Despite being a mythical creature, the dragon appears in various folklore of many cultures around the world.
In Western culture, it is typically depicted as winged, horned, four-legged and capable of breathing fire.
Meanwhile, dragons in Eastern culture are usually wingless (but capable of flight) short-legged, serpentine creatures.
Would it be interesting to know that the dragon in Iban folklore is a bit of both worlds?
Here are at least five things you should know about dragons in Iban folklore:
1.The physical appearance of a dragon in Iban folklore
According to an Iban legend, the dragon or naga is a huge snake with a horn protruding from its forehead.
Unlike its fellow dragons from other folklore, an Iban dragon has a luminous bezoar or gombala stone in the centre of its brow. It works like a flashlight for the dragon to lights its way at night.
It also has several pairs of wings, legs, arms, eyes and sharp claws and teeth.
2.There are two species of dragons.
According to Iban ethnologist Benedict Sandin, there are two species of dragons in Iban folklore. One species loves the water so it lives in the sea, pool or in the river. Meanwhile, another species prefer the mountain top.
The one which lives on the mountain top kills with its crested tail. It can also spit venom and breathe fire .
3.It is believed that a dragon protected the Ibans during the infamous Cholera expedition
Benedict wrote in The Sarawak Gazette on Nov 30, 1964, “It was said by the Ulu Ai Ibans during the Cholera Expedition against Penghulu Bantin of Delok in 1902, before the arrival of the Government forces at the mouth for Delok river in the upper Batang Ai, that they saw a huge dragon track going down from the hill to the river. During the following night Bantin had a dream. He dreamt that he met a huge dragon which told him not to worry about the enemy as he (the dragon) would fight for him.”
Eventually, one fifth of the 10,000 men recruited to fight the alleged rebels died of Cholera hence the name ‘Cholera Expedition’.
4.A dragon also helped fight the Japanese during World War II
When an Iban leader, the late Temenggong Koh fought against the Japanese during World War II, he gave offerings to the dragon god seeking its protection.
Benedict shared, “It was due to this that whenever the late Temenggong Koh was worried by the enemy he would throw an offering into the river to appeal for immediate help from his dragon god. He did this during the fighting against the Japanese soldiers at the own of Song during liberation days in 1945.”
5.There is a guardian dragon cited in a mourning song
In the olden days, according to Benedict, the Iban believed that whenever a person died in this world, thousands of their relatives who died before them will come from the other world to fetch their soul to live with them in Mandai Mati.
“On their way to Mandai Mati, on reaching the Pintu Tanah (Door to Earth) which separates this world from the next, a guardian dragon is mentioned in the following mourning song,” he added.
Here is the English translation of the song:
Then spoke the maiden Simba
Who, when she died was transformed into a hawk
“Where are you maiden Jawai
Who wears a single red pelaga stone,
And you maiden Iyak,
Who is lively and gay?
Please open the door of the dragon snake;
The door of red soil;
So that we can have a way to return to our country,
In the forest full of small mango trees;
With flowers all upside down.
We have no time!
Replied the dragon snake,
Because we are doing most important work,
Having been asked by Pungga and Laja,
To weave for them coloured petticoats,
Which they will wear on a short expedition,
To the mouth of the Kantu river
If they return from thence,
They will bring for us two lumps
Of precious (gombala) stones,
As big as areca nuts.