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A traditional Iban family, c. 1920 – 1940.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Malaysia (Sarawak, and small diaspora in Sabah, Labuan, and Peninsular Malaysia)||745,400|
| Indonesia |
|Iban, Indonesian/Malaysian; most notably the Sarawak Malay dialect of the Malaysian language|
|Christianity and Animism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Kantu, Dayak Mualang, Semberuang, Bugau and Sebaru|
The Ibans or Sea Dayaks are a branch of the Dayak peoples of Borneo, in South East Asia. Most Ibans are located in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is believed that the term "Iban" was originally an exonym used by the Kayans, who - when they initially came into contact with them - referred to the Sea Dayaks in the upper Rajang river region as the "Hivan".
Ibans were renowned for practicing headhunting and territorial migration, and had a fearsome reputation as a strong and successful warring tribe. Since the arrival of Europeans and the subsequent colonisation of the area, headhunting gradually faded out of practice, although many other tribal customs and practices as well as the Iban language continue to thrive. The Iban population is concentrated in Sarawak, Brunei, and in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. They traditionally live in longhouses called rumah panjai or betang (trunk) in West Kalimantan.
- 1 Ibanic Dayak regional groups
- 2 Language and Oral Literature
- 3 Iban ritual festivals and rites
- 4 Culture and customs
- 5 Agriculture and economy
- 6 Military
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 Notable people
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
Ibanic Dayak regional groups
Although Ibans generally speak various dialects which are mutually intelligible, they can be divided into different branches which are named after the geographical areas where they reside.
- The majority of Ibans who live around the Lundu and Samarahan region are called Sebuyaus.
- Ibans who settled in the Serian district (places like Kampung Lebor, Kampung Tanah Mawang and others) are called Remuns. They may be the earliest Iban group to migrate to Sarawak.
- Ibans who originated from Sri Aman area are called Balaus.
- Ibans who come from Betong, Saratok and parts of Sarikei are called Saribas'.
- The original Iban, Lubok Antu Ibans, are classed by anthropologists as Ulu Ai/batang ai Ibans.
- Ibans from Undup are called Undup Ibans. Their dialect is a cross between the Ulu Ai and the Balau dialects.
- Ibans living in areas from Sarikei to Miri are called Rajang Ibans. This group is also known as Bilak Sedik Iban. They are the majority group of the Iban people. They can be found along: the Rajang River, Sibu, Kapit, Belaga, Kanowit, Song, Sarikei, Bintangor, Bintulu and Miri. Their dialect is somewhat similar to the Ulu Ai or Lubok Antu dialect.
In West Kalimantan (Indonesia), Iban people are even more diverse. The Kantu, Air Tabun, Semberuang, Sebaru, Bugau, Mualang, and many other groups are classed as Ibanic people by anthropologists. They can be related to the Iban either by dialect cultural customs or rituals.
Language and Oral Literature
The Iban language (jaku Iban) is spoken by the Iban, a branch of the Dayak ethnic group formerly known as "Sea Dayak". They live in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, and in Brunei. The language belongs to Malayic languages, which is a Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. The Iban language is also related to Malay, and more closely to Sarawakian Malay. It is thought that the homeland of the Malayic languages is in western Borneo, where the Ibanic languages remain. The Malayan branch represents a secondary dispersal, probably from central Sumatra but possibly also from Borneo.
The Iban language is included in Malaysian public school examinations for Form 3 and Form 5 students. Students comment that questions from these exams can be daunting, since they mostly cover the classic Iban language, while students are more fluent in the contemporary tongue. The language is mostly taught to students in rural areas with a majority Iban population, including: Baleh (Kapit), Betong, Sri Aman, Saratok, Lubok Antu, Pelagus (Kapit), Pakan and Julau.
The Iban people speak basically one language with regional dialects that vary in intonation. They have a rich oral literature, noted by Derek Freeman, a professor of anthropology at the Australian National University who stated: Derek Freeman told me that Iban folklore “probably exceeds in sheer volume the literature of the Greeks.” At that time, I thought Freeman excessive. Today, I suspect he may have been conservative in his estimate (Sutlive 1988: 73). There is a body of oral poetry which is recited by the Iban depending on the occasion.
Iban ritual festivals and rites
Significant traditional festivals, or gawai, to propitiate the gods, can be grouped into seven categories according to the main ritual activities:
- Farming-related festivals for the deity of agriculture, Sempulang Gana
- War-related festivals to honor the deity of war, Sengalang Burong
- Fortune-related festivals dedicated to the deity of fortune, Anda Mara
- Procreation-related festival (Gawai Melah Pinang) for the deity of creation, Selampandai
- Health-related festivals for the gods of Shamanism, Menjaya and Ini Andan
- Death-related festival (Gawai Antu or Ngelumbong), including rituals to invite dead souls to their final separation from the living
- Weaving-related festival (Gawai Ngar) for patrons of weaving
For simplicity and cost savings, some of the gawai have been relegated into the medium category of propitiation called gawa. These include Gawai Tuah into Nimang Tuah, Gawai Benih into Nimang Benih and Gawa Beintu-intu into their respective nimang category, wherein the key activity is the timang inchantation by the bards. Gawai Matah can be relegated into a minor rite simply called matah. The first dibbling (nugal) session is normally preceded by a medium-sized offering ceremony in which kibong padi (a paddy's net) is erected with three flags. The paddy's net is erected by splitting a bamboo trunk lengthwise into four pieces with the tips inserted into the ground. Underneath the paddy's net, baskets or gunny sacks hold all the paddy seeds. Then men distribute the seeds to a line of ladies who place them into dibbled holes.
Often only a few of the lower ranking ritual festivals are celebrated by the Iban today. These include as Sandau Ari (Mid-Day Rite), Gawai Kalingkang (Bamboo Receptacle Festival), Gawai Batu (Whetstone Festival), Gawai Tuah (Fortune Festival) and Gawai Antu (Festival for the Dead Relatives), which can be celebrated without the timang jalong (ceremonial cup chanting), reducing its size and cost.
Commonly, all those festivals are celebrated after rice harvesting near the end of May. At harvest time, there is plenty of food for feasting. Not only is rice plentiful, but also poultry, pigs, chickens, fish, and jungle meats like deer. Therefore, it is fitting to call this festive season among Dayak collectively the Gawai Dayak festival. It is celebrated every year on 1 June, at the end of the harvest season, to worship the Lord Sempulang Gana and other gods. On this day, the Iban visit family and friends, and gather to celebrate.
Culture and customs
Religion and belief
For hundreds of years, the Iban's ancestors practiced their own traditional belief system, although after the arrival of James Brooke, many were influenced by European missionaries and converted to Christianity. Although the majority are now Christian; many continue to observe both Christian and traditional ceremonies, particularly during marriages or festivals, although some ancestral practices such as 'Miring' are still prohibited by certain churches. After being Christianized, the majority of Iban people have changed their traditional name to a Hebrew-based "Christian name" followed by the Ibanese name such as David Dunggau, Joseph Jelenggai, Mary Mayang, etc.
For the majority of Ibans who are Christians, some Christian festivals such as Christmas, Good Friday, Easter are also celebrated. Most Ibans are devout Christians and follow the Christian faith strictly. Since conversion to Christianity, some Iban people celebrate their ancestors' festivals using Christian ways and the majority still observe Gawai Dayak (the Dayak Festival), which is a generic celebration in nature unless a gawai proper is held and thereby preserves their ancestors' culture and tradition.
Despite the difference in faiths, Ibans of different faiths do live and help each other regardless of faith but some do split their longhouses due to different faiths or even political affiliations. The Ibans believe in helping and having fun together. Some elder Ibans are worried that among most of the younger Iban generation, their culture has faded since the conversion to Christianity and the adoption of a more Western style of life. Nevertheless, most Iban embrace modern progress and development.
Pansoh or lulun is a dish of rice or other food cooked in cylindrical bamboo sections (ruas) with the top end cut open to insert the food while the bottom end remains uncut to act as a container. A middle-aged bamboo tree is normally chosen to make containers because its wall still contains water; old, mature bamboo trees are dryer and are burned by fire more readily. The bamboo also imparts the famous and addictive, special bamboo taste or flavour to the cooked food or rice. Glutinous rice is often cooked in bamboo for the routine diet or during celebrations. It is believed in the old days, bamboo cylinders were used to cook food in the absence of metal pots.
Kasam is preserved meat or fish. In the absence of refrigerators, jungle meat from wild game or river fish are preserved by cutting them into small pieces and mixing them with salt before placing them in a ceramic jar or today, glass jars. Ceramic jars were precious in the old days as food, tuak or general containers. Meat preserved in this manner can last for at least several months.
Tuak is an Iban wine traditionally made from cooked glutinous rice (asi pulut) mixed with home-made yeast (ciping) containing herbs for fermentation. It is used to serve guests, especially as a welcoming drink when entering a longhouse. However, these raw materials are rarely used unless available in large quantities. Tuak and other types of drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) can be served in several rounds during a ceremony called nyibur temuai (serving drinks to guests) as a ai aus (thirst quenching drink), a ai basu kaki foot washing drink), a ai basa (respect drink) and a ai untong (profit drink). Another type of stronger alcoholic drink is called langkau (hut) or arak pandok (cooked spirit). It contains a higher alcohol content because it is actually made of tuak which has been distilled over fire to boil off the alcohol, cooled and collected into containers.
Iban music is percussion-oriented. The Iban have a musical heritage consisting of various types of agung ensembles - percussion ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drums without any accompanying melodic instrument. The typical Iban agung ensemble will include a set of engkerumung (small gongs arranged together side by side and played like a xylophone), a tawak (the so-called "bass gong"), a bebendai (which acts as a snare) and also a ketebung or bedup (a single sided drum/percussion instrument).
There are various kinds of taboh (music), depending the purpose and types of ngajat, like alun lundai (slow tempo). The gendang can be played in some distinctive types corresponding to the purpose and type of each ceremony. The most popular ones are called gendang rayah (swinging blow) and gendang pampat (sweeping blow).
Sape is originally a traditional music by Orang Ulu (Kayan, Kenyah and Kelabit). Nowadays, both the Iban as well as the Orang Ulu Kayan, Kenyah and Kelabit play an instrument resembling the guitar called the sape. Datun Jalut and nganjak lansan are the most common traditional dances performed accompanied by a sape tune. The sape is the official musical instrument of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is played similarly to the way rock guitarists play guitar solos, albeit a little slower, but not as slow as the blues. One example of Iban traditional music is the taboh.
Traditional carvings (ukir) include: hornbill effigy carving, the terabai shield, the engkeramba (ghost statue), the knife handle, normally made of deer horn, the knife scabbard, decorative carving on the metal blade itself during ngamboh blacksmithing e.g. butoh kunding, and frightening masks. Another related category is designing motives either by engraving or drawing with paints on wooden planks, walls or house posts. Even traditional coffins may be beautifully decorated using both carving and ukir-painting.
The Ibans like to tattoo themselves all over their bodies. There are motifs for each part of the body. The purpose of the tattoos is to protect the tattoo bearer or to signify certain events in their life. Some motifs are based on marine lives such as the crayfish (rengguang), prawn (undang) and crab (ketam), while other motifs are based on dangerous creatures like the cobra (tedong), scorpion (kala), ghost dog (pasun) and dragon (naga). Other common motifs include items which Iban travellers might come across during a journey such as an aeroplane which may be tattooed on the chest. Some Ibans call this art of tattoing kalingai or ukir. To signify that an individual has killed an enemy (udah bedengah), he is entitled to tattoo his throat (engkatak) or his upper-side fingers (tegulun). Some traditional Iban do have piercings of the penis (called palang) or the ear lobes.
Woven products are known as betenun. Several types of woven blankets made by the Ibans are pua kumbu, pua ikat, kain karap and kain sungkit. Using weaving, the Iban make blankets, bird shirts (baju burong), kain kebat, kain betating and selampai. Weaving is the women's warpath while kayau (headhunting) is the men's warpath. They pua kumbu do have conventional or ritual motives depending on the purpose of the woven item. Those who finish the weaving lessons are called tembu kayu (finish the wood) []. Among well-known ritual motifs are Gajah Meram (Brooding Elephant), Tiang Sandong (Ritual Pole), Meligai (Shrine) and Tiang Ranyai.
The Iban call this skill pandai beranyam — plaiting various items namely mats (tikai), baskets and hats. The Ibans weave mats of numerous types namely tikai anyam dua tauka tiga, tikai bebuah (motive mat), tikai lampit made of rattan and tikai peradani made of rattan and tekalong bark. Materials to make mats are beban to make the normal mat or the patterned mat, rattan to make tikai rotan, lampit when the rattan splits sewn using a thread or peradani when criss-crossed with the tekalong bark, senggang to make perampan used for drying and daun biruto make a normal tikai or kajang (canvas) which is very light when dry. The names of Iban baskets are bakak (medium-sized container for transferring, lifting or medium-term storage), singtong (container worn at the waist for carrying rice from a paddy), raga (small basket hung over one shoulder), tubang (cylindrical backpack), lanji (tall cylindrical backpack) and probably selabit (almost rectangular shaped backpack). Another category of plaiting which is normally carried out by men is to make fish traps called bubu gali, bubu dudok, engsegak and abau using betong bamaboo splits except bubu dudok which is made from ridan which can be bent without breaking. The Iban also make special baskets called garong for the dead during Gawai Antu with numerous feet to denote the rank and status of the deceased which indicates his ultimate achievement during his lifetime. The Iban also make pukat (rectangular net) and jala (conical net) after nylon ropes became available.
Iban have their own hunting apparatus which includes making panjuk (rope and spring trap), peti (bamboo blade trap) and jarin (deer net). Nowadays, they use shotguns and dogs for animal hunting. Dogs were reared by the Ibans in longhouses, especially in the past, for hunting (ngasu) purposes and warning the Iban of any approaching danger. Shotguns can be bought from the Brooke government. The Ibans make their own blowpipes, and obtain honey from the tapang tree.
The Ibans can also can make boats. Canoes for normal use are called perau, but big war boats are called bangkong or bong. A canoe is usually fitted with long paddles and a sail made of kajang canvas. It is said that bangkong is used to sail along the coasts of northern Borneo or even to travel across the sea, for example, to Singapore.
Besides that, the Ibans make various blades called nyabur, ilang, pedang, duku chandong, duku penebas, lungga (small blade), sangkoh spear, jerepang multipointed hook, and sumpit blowpipe with poisonous tips. Although silversmithing originates from the Embaloh, some Ibans became skilled in this trade and made silverware for body ornaments. The Iban buy brass ware such as tawak (gong), bendai (snare) and engkerumong tabak (tray) and baku (small box) from other people because they do not have brass-smithing skills. The Iban make their own kacit pinang to split the areca nut and pengusok pinang to grind the split pieces of the areca nut. They also make ketap(finger-held blade) to harvest ripened paddy stalks and iluk (hand-held blade) to weed.
Agriculture and economy
For cash, the Ibans find jungle produce to sell at the market. Later, they planted rubber, pepper and cocoa. Nowadays, many Ibans work in towns to seek better sources of income.
Two highly decorated Iban Dayak soldiers from Sarawak in Malaysia are Temenggung Datuk Kanang anak Langkau (awarded the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa or Grand Knight of Valour) and Awang anak Raweng of Skrang (awarded a George Cross). So far, only one Dayak has reached the rank of general in the military, Brigadier-General Stephen Mundaw in the Malaysian Army, who was promoted on 1 November 2010.
Malaysia's most decorated war hero is Kanang Anak Langkau for his military service helping to liberate Malaya (and later Malaysia) from the communists, being the only soldier awarded both Seri Pahlawan (The Star of the Commander of Valour) and Panglima Gagah Berani (The Star of Valour). Among all the heroes are 21 holders of the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) including 2 recipients of the Seri Pahlawan. Of this total, there are 14 Ibans, two Chinese army officers, one Bidayuh, one Kayan and one Malay. But the majority of the Armed Forces are Malays, according to a book – Crimson Tide over Borneo. The youngest of the PGB holders is ASP Wilfred Gomez of the police force.
There were six holders of Sri Pahlawan (SP) and Panglima Gagah Perkasa from Sarawak, and with the death of Kanang Anak Langkau, there is one SP holder in the person of Sgt. Ngalinuh (an Orang Ulu).
In popular culture
- The episode "Into the Jungle" from Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations included the appearance of Itam, a former Sarawak Ranger and one of the Iban people's last members with the entegulun (Iban traditional hand tattoos) signifying his taking of an enemy's head.
- The film The Sleeping Dictionary features Selima (Jessica Alba), an Anglo-Iban girl who falls in love with John Truscott (Hugh Dancy). The movie was filmed primarily in Sarawak, Malaysia.
- Malaysian singer Noraniza Idris recorded "Ngajat Tampi" in 2000 and followed by "Tandang Bermadah" in 2002, which are based on traditional Iban music compositions. Both songs became popular in Malaysia and neighbouring countries.
- Chinta Gadis Rimba (or Love of a Forest Maiden), a 1958 film directed by L. Krishnan based on the novel of the same name by Harun Aminurrashid, tells about an Iban girl, Bintang, who goes against the wishes of her parents and runs off to her Malay lover. The film is the first time a full-length feature film was shot in Sarawak and the first time an Iban woman played the lead character.
- Bejalai is a 1987 film directed by Stephen Teo, notable for being the first film to be made in the Iban language and also the first Malaysian film to be selected for the Berlin International Film Festival. The film is an experimental feature about the custom among the Iban young men to do a "bejalai" (go on a journey) before attaining maturity.
- In Farewell to the King, a 1969 novel by Pierre Schoendoerffer plus its subsequent 1989 film adaptation, American prisoner-of-war Learoyd escapes a Japanese firing squad by hiding in the wilds of Borneo, where he is adopted by an Iban community.
- In 2007, Malaysian company Maybank produced a wholly Iban-language commercial commemorating Malaysia's 50th anniversary of independence. The advert, directed by Yasmin Ahmad with help of the Leo Burnett agency, was shot in Bau and Kapit and used an all-Sarawakian cast.
- A conflict between a proa of "sea-dyaks" and the shipwrecked Jack Aubrey and his crew forms much of the first part of The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991), Patrick O'Brian's fourteenth Aubrey-Maturin novel.
- Rentap, Leader of rebellion against the Brooke government and used the title of Raja Ulu (king of the Interior).
- Temenggung Koh Anak Jubang, the first paramount chief of Dayak in Sarawak
- Jugah anak Barieng, second Paramount Chief of the Dayak people and the key signatory on behalf of Sarawak to the Malaysia Agreement
- Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the first Chief Minister of Sarawak
- Tawi Sli, the second Chief Minister of Sarawak
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- Henry Golding, actor
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