Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rare Iban ritual to celebrate good fortune

OBSERVING a rare traditional Iban ritual to seek or celebrate good fortune called Gawai Kelingkang dan Tuah was an opportunity too good to pass up when it  presented itself about two weeks ago.

I needed little convincing when my colleague, whose relatives would be hosting this age-old  ritual at his longhouse in the interior of Kanowit, invited me to tag along. All he said was “it’s a special Gawai which will also commemorate our new longhouse – a sort of adding Gawai Pangkung Tiang in the mix. There is a special ritual where they bathe pigs in the river.”

The thought of witnessing this ritual (bathing of the pigs) got me curious. So without hesitation, I decided to make the seven-hour drive from Kuching to Kanowit – plus a boat ride across the mighty Rejang, and another hour’s drive along a mix of tar-sealed and off-road tracks to the nearest pick-up point before taking a longboat ride along Sungai Poi to our destination – Nanga Ulin.

The Gawai Kelingkang dan Tuah was to be celebrated at the newly-built 21-door longhouse called New Ulin (New Orleans inevitably came to mind). This modern structure replaces the old Nanga Ulin traditional longhouse, situated further upriver, which was gutted in 2009. Work on New Ulin (also known as Rumah Sangga) started that same year and the first family moved in two years ago (2011).

The Gawai hosts were Jackson Uding Upak, 54, a senior commissioning engineer with a multi-national company in the oil and gas industry and his brother 39-year-old Rimau Tengoling, a sub-sea engineer with a multi-national drilling company also in oil and gas. The three other individuals involved were the duo’s children and a brother-in-law. In all, there were five hosts.

“In the old days, Gawai Kelingkang was celebrated to prepare or mark the success of the notorious Ngayau (headhunting) tradition, but today, the Ibans celebrate this ritual as a symbol of good fortune and success in their Bejalai (sojourn) undertakings, mainly in search of jobs and higher education.

“In this Gawai Kelingkang today, we celebrate our new home and the successes of some of our fellow longhouse residents,” Uding told thesundaypost at the celebration.

Rimau chipped in: “The celebration is observed in accordance with the ripih (process) of Gawai Kelingkang in the Batang Rajang area. There are seven stages, starting with Nguak, Nyingka, Ngabas Amuk, Nyulap, Ngerara Belayan, Ngitang Tali Buru and Besimpan.”

He noted that the ripih could be different in other areas. For instance, at New Ulin, the Gawai, which took place on Dec 11, was celebrated in the Nyingka stage.

Ari Nimang Pantar

Preparations for Gawai Kelingkang dan Tuah started on a Tuesday evening as village elders and the Gawai hosts took part in Nyambut Orang Nasak, a ceremony to herald the arrival of the Pugu Berani (the most important and wisest person) to the celebration.

Gotong-royong-style, the women prepared “offering plates,” each containing glutinous rice, hard-boiled eggs and fried popped rice, among other foods.

During the Nasak, the Gawai hosts acted symbolically as the Pugu Berani. On arrival at the foot of the longhouse, each was presented with rice wine to “drown any bad omens” that they might have caught on their way to the celebration.

As chief host, Uding was required to symbolically chant an invocation.

The Lemambang (bard), represented by the chief host, and his assistants, represented by the other hosts, took on the roles of Berbiau (performing prayers), Biau/Miau ke piring (holding a rooster and blessing the offering plates) and Biau/Miau orang Nasak.

At the end of the ceremony, the men proceeded to build an offering hut for the sacrificial boars, and a shrine at the gallery for the Bilik (household unit) of the hosts. A flag pole was also planted where offering baskets for the spirits were placed on top.

At 9pm, the bard started the Nimang Pantar (chanting ritual) ceremony by performing invocations of his guardian spirits. He began with the Ngerayong Pandong ritual (covering the shrine with Pua Kumbu) before the chanting ritual with his two bala (assistants) who acted as Penyaut Lemambang or Nyagu (answering poetry-like chants sung by the bard).

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