Monday, September 13, 2010


The history of the Iban is committed to memory and recorded in a system of writing on boards (papan turai) by the initiated shamans (lemambang). Elaborate genealogies go back to 15 generations or more with a surprising degree of accuracy. Some genealogies are as long as 25 generations and can still be connected with actual places and incidents. A genealogy (tusut) normally begins with the most remote ancestor and is a list of who married and begat whom. Sometimes, the ancestors are characterised in short descriptions. Other songs contain historical information as well, for example the pengap, a ritual chant sung during each major festival, that recounts deities and the deeds of the ancestors. According to oral histories, the Iban arrived in western Sarawak from Indonesia about 1675. After an initial phase of colonising and settling the river valleys, displacing or absorbing the local populations of Bukitans and Serus, a phase of internecine warfare began. Local leaders were forced to resist the tax collectors of the Malay sultans (Brunei). At the same time, Malay influence is felt, and Iban leaders begin to be known by Malay titles like Orang Kaya. Several of the Malays active on the river-estuaries claimed to be descendants of the prophet, like Indra Lela, Sharif Japar and Sharif Sahap. Sharif Ahmit was killed by the Iban. The Bajau and Illanun, coming in galleys from the Philippines plundered in Borneo and were fought by the Iban, for example by the famous Lebor Menoa from Entanak near modern Betong. Oral history recounts how Lebor Menoa encountered Chinese traders who came in ships to the Saribas in order to sell cooking pots, brass pots, pottery bowls, shell armlets and cowry shells for padi. Besides that, the Ibans were also engaged with the Orang Ulu of northern Sarawak, the Bidayuh of southern Sarawak, the Kantu and other Indonesian ethnic tribes from eastern Sarawak. They managed to control the eastern coastline of Sarawak. The Malay leader Indra Lela, brother of Lela Wangsa of Lingga and Lela Pelawan incited the Saribas and Skrang Ibans to warfare against the Sebuyau Dayaks in order to control them. The Saribas were led by Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana of the Padeh, in alliance with Linggir of Paku (Mali Lebu), Bunyau of Entanak and Bulan of Ulu Layar. The Skrang were led by Rentap (Libau), Orang Kaya Gasing and Orang Kaya Ra. About 1834, the Skrang made a raid on Banting Hill, inhabited by Balau Dayaks and Malays, who suffered heavy losses. Three years later, Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana made war on the Undup Ibans who had killed his brother, and utterly defeated them, taking many captives and looting a famous guchi jar that was thought to have magical properties. The surviving Undup Ibans took refuge in the Kapuas valley and Lingga and later settled in the area of Salimbau. Only under the rule of Brooke did they return to Banting hill, which had meanwhile been settled by the Skrang.


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