In ancient times, when the island of Borneo was still only sparsely inhabited, those who dwelled there lived in fear of many kinds of demons, dwarfs and spirits. These beings might either look after men or else punish them with death if they broke taboos.
As spirits (antu) were everywhere, men had to be very careful in what they said and did. They could not speak arrogantly when they fished the river or hunted the forests. If they did so, boasting that they could easily obtained fish or game, their efforts would come to nothing. Similarly, an individual was strictly forbidden to mock other living things; if he did so, the spirit would destroy him with kudi, a violent supernatural storm in which a culprit and all his belongings were turned to stone (batu kudi). Houses and human beings believed to have been petrified in the past can still be seen in many places in Sarawak.
Migration from Kapuas River mouth upriver: Where the Ibans meet the Arab Traders.
In these very early times, because of the presence of spirits all around them, settlers in Borneo frequently discussed the nature and dwelling place of the gods and spirits, to find the best way to worship and pay respect to them. The Muslim missionaries had already started to arrive to trade and spread their Islamic teachings to this part of the country. They had already established their foothold in the islands of Sumatra and Java and gradually weakened the Hindu Majapahit Empire. It was at about this time, at a place called Ketapang in Northwest Kalimantan, there lived a very famous Iban ancestor named Bejie. The Muslim missionaries had frequently spoken of the almighty god named Allah whose abode is high in the sky. The people began to believe that this god is living above all other deities of this world. On hearing this, Bejie thought of an idea to visit the almighty Allah in the sky to ask god personally about the best way for his people to worship and pay respect to god. He called for a large meeting of his people to discuss the construction of a stairway, on the tallest enchepong tree in the country, to reach heaven. They all agreed to his proposal hoping that they could reach god’s house in heaven.
The ladder was constructed from ironwood (belian) trunk. The base of the ladder was planted at the base of the enchepong tree branches to reach the next branch. Eventually, after some years, the top of the ladder stood above the cloud. As Bejie and his men, all dressed up to visit almighty Allah in the sky, made a final climb to heaven. As they proceed up the ladder, the enchepong tree unfortunately gave way due to the sheer weight of the ironwood ladder. Its root had been rotten and eaten away by termites throughout the construction period. As the ladder collapsed, Bejie and his followers fell headlong to the earth. The ladders landed on various rivers throughout the west-central Borneo. Any ironwood trunk which may be found inside many rivers, are known as “Tangga Bejie”, and it is a taboo to use it to construct any part of the longhouse as it would bring bad omen to the house owner.
Before the construction of the ladder, Bejie had assigned his brother named Bada to lead his people. Bejie had also begot a son named Nisi whose praised name was “Bunga besi enda semaia makai tulang”. Nisi begot a son named Antu Berembayan Bulu Niti Berang who was the father of Telichu, Telichai and Ragam. Ragam was the mother of Manang Jarai (or Manang Tuai – the first Iban shaman).
After the death of Bejie, their people moved to Kayung. There were other Iban along the coast at the time, especially at Trusan Tanjong Bakong and in general around the mouth of Kapuas River. After Bejie’s descendant had settled there for quite sometime, Arab traders arrived in large sailing ship from Jeddah. They do barter trade with the Ibans exchanging clothes and spices for rice and jungle products. This was the first time the Iban had ever seen woven clothes. Before then, they had only lion clothes and skirts made from barks of trees.
As more Arab traders and Muslim missionary came to trade with the Ibans, many Ibans were converted to this new faith. Soon, divisions began to appear among the Iban leaders between those who adopted the Muslim faith and those who still followed traditional beliefs. Those who chose to follow traditional ways of life began to separate themselves and moved up river in large number. Those who were prepared to accept Islamic teachings, stayed at Kayung. They began to call themselves the Malay of Pontianak, Sampit, Kayung, Sukadana and Sambas. In time, they began to marry new Malays who had come to trade in Kalimantan, especially the traders from Minangkabau in Sumatra.
Due to the tolerances of the Iban people, no reported incidents were recorded in their songs with regards to this manner of separation or with Muslims in particular. This tolerance has been the major factor that contributes to the prosperity and harmony of the Iban people living together with other people of different races and religions to this present day. Infact, the Ibans thrive well under this circumstance because they are hardworking people, a tribute found in the pioneering spirits of their ancestors. Only those who were crazy for power and wealth brought major conflict to this country, not the tolerant and resilient Ibans.
The Ibans then moved further up the Kayung until they reached a place called Ulu Landak. After settling there for sometimes, some of them migrated up the Melawi River. After settling along the banks of Melawi River for three generations, their leaders, Raja Ningkan, Sagan-Agan, Bedali and Jugah called for a large meeting to discuss further migrations. They agreed to migrate and separate from their relatives, and they built many large boats with the help of those who wished to remain behind. It is also to be noted that all the material wealth or properties that the Iban people value today is the same as that which was valued by the people of Malawi in the past, especially the old Chinese jars and brasswares.
From Melawi, they separated and moved to the Sintang River where the passed a large areas of farmland. They looked for the owner of the farmland and were told that the farmland owner had moved to Pontianak and that they could farm there that year only as the informer could not guarantee that the owner would not return to reclaim the land. They started to plant padi that year and had a bountiful harvest. After the harvest, they left the area to live at the mouth of Sintang River for one year.
From Nanga Sintang, the Iban went up the Kapuas where they meet other people. They found that not many people had settled along the right bank of the Kapuas River, as majority of them preferred to live along the more fertile land of the left bank. From the main Kapuas River, they went up the Sakayam tributary. From the mouth of this river, all lands on both banks are owned by the Mualang Dayaks. It took them two full days to reach the first Mualang Dayak Longhouse from its mouth. They stayed only a few nights in the Mualang Dayak Longhouse.
In their conversation with the Mualangs, Jugah and Bedali told the Mualangs the story of their movements since they left the Kayung settlement. They told the Mualangs that they had separated from their relatives who had been converted to Muslims by the Arab missionaries to avoid conflict and religious persecution. They told them that they had lived in the Melawi and had migrated down the Sintang River to look for new lands in which to settle. They asked the Mualangs whether they might give them land to live on. The Mualangs told them that although there was still a lot of virgin forest on both banks of the Sakayam, as the Iban had seen, all the land belongs along both banks had been claimed by them from its mouth up to the settlement they had reached.
The Mualang further told the Iban that all the lands above their settlement belonged to the Chengkang Dayaks, and then further up to Balai Kerangan, the land belonged to the Sebaru Dayaks. All land beyond that belonged to the Remun Dayaks.
The Iban told the Mualang that they did not want to migrate further and wished to settle alongside the Mualang there. The Mualang agree only if the Iban agreed to live in the same longhouse with them. The Iban finally agreed to live in the same longhouse with the Mualang. They lived many years with them, and a great number of them intermarried, becoming Mualang.
After the Iban had greatly multiplied; they separated from the Mualang and moved to the Sanggau River. Here they lived much closed to the Bugau Dayaks. After some years of staying there, the moved to Semitau under their chiefs, Raja Ningkan, Jenua, Jugah, Rawing, Jimbun, Sagan-Agan and Jengkuan. All these chiefs were brave men. Due to their bravery and aggressiveness, all other Dayaks were afraid of them.
*source Tansang Kenyalang