Information about the Iban

The Ibans were formerly known during the colonial period by the British as Sea Dayaks and are a branch of the Dayak peoples of Borneo. At the time a fearsome warrior race, the Iban were renowned for practising headhunting and piracy.

Today the Iban population is concentrated in Sarawak, Brunei, and part of Indonesia. The Ibans live in longhouses, rumah panjai, [1]but today's longhouses are modern (that is, with electricity and lots of other modern facilities). Younger Ibans are mostly found in urban areas, and visit their hometowns during the holidays. The Iban were traditionally animist, however, the majority are now Christian. In 2003, the Iban Bible, the 'Bup Kudus', was temporarily banned. The reason given for this ban was that the Bup Kudus contained the word Allah Taala, which referred to God. The use of the word Allah was supposedly the reason for the controversy, because the God referred to in the Bup Kudus was the Christian God and not Allah as the Muslims know it. This may have been seen by the authorities as an error, an insult, or a potential source of confusion.

Significant festivals include the rice festival Gawai Dayak, and the spirit festival Gawai Antu. The Gawai Dayak festival is celebrated every year on the 1st of June, at the end of the harvest season. On this day, the Ibans get together to celebrate, often visiting each other. The Iban traditional dance, the ngajat, is performed with the accompaniment of the taboh, the name of the Ibans' traditional music. Pua kumbu, the Iban traditional cloth, would be used to decorate houses. Tuak, which is rice wine, would be served to guests.


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 Oran 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.

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[2] (Mali Lebu), Bunyau of Entanak and Bulan of Ulu Layar. The Skran were led by Rentap (Libau), Orang Kaya Gasing and Orang Kaya Rabong. 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. The Sebuyau Sea Dayaks under Orang Kaya Temenggong Jugah of Lundu attacked Paku on the Saribas at about the time. He attacked Matop, and most inhabitants fled.

Ca. 1838, the Balau Sea Dayaks raided the Saribas und the Krian east of the Saribas under the leadership of Lang and his son-in-law Orang Kaya Janting. They split, Lang attacking the Saribas, Janting going to the Kalaka. Lang met a Saribas host on the way to attack Banting. The Balau were badly defeated, and Lang was killed, together with 132 men. In the Kalaka, Janting went up the Melupa and attacked a longhouse of Orang Kaya Temenggong Tandok. After heavy fighting, the Balau won, killing Temennong Tandok and 130 of the Melupa Ibans. The next year, Janting and his warriors made war on Saribas again. The Saribas sought the alliance of Linggir of Paku. But they were beaten at the mouth of the Undai and suffered heavy losses, including all the sons of Orang Kayas Antau and Gun.

The Iban fell under the rule of Rajah James Brooke in 1835. The Iban leader Libau (Rentap) resisted Brooke from his fortress on Mount Sandok. The Ibans of Linggau, the Undup Ibans and the Sebuyau fought for Brooke.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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