Religion, Culture and Festivals & Dance

The Ibans were traditionally animist, although the majority are now Christian, some of them are Muslim and many continue to observe both Christian and traditional ceremonies, particularly during marriages or festivals.

Significant festivals include the rice harvesting festival Gawai Dayak, the main festival for the Ibans. Other festivals include the bird festival Gawai Burong 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, to worship the Lord Sempulang Gana. On this day, the Ibans get together to celebrate, often visiting each other. The Iban traditional dance, the ngajat, is performed accompanied by the tabohand gendang, the Ibans’ traditional music. Pua Kumbu, the Iban traditional cloth, is used to decorate houses. Tuak, which is originally made of rice, is a wine used to serve guests. Nowadays, there are various kinds of tuak, made with rice alternatives such as sugar cane, gingerand corn.

The Gawai Burong (the bird festival) is held in honour of the War God, Singalang Burong. The name Singalang Burong literally means “Singalang the Bird”. This festival is initiated by a notable individual from time to time and hosted by individual longhouses. The Gawai Burong originally honoured warriors, but during more peaceful times evolved into a healing ceremony. The recitation of pantun (traditional chants by poets) is a particularly important aspect of the festival.

For the majority of Ibans who are Christians, some Chrisitian festivals such as Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and other Christian festivals are also celebrated. Most Ibans are devout Christians and follow the Christian faith strictly.

Despite the difference in faiths, Ibans of different faiths do help each other during Gawais and Christmas. Differences in faith is never a problem in the Iban community. The Ibans believe in helping and having fun together.

Dance



Iban music is percussion-oriented. The Iban have a musical heritage consisting of various types of angung ensembles-percussion ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/ knob bed Gong which act as drones without any accompanying melodic instrument. The typical Iban agung ensemble will include a set of engkerumungs – small agungs arranged together side by side and played like “Xylophone” tawak (the so-called ‘bass’), a bendai which acts as a Snare drum and also a set of ketebunga single sided drum/percussion.

The Iban as well as the Kayan also play an instrument resembling the flute called ‘Sapek’. The Sapek is the official musical instrument for the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is played similarly to the way rock guitarists play Guitar solor, albeit a little slower, but not as slow as <a Blues. One example of Iban tradisional music is thetaboh.

The Ibans perform a unique dance called the ngajat. It serves many purposes depending on the occasion. During Gawais, it is used to entertain the people who in the olden days enjoy graceful ngajats as a form of entertainment. Iban men and women have different styles of ngajat. The ngajat involves a lot of precise body-turning movements. The ngajat for men is more aggressive and depicts a man going to war, or a bird flying (as a respect to the Iban god of war, Singalang Burong). The women’s form of ngajat consists of soft, graceful movements with very precise body turns. Each ngajat is accompanied by the taboh or the body.

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