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How were executions carried out during Brooke’s time in Sarawak?

Execution of criminals has been used by almost all societies in the world.

If you’ve watched Braveheart you’ll know that there were many painful and cruel methods of carrying out an execution throughout history. One example is keel hauling. This form of execution was carried out on sailors at sea and was usually a torture technique used by pirates as early as 700BC.

They would tie the condemned to a rope line looped beneath the vessel, thrown overboard on one side of the ship. Then they would dragged the poor man under the ship’s keel, either from one side of the ship to the other or the length of the ship from bow to stern.

The persecuted man would die either from drowning or head trauma from colliding against the ship, especially if the vessel was moving.

Death by Malay dagger, the keris

When Sarawak came under the first Rajah, James Brooke in 1841, executions were carried out using a Malay dagger called keris. He also elected a man named Subu as the Public Executioner.

The first Ranee of Sarawak, Margaret Brooke described how executions were first carried out in her book My Life in Sarawak.

“A kris is a curious-looking dagger, straight and flat, the blade double-edged, eighteen inches long, with a sharp point. It is inserted in the cavity of the condemned man’s right shoulder, and thrust diagonally across the body through the heart, causing instantaneous death. “Do they never tremble?” I would ask Subu. “No,” he said, “they do not tremble. They smoke cigarettes while their grave is being dug, and sometimes they eat betel nut and sirih. Then, when I tell them, they sit on the brink of their grave as though they were sitting on the edge of their bed, prepared to take their afternoon sleep. We always parted good friends,” said Subu, “and very often we talked all the way to the place of execution.”

The condemned men never quite knew when their last moment had come, for they sat placidly smoking until Subu approached from behind them, and with one blow of the kris sent them into eternity. “You white people fret too much about trifles, and that makes you frightened of death,” Subu would say. “We take it just as it comes, and consider that Allah has chosen the best moment to end our lives. Many such murderers have I sent to their peace,” he often said to me.

W.J. Chater wrote in the Sarawak Gazette on May 31, 1964 that executions by Subu used to be carried out near the Batu Kinyang rock at the second mile of Rock Road, Kuching.

At that time, the area was still considered to be deep in the jungle.

Execution by shooting

Subu held the post as Sarawak Public Executioner from 1841 until his death in 1873. Then his son Tomah took over the post until 1889. This was the year execution by shooting was first introduced.

Charles Brooke, the second Rajah wrote a letter on Aug 12 that year to Major Irvin Day, the Commandant of Sarawak Rangers, ordering an execution of six prisoners.

Here is the content of the letter:

“I hereby direct that you will take command of a guard of twenty Rangers and proceed at half past six o’clock tomorrow morning to receive at the prison entrance the six prisoners to be shot. Then take them on board the “Young Harry” and proceed to the execution ground, accompanied by Dr Rolph and a guide which Mr Daubeny can furnish.

You will then have these six men shot as mercifully as lays in your power and buried on the spot, and return.”

These six men became the first prisoners to be executed by shooting in Sarawak.

According to Chater, the prison referred in Charles’ letter was at the Pangkalan Batu Police Post.

It was built as a prison in 1879, the same year as Fort Margherita and contained the prisoners’ cells on the ground flood and the Police Officer’s quarters above. Back then, C. W. Daubeny held the post of Inspector of Police and Prison. As for the execution ground, it was located on the riverside somewhere near Santubong.

“Young Harry” was a vessel named after Charles’ youngest son, Harry Keppel Brooke. He was born in 1879 and given the title of Tuan Bunsu or the Youngest Lord.

The Rajahs’ perceptions on death penalty

Chater reported, “The second and third Rajahs held an intense dislike for executions. The third Rajah in particular was definitely against capital punishments; and whenever there was a death penalty to be signed he would usually be conveniently away in an outstation and the senior government officer in Kuching would have to do the signing.”

For this reason, the third Rajah Vyner Brooke was reportedly extremely merciful about the way executions were carried out.

The condemned was always given an injection. In the days when executions were carried out downriver, there was always a bottle of brandy in the boat for the prisoner.

“I have heard it said that sometimes by the time the party reached the execution ground the condemned man was feeling fine and would help to beach the boat before standing up to be shot,” Chater wrote.

Execution by hanging

When Sarawak became a British colony, hanging was introduced for the first time in Sarawak.

As for the keris that was once used by Subu, it had been handed to the Sarawak Museum by Bertram Brooke (Vyner’s brother) in the 1960s with the tip broken. The second White Rajah broke the tip off to prevent it being used again.

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Execution by hanging was only introduced when Sarawak became part of British colony.

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.

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.

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

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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.

How did the name of Sarawak’s capital get changed to Kuching?

In the olden days, Sarawak’s capital was also known as ‘Sarawak’.

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Kuching view. Credits: Pixabay.
Why did the second White Rajah, Charles Brooke decide to change Sarawak’s capital name to Kuching on Aug 12, 1872?

Abang Othman Datu Haji Moasili wrote in The Sarawak Gazette on Aug 31, 1964 that explained the reason behind it.

“The story, according to the old Malays and as related to me by my father, the late Datu Hakim, goes that the second Rajah who spent most of his time as Tuan Muda and later as Rajah Muda and Rajah among the Sea Dayaks in the Second Division used continually to be asked, as is the Iban custom not what town he came from but which river he came from?” he wrote.

Abang Othman described a small rivulet called the Sungei Sarawak located about 16 miles above Kuching from which the capital originally derived its name.

He continued, “But much closer to his residence, the Astana and only a short distance down the river, near the present Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, there used to be another rivulet, the Sungei Kuching, until it was filled in, in 1928.”

This rivulet was the river nearest to the Astana. Plus, it was well known to the Ibans, as they used to put up there for shelter during the night on their visits to the capital.

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The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce is now the Chinese History Museum.

Kuching river

Hence, when people used to ask the Rajah where he came from he would say “Kuching river”.

Over time, the word ‘river’ was dropped and he was known among the Dayaks as “coming from Kuching”.

As the territory of Sarawak expanded, it caused some confusion to call the country and the capital by the same name. This led to the necessity for a distinction to be made between them.

Abang Othman stated, “At first, the difficulty was overcome by calling the capital ‘Sarawak Proper’. But as it had now become known to the Sea Dayaks, who formed the largest number of the population as Kuching, the Rajah decided officially to change the name from Sarawak to Kuching.”

Read more:

How Sarawak, Land of Hornbills, got its name?

Tungu Rubi, a Bidayuh reconciliation ceremony

Tungu Rubi is a traditional ceremony organised to reconcile two parties who are in dispute.

Here is an example of how a Tungu Rubi took place in 1953 at Kampung Tapuh in Serian as recorded by R. Nyandoh:

The story went that some women of Tapuh village considered they had been insulted by a group of men.

Hence, the village planned a meeting where the elders would decide whether the men – Ayih, Raseh, Laha, Lunge, Janggi, Kayei and Kihing (aged from 24 to 33) – were guilty, and instructed them to prepare the food fines.

They made a bench to support two large plates of salted pig and fish.

They also hung meat and fish at the side of the bench and carried it to the longhouse veranda. As they carried the bench, the children accompanied them while beating the drums.

Seven elders from Tapuh village and other nearby villages watched while these food fines were hung on a long pole.

R.Nyandoh wrote, “These foods were arranged in order; one whole salted Sirungos fish, salted wild pig with skin and fat intact, more salted pork, one whole salted Semah fish, two complete wild pig skins, another salted Semah fish, some slices of wild boar, and two whole salted Bantah fish.

“The village elders, representing the accused men, discussed the case and decided the case and decided they should first feign ignorance of the whole affair. But if the case went overwhelmingly against the men, they would agree to punishment by fine.”

Preparing for Tungu Rubi on the the women’s side

Meanwhile, the women, whose names were Kujin, Lain, Luwai, Rantai, Jai, Kuna and Bareng, were also preparing their fines for the Tungu Rubi.

They arranged 18 sticks of pankang (glutinous rice) in three bundles with two more sticks supported on top.

A 5-foot long twist of tobacco was draped over this arrangement. In between the men and women, there were plates of cooked eggs and rice, three kettles of tuak, three jars of tuak and a large dish of pangkang pieces. Additionally, there was a big cockerel which the women had killed and dried.

Six priestesses came to represent the women.

The cause of the conflict

So what did the men do that upset the women?

“Ayih hand made an image of female genitals on the local plank bridge. He later made another image and painted it red with lime and betel nut water. The seven men together had rudely suggested that the concrete block at the bathing place had been broken by female genitals. Also that the water had dried up in summer, the women’s genital organs having drunk it,” R. Nyandoh stated.

Despite the insults, the women had not retaliated. However, they still believed the men should be punished according to the traditional law.

The men tried to defend themselves but everyone present believed they were guilty as sin. Hence, the men agreed to accept the punishment.

The Tungu Rubi ceremony proceeded with the salted pig and fish handed to the women and special rites were observed to show that no bad feeling remained.

It’s unfortunate that the writer did not detail on how the special rites were conducted. All we know is that the ceremony continued with the men and women dancing together, passing the food back and forth between them while drums and gongs were beaten. This lasted an hour.

Then, the women distributed the men’s food gifts among themselves. Meanwhile, the accused men settled to eating and drinking.

The merrymaking continued with dancing and singing throughout the night.

After the Tungu Rubi ceremony had ended, a taboo on all work and indulgence (including sex) were imposed for four straight nights.

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Tungu Rubi, a reconciliation ceremony which ends with a merrymaking feast.

Do you know more about Tungu Rubi or have you witnessed it before? Let us know in the comment box.

The legend of the safflower and the celestial princess of Lingga mountain

If you are not familiar with the legend of a swan maiden, it is a mythical creature who shape-shifts from human to swan form.

The basic story line of this legend is that the male character spies on the maiden while bathing (which is considered sexual harassment by today’s standards). Then the man snatches away the feather garment or some other article of clothing, thus preventing her from fleeing, (which is another criminal act of theft) and finally the man forces her to become his wife (which is actually a case of kidnapping).

Putting aside the multiple criminal offences in this folktale, similar legends are found across the world.

The Ranee of Sarawak Margaret Brooke recorded several interesting legends in her book My Life in Sarawak(1849) and one of them is almost similar to the swan legend. Only, this folktale starts with the safflower plant and has a tragic ending.

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Margaret recorded several legends in her book about Sarawak including how paddy came to Sarawak, the story of ikan pasit and how the coconut tree came from fairyland. Credits: Creative Commons.

The story of Safflower and a man named Laja

Margaret relates how rich the Batang Lupar district is in legends, and tells a story told to her by a fortman’s wife in Simanggang.

“Every one living in Simanggang knows the great mass of sandstone and forest, called Lingga mountain, and all those who have travelled at all (so said the fortman’s wife) have seen this Lingga mountain and know how high and difficult it is to climb, and how a great stretch of country can be seen from its flat and narrow top with the wide expanse of sea stretching from the shores of the Batang Lupar across the great bay of Sarawak to the mountains beyond the town of Kuching,” Margaret wrote.

According to the legend, there was a young Iban man named Laja who lived in the village at the foot of Lingga Mountain. One night, a beautiful lady appeared to Laja in a dream.

She told Laja to “rise early the next morning, before the trees on the banks of the river had emerged from the mist of night, and climb Lingga Mountain, where he would find the safflower at the top.”

The spirit went on to explain that this plant would cure most illnesses, especially sprains and internal inflammation.

Laja and his journey to Mount Lingga

The next morning, Laja woke up and followed everything the lady told him to (because when a mysterious figure in your dream tells you to do it, you should do it).

Halfway up the mountain, Laja saw a rainbow just above the fog. Looking at the bright rainbow, he knew that the spirit of the mountain – a celestial princess – was about to descend by way of the rainbow to bathe in the mountain stream.

Instead of waiting and wondering how she looked like, Laja went on his way to the top of the mountain.

After spending some time looking, he found the safflower plant and brought it home to his village.

Laja pounded the plant and gave it to his people who were sick, but the plant was unreliable.

While some were cured, others did not benefit from it and died from their sickness.

A safflower plant. Credits: Creative Commons

Simpurei and the celestial princess of Lingga mountain

Despite the unpredictability of the safflower plant, its benefits still outnumbered its failures. Eventually, they ran out of the safflower to cure the sick.

One day, a man named Simpurei decided to look for the safflower without telling anyone of his intentions.

Halfway up the mountain, Simpurei saw a rainbow with both ends resting on the sides of the hill opposite the mountain just like Laja did.

He then heard the sound of water and rustling close by. Simpurei peered through the greenery and that was when he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was a celestial princess, who was also the spirit of the mountain.

The woman was naked with hair falling down to her feet. She used a bucket of gold to pour water over her head.

Just like the swan maiden legend, Simpurei stood in awe of the woman’s beauty. Suddenly, he accidentally broke a twig that he was holding.

Surprised at the sound, the woman looked up and saw Simpurei. She fled to a bed of safflowers near where her clothes were lying.

As the woman ran away, a strand of her hair was caught in the bushes.

Instead of a feather garment, Simpurei decided to take the hair as it shone and glistened in the sun.

He took off immediately, feeling happy that he had a strand of a celestial maiden’s hair for his keeping. The man even forgot what he came to the mountain for; which was the safflower.

Simpurei’s tragic end

Unfortunately for Simpurei, he barely reached his home when he was caught with a sudden sickness.

Upon hearing about his illness, his villagers slowly crowded his home to visit Simpurei.

Many tried to help cure him, summoning all the shamans and medicine men that they knew, but none of them could heal Simpurei from his mysterious illness.

In his sickness, Simpurei managed to tell the people of his adventure up in the mountains. From how he watched the celestial princess taking a bath in the mountain stream, to keeping a strand of her hair.

Eventually, he passed away due to his sickness. The elders of the village believed that Simpurei was punished for staring at the celestial princess bathing naked at the mountain stream.

The Brooke battle against the Iban from Gaat river at Nanga Pila in 1916

About a century ago, the Iban from Gaat river, a tributary of the Baleh river, had been a cause of serious concern for the Brooke government.

They caused mayhem in the area with their headhunting attacks on their neighbouring tribes living upstream of Kapit.

What’s more, this group of Iban headhunters were often helped by their fellow Dayaks of Emperan from the Dutch border (Kalimantan).

In 1915, the government issued a warning to the surrounding longhouses especially at Baleh and Mujong rivers not to go to above Kapit unless in large parties.

Unfortunately, these warnings were not always heeded and the Iban headhunters from Gaat and Emperan continued to cause trouble.

In November that year, the Iban Gaat killed two Tanjung people near the mouth of the Baleh river.

A month later, they attacked a group of Ukits, killing three people. But the Ukits put up a good fight and caused considerable amount of losses on the Iban Gaat.

Charles Brooke’s intervention

Sarawak Rangers
According to S. Baring-Gould and C.A. Bampfylde in their book “A History of Sarawak under its Two White Rajahs”, the Sarawak Rangers battalion pictured here was composed of some 275 Iban, 100 Sepoys, 50 Malays, 25 Javanese, and 20 Philippine bandsmen, under an English Commandant and an Instructor. The force was established in 1846 under a native officer of the Ceylon Rifles. Photo credit: Lambert and Co.

The second White Rajah of Sarawak Charles Brooke decided to step in. In January 1916, he ordered an extra guard of Sarawak Rangers to be posted at Kapit.

He himself even visited in March that year to discuss the problem with people from Baleh and Mujong rivers.

These people had moved downstream of Kapit due to the conflict. Charles decided that they should remain below Kapit for three years until 1919 before he would allow them to farm on the land above Kapit. This was only, however, provided that the Iban Gaat ceased to cause trouble.

In the same month, news came that the Ibans Gaat had attacked the Punan Bunuts and taken 14 heads, although they had lost four of their own men.

Toward the end of March, the then resident of Kapit G.M. Gifford received information that a party of Iban Gaat and Emperan was about to attack the Punan Bah. The force was reportedly to be 400 strong.

Gifford immediately went to Sibu to recruit 50 well-armed Malays and some Sarawak rangers. To make up his 200-man force, he also recruited the Kayans to help him in his mission.

The resident was planning either to give warning to the Punan Bahs or to meet the enemy party on its way back.

The Battle of Nanga Pila

The Iban from Gaat and Emperan had an ill-fated encounter with the Brooke force which was led by Gifford on April 1 at Nanga Pila, a tributary of Rajang river.

The government force destroyed many of their boats. The battle continued on the next day where the Ibans Gaat and Emperan tried to ambush the government party.

The attempt failed with large numbers of them shot down. Those who tried to escape were killed in the water or drowned.

All of their 15 war boats were taken by the Brooke force and it was estimated 200 of them died.

Meanwhile, the government reportedly only suffered one injury, a Kapit fortman named Impin who was wounded in the arm.

The aftermath of Nanga Pila battle

Even though the Iban from Gaat river suffered a tremendous loss during their battle with the Brooke government at Nanga Pila that fateful day, it somehow made them even more resilient.

They continued to attack their neighbouring tribes over the next few years.

So in 1919, the Brooke government sent out a punitive expedition against the Ibans from Gaat once again led by Gifford.

He was joined by Bertram Brooke, Charles’ son and the brother of third Rajah Vyner.

The Gaat expedition was one of last few punitive expeditions which took place before the peacekeeping ceremony on Nov 16, 1924 at Fort Sylvia, Kapit.

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A memorial stone to commemorate the 1924 peace-making ceremony.

Melanau inheritance laws, and a case from the 19th century

When it comes to inheritance, the deceased usually leaves behind a written will to detail how their property is divided.

If there is no will, then the matter will go to court. Even if there is a will, unhappy family members sometimes will challenge the content of the will.

But what happens when there is no written will? Back in the olden days, Sarawak natives relied on adat or custom for such rulings.

Here is an example of a Melanau inheritance case recorded from the 19th century:

One of Brooke administration’s resident Claude Champion de Crespigny published some works on Sarawak including On the Rivers Mukah and Oyah in Borneo (1873) and On the Milanows of Borneo (1876).

During his stay in Borneo, he witnessed how a Melanau inheritance case took place.

There was once a man named Balang who lived happily with his wife Biam in a longhouse.

Before he was a married man, Balang took two young girls as his adopted children. As for Biam, she adopted a girl before she married Balang.

Since they could not have children on their own, the couple raised the three children as their own.

One day, Biam suddenly passed away. Her sister, Nipiak came in to claim her inheritance from Biam’s property.

Balang did not deny Nipiak’s right but still proposed the matter to be settled in a court. The court then decided the inheritance should be divided according to adat.

Firstly, the couple’s shared properties were divided between Balang and Biam. de Crespigny wrote, “The whole estate, consisting of guns, plantations, share of a house, share of a slave, ornaments, and even cooking utensils, to be sold, and the husband to take his one-half.”

If only the couple had biological children on their own, two-third of Biam’s share of the property could have gone to them. Then one-third of the property gone to the adopted children. Hence, Nipiak would have been left with no share of her sister’s property.

In this inheritance case, the court decided one-third of Biam’s property to be divided among her three adopted children while another two-third was left to Nipiak.

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de Crespigny’s thought on the inheritance case

In the end, Balang did not inherit anything from his wife’s property. de Cresigny pointed out, “That which appeared so curious to me, was the fact that the husband was entitled to nothing at all, and only got his half of all the property which belonged in common to him and his wife during the lifetime of the latter.

“I found upon inquiry that she might have made a will in favour of her husband or others, either in writing or verbally before witnesses, but this not having been done, had there been no relatives at all to claim inheritance of her share of the property, it would have gone to the state, and the husband, even under such circumstances, could claim nothing. The Tuahs (leaders) say that this has been custom from time immemorial.”

While many (especially men) might not be happy with this, there is one ancient inheritance law belonging to the Bidayuh that could never be practiced in present day.

James Brooke, in his diary which was published in Captain Rodney Mundy’s Narrative of Events in Borneo and Celebes down to the Occupation of Labuan (1848) wrote about “babukid”.

With babukid, if there were two parties in dispute over the inheritance of land and fruit trees, each party would go out headhunting.

The one who returns with a head will get to claim the inheritance. Meanwhile, if both parties succeeded, then the property would be divided between the two.

Headhunting to settle an inheritance just shows how there’s always a loser when it comes to settling a dispute.

A Selako legend of the Golden Monkey and the Sultan of Sambas

The Selako people are an indigenous group found mostly in West Kalimantan, Indonesia and the western part of Sarawak, Malaysia.

Although they are grouped under Bidayuh by the Malaysian government, they have their own unique culture and language which bear little resemblance to other Bidayuh groups.

Here is a Selako legend about a golden monkey that the current generation might not have heard of:

Sarawak museum curator Tom Harrisson recorded the story from a Selako man named Pengarah Otoh from Biawak in December 1948.

Long time ago, there was a Selako husband and wife clearing a part of the jungle for their rice paddy.

At that time, the area was ruled by the Sultan of Sambas.

One day while doing their work in the clearing, a monkey came and ruined the couple’s paddy which they had planted previously.

The husband then told his wife to follow the monkey. Carrying a piece of wood from the fire, the wife started to follow the monkey.

The moment she got up close to the monkey, the wife hit it with the wood, killing the monkey almost immediately.

The Golden Monkey

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When she saw that the monkey had died, she returned to the hut and told her husband to fetch the dead monkey.

Thus, the husband went out to where the wife had killed the animal. But to his surprise, he was unable to lift the monkey. That was when the man found out that the dead monkey was made of gold.

He went home and told his wife about the golden monkey. Night soon came and the couple went to sleep.

That night, the man had a dream. A ghost appeared to him, telling him, “If you want to fetch that monkey, you must prepare it by wrapping it in yellow cloth, and then you will be able to carry the monkey back.”

The man woke up the next morning pondering about the dream. As much as he wanted to follow the dream, this was the day when common people like him only had bark cloth to wear.

There were Malays who had fabrics, but they did not have any yellow cloth. Only Malay Sultans were permitted to wear yellow cloth back then.

Meeting with Sultan of Sambas

Having thought about it over and over again, the man decided to see the Sultan of Sambas.

After travelling for three days, he arrived at the Sultan’s palace. There, he was granted an audience with him.

When the Sultan found out that he was asking for yellow cloth, the king was angry, as commoners were not allowed to wear yellow clothing.

But the man explained himself; of how his wife killed the animal and how it turned out to be a golden monkey.

On hearing the story from the man, the sultan proposed an arrangement. He could not give the man a yellow cloth but he would go to fetch the monkey with the man.

The man agreed and they both went to take the body of the golden monkey.

When they arrived there, the golden monkey was still where the wife had killed it. Using the yellow cloth that the sultan brought, they both were able to carry the monkey to the man’s home.

Then the Sultan said to the man, “The right ear from this golden monkey I am leaving with you but the rest I must have for myself.”

What was more, the Sultan promised the Selako man, “From this day forward I will not take any tax from you, on to your children and grandchildren, and on to all those descended from you.”

Being a loyal subject to the sultan, the man agreed with the arrangement. He gave the golden monkey to the Sultan of Sambas with only the right ear left for himself.

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”.

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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.”

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.

The legend of Batu Puyang in Batang Ai you probably never heard

The story of petrification is common around the world, the oldest in Western literature probably being the tale of Medusa. Even here in Sarawak, many have heard stories and folktales of how people or buildings have turned into stone.

Here is one story of that is actually very similar to the legend of petrification in Fairy Caves, Bau, but this legend comes from the Batang Ai area:
Batang Ai
Batang Ai Dam lake.

In the olden days, there were certain things which one was forbidden to laugh at, for fear of incurring ‘kudi’, a state of flood and disaster brought on by the wrath of the spirits.

Anybody to have committed these taboos were believed to have suffered from dreadful punishment.

According to Iban traditional belief, the virgin forests in those days were inhabited by all kinds of spirits such as Antu Babas and Antu Keranggas.

These spirits did not like to hear words being said in arrogance or see men doing taboo things.

Legend has it that in Batang Ai, not far from a place called Rantau Panjai, there was a limestone hill called Batu Puyang.

Long time ago, this hill was the site of a longhouse under the tuai rumah (headman) named Puyang.

How the name Batu Puyang came about

About four centuries ago, the headman held a Gawai Burong (Bird Festival) at his longhouse.

He invited many people to join in the celebration. During the festival, a young boy went out to examine the catch in his grandmother’s fish trap.

After checking and finding that the trap was empty, a funny thought occurred to him and he thought it would be funny to play a trick on his grandmother.

He took a poo, and wrapped it up carefully in a leaf. He then brought it home and handed it to his grandmother. Expecting to see the day’s fresh catch, the grandmother was angry to find his fresh, steaming poop instead.

She vowed revenge. Later that evening, she put a cat in a dress belonging to a girl and released it in the middle of the Gawai Burong celebration.

As the cat walked among the celebrants, they laughed to see it.

Apparently, this was a big no-no to the greater spirits. Suddenly, the sky became dark and the wind blew so hard that everybody became alarmed.

Rain began to fall in torrents and the sound of thunder became deafening. As the rain fell onto the longhouse, the building and its people (including her grandson) were transformed into stone, which are now known as Batu Puyang.

Similar legend to Fairy Caves Bau
Fairy Cave Bau 18
Fairy Caves.

The legend of Batu Puyang has a lot of similarities with Fairy Caves, Bau. For the one in Bau, the story started from a poor boy and his mother who lived at a big Bidayuh Kampung known as Kampung Kapur near Fairy Cave,

Similarly, a Gawai celebration was held at one of the kampung houses.

The boy came and peeped in on their celebration, making the homeowner unhappy. To cast the boy away, the homeowner gave the boy some sugarcane waster wrapped in a leaf, telling him there was pork inside.

The boy happily went home to give the wrapped ‘pork’ to share with his mother. After finding out it was just waste inside, the mother sought out revenge against the people of the kampung.

Similar to the legend of Batu Puyang, she took a cat and dressed it in a beautiful outfit. She threw the cat in the middle of the Gawai celebration. As they began to laugh at the sight of a cat in a dress, the sky also roared with thunder and lightning.

When the storm eventually stopped, all the villagers had turned into stone, making up the stalagmites and stalactites inside Fairy Cave.

How the two legends from two different races and parts of Sarawak had so much similarities, we may never find out.