The Kiput tribe of Sarawak

The Kiput ethnic tribe at Kuala Tutoh,Baram celebrated the 106th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic mission with a tribute to the pioneering Mill Hills missionaries who came a century ago.

Most Rev. Bishop Richard Ng paid tribute to the pioneer missionaries.
“We are grateful that this century of blessings has been given to us,” he said at the high mass yesterday at the 72-door longhouse.

Story compiled by - Ben Chang

A brief history- Beliefs and culture

The Lakiput tribe is one of the lesser known tribe of the Orang Ulu group found in the Baram Marudi District in the Miri Division in Sarawak, East Malaysia. Lakiput or otherwise known as "Kiput" (as mispronounced by most people) is among the earlier settlers of Baram and as such the tribe is fondly referred to as "Lepo Pu'un" meaning: the "earlier tribe" or "Bangsa Asal" in Malay.

The Lakiput are said to be originated from central Borneo centuries ago. The Lakiput are probably among the earliest settlers settled in the Baram River basin. Their oral tradition suggested that the early Lakiput has some links to the Brunei Sultanate. Up to the present day, names of places such as rivers and land marks which are still in use in Lakiput dialect are common to all other ethnic groups.

Like other Orang Ulu communities in Sarawak, they live in longhouses by the main river system, in their case by the Baram River, the second largest river in Sarawak.

The population of Lakiput is estimated slightly over 2000, settled mainly at Kuala Tutoh in the Baram, under one Native community leader -  The Penghulu.  Kuala Tutoh is about an hour ride by an express boat from the administrative centre, Marudi. The other communities that are closely related to the Lakiput, and sharing similar vocabularies are Narum, Jati Miriek and Bakong while in the neighbouring nation of Brunei, the Belait and Kiudang are also close "cousins" of Lakiput. For a man, if marrying a Kiput woman, he must have a tawak gong, parang Ilang, and other presents such as a mattress.

Some of the earlier Lakiput leaders are The Late Jok Pengiran, The Late Tinggang Jok (Jok Pengiran's son), The late Manak Dapat (Nephew of Tinggang Jok), The Late Penghulu Lejau Malang (nephew of Manak Dapat and grandchild of Jok Pengiran and also great grandchild of Orang Kaya Temenggong Lawai Melayong).

Like most natives in Sarawak, they are paddy planters and some are doing part-time fishing at a nearby ox-bow lake as a mean of supplementary cash income and sell their catch to Marudi town or fishmogers. The more educated Lakiput work in the government service, oil company or other private sectors and a few are working in the nearby timber camp while a good number of them seeking employment in Brunei due to its close proximity to Kuala Beliat town.

Most Kaliputs are catholics but nearly one-third have been converted into Islam a few decades ago. The Lakiput live in longhouses for those who are Christian or Catholics. The Muslims live in traditional Malay village at Kampung Benawa.

Father Henry Jansen, a Mill Hill missionary was the very first to set foot here. Fr Jansen was not new to Sarawak by the time he started serving in Miri in the 1930’s. He had apparently reached the shores of Sarawak in 1900. He started the first catholic mission in Marudi, then at Kampung Kuala Tutoh and then to Long Banyok before making his way upriver to Long San and Lio Mato in the upper reaches of Baram.  Convervison was not easy and Fr Henry Janson met resistance from the "Bomohs" or priests who intimated the long houses into refusing him even the basic hospitality.

Fr Jansen  travelled up the tributaries of the Baram and went even by foot up the mountains to reach the furthest Kenyah, Kayan and Kelabit communities propelled by his belief in God to spread the good news.
The Kenyah Leader Tama Bulan Wan  explained to Jensen that the ancestor would be angry if they were not honored as they always had been and that would bring disaster to the community.

In spite of the difficulties ahead, Jansen made the three weeks journey by longboat to Long San with one other priest, taking up residence there. Jansen was sick at the time. And having had the satisfaction of seeing the mission established, he died soon after (in 1948).

As is so common in foreign missionary history his success came not long after his death. He was buried behind the old church in Miri which he built. The area in which he laboured is today the Diocese of Miri.

Then in 1947, there was a sudden change of heart among the people in the upper Baram. They sent requests down river for a missionary to come and convert them to Adat Sebayang, as they called it - the Pray Way.
Temonggong Oyang Lawai Jau, grand nephew of Tama Bulan wanted to unite the Upriver People and to the same religion.

In Long San it was the Temenggong (chief) himself who called a meeting of all the families to suggest that they should become Christians. He had met many Australians after the Japanese occupation of Borneo and was greatly impressed by them.

By 1970s led by the late Bishop AD Galvin, the catholic mission in the Baram and Long San expanded rapidly with the further establishment of School buildings, a dispensary and accommodation for staff of priests, nuns and lay brothers. There were massive conversions and the mission was served by regular transportation carrying both freight and passengers.

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