Nungkun Api

Origins of Iban Burial Custom


While the Ibans (Sea Dayaks) were still living along the Kapuas River, just after the death of the chieftain Serapoh, there was a Iban named Apai Sababur Sia who lived in a longhouse at Tapang Peraja, a hill situated between the headwaters of Sakayam and Ketungau rivers in Kalimantan Barat.

One day during the farming season, Apai Sababur Sia went to stay in his farm hut, far away from his 1onghouse. He did not come home for three days, and on the fourth night his wife Indai Sababur Sia became worried. She thought that the food which her husband had taken to the farm must be finished by now; and she asked her friends to look for him.

On hearíng tbis, Jimbun, the headman of the longhouse, asked the young men to go and look for Apai Sababur Sia at his farm hut. Two men went, but when they reached Apai Sababur Sia’s hut, he was not there. A11 they found were old marks he might have made a few days back. So the two men returned quickly to the longhouse, to tell the people that they could not find Apai Sababur Sia in his farm hut.

Jimbun then asked another group of men to go to Apai Sababur Sias farm hut early next day, and examine thoroughly what marks he had left in the padi field.

Next morning Jimbun and a number of other people went to Apai Sababur Sias farm o trace his marks wherever they could. They found instead many traces which had been made by some people not far away from the hut. Seeing these, they thought that Apai Sababur Sia must have been killed by enemies. Much worried, Jimbun and his peoples. ple went further afield till they reached Balai Kerangan. Once they were there, Jimbun went directly into a longhouse belonging to the Muallang Dayaks.

Seeing him coming in such a hurry, the Muallangs asked where he came from and where he was going. Jimbun told them that he was coming with his friends to look for one of their men who had disappeared in the padi field. He asked them whether they had seen him coming to their country. The Muallangs told him that as far as they knew, no one in that region had noticed a stranger coming in their direction or walking alone in the forests.

If he comes to our country, said the Muallangs, he wilI be safe. But if he should have strayed to the lower Ketungau River and come to the Bugau country, he might have been killed, as the Bugaus do not like to see you Iban, they said.

Hearing this, Jimbun begged the Muallangs that if they should find Apai Sababur Sia, they would help to send him to his country. After he had made this request of the Muallangs, he returned to his friends, who thought that they should return directly to their own house as they had no more food for further searching. So they hurried home.

On their arrival Jimbun told his people about their journey and about his meeting with the Muallangs at Balai Kerangan. The people agreed with the Muallangs that if Apai Sababur Sia had slipped into the Bugau and Kantu countries, he must have been murdered as these people had still not made peace with Ibans.

Jimbun suggested that they should invade the Bugau and Kantu countries in revenge for the death of Apai Sababur Sia, whom they thought might have been killed by these people. But his warriors disagreed with his suggestion. They said that it would be better for them to continue with the search.

That evening when a man was taking his bath in the river, he saw the shadow of someone walking along the gravel bed. It looked exactly like Apai Sababur Sìa, carrying a basket on his back. But when he looked at it properly, it disappeared. When he came back to the longhouse he instantly told the people that while he was bathing in the river, he had seen Apai Sababur Sia appear, on the gravel bed belew him. Hearing this story everybody suspected that he must be dead

Early next day Jimbun again called for a meeting at his communal verandah. This time he ordered all his people to Iook after their padi fields properly, for ever since Apai Sababur Sia had been lost, no one had gone to work in the farm. Therefore immediately after the meeting, many members of the families in the longhouse went to stay in their farm hut and weed their padi fields. Nothing happened in the .first night, but in the night that followed, after her meal was over, Indai Sababur Sia heard someone calling loudly. From the edge of her farm, this frightened her and the children terribly. Three times this call was repeated. But as Indai Sababur Sia did not reply to it there came the sound of something approaching the hut. Indai Sababur Sia drew the hut ladder up to stop whoever it was from coming in. When the sound was iust outside the hut, a shape could be clearly seen in the moonlight which was exactly like Apai Sababur Sia himself.

As Indai Sababur Sia and her children waited terrified in the hut, Apai Sababur Sia called for them. He told them that he was terribly cold and that he had brought for them dry logs of w.ood. At the same time he begged his wife to lower the ladder of the hut so that he could go up. His wife kept quiet as she was afraid of the ghost of her husband.

Apai Sababu Sia repeatedly begged his wife to lower the ladder to the ground, and at last she did it for his sake. When he came in, he told her that the chill he felt was because he had been murdered. He begged his wife to give him an axe and clothes for his new life in the other world. After he had finished speaking, he disappeared and went away.

Early next morning when Indai Sababur Sia and her children came out of the hut to see the firewood which her dead husband had mentioned, they saw a heap of dried bones instead of wood.

They returned hurriedly to the longhouse to inform the people of what had happened. When the people knew this, Jimbun asked Indai Sababur Sia to bury those bones at the edge of her farm. After you have buried them he said, you must light a fire near them. Near the fire you must also place all his personal belongings, so that he may use them in the new world. If you are daring enough, after you have Iit the fire and given him his belongings, you should retreat a short distance. From there if you watch carefully you may see him coming to the spot shortly afterwards.

After Jimbun had taught Indai Sababur Sia what to do with the bones, she buried them at the endge of her padi field, and lit a fire near the grave placing beside it her husband’s belongings. She did not stay near the fire, as she was very afraid to do so.

That night Jimbun called for a meeting. During the discussion, he said that he was very ann.oyed about Apai Sababur Sias death. Even while we still think of Iooking for him, his death is proven: for his ghost has been seen by his wife and children, he said. He also said that as Apai Sababur Sia himself had told his family that he had been murdered, therefore from now on the people of his house should go round the countryside in order to find out secretly who had murdered him. The people of the longh.ouse agreed with Jimbuns decision.

Next day five of them went to a friendly Bugau longhouse to ask them secretly if they knew anyone who had seen Apai Sababur Sia, who had long been lost. In that nights conversation, when they mentioned Apai Sababur Sias disappearance, the Bugaus informed them that when their people were bathing in the river below their house, they had seen passing a boatful of Kantu warriors returning from the upper Ketungau. They were bringing back with them Apai Sababur Sia whom they had captured. Several days later, they said, we heard that these Kantus had celebrated a festival to bless their successful victory over their enemy. It was at this feast that they killed Apai Sababur Sia.

Having told Jimbun and his men what had become of Apai Sababur Sia, the Bugaus asked him not to revenge his death. If you fight them we will get into trouble as we live between you and them, and besides that you are few, while the Kantus are many, they said. They also said to Jimbun that if the Ibans attacked the Kantus they were not sure about the attitude of other Bugaus who lived near them, as they still had not held any peace-making with the Ibans. If they helped the Kantus, the Segalang Dayaks of the upper Sakayan would do Iikewise. This trouble would soon spread to the countries of the Remun and Singgai Dayaks of the upper Sadong. They discussed these possibilities and then early next day Jimbun and his companions returned to their longhouse at Tapang Peraja.

On their arrival home Jimbun told his people that Apai Sababur Sia had really been murdered treacherously by the Kantus during their festival. But, he said, they could not avenge his death by war; for the people of other races in the region would alI become involved.


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