The first Ranee of Sarawak, Margaret Brooke showed great fascination towards Sarawakians in her book My Life in Sarawak.
She wrote about the people she met, stories she heard and some amusing encounters.
Perhaps the most amusing one was when a Kayan man performed in Bintulu in front of Margaret and her husband, Charles.
When it comes to dancing, the Kayan people have different kinds of dances to suit various purposes. The datud julud, or as some call it, the hornbill dance is a type of dance performed by women. They also have ngayo, a type of dance performed after a successful headhunting trip. A Kayan man usually performs the kajer lake’, a warrior dance which must be carried out with solemnity and complete seriousness.
A kajer lake’ would not be complete without a parang (a type of machete) and a shield.
A night at Fort Keppel
During their visit in Bintulu, Charles and Margaret along with their entourage stayed at Fort Keppel (which was bombed into inexistence in World War II).
There, they were visited by the natives who came from the far interior, including a group of Kayans.
The locals performed dances for the couple, entertaining them through the night.
Among the performers was a Kayan man, whom the Ranee described as a ‘small, rather plump individual’ who was ushered in, brandishing his parang.
According to the Ranee, at first he crouched down like an animated frog. Then he started to dance, jumping and spinning around on one leg while screaming his war-cry.
The Kayan man moved in agility, rapidly swinging his parang. Margaret wrote, “Once or twice he came so near to where we were sitting that I fancied the blade caused a draught over my head.”
Suddenly, three of his fellow Kayans sprang up and took him away, leaving his audience in puzzlement.
The Kayan man who danced too excitedly
Curious, the Rajah asked why the man had been taken away. Apparently, the Kayan man was a famous dancer from a longhouse outside the Rajah’s jurisdiction.
Back in his hometown, he once danced with so much excitement that he had actually swept the head off one of his audience members.
The three Kayan men who took him away halfway through his performance were there when the gruesome scene happened, so when they noticed the man was about to get carried away with his dance, they intervened quickly before anything irreversible happened.
Nonetheless, the evening ended very pleasantly according to the Ranee. “I thought a good deal about the little dancing man, and came to the conclusion that he must have been an artist in his way!”