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An Iban legend about the immortal Garai and his blowpipe

Here is an Iban legend from the Batang Ai area as recorded by N.S Haile on Aug 31, 1954 in the Sarawak Gazette.

A long time ago, there was an Iban Balau man named Garai.

One day, Garai went out hunting in the Klingkang Range with his blowpipe where he bumped into a very large spirit known as Antu Gayu.

Despite the blowpipe in the spirit’s hand, Garai was not frightened by Antu Gayu as he stood his ground.

Looking at Garai’s bravery, Antu Gayu challenged him, saying, “Let us see who can stick his darts into that rock. Whoever is successful will kill the other.”

Antu Gayu then pointed at a sheer sandstone cliff located in the Klingkang range.

Garai agreed, letting Antu Gayu go first.

While the spirit was selecting three of his strongest and sharpest darts, Garai excused himself and disappeared into the babas (bushes).

It did not take him long to find a pedalai tree from which he tapped some of the sticky rubber, and wound it around the tips of his darts before returning to the spirit.

Antu Gayu shot his three darts first. Although his darts were spirit darts which are much stronger and sharper than human darts, they still could not shatter the rock.

Meanwhile, Garai’s darts stuck into the rocks thanks to the pedalai rubber.

“It seems I’m the winner. You can see my darts have all stuck in. Well, nothing remains to be done but to kill you,” Garai said to the spirit.

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The spirit immediately showed himself a coward as he tried to bargain for his life.

Garai’s reward after winning the competition

Antu Gayu tried to offer Garai some gold to which he replied he already had plenty.

The spirit then offered him some jars and gongs and Garai also said he had plenty.

“Well then, some medicine to make you a strong walker,” Antu Gayu said.

Garai responded, “I already am a strong walker, I can go farther and faster than anyone else in this area. I think it will be the best if I just kill you.”

Again, Antu Gayu negotiated offering him the charm that would make Garai irresistible to women.

To that Garai answered that he was a happily married man, so he did not need the charm.

Finally, the spirit offered him something that he took into consideration: eternal youth.

“You’ll never get old! Never die! What do you think of that?” Antu Gayu asked.

Garai in the end agreed, “If you can make me stay young forever, I won’t kill you.”

The Antu Gayu then produced a small knife and he asked Garai to swallow it.

After feeling assured that it would not cause him any harm, Garai did as the spirit told him to do.

“Now, you will never get old. Unless, you told anybody the reason for your everlasting youth and of how you put me to shame with your blowpipe, then you will die,” said the spirit.

How the immortal Garai spent his life

So Garai went on living his life day by day without getting older. When his wife got too old, with her consent he took a younger woman as his new wife. And he continued to outlive seven of his wives.

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His grandchildren and great-grandchildren all became older than him.

Like all curious grandchildren, they wondered at his immortality, and begged him to let them know his secret. After being persuaded by them, the immortal Garai decided to tell them the truth, resigned himself to death.

But first, he asked them to prepare a big feast to celebrate the end of his life.

So pigs and chickens were killed and cooked while tuak (rice wine) were brewed.

Once all the feasting was done, Garai began to tell his story on how he gained his immortality.

As he finished his storytelling, the knife that he swallowed flew out from his throat.

Suddenly there was a flash of lightning and the immortal Garai met his end by being turned into stone. Shaped like a man but smaller, people began to call it “Batu Garai”.

Legend has it the stone is now kept by the people of Marakai in Kalimantan, and that it is locked in a chest. Some people believe it has extraordinary medicinal and therapeutic properties.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who 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 or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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