Where were omens believed to have come from? Get to know the three principal sources of Iban augury
In Iban augury, believers rely on different ways to receive indicative omens when making a decision or taking an action.
The omens can be deliberately sought or accidentally encountered.
According to Clifford Sather in his paper Iban Agriculture Augury (1985), the Ibans viewed augury as a form of spiritual communication.
Animals such as birds are what the Iban described as the earthly manifestations of gods and spiritual heroes.
“In entering the physical world, they assume the outward form of natural species, always appearing to mankind the same form whenever they present themselves. Thus, each species has a specific connection with the spiritual world, and it is largely in terms of these connections that individual omens are interpreted and function, from the Iban point of view, as media of communications,” Sather stated.
But where do these omens come from? Here are what Sather pointed out as the three principal sources of Iban augury:
The first and most important is Singalang Burong. In the world of Iban mythology, he is the most powerful of the Iban deities, the god of war and male prowess.
He used seven omen birds to give warnings and guidance for his people.
The seven omen birds are rufous piculet (ketupong), banded kingfisher (embuas), scarlet-rumped trogon (beragai), Diard’s trogon (papau or kalabu), crested jay (bejampong), maroon woodpecker (pangkas) and white-rumped shama (nendak).
These seven birds are the crucial omens in Iban augury.
Each of the seven bird omens has its own meaning. For example, the appearance of beragai during clearing of field when farming is considered auspicious.
Another major source of Iban augury are reptiles associated with the spiritual heroes or Orang Panggau.
Sather stated, “The world of the Orang Panggau represents an ideal image of the traditional society of the Iban themselves; its inhabitants are conceptualised as dwelling in a riverine land (menoa Panggau), present in this world but invisible to man except in dreams.”
Moreover, they frequently act through dream revelations.
Orang Panggau are often associated with knowledge of useful plants and traditional skills. Through dreams, they come to aid of craftsmen and warriors giving their helpful advise.
In the meantime as omens, they appear as snakes to become the guardian of the Iban people.
Sather listed four snake omens which are sent by Orang Panggau. These are cobra (tedong), python (sawa), coral snake (kendawang) and king cobra (belalang).
The presence of these augury snake means danger to humans hence it is advisable to return home and take a day off.
Overall, the appearance of snake omens are generally inauspicious. It forewarns of a family death, serious illness and a sign to choose a new farms it.
Like Singalang Burong, Simpulang Gana is a major deity in Iban mythology. He is the god of agriculture and custodian of the earth.
He presides over rice-farming on top of sending farming omens.
Sather stated, “The earth is Simpulang Gana’s personal domain. Thus he has a special connection with rice fields and associated with him are a number of animals and insects especially linked with the earth.”
His principal augural emissaries are belangkiang lizard, hairy caterpillar (ulat bulu), tarsier (ingkat), loris (bengkang), monitor lizard (menarat), mouse deer (pelandok), porcupine (landak), barking deer (kijang), bear (beruang), wild boar (jani) and sambar deer (rusa).
For instance, it is generally considered auspicious to discover either loris, tarsier or belangkiang lizard when clearing a new farm site.
Interestingly, Sather pointed out, “The belangkiang lizard should be cut open, and is acknowledged, as a rule, only if eggs are found inside its stomach. The number of eggs is said to equal the number of paddy bins the farmer can expect to fill at the time of harvest.”