You are here
Home > Culture > Legend of tau tepang, the Iban concept of the evil eye

Legend of tau tepang, the Iban concept of the evil eye

The evil eye is a curse or legend believed to be cast by a malevolent glare. Many cultures across the world believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Those who can cast the curse were also called “evil eyes”.

Here in Sarawak, the Iban community also have their belief in the evil eye and it is called “tau tepang”.

Do you have the evil eye? Credits: Pixabay
The legend of tau tepang

In the olden days, there was a man who went to the forest with his blowpipe to shoot birds.

He managed to shoot an Argus pheasant or in Iban Burong Ruai. After he killed the bird, he brought it back to the longhouse.

On his arrival, the man placed the dead bird in a winnowing basket (chapan) on his communal veranda.

The children rushed to look closely at the bird. As they stood near it, the bird suddenly gave a strange low sound known as “ngembau” in Iban.

Some of the children laughed at the sound while the rest of them ran to tell their mothers.

Upon hearing this from the children, the women came out. Some of them opened the bird’s mouth and noticed a tiny thing like a knife stuck in its throat.

One of them voiced out, “It must be a knife given to us by Kumang and Lulong, the goddesses of Gelong and Panggau Libau, so that we can become experts in weaving pua kumbu and other clothes.”

READ  Tom Harrisson’s own account of The Airmen and the Headhunters incident
Eating the Argus pheasant

After that, the man dressed the bird for cooking. He took the knife out from its throat and gave it to his wife.

He also divided the meat among those who wanted to eat it. However, only few of them ate it. On the same night, one of the women dreamed she met a spirit who told her that all those who had eaten the bird must become evil eyes.

The next morning, the woman told her dream to the people of the longhouse. They were frightened knowing that the curse would not only affect them but their descendants as well.

Right after the event, the people of the longhouse separated themselves from those who had eaten the bird.

They refused to farm on the same land nor approve the marriage of their children with those from the evil eyes lineage.

This taboo is still continued in some places even to this day.

A person with the evil eyes is believed to never have a good effect on anything. If they were to pass a fruit tree and say how plentiful the fruits were, the fruit would suddenly drop and become rotten.

Again, if they were to pass a hen with many chicks and remark how plentiful they were, that same hen would never produce as many chicks as before.

This is why people believed that tau tepang people will always remain poor.

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.
Top