eventually moved into the main river.

The disputes in the Batang Ai began in the days of Unggang (Gerasi) and Temenggong Simpi Pala. It started with a woman named Enche of the Kumpang tributary of the Batang Ai who was married to a man named Dunggat from the Ulu Ai. At one time, Dunggat had promised to marry a woman named Chulo who quite naturally had come to hate Enche for marrying her former sweetheart.

One day Chulo sent quid of arecca nut to Dunggat who had moved down river to lived with his wife’s family by means of a woman named Indai Lemenye. Without questioning the source of the gift, Enche immediately chewed her quid but found out that it contained a mixture of drugs and cat’s hairs. She then became suspicious and questioned Indai Lemenye and discovered that Chulo had sent the peculiar gift. Enche became worried and urged her husband to summon Chulo and question her.

When Chulo came, she admitted sending the quid but claimed that they were not
poisonous. However, she admitted that they contained a divorce charm known as
pemenchi, which is made from the hairs of dogs and cats and the feathers of chickens and hawks placed one upon another according to the ritual. The theory of course is that just as these creatures could never live with each other peacefully hence any husband and wife who took the charm will also came to hate each other and so separate. This charm is still known among the Sea Dayaks.

Enche did not believe this story and said that if she died as a result of chewing the charm, Chulo must pay compensation to her husband of one valuable old jar and a large gong. As far as my husband is concerned, she said angrily, it is not necessary for you to divorce us in such a manner. If you want him, you can have him right away! A few weeks later, Enche fell ill and died. Her brothers Lajang and Tugang hearing of her death led a party of men to seize a jar and a gong from Chulo as demanded by their sister.

In retaliation, Chulo’s father, Mandau took to Kumpang some of the bravest warriors of the Ulu Ai including Sumping, Beraro, Naga and Temenggong Apai Rusoh. These warriors killed two of Lajang’s men. Not long after this, Lajang’s retaliated against Mandau killing some of his followers while they were on their way to Nanga Skrang. In those days the Government fort had not been built at Nanga Skrang but there was a small Malay community living there. The Ibans came to exchange bamboo, for salt and salted fish from
the Malays.

The disputes became tenser and two chiefs for some time remained neutral between the warring parties. There were Unggang (Gerasi) of Nanga Delok and Temenggong Simpi Pala of Rantau Panjai, both in the Batang Ai. Unfortunately, they also became involved in the disputes.

Two chiefs of Kumpang; the party of the aggrieved Enche who had died from eating the pemenchi charm, jointly led a strong war party against the Ulu Ai Ibans at Lubang Baya (the home of Chulo, who had sent the charm). The Kumpang chiefs were Apai Ramba and Apai Jega. As they passed by the home of Temenggong Simpi Pala, on their way to Lubang Baya, they met his wife named Jeburi who was also their cousin. She was standing by the landing place at her house in Rantau Panjai. She asked them their destination but they only replied by telling her that they must follow the marks of the boars’ hooves meaning that they must follow the tracks left by the enemy.

Jeburi was naturally well aware that they were in fact on their way to attack their enemies in the Ulu Ai, as the whole country knew about the feud. She however suggested that it would not be necessary for them to go up so many rapids to reach the foe. She told them that a man named Jengkilan whose house lay not far away at a place called Musing had recently joined forces with their enemy. Apai Jega and Apai Ramba then decided to attack Musing instead of going on to the distant Lubang Baya. Before they proceeded, Jeburi called on them to spare her cousin who was married to Jengkilan and who could be identified by a lebur api blanket in which she would be carrying her child.

Before departing overland to Musing, Apai Ramba ordered that no one should precede him at Jengkilan’s landing place for he wanted badly to kill Jengkilan and Tegaran, the two leading men of the house. He and his picked warriors then continued their way by boat. When they reached Jengkilan’s landing place, they asked a woman who was bathing there to send for Jengkilan and Tegaran to come down to the landing place. The two men did so, unarmed and unsuspecting and Apai Ramba drew his sword and killed them on the spot.
Then his warriors attacked the longhouse and killed almost all the inmates. They were mostly women as the men were away fishing at Lugan Majang in the present day Indonesian Borneo. In the excitement, no one bothered to remember about Jeburi’s cousin. While collecting the heads of the slain, her head could not be identified among them. Fortunately she had been able to escape with her child but she left behind another daughter named Simpo who was captured by Apai Ramba.

On their way home as they passed the house of Unggang (Gerasi), Apai Ramba and his men sent a message to inform him of their victory over Jengkilan. But Unggang was hardly pleased and demanded to know why Apai Ramba had attacked a peaceful and friendly neighbor. When Apai Ramba explained that he had heard a different story from Jeburi, Unggang (Gerasi) responded by drawing his sword and pointing it to the sky, challenging Apai Ramba to a single combat. The later refused the challenge and continued on his way back home.

On reaching the house of Temenggong Simpi Pala at Rantau Panjai, Apai Ramba told him of his victory over Jengkilan and as a joke, he invited him to plant tobacco in the ashes of the house. But Simpi Pala still apparently ignorant of the fact that it was his own wife, who had instigated the whole affair, was just as outraged as Unggang (Gerasi) had been. He bitterly approached Apai Ramba for his crime. In his anger, he slashed at the fence of his open platform (tanju) with his war knife (nyabur) and challenged any of Apai Ramba’s men to fight him alone. Apai Ramba now thoroughly distressed declined to talk any longer with Temenggong Simpi Pala, and together with his men continued to travel down the Batang Ai.

They reached Untu’s house at Bui late that evening. When Untu heard of their victory and saw their captives, he recognized Simpo, the daughter of Jengkilan (who was his cousin) among them. He asked Apai Ramba to release her for the price of one old jar and a gong, and remained to live at Bui with Untu.

A month later Unggang (Gerasi) who was still furious over the whole affair ordered his warriors, Sumping, Naga, Ujan and Mandau to attack Apai Ramba in revenge for the unwarranted attack on Musing. He told his warriors that they should persuade Temenggong Simpi Pala at Rantau Panjai to join them.
If he refuses to go you must kill him, ordered Unggang (Gerasi), for it was due to his wife’s false story that Apai Ramba raided Musing. Temenggong Simpi Pala was first reluctant for he was closely related through his wife to most of the people at Kumpang where Apai Ramba lived. But threatened with death and
fear that he be accused of secretly aiding Apai Ramba’s attack on Musing, he finally agreed to help. He demanded that in return for his help, Unggang (Gerasi) should help him to fortify his own house first. A stockade was duly erected; traces of which are still visible today. Most of the work was actually done by the Bukitans who were still subservient to the Ibans in the Batang Ai region. Then the combined forces of Unggang (Gerasi) and
Temenggong Simpi Pala prepared to attack the Kumpang Ibans.

Meanwhile, Apai Ramba and Apai Jega were on the lookout for the expected attack. From Kumpang they sent scouts across to Nanga Seremat on the Batang Ai to report back if they see the forces of Temenggong Simpi Pala, Unggang (Gerasi) and their allies coming. The scouts returned and reported that they had seen a small light far up in the river, which they believed to be the approaching enemy. But the two leaders refused to credit this report and accused the scouts of cowardice. A second group of scouts went out and returned saying that they had seen nothing. However, the first scout had been correct. While they had been reporting, the attacking force had been able to move down river past Nanga Seremat, without attracting any more attention.

At dawn this force successfully attacked the house of Galau and Kamarau, allies of the Kumpang people at Stuga. Apai Ramba who by now was lying in wait at Nanga Seremat was completely surprised when he saw from far, the black smoke from Galau’’ burning house. Apai Ramba attempted to retaliate on the forces from up river, as they were withdrawing after that victory. One of Simpi Pala warriors led a small party back overland, which passed, not far from where Apai Ramba and his men were waiting at Nanga Seremat. Apai Ramba saw and recognized some of these men as from Simpi Pala’s house.

As the main troop retreated, Simpi Pala, still uneasy about his participation in the affair, walked in the rear of the party, fearful that Apai Ramba men would kill him in their anger. Apai Ramba’s warriors followed the main Ulu Ai forces as far as Nanga Pat, where they made an attack from the rear. It was not a success. Earlier in the conflict, the Ulu Ai warriors named Taboh and Enturan (Besi) who each killed an enemy thus greatly encouraged the entire Ulu Ai force. While pursuing a fugitive, they discovered that all the wounded fighters of Apai Ramba had been sent to Upper Pat. They tracked them down
and killed them also. Apai Ramba realizing that he was ousted fled away.

A few months later he returned with his warriors and fight against the Ulu Ai Ibans and this time he almost completely wiped out the people of Likup’s longhouse at Entago, above Nanga Mujan.


As the fighting and conflict continues, some people were growing weary of the
happenings. At about this time, a leader named Sumping from the Ulu Ai urged
Temenggong Simpi Pala to migrate elsewhere to avoid the continuous conflict. However, Temenggong Simpi Pala was reluctant for he did not wish his guardian spirit (tua) which lived on a hill named Bukit Tunggal, near Nanga Kaung would be left behind.

Despite Temenggong Simpi Pala refusal, Sumping himself migrated with his followers to Batang Jeketan, a tributary of the Kapuas. Naga who then lived in one of the branches of the Kayan, another Kapuas tributary, followed him.
From these places, Naga moved again to Nyawang (also in the Kapuas) while Sumping migrated to Bukit Chundong between the headwaters of the Jekelan and Katibas River in Sarawak where he died at a great age.

Sumping who was childless was succeeded jointly by Gerinang and his brother Unggat. They migrated to the Kapuas drainage joining Naga at Nyawang.
After Naga’s death, they moved to Rantau Likau in the Katibas. When Apai Ramba
heard of their arrival, he again attacked them reviving the old feud. Due to the attacks by Apai Ramba, they were forced to move down the Katibas to live temporarily at Nanga Musah, before finally reaching the Rejang River and settling at Menuan. Here the Kayan, Rejang and Tanjong tribes who lived on the banks of the Rejang, constantly attacked them.

While Gerinang and Unggat continues to live at Nyawang and when they died, their heirs named Mata Hari and Keling succeeded them respectively. Both of the latter were sons of Unggat and his uncle Gerinang who had no son had adopted Mata Hari. Later, both Mata Hari and Keling established themselves in the Balleh, where they were joined by Jubang, the father of the late Temenggong Koh.

The story of Temenggong Koh, one of the most famous Ibans of modern Sarawak,
illustrate the path of migration from Batang Ai to the present day Third Division via the Kapuas drainage. To further understand this path, we must return to Koh’s great great grandfather, who was none other than the Temenggong Simpi Pala.

Temenggong Simpi Pala’s disputes with Apai Ramba and Apai Jega of Kumpang
continued after the events described earlier. Finally he overcame his reluctance to leave his guardian spirit and migrated to live at Nanga Badau, now in Indonesian Borneo, but not far from the Sarawak frontier station at Lubok Antu. At Nanga Badau, he was engaged in ceaseless conflict with the Malays of Tawang and the Dayaks of Salimbau and Kantu. He won many victories and ended by ruling much of the territory between the Sarawak frontier and the Seriang Lake District.

It was during this period that one of Temenggong Simpi Pala’s sons named
Temenggong Runggah had five children including Temenggong Buah, Temenggong
Guntur and Ba. Ba married a woman named Bejau and later gave birth to Begat Garong who was the mother of Temenggong Koh.

Ba lived at Kanyau and it was from there that he led another Iban migration into the Katibas where he first lived at Pengkalan Ridan. Here migrants from the Delok tributary of the Batang Ai including a man named Malintang joined him. From the Katibas, Ba led his people to dwell in the main Rejang River in the vicinity of the present day Song and established his longhouse at Nanga Ngelai.

Shortly after he arrived in this area, Ba swore friendship with Sawing, a Tanjong tribal chief who at this time was still a man of great influence in the middle Rejang. Ba and Sawing exchanged gift to seal their friendship with the Iban leader giving the Tanjong chief a slave named Atok. In return he received a valuable menaga type jar. Today this jar is in the possession of ex-Penghulu Garinang of Gaat whose wife was Temenggong Koh’s niece.

Three years after Ba had arrived at Song; he led his people to live further down river at Nanga Dap in Kanowit. At this time Balang and his people had settled at Nanga Ngemah, while many other Ibans were living along the banks of the Rejang from Nanga Poi to Nanga Song.

Balang was arrested by the Government in 1868 for plotting to kill J.B. Cruickshank, then the Resident of Rejang. Balang was executed at Pulau Selalau near Sibu. Because of Balang’s death, the Katibas Ibans led by his brother named Unjup rebelled against the Government. The Government then launched a series of expedition against these rebels.
As a result of the revolution, Ba returned to Kanyau River in what was then Dutch Borneo. It was while he was there that Koh himself was born at Pulau Ensulit. Although Ba and his warriors were not living in Katibas but they frequently helped Unjup in his struggle against the Rajah.

Eventually after a few expeditions peace was restored in the Katibas. At about this time, Ba died at Labuan and his son named Jubang (the father of Temenggong Koh) led Ba’s followers to migrate back to Sarawak. When Jubang returned to the Katibas, he found that practically no Ibans in the Rejang from Nanga Kanowit upwards had paid door tax to the Government.

Some years after the Katibas troubles, the Dayaks had begun to pay their
door tax with pigs, chickens, rice or bananas to the Government. Jubang later joined forces with Mata Hari and Keling in their struggles against the
Kayan, Bukitan, Tanjong, Rejang and Lugat tribes which had broken out not long before the Great Kayan Expedition of 1863. The struggle continued until late in the time of Munan who was the great Penghulu Dalam of Sibu. Munan died in 1914.

Eventually after more conflict with the Government, the Ibans of Rejang started to migrate into the Balleh tributary. Today, it is one of the most important Iban-inhabited rivers in Sarawak.



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