Bishop's Gawai Visit to Suai 3rd-4th June 2017

Most Rev Bishop Richard Ng visit to the local  Iban Catholic
  Niah / Suai , Diocese of Miri , Sarawak
on 3rd and 4th June 2017

Local Parish Priests – Fr Radin Robert  and Monsignor Francis Kuleh,
 Gereja  katholic  St Maria Lourdes ( Chapel ) Suai / Batu Niah

Celebrating culture diversity,  highlights some of the lesser known communities around the world and what makes them so fascinating.

Visit to Rh Patrick Libau - Niah on 3rd June 2017

The Iban are the largest ethnic group in Sarawak, making up 30 percent of the 2.5 million population of Sarawak in East Malaysia. Historians believe that the Iban people originated from the Kapuas River basin in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, centuries ago. Today although many Iban have embraced modernization and live in urban settings, a substantial number of them can still be found in their traditional home along  the Sarawak’s rivers.

The traditional dwelling of the Iban people is the longhouse, which is usually occupied by a family and their descendants. Each long house has a chief known as the ‘tua rumah’, and the structure, which comprises various rooms or ’bilik’ is considered an important symbol of kinship.

Today, many Iban have been converted to Christianity, although traditionally they worship Keling, the god of the underworld, while the bird –god of war – Singalang Burung is revered by those of warrior lineage.  Many of these old customs are still practised in the Iban community, overseen by the ‘lemambang’ or  ‘bards’  who keep the genealogies and traditions alive through the recitation of legends and historic accounts of the Iban people.

The Iban observe various ceremonies,  and one of the most significant  Iban celebrations is the Gawai Dayak, a rice harvest festival. The highlight of this festival is the Ngajat, a dance traditionally performed by warriors upon returning from a battle. Though the dance still retains the dramatic choreography reflecting the  movements of a blade and shield wielding warrior in action,  nowadays, it is performed to welcome guests and celebrate the harvest.

Manok Pansuh, a  dish prepared by steaming chicken in bamboo culm with aromatics like ginger and lemon grass is one of the favourite traditional dishes of the Iban people, who are also famous for their potent alcoholic drink called 'tuak',  drunk mainly during Gawai, weddings and other important occasions

The traditional outfit of the Iban men is the ‘baju burung’ (woven vest) and Sirat which can be liken to a loincloth and is only worn as ceremonial dress. The Iban women still hold strong to their traditional attire- the ‘tango which consists of a decorative cotton outer garment adorned with beads, usually red in colour, worn over a wrap called selampai. The tango is customary worn during festival and important occasions.

The language they speak is called 'jaku Iban'. It belongs to the to Malayic languages a Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family, and is related to Malay, more closely to Sarawakian Malay.

The next day The Most Rev Bishop celebrated Mass at
Gereja Katholic  St Maria Lourdes, Suai
04th June 2017

Story compiled by Ben Chang

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