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How the human races were formed according to a Sihan legend

The Sihan people are among the few tribes in Sarawak that are vulnerable to extinction along with smaller tribes such as the Ukit and Kejaman peoples.

According to the Borneo Post in 2012, there are less than 300 Sihan people left in Sarawak.

Unfortunately, they have been assimilated into other Orang Ulu groups such as the Kayans and Kenyahs.

Their only unique legacy now is their own language and mythology which are different from other tribes.

Here is a folklore on how human races were formed according to a Sihan legend:

Long time ago, all human beings came from only one race.

At Ulu Kajang river, many groups of people wished to cross the river.

However, none of them were able to swim.

Therefore, they decided to build a huge bridge out of rattan.

The groups of people started to build a bridge in order to get to the other side of the Ulu Kajang river. Credits: Pixabay.

After they built it, each group of people began to walk across the bridge.

The Punan, Kayan, Kejaman, Sekapan, Lahanan and the Sihan walked first.

After too many people crossing the river, the bridge broke.

The rest of these people such as the Iban, Malay, Chinese and the Europeans flowed down the river instead of using a bridge.

The Sihan people believed that the European who flowed furthest down the river became white, their hair silvery and their eyes blushed due to the coldness of the water.

The Sihan and the other groups who walked first who had already reached the other side of the river before the bridge was broken, remained in the upper part of the river to this day.

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The source of this Sihan legend

The late Iban ethnologist Benedict Sandin recorded this particular legend on Feb 27, 1961 when he was working as the Sarawak Museum’s Research Assistant.

His informant for this legend was Salik Gawit, a Sihan headman from Menamang stream. Salik was 56 years-old when he was interviewed by Sandin.

According to Salik, he is not sure why his race is called Sihan (sometimes spelled as Sian).

He told Sandin, “There is no river of that name that had been inhabited by our ancestors. I can assure that my race are not foreigners. We are the people who are the origins of this place.”

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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