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Retelling the legend of Rentap at Sarawak Harvest and Folklore Festival

Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) rebranded its annual World Harvest Festival to Sarawak Harvest and Folklore Festival this year.

Regardless of the rebranding, the highlight of the event remains its signature musical theme play which tells the tales and folklore of one of Sarawak’s many ethnic groups every year.

On April 28 the Iban community was this year’s featured ethnic group as they paid tribute to famous Iban warrior Rentap in a play called Rentap: The Untold Story.

Each year, the act takes on a different ethnic group’s folk tales or stories and this year they featured the Iban community.

 

Although it did not present an exactly “untold” story of Rentap, the musical did highlight a number of important yet little known facts about him and his life.

Sarawak Harvest and Folklore Festival theme play

Born Libau anak Ningkan, Rentap was a great war chief who led a rebellion against the Brooke administration during the 19th century.

The tale of this fierce warrior took a romantic detour by showing the courtship and marriage between Rentap and his wife Sawai.

Besides Sawai, the musical introduced another important key person in Rentap’s life – Chief Orang Kaya Pemanca Dana Bayang.

Rentap and Sawai courting under the moonlight during the musical act set on the SCV’s lake.

He was Rentap’s mentor who accompanied him on ngayau (ngayo) expeditions into West Kalimantan.

Of the numerous battles Rentap fought against the Brooke administration (spanning from James Brooke’s reign to Charles Brooke), the play featured a few important ones like the battle of Kerangan Peris in 1844 (which caused the death of a British officer known only as Mr Stewart) and the battle of Lintang Batang in 1853. The latter was a bloodbath which saw Alan Lee, another British officer beheaded by Rentap’s son in-law Layang.

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The final battle was at Bukit Sadok, Rentap’s fort. It was during this battle Rentap suffered a great loss, marking the end of his war against the White Rajah.

The battle at Bukit Sadok also introduces ‘Bujang Sadok’, a 12-pounder brass cannon used by Charles Brooke as they attacked his fort. Historically, the shot from Bujang Sadok penetrated Rentap’s fort, killing the gunner operating his own cannon named ‘Bujang Timpang Berang’.

Bujang Sadok is now on display at The Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita while Bujang Timpang Berang is at the Betong District Office.

Watch out for the gunshots (fireworks)!
A temporary wooden hut was set on fire during the play.

The verdict on Rentap: The Untold Story

Although most history purists would agree that the storyline of this Rentap musical was over-fictionalised, the play did capture Rentap’s famed courage and the essence of the Iban community in the olden days.

With fireworks depicting cannon ball explosions and gunfire, the musical act delivered an impressive array of special effects to the whole performance.

 

A scene showcasing the Battle of Beting Maru, where Brooke troops ambushed the Ibans was equally impressive. A wooden hut suddenly shot up in flames during the battle leaving the audience gasped in awe.

Rentap and his army fleeing from an ambush by Brooke troops.

 

The Brooke troop celebrating their victory on Bukit Sadok.

Sarawak Harvest and Folklore Festival events

Apart from the musical theme play, Sarawak Harvest and Folklore Festival featured other events including Miss Cultural Festival 2018 and Sape World Concert.

Held from Apr 17 to 28, visitors also got to enjoy the Tribal Ironman Challenge and Sarawak Kitchen Food Culinary Competition.

Going into its 11th year, the festival is a prelude to the statewide Gawai Dayak celebration.

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The Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports together with Sarawak Economic Development Corporation supported the event.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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