Iban History

The Iban trace their origins to the Kapuas Lake region of Kalimantan. With a growing population, creating pressures on limited amounts of productive land, the Iban fought members of other tribes aggressively, practicing headhunting and slavery. Enslavement of captives contributed to the necessity to move into new areas. By the middle of the nineteenth century, they were well established in the First and Second Divisions, and a few had pioneered the vast Rejang River valley. Reacting to the establishment of the Brooke Raj in Sarawak in 1841, thousands of Iban migrated to the middle and upper regions of the Rejang, and by the last quarter of the century had entered all remaining divisions. The most dramatic changes in the past three decades have been abandonment of longhouses and permanent settlement in Sarawak’s towns and cities. Iban have lived near other ethnic groups with whom they have interacted. The most important of these societies have been the Malays, Chinese, Kayan and, during the Brooke Raj and the period of British colonialism, Europeans. The dynamic relations between Iban and these societies have produced profound changes in Iban society and culture.

Iban people

Total population 600,000 (Sarawak only)
Regions with significant populations Sarawak, Brunei & West Kalimantan
Language Iban
Religion Christianity
Related Ethnic Groups Kantu, Mualang, Semberuang, Bugau & Sebaru’

the Ibans were a strong and successful warring tribe in Borneo. They speak the Iban language.
<br.Branches of the Iban People

Although Ibans generally speak a dialect which is mutually intelligible, they can be divided into different branches which are named after the geographical areas where they reside.

  • Majority of Ibans who live around the Lundu and Samarahan region are called Sebuyaus.
  • Ibans who settled in areas in Serian district (places like Kampung LeborKampung Tanah Mawang & 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 fromBetong, Saratok & parts of Sarikei are called Saribas.
  • The Lubok Antu Ibans are classed by anthropologists as Ulu Ai Ibans.
  • Ibans from Undup are called Undup Ibans. Their dialect is somewhat a cross between the Ulu Ai dialect & the Balau dialect.
  • Ibans living in areas fromSarikei to Miri are called Rajang Ibans. 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 dialect.

In West Kalimantan (Indonesia), Iban people are even more diverse. The KantuAir TabunSemberuangSebaru’BugauMualang & along with many other groups are classed as “Ibanic people” by anthropologists. They can be related to the Iban either by the dialect they speak or their customs, rituals & their way of life


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