The coming of the Ibans to Balingian

The Iban migration to the Balingian subdistrict did not take place all at the same time. They came in small numbers successively. The first took place in about 1900 A.D.

The Ibans who migrated to the Arip, a right tributary of the Balingian, was led by Umpang anak Chambai of Paku, Saribas in 1900. He was a former fortman at Fort Lily in Betong, Saribas in the late lS5Os to the late 1860s. Another leader was Dana who came from the Krian, Kalaka in the Second Division. Before they actually migrated they first went to Balingian to find out whether the land in the districtwas suitable for agriculture. After they returned to Ulu Krian in the Second Division, they went to Kuching to seek permission from the Rajah to move to Balingian. The Rajah, who knew Umpang very well, gave his approval to migrate. After he had collected twenty-two families, they left Kalaka by boat to the Rejang and then went down the Igan to the Oya River. From Oya they sailed to Mukah and finally to the Balingian river, near the present-day administrative boundary of the Third and Fourth Division of Sarawak.

On their arrival at Balingian they built a temporary (dampa) longhouse near the mouth of the Arip tributary. At this place they stayed together with some Ibans who had already arrived there a year ago. Those Ibans had been led there by Adoh from the Lemanak, a tributary of Batang Ai, Sri Aman Division. At this time there were only two Chinese shophouses at the Balingian bazaar.

Two years after they had settled at the mouth of Arip, they started to look for suitable farming lands up that stream. After the inspection of the lands they all agreed to move up the Arip. But before they did, they first made a sacrifice to God for good luck at the mouth of Selian stream, a tributary of the Arip—a ceremony to honour God and the spirits, so that they could live prosperously forever in the Arip region.

After they had settled near the mouth of Selian stream for about four years, Umpang anak Chambai was appointed Penghulu by the Rajah of Sarawaic when Mr. H. L. Owen was officer-in-charge of Mukah district. Many decades after his appointment Penghulu Umpang died at the age of 91 years. He was succeeded by Penghulu Ugat, whose longhouse was located at Sungai Bukut on the main Balingian river.

When Ugat resigned his Penghuluship after some years in the service, he was replaced by Penghulu Mulok, the eldest son of the late Penghulu Umpang. At this time the Ibans in the area had been increasing in number. Penghulu Mulok soon realised that he was unable to look after all the Iban affairs in such a big area; therefore he asked the government to appoint another man to become a Penghulu to look after the Iban affairs in the Ulu Balingian area. Hearing his reasonable request, the government appointed Unchi to become Penghulu. At that time Unchi had just came from Pasa near Betong in the Saribas district, Second Division. This Penghulu ruled Bawang, Duan, and Pasai, all of which were tributaries of the Balingian river; whereas Penghulu Mulok was responsible only for Arip and the main Balingian river up to Sungai Bukut in the lower river. When Penghulu Mulok and his brothers, Lernibang and Kantan died of cholera, his youngestbrother Ambon succeeded him to become chief. Penghulu Ambon ruled that part of the Balingian right up to the period of the Japanese occupation.

7. Second group of Iban migration to Balingian River

Another group of Ibans who migrated to Balingian was led by Bandang anak Kasa. They came from Dabok, Batang Layar in the Saribas district of the Second Division. After Bandang had obtained permission to migrate to Balingian from the government, he was permitted to move with nine other families. But when they wanted to leave Dabok, only three families agreed to accompany him. This migration took place sometime in 1902.

When Bandang and his followers reached the Balingian, they first settled temporarily with the Melanaus above the present Balingian town. Three years later they moved to the Bulu stream, a tributary of the Balingian. When they came, they made a sacrifice of a piglet at the mouth of that stream. But while they were still performing the ceremony, they heard an unfavourable omen; and as a result they moved up the Balingian River to settle at the’ mouth of the Bukut stream, another tributary of the Balingian.

After a year of settling there Bandang went to visi his former longhouse in the Second Division to urge more people to follow him to Balingian, as he had been permitted by the government to move with nine other families some years before. When he returned he could persuade only Guma and his family to migrate with him. When Guma and his family arrived in Balingian, they did not settle with Bandang at Bukut but went straight to live at the Bawang stream.

Sometime later another Iban family came to join Bandang at Bukut, and thus the number of families in Bandang’s house increased to four. This was Sana’s family which came from the Krian in the Kalaka district of the Betong Division.

Several years later Bandang’s wife Bajik passed away. When an Iban dies, a mourning period must be observed for a certain length of time by the household. To end this period, as required by custom, a close relative must kill an enemy whose head must be brought home for the opening of the mourning rite (the ngetas ulit ceremony). In order to end the mourning period of his wife, Bandang decided to go to Sabah (then North Borneo). There he went directly to Sandakan to live with his relatives, Sumping, who was then working as a policeman. While Bandang was staying in Sumping’s house, the latter left on travelling duty to the upper Kinabatangan river. During Sumping’s absence a Malay man came to his house to court his wife. On seeingthis, Bandang became furious and took his knife (duku) and struck the Malay with it. But as the knife was a blunt one the Malay only sustained some serious wounds and was able to escape to save himself.

After the incident Bandang followed Sumping up the Kinabatangan river. On meeting him he related the whole affair to him. Sumping and Bandang returned to Sandakan and reported the matter to the Police Station, where Bandang was detained by the authorities.

A few days later Bandang’s case was brought to the court for hearing. In the court Sumping begged that Bandang should not be punished because he had been asked by himself to look after his house and his wife while he (Sumping) was away on travelling. “If the court found that Bandang was guilty, he (Sumping) was to be punished and not Bandang,” he said. The case was dismissed and Bandang was ordered to return to Sarawak immediately. As for Sumping his case was also acquitted by the court.

Three days after Bandang had left Sandakan he got the news that the Malay whom he had cut with the knife had subsequently died because of the wounds. On his arrival at his house in the Balingian the rite to end the mourning period as planned was performed.

About two years later Bandang celebrated a grand Gawai Kenyalang festival. This feast was the first of its kind ever held in the Balingian subdistrict by the Iban. On this occasion Bandang said to his guests : “All those who had really killed the enemy with swords should cut with one stroke the chicken’s neck on the kenyalang pole. If the chicken’s neck can be struck with a single stroke, it showed that the cutter was really a brave warrior who had truly killed his enemy. If the chicken’s neck cannot be cut through with a blow, it indicaed that he had never killed an enemy”. Hearing this, none of the guests dared to do what Bandang had asked of them. On seeing that no one would do it, Bandang himself cut the chicken’s neck on the kenyalang pole with one stroke.

While the feast was at its peak and the kenyalang pole was already erected straight as demanded by tradition, all the women who were expert in weaving were asked to throw cooked glutinous rice freely at the pole. Those who hit were spiritually believed to be the future experts (indu takar, indu gaar, tau muntang, tau nengkebang) in weaving the Iban blankets.

Many years after Bandang and his followers had settled at Bukut, their number was greatly increased. Their longhouse also was multiplied in number of doors. As time passed Bandang died of old age and he was succeeded as headman by his own son Ugat, who was later appoinLed to become Penghulu to succeed the late Penghulu Umpang of the Arip.

At about this time Abu was appointed to become anoither Penghulu by the Rajah. He (Abu) had led another group of Iban migration to the upper Balingian river. When Penghulu Abu died, he was succeeded by Penghulu Anding. At the death of Penghulu Anding, Ganja was appointed Penghulu to succeed him. When Penghulu Ganja died, he was succeeded by Penghulu Radin,

8. Third and last groups of Iban migration to the Balingian river

Another group of Ibans who migrated to the Balingian was led by Ganggang. This group came from Kanowit of the Third Division. They came to Balingian about two years after the arrival of Penghulu Umpang and his followers. After the arrival of Ganggang and his followers they obtained permission from the government to settle in the upper Arip river with the pioneer, Penghulu Umpang. In the Arip they first settled temporarily at the mouth of the Binyu stream. After they settled there for many years they moved and settled at Sapulau in the upper Arip. From there they once again moved up to settle at Lubok Besai while the others moved to settle at Dabau.

The latest group of I.bans who migrated to Balingian was led by Undau. He and his followers came from Melupa, Krian in the Kalaka district, Second Division. On their arrival they settled at Penari on the bank of the Balingian below Bukut. After they had settled there for many years they moved further up the Balingian river to settle at the mouth of Beruroh stream, a branch of the Bawang river. Undau died of old age at this place and was succeeded as headman by his son Daji, Upon the death of Daji his son Balong succeeded him and is still a headman of his house to this day.

9. Penghulu Ambon was murdered by the Japanese

At the time of Japanese occupation there was a Chinese rubber tapper named Ah Tho who tapped Penghulu Ambon’s rubber trees in the Arip. He lived in a hut in the Penghulu’s rubber garden near the latter’s longhouse.

One day when the longhouse people were on their way to their padi fields, they passed the hut where Ah Tho lived and they were shocked to find that he had been murderd, dead from knife wounds. The matter was reported to the Japanese officials at Balingian town who came to examine the deceased’s corpse. In their investigation the Japanese officials discovered that Ah Tho had been cut with a knife by a left-handed person. As a result Penghulu Ambon was asked whether there was any left-handed person living in his longhouse. The Penghulu informed the Japanese that only one man who was lefthanded lived in his longhouse, whose named was Engkabi. Without any further enquiry Engkabi was arrested and was detained in the Mukah fort. During his detention Engkabi never admitted to murdering Ah Tho. As a result he was released from the cell. Instead the Japanese arrested Penghulu Ambon for security reasons as the actual murderer still could not be found. He was brought to Mukah and was detained by the authority there till the end of Japanese occupation.

In 1945 when many shophouses throughout the country were attacked and robbed by the people owing to the shortage of foods such as salt and sugar, Balingian was one of the towns suffering from these attacks. After the Balingian bazaar had been looted, the Ibans of that river went to Mukah to launch another attack on that town. On reaching Mukah they were confronted with the machine guns of the Japanese soldiers. One of their men was killed, while others were able to escape by boat or fled overland to Balingian and other places. The Japanese fired at them from behind and as a result two men were wounded but managed to escape. Thy were Ukat and Jimbau from Bayan and Sungai Anak of Balingian, respectively.

After the unsuccessful Iban attack on the Mukah fort, the news of the attack reached the Japanese official in Sibu. As a result a high- ranking Japanese military Police Officer (kempetai) from Sibu came to Mukah. On his arrival he ordered his men to execute Penghulu Ambon of Balingian with the military sword as retaliation for the attack on Mukah Fort by the Balingian Ibans.

After the war, when Sarawak was under the British Military rule. the government appointed Kinchang to become Penghulu in the place of his brother-in-law, the late Penghulu Ambon.

A few years after he had been appointed Penghulu, Kinchang was ordered to resign his post, as he was found to have misappropriated the public fund. When Penghulu Kinchang resigned, he was succeeded by Danggat anak Sunang of Arip, who is the present Penghulu of this part of Balingian.


16 responses

  1. For your information,the present penghulu is Penghulu Boniface Siew Anak Tugok,son in law of Gendin (great grandson of Ambon) who is related to Penghulu Ambon and to what i’ve heard from the elders of Arip, Penghulu Umpang is not the son of Chambai but Kiai.Just to add some more Penghulu Mulok and his 2 brothers Lembang & Kantan died due to smallpox.Thanks

  2. May I know what was the source of this history?

    1. Sarawak Museum Journal,

  3. i see. thank you. may i know which edition of the Sarawak Museum Journal?

    1. in the late 60’s or early 70’s i’m not so sure

  4. Seliang Jeaan | Reply

    The story written above is parallel with the story of Iban migrations to Balingian that I have heard, except for one or two facts. And nothing was mentioned about Sana by the elders of Lubok Bukut who were just one or two generations after Bandang. It does not mean that your story is not right. Maybet some facts were just missing, forgotten or were ignored for some reason or other. And according to the elders, they migrated to Balingian in 1901.

    I am also completely ignorant of the story of Iban migration to upper Arip, so the information helps me a greatly deal in that direction.

  5. I see. rumah panjai aku endang sigi di lubuk bukut, balingian. nya kebuah aku nanya. engka bisi peluang, aku deka ngiga journal nya ke simpan diri empu. nadai nemu exact edition ya nuan kini? sayau amat..terpaksa ngiga sigi-sigi pama bakatu. terima kasih neh.

  6. Saga anak Endet | Reply

    Terima kasih ka cerita pemindah Iban ka arip..kebuah pia laban aku endang asal urang arip..lalu aki kami kelia pindah ari kerian benama Kerbau..nya aki kami sida Seliang Jean nya nurun ka apai kami duai…lalu Sunang apai Penghulu Danggat nya aki aku ngada ka indai aku.,tajapan dalam cerita datasnya ndai nyebut pemindah aki Kerebau kami suba,,tang nyanka iya sama nggau sida Umpang nya pelaba aku..sekali agi meri terima kasih ngagai nuan.

  7. Sylveson Rangga Jabing | Reply

    Taja journal tu jauh outdated lalu maioh pekara pasal pemindah aki eni kelia nda kna sebut dalam tu, iban kelia ukai semina pindah terengkah d sg. Arip tang d Bawang, Tau, ga. Taja pia, personally, ku ngaai ka ia very informative laban maioh perkara te nda dtemu aku mpu bc pansut ka ditu……..Niang aki umboh kami suba pan siko ari urang te dulu bendar datai k menoa balingian kelia……UNDAU nama ia. Ia tu meh siko2 aja urang tui te dulu pindah k menoa balingian suba mati dah nya d “lumbong ” ka ba Tinting Piring bukit paling tinggi diantar Sg. bawang, ngau Sg. Tau, (menoa asal ku mpu). Kebuah pia laban ia ngai ka semengat ia nda tepeda ka uchu ichit wit ia d menoa Sg. Bawang, Sg. Tau, Sg. Arip ko jaku ia kelia…….D 3 menoa tu ndang maioh peturun aki UNDAU tu…..

    1. Journal tu ditulis 1960-an kelia, enti bisi info ka silik agi tau dikunsika ditu

      terima kasih

    2. ari penantai aki Undau tu kelia kini?

  8. For your information,Penghulu Boniface Siew Anak Tugok is My grandfather..

  9. the late Boniface Balong ak Dajie was my grandfather. and he was born on 1906 (based on ic) at Balingian..

  10. Those Ibans had been led there by Adoh from the Lemanak, a tributary of Batang Ai, Sri Aman Division. At this time there were only two Chinese shophouses at the Balingian bazaar.

  11. Batang Balingian, Mukah

    62. Ili Balingian

    Penghulu Umpang ak Chambai
    Penghulu Ugat
    Penghulu Mulok ak. Umpang
    Penghulu Ambun ak. Umpang
    Penghulu Kinchang
    Penghulu Danggat

    Ulu Balingian:

    Penghulu Abu
    Penghulu Banyui
    Penghulu Puh
    Penghulu Ganja ak Baong
    Penghulu Radin ak. Rumpang

    63. Bawan, Balingian
    Penghulu Unchi
    Penghulu Lembang
    Penghulu Beji.

  12. Great info on Balingian migration.

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