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Looking back at Simanggang peace making ceremony in 1920

After decades of tribal wars between the Ibans in Ulu Ai and the Skrang, Layar and Lemanak, they finally made peace in 1920.

To mark the peaceful agreement between these parties, a peace making ceremony was held at Simanggang (now Sri Aman) on Aug 4 that year.

Although the Iban from Ulu Ai had long declared their loyalty to the Brooke government in 1909 after a series of punitive expeditions, they had yet made peace with other Iban communities.

They continued to raid others longhouses like those on the Layar in 1914 and Ulu Skrang in 1915.

After a meeting that took place in June 1920, they finally agreed to come to term with each other by exchanging jars as a sign of peace.

According to a report by the Sarawak Gazette on Sept 1, 1920, the ceremony of exchanging jars was crucial in keeping peace among these headhunters communities.

The article explained, “This custom amongst Dayak dates from time immemorial and is known as the palit mata sapu moa literally to ‘dry the eyes and wipe the face’, meaning that once this exchange has been effected, all grief for those killed in the feud is assuaged. No Dayak peace has ever been lasting without this ceremony, as so many ‘pig-killings’ bear testimony. The jars exchanged are kept in the houses of the headmen of the respective tribes as tangible tokens of the settlement of the feud. At the time of the ceremony of exchanging these jars, terrible curses are uttered by the chief headman of either side whose should at any future reopen the feud by taking the head of an aforetime enemy.”

Days before the event, the Ibans from nearby areas flocked to Simanggang just to attend the peace making ceremony.

There was a pavilion decorated in the Sarawak colours erected just for the ceremony.

As what had been agreed in June, the Ibans Ulu Ai should hand over 20 jars and the Ibans from Engkari another 10 jars to the Skrang, Layar and Lemanak during the peace making ceremony.

In return, the Ibans from Skrang, Layar and Lemanak prepared 10 jars each.

So before the event, 30 jars from Ulu Ai and Engkari were displayed on the upriver side of the pavilion while another 30 jars from Skrang, Layar and Lemanak were displayed on the downriver side.

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The third White Rajah of Sarawak, Vyner Brooke who attended the historical ceremony also delivered a speech in Iban.

An example of jar used during a peace making ceremony.
Here is a transcript of Vyner’s speech in Iban during the peace making ceremony:

“Nyadi baka aku datai ditu ka meda kita menoa Ulu Batang Ai enggai Skrang serta Layar enggau Lemanak bebunoh babi lalu besileh tajau ka pali mata ka sapu moa. Nyadi ari kalia, apai aku, Rajah Tuai, udah ga ngemata ka Balan serta Undup palit mata enggau Skrang. Nadai kala sida bunoh sama diri udah nya. Sida pen datai ka maiatu bisi ga tanda ti di bri apai aku, Rajah tuai, leboh nya. Baka nya pen bisi ga genap menoa tanda ari prentah.

Nyadi baka kita menoa Ulu udah baik enggau Skrang, enggau Layer, enggau Lemanak. Semua hukom semua pati nyawa ari spiak ari spiak pen udah tembu. Jako kita udah betemu udah sabaka, nadai tegal laya agi, babi pun udah mati. Alam asal kita nadai nyelai, kitai pen lebih nemu baka kita semua runding sama diri meyadi sama aki sama ini.

Nyadi tu aku ngamat ka aum kita di Krangan Telaus, laban aku baka apai enggau anak diri empu. Aku sayau meda kita sama belaya. Ti di rindu aku ngasoh semua kita sama lantang pendiau, ngasoh semua menoa tau endor nemuai, tau endor bepangan. Ngasoh kita semua berkabun, ulih ka wang, ulih ka mudal.

Nya alai aku ka bri kita jako, semua kita tuai ti bisi gempuru ditu ari ili ari ulu. Ingat, ingat peasn aku.

Sahari tu aku bri jako amat enggau kita nambah sumpah kita empu.

Enti dudi taun dudi hari bisi orang mungkal kerja kitai ditu, iya nya nyadi munsoh aku nambah kaban sida ti parai. Parai siku, ganti siku. Parai tiga, ganti tiga. Nadai tau pulai ka timbang nadai tau pulai ka hukom, maia ari ili, maia ari ulu, laban semua laya ari menya udah padam di moa aku sahari tu enggau tanda nya.

Nyadi tu, kita tuai menoa Ulu Batang Ai, aku mri tanda ngamat ka jako aku, nambah tajau palit mata, awak ka kita tau nampong semaia aku sampai ka tuboh anak kita, turun menurun.

Nyadi baka tajau ti enggi Penghulu Apai Laja, Penghulu Kana, serta Penghulu Jamit, aku tudong enggau bendai tu.

Nyadi baka kita tuai menoa ili, ingat kita jako nya. Nyadi aku bri kita tanda ka semaia aku enggau kita semua sahari tu. Baka Penghulu Labang alam Skrang, Penghulu Unji alam Layer, Penghulu Suel alam Lemanak, aku tudong tajau ti enggi kita enggau bendai tu.

Nyadi aku mri ka Penghulu Tarang enggau Chendan, sangkoh kena kring semengat, kuia kena kurang semengat, pua kumbu kena ngebap semengat.

Ingat, ingat kita semua pesan jako aku. Tu ikas jako aku.

The peace making ceremony
Exhibition of ceremonial and ancient jars at Fort Sylvia, Kapit today.

After Vyner delivered his speech, Penghulu Unji from Ulu Layar and Penghulu from Delok proceeded with the ‘sampi’ or oath to declare their settlement of all their feuds.

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Then Penghulu Labang from Ulu Skrang and Penghulu Apai Laja from Engkari continued the ceremony by killing two pigs.

The Ibans from Ulu Skrang and Engkari proceeded to stand at downriver side of the pavilion where the jars from Skrang, Layar and Lemanak were displayed and vice versa.

Once the district officers called upon of every chief, they went on to carry off the jars given to them by their former enemies.

Vyner also gave out chanang to every Iban chief as a token of the ratification of their peace making.

The peace making ceremony ended with a toast of tuak.

The Sarawak Gazette also published a translation of Vyner’s speech in English:

“Thus have I come here to witness all you people of the upper river Skrang, Layar and Lemanak make peace by the killing of pigs and the exchange of jars as a sign of having buried all your past enmities. And so, in days gone by, did my father witness the peace making between the Balau, Undup and Skrang tribes, since when they have ever lived in peace and goodwill one with another. And, to this day, every race under my rule has such signs of good faith from their aforetime enemies.

Now that all of you upper river have settled the blood feud with the tribes of the Skrang, Layar and Lemanak, you recognise how all are of the same stock, and have no further cause for dispute, honour having been satisfied on both sides by the settlements at the Telaas meeting place and the blood of a pig having been spilled to testify to this.

But I have come here to ratify that compact, as I am like a father with his children, my sole desire being that all should live in peace and friendliness one with another, and all countries be open, that you may all gain in prosperity by the cultivation of the soil, and trading one with another in the produce of your forests.

Therefore I desire to speak to you all this day, all you chiefs gathered together here from the upper and lower rivers. Make sure to remember my words.

The oaths which you will utter according to your own custom this day, I confirm with my word that, should anyone reopen this feud at any future day, that man shall become my sworn enemy, and I shall demand the life of anyone who so takes the life of another.

In the past your blood feud has been recognised, but from now henceforth this no longer exist having been finally settled this day before me by the blood of these pigs and the exchanged of those jars.

Therefore I now give, as a token of my word, to you of the upper river three chanang to cover those jars which are to be held by Penghulu Apai Laja, Penghulu Kana and Penghulu Jamit, so that these may be kept by you as a sign of my ratification of this settlement evident to your children, and all future generations.

Likewise you men of the lower rivers, remember my words, and, as a pledge of these, I cover those jars to be held Penghulu Labang in the Skrang, Penghulu Unji in the Layar and Penghulu Suel in the Lemanak each with a chanang.

And you Penghulu Tarang and Chendan I present with a spear, kuna and pua to hand you from generation to generation as a seal from myself that the spirit of strife between these tribes, of which, though you have lived amidst, neither has been a party, has now been finally laid at rest.

Remember my words, all you chiefs. I have spoken.”

Simanggang today
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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