By: BENEDICT SANDIN
Penghulu Manggoi of Niah describes the first migration Iban to this river which was led by him in 1934. He said that they are from Skrang and the descendants of the followers of Kedu Lang Ngindang who refused to surrender themselve at Simanggang after their final defeat on Bukit Stulak in the 1880’s
To relate what he remembers about the history of his people and their dispersal, Penghulu Manggoi tells this tale:
“After the defeat of Lang Ngindang at Nanga Bunu in 1879 he continued his resistance against the Government and built a stronghold on the summit of Bukit Stulak, lying between the headwaters of Skrang and Kanowit rivers. During this war he was reinforced by the following leading warriors, who fought with him to the day of his defeat.
1. Sigat of Tanjong, Skrang,
2. Busot of Nanga Enteban, Skrang,
3. Tengkujoh of Nanga Tanyit, Skrang,
4. Dunggau of Nanga Murat, Skrang.
From the very outset of the trouble Sir Charles Brooke often sent messages to Lang Ngindang to urge him to stop fighting the Government. Lang Ngindang took no heed of the Rajah’s message—unless the Rajah agreed to grant him permission to take revenge on the Kantu, in their old outstanding racial feud.
Finally the Rajah sent an expedition against him under the leaderships of the Orang Kaya Pemancha Nanang of Saribas. Minggat of Awik, Jabu and Utik of Bangat, Skrang. After little battles had been engaged, Kedu Lang Ngindang agreed to surrender. He could not bring himself to submit at Simanggang, as he would ot see some of the tuan’s faces there. Instead, he decided to surrender at Sibu with the majority of his warriors, while some who would not leave Skrang surrendered themselves at Simangrang and were fined one picul each. In Sibu, Lang Ngindang himself was ordered to pay ten old jars as pledge for his future good behaviour. These jars, years after his death, were granted back to Gani who is his grandson and heir.
From Bukit Stulak Lang Ngindang moved again to live with his followers at the mouths of rivers Tebalong and Kesit in Entabai. Years afterwards all of them dispersed again and Lang Ngindang moved down and lived permanently till his death of old age at Bawang Assan where his grandson Gani is now living. The rest of his followers mingled with other Skrang and Saribas Dayaks who had migrated to the Julau and Entabai rivers before and aftcr the defeat of Sadok in 1861. But before the migrations of these people, Julau and Kanowit had already been peopled by the Lemanaks under the leaderships of the well known Chiefs like Mujah “Buah Raya” who fought against the Tuan Muda, Charles Brooke, in 1858; and Lintong “Mua Ari”, who reinforced Saji in the attack on Betong Fort and finally joined him in attacking the Government forces on their way against Sadok that year.
Eventually, fifty years ago, the Skrang, Saribas, Batang Ai and other adjacent rivers of the Second Division, Sarawak, became badly over populated which caused plenty of people of these rivers to migrate to the new places like Mukah, Balingian, Oya, Bintulu, Anap, Tatau and Baram rivers.
Later, due to the same problem, as well as in order to follow their kindred who had already migrated to these new places, many more Dayaks from Second Division applied to the Government either to migrate to the new places mentioned above or to migrate elsewhere to the unexplored rivers such as Suai, Niah, Belait and Limbang.
Manggoi said that when he first came to Niah in 1934, he discovered that Niah, Sebuti and Suai rivers were still thickly populated by the aboriginal Penans. The first man he met on his arrival was a Penan chief, Duman, who lived with his people in the longhouse at Nanga Lemaus. At this meeting Duman assured Manggoi that they surely can live peacefully together in the Niah river.
The traditional “sernah” at the Niah Cave was celebrated yearly by the Penan. In 1934 Duman invited all Ibansto come to join them. As Duman was a principal chief- of the Penan of that time, he was appointed to recite prayers as well as to wave the offering of chickens which they offered to the spirits of the cave in accordance with the “senzah” custom.
Unfortunately, immediately after he had finished with his prayers, Duman fell seriously sick, and was thought to be damned by the angry spirits. Due to his illness, Duman could not go home by himself. He was sent back to his house at Nanga Lemaus by his friends and people. About a week afterwards he died, and was greatly mourned by both the Penan, Malays and Ibans of Niah.
Eventually, after the death of Duman, his son-in-law Pajawing was appointed to succeed him as chief. Unfortunately two years later he died. After the death of Pejawing the Penan community dispersed; some moved to Suai and lived under the chief Sogon. Those who remained at Niah moved downriver to live together with the Malays and eventually adopted their religion. To-day only very few remain pagan; they are living together with their semi-chief Temilan. Therefore when the Curator of Sarawak Museum celebrated the “seniah” ceremony at the Niah cave on the 11th October, 1954, Temilan was specially invited to recite prayers following the tradition of the natives when holding the “semah” of this kind in Niah.
Before the migration of Iban to Niah, the Penan were said to be roaming about in the forest to hunt wild animals for food. They did not farm as the Dayak, because, they only depend upon the “pantu” sago for staple food. At the time they first met the Dayak, they did not want to eat rice.
In regard to the burial of their dead formerly, the Penan had no special cemetery, but just buried their dead underground anywhere or in the holes of big trees in the forest. After they had long been living together with Ibans, the Penan began to make for themselves a special graveyard at Nanga Kelebus, which is the first and the last cemetery owned by them. Now this cemetery is used by the Dayak. While the Penan bury their dead in the Moslem graveyard.”