Stages of paddy farming

The Ibans are dedicated agriculturists and correspondingly a significant portion of adat law and custom relates directly to farming. Sometime during the month of May (bulan lelang, “Wandering moon”), after every family in the longhouse has agreed to farm together in a single long stretch of land (bumai bedandang), all minor disputes over farm boundaries are brought before the headman and must be settled amicably by the Tuai Rumah before the initial clearing (manggol) can begin. Those judged to be offenders in such a dispute are fined by the Tuai Rumah one chicken and sigi jabir, $ 1.00.

When the Pleiades (bintang tujoh) appear in the zenith of the sky at night, the farmers will start to do their initial clearing (manggol) with ceremonial offerings (piring). They do this work over seven successive days with their ears plugged with leaves or grass in order not to hear the voices of omen birds and animals.

By this time of the year the flowers of bansu tree upriver have already fallen three times which indicates the coming of the new farming year. Downriver flowers of the putat tree are falling. In addition, bamboo shoots are sprouting in great numbers, fern tops are appearing everywhere and kulat taun (a variety of mushroom) are growing in abundance on the ground. All of these are taken as signs that the time for planting has arrived.

When the new moon of June appears in the sky, the farmers respect it with a day holiday (diau ka anak bulan) so that they will not be wounded by weapons throughout the coming farming year. On this day, too, the far­mers must cook their food in the family kitchen of the longhouse (mandok ka dapor).

After manggol is over, farming families start to cut the bush, nebas, till about the end of July. On the eighth of every lunar month they are required to stay away from work in order to respect the kedang mansang moon. Five days later the farmers again stay away one day to respect the kira biak moon that falls on the thirteenth of each lunar month.

The fourteenth day of the lunar month is called the kira tuai moon and precedes the bulan peranama (full moon) night that is also known as tulak matahari tumboh and matahari padam. This day must be respected with a day holiday during which food must be cooked at the family kitchen in the longhouse according to the adat dapor.

The sixteenth day of each lunar month is called engkeleman nyambil, the seventeenth is engkeleman mandang, and the eighteenth is engkeleman bubok or engkeleman keli. During the latter is a variety of shrimp (bubok) and a type of fresh water eel (keli) are spawning in abundance in the sea and the rivers, respectively.

On the nineteenth of the lunar moon, the farmers stay away from work to respect the tebarerak rumpang moon – when the moon starts to wane gradually. The twenty-second is known as kedang surut, last day of the second quarter of the lunar month.

Early in August the farmers start to fell (nebang) the trees on their far­ms. This work lasts for approximately two or three weeks. It is followed by the ngerekai season, when the dead trees are left to dry for about one month.

In early September all farmers hope for good weather to fire their farms. After the burning is done, the farmers and their families will stay away from work for one day in order to observe ngerara ibun, a day when one should not see any half-dead or dying animals, birds or other creatures in their tegalan, or burnt padi fields.

Early on the second morning after burning the farm, a senior woman of the farmer’s family starts to dibble five holes for planting seeds in the ground. This work is known as ngenchuri tegalan. The holes must not be made around the stump of a tree in order to prevent the earth from becoming sticky when padi is later sown in the whole farm.

On the second day after burning, the farmers and their sons start to build a farm hut, langkau, as well as to gather the unburnt tree trunks and creepers into heaps (ngebak) for reburning . While they are engaged in this way, the women plant the seeds of gourd (labu), cucumber (entimun), pumpkin (entekai), wax-gourd (janggat), long bean (retak), mustard (ensabi), maize (Jagong) and varieties of bunga rambu and other flowers.

Early on the third day, as the Pleiades appear in the centre of the sky at around 04.00 a.m., that is shortly before dawn, all members of the farmer’s family start to plant their padi. The Tuai Umai is responsible for setting the time and informing the other farmers. But before dibbling can begin the farmer himself must first make a sacrificial offering to the deities of the land, Semarugah and Simpulang Gana. He prays for their blessing on his family’s efforts in their padi fields throughout the whole year (sampi nugal).

When this is finished, the men start to dibble holes in the earth with dibble sticks (tugal) while the women sow the seeds into the holes they make. Before the farmer can plant his ordinary padi, he must first plant his family’s padi pun – the sacred padi which the family plants each year around a pelasar platform where the farmer has put the of­ferings and where the sacred engkenyang lily is planted (ngelaboh padi pun).

After the padi pun has been planted, the other varieties of padi are sown each day. After all his or­dinary seeds (benih) have been planted, the farmer starts to sow first the seeds of white glutinous rice, benih pulut burak next the seeds of red glutinous rice, benih pulut mirah; and last the seeds of black glutinous rice, benih pulut chelum. It is a major taboo for an Iban farmer to plant any other kind of padi before his glutinous padi.

The consequence of not planting the padi pulut (glutinous rice) in its proper order is unavoidable death to a member of the farmer’s family sometime during the year.

After the farmer has finished planting his padi, he and the members of his family are free to do other work, such as tapping rubber or planting vegetables or other cash crops, until October when women start to weed (mantun) their farms. They usually finish this work in early December, when the padi is coming to ear.

After the weeding is over, the women are again busy with plaiting the many kinds of baskets used at the harvest time in February and March.

During and after the harvest, the farmer and his grown sons carry the padi in huge takaran or lanji baskets from the farm to the longhouse. After they have finished with the berangkut, the repeated carrying of the padi to the longhouse, they thresh the padi with their feet to separate the grain from the stalk (nungku). The women win­now away the empty husks (muput) and the grain is dried in the sun for some days (ngerekai padi).

After the padi grain has been dried and winnowed twice, the farmer’s family store the grain in bins made of tree bark in the loft above the family bilek (besimpan). But before the padi is brought to the loft, the farmer and his wife will perform a simple ritual by first oil and perfume the bins with coconut oil and myrrh. Having done this, a hen is killed and its blood is used to smear the bins and a short prayer is recited. The grain is then put into the bins. If the harvest is abundant, the farmers may be able to fill up to seven bins.


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