The Early Iban Way of Life – Sports, Favourite Past Times & Culture
SPORTS, FAVOURITE PAST TIMES AND CULTURE:
Since his childhood, every male Iban indulge in some kind of sporting and cultural activities. After passing the stage where small boys used to play marbles (guli) and stone (selingkut) among themselves, they begin to take an interest in top-spinning with the adults. They make their tops from the wood extracted from tough and strong trees like kayu malam, bait, engkerutak, mengeris, kempas and tapang. The period for top-spinning is between the felling and drying seasons. The top-spinning is done especially during the felling season – to signify and hoping that trees will be easier to cut down.
Besides this, cock-fighting is another type of culture or recreation which is commonly shared by the Ibans. Their interest for this culture originated from the game introduced by Raja Machan who held a cock-fighting bout with Ambong Mungan. The later lost the contest to Raja Machan and decided to go to visit the supernatural being in the sky to look for a fighting cock. In the domain of the God in the Sky, he met with a Supreme God called Raja Petara who gave him a fighting cock with the coloration of “Tuntong Lang Ngindang Terbai, Biring Belangking Pipit Kechuai”. Raja Petara told him that the fighting cock will never be defeated in the contest. With this prized possession given by the Supreme God, Ambong Mugan staged another cock-fighting session against Raja Machan and with devine help, won the contest.
There is another story of an Iban man who went to the underworld in search for a good fighting cock with the coloration of “Biring Gerunggang”. In the underworld, he met with Ensing Jara who is a diety who looks after the soul of the dead fighting cock. He is also known as God of Cockfighting. These tales goes to show that cock-fighting is a serious affair to the past Iban man who went through great length in search for a good fighting cock. Furthermore, they also imitated the game where their fable hero Keling, his friends and Gods Sengalang Burong and his party held a cock-fighting contest against their arch enemies, Apai Sabit Bekait and demon Nising in the sky.
The Iban believed that all the fighting cock the supernatural used in the cock-fighting contest, turned into human warriors. That is why cock-fighting is closely tied to intangible qualities of human nature, spiritual fulfillment and religious refinement. It signifies a man’s chivalry while fighting enemies during war expeditions. As human beings became the fighting cocks of the supernatural, they bore many different types of coloration which men learned to use to assess the personality profile of individual warrior. The Iban believes that every warrior is born with their own “god given” luck (nasib diberi Petara) and destiny (tuah) only seen on the scales of the fighting-cock’s leg and in their color representation (bulu manok). That is why an Iban warrior is called “manok sabong” with similar spiritual properties and characteristic. Thus, through these supernatural being, the Ibans learn and know how to recognise the type of coloration a fighting cock have. They also learn from these supernatural being how to read and interpret the scales on the legs of each fighting cock to determine its destiny or fate as its scale is unique to individual rooster. With this traditional knowledge, the Iban learn how to recognise the quality and personality profile each warrior have and the natural element that influence them.
The Iban warriors adorn beautiful headgear decorated with Angus pheasant (burong ruai) feathers to resemble the beauty and the grace of the fighting cock. The art of cock fighting teaches them to recognise the vulnerability of individual warriors. This helps the warleader to select individual warriors to perform specific task in a war expedition which, at times, would include death duel with enemy warriors. That is why cock-fighting is not only a favorite pastime, but it is also a school of thought that teaches chivalrous behavior (courteous and considerate behavior) associated with the spirit of Iban warriors. It also teaches the Iban about the natural behavior, character and instinct of different fighting cock as it’s coloration represented the type of fish, birds, animals and insect living in its natural environment; location of the sun for their active and inactive time, feeding time, playing time, rest time; river tide situation; etc. Cock-fighting thus represented the Iban’s religious and personal ideal. It is certainly their unique way of life.
The period when the Ibans normally hold cock-fighting bouts is between the felling season and the time when the burning is approaching. In the past, this was known as the annual cock-fighting Season.
Cock-fighting is an old culture introduced by the supernatural being. In the past, on the eve of a cock-fighting contest, leaders of the cock-fighting teams would ask two bards to sing renong (folk songs), one after another. The renong that they sang were the ones which were formerly prescribed for war expeditions. They mentioned Keling, Bunga Nuing and party who went on war expeditions against their arch enemy, Apai Sabit Bekait. War expeditions are similar to cock-fighting contests. Therefore, whenever the Iban leaders wanted to go on war expeditions, they would ask the bards to sing the renong specifically prescribed for cock-fighting contests, following what Ensing Jara did when he held a cock-fighting bout against Ngerai and Niram in the land of the dead (sebayan). Whenever they sing the renong, mainly for cock-fighting bouts or war expeditions, they must prepare offerings because the supernatural being that used to go on war expeditions or held cock-fighting contests are all mentioned in their songs.
However, to the Ibans who adhere to the old customs, cock-fighting does not bring them any harm. It is the time they exchange views and contemplate various meaningful undertakings with each other. Through their conversation at the cock-fighting arena, a majority of them receive ideas on how to improve their methods of farming, gardening, trading, sending their children to schools and carrying out projects to raise their standard of living.
The cunning ones do not indulge themselves too much in gambling and betting during cock-fighting bouts because they remember the advice of their elders on being thrifty. They are aware of the dangers of doing things irresponsibly which will not only reduce their families to destitution but create problems for their children after their deaths.
Nowadays, cock-fighting are being organized occasionally following a major festival, annual gawai Dayak festival and final death rites to mark the end of mourning period. In the headhunting past, death rites was completed with the acquisition of fresh heads. Such practices of blood letting have been replaced with cock-fighting session. This tradition should be kept alive in a contemporary Iban society through a better organized session, set of rules and better arena.
In addition to top-spinning and cock-fighting, there are various other games which they play. Provided there is no mourning period in that longhouse, they beat the gongs every day so that those who are experts in sword dances (bapencha), Dayak free hand martial art (kuntau), wrestling by seizing the opponent’s throat (becekak), dancing with castanets, dancing with saucers (ajat pinggai), war dances and perisai dances, can display their skills. The war dance is divided into two classifications – the casual war dance and displaying the art of the fighting maneuver (ajat bebunoh). In addition to its daily display, the war dance is also used to mark the end of a festival and during the time when the Ibans hold social gatherings (ngerandang jalai & ngelalau).
Even since the Ibans imitated the various kinds of recreation enjoyed by Keling’s people at Panggau Libau and Tutong’s longhouse at Gelong, their longhouses can never be happy places to live in if they are not enlivened by music and the beating of gongs with which the people can show the above-mentioned dances. The Iban youth must also learn to play other types of music because the people at the longhouse must accept the old customs whenever they want to hold various kinds of festivals where there is a great demand for music for ceremonial dances, and welcoming the supernatural being during the festival for a dead person. They must also know how to play a long drum to celebrate the Gawai Burong (bird festival), Enchaboh Arong (festival for the one who has successfully obtained an enemy head during a war expedition), and to welcome Menjaya Raja Manang during the rites for the sick (gawai sakit), and consecration of a manang (bebangun). All these traditional activities and art of music are valuable heirlooms of the longhouse dwellers, in which they practice and preserve.
For those people who do not treasure these values, their communal customs will simply die off, and this will subsequently lead them into embarrassing situations in future, because of the sheer folly of the generation who had discarded the traditions.
Other sports which the Ibans normally participate in are kicking each other with their shins (bepatis), kicking each other with a knee (pangka attak), individual tug-of-war (batak lampong), tug-of-war (tarit tali), arm wrestling (bibat lengan), foot wrestling (bibat kaki) wrestling (bibat), twisting the opponents’ wrist with fingers interlocked (bepancha’?), hopping games (main kingkAk), long jump (perejok jauh), sipak raga, high jump (perejok tinggi) and running up the hill (belanda niki bukit). All these games which they play at their own longhouses are also staged during a festival, especially to mark the end of the occasion. In addition, the elders usually ask the younger ones to either send or bring back something from a cemetery at night. This is done to test a man’s courage.
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