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How Raja Simpulang Gana became the Iban God of Agriculture

Who said only the Greek or Germanic peoples had interesting mythology? Here in Sarawak, we too have plenty of intriguing stories of deities and gods.

Before we know how Raja Simpulang Gana became the God of Agriculture for the Iban community, here is a little background story of his family:

In ancient times, the Iban believed that the gods and spirit-heroes lived in the same world with human beings.

Due to some disagreements, the gods separated from the early ancestors of man and each came to inhabit the different worlds in which they are now found.

According to legend, there once lived a very powerful deity named Raja Durong. His bejulok (nickname) was ‘Lumpong Tibang Bebaring’. He married Endu Dara Talun Pelangka who was also called ‘Kuta Dinding Hari’.

They gave birth to Raja Jembu who was also known as Metha Raja Pengibai. Raja Jembu married to Endu Kumang Baku Pelimbang, the keeper of a charm which can bring food and wealth.

Raja Jembu and his wife gave birth to seven children:

1.Bidok Linggar, who swoops at the bubbling waves was also known as Aki Jugi Menaul Tuntong and Aki Lang Singalang Burong.

2.Matai Tuai Raja Menjaya, whose nickname is Manang Langgong. He owned a charm which could prolong human life.

3.Raja Bikhu Bunsu Petara or Pantan Inan Raja Jadia, the priest of Bunsu Petara, the god of creation.

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4.Raja Selampetam, nicknamed Raja Selampatoh, or Raja Selampandai who was the god of blacksmith.

5.Gangga Ganggai or Gangga Ganggong, who was also called Anda Mara. He was the deity of the fountain of wealth.

6.Ini Inda Rabong Menoa, known also as Ini Inee Rabong Hari. She was the inheritor of healing charms and the greatest of the shaman.

7.Last but not least, Rangkang Kirai Raja Sua who was also known as Pepat Pudak Raja Simpulang Gana became the God of Agriculture and owner of the earth.

Singalang Burong dividing the family’s wealth

On one occasion, Raja Simpulang Gana went on a journey to look for the sacred plant called engkenyang lily.

At that time, Singalang Burong divided the family property with his brothers and sister without the consent of their father Raja Jembu.

For himself, Singalang Burong took the most precious charm belonging to his family called igi-mudan. It was used to lead warriors in battle. As a result, he became the most formidable war leader among the deities.

Meanwhile, Raja Menjaya was given a special charm called ubat penyangga nyawa which could cure all kinds of sickness. Due to this, he became the patron god of all manang (shaman).

Raja Bikhu Bunsu Petara was given the power to perform miracles and so became the priest of Bunsu Petara.

As for Raja Selampandai, he was given blacksmith’s tools with which he was commanded to shape earth into the human body. During the Gawai Sakit festival, he was the one to be called to reshape the bodies of those who were sick.

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Anda Mara was given a special charm which could bring wealth to men. Those who were looking for riches must make offerings to Anda Mara.

A box full of healing charms and medicines was given to Ini Inee Rabong Hari. Back in the ancient times, she alone could consecrate others to become a manang.

Raja Simpulang Gana, the God of Agriculture

Since Raja Simpulang Gana was not there when Singalang Burong divided their property, he was only given the family’s hearth.

When he returned home, he was furious to find out what had happened.

To console him, his father Raja Jembu made him the God of Agriculture and owner of the earth.

“If any of your brothers, your sister, or their descendants, want to work the land in the future,” said his father, “they must seek your approval beforehand.”

Due to this, whenever men want to farm a piece of land, they first must offerings to Raja Simpulang Gana to gain his approval.

Benedict Sandin recorded this legend as part of paper Mythological origins of Iban Shamanism. The paper was published in The Sarawak Museum Journal in August 1983.

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 Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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