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The legend of Iban warrior Unggang and goddesses of Mount Santubong

The legend of Iban warrior Unggang and goddesses of Mount Santubong

If it weren’t for Benedict Sandin (1918-1982), many Iban legends and folktales would have been forgotten by now. Originally from Paku, Benedict was an ethnologist, historian and Sarawak Museum curator (December 1966- March 1974).

Mount Santubong

Here is one of his stories that was published on the Sarawak Gazette. This time he told the story of Iban warrior Unggang.

Long time ago at a small stream called Entanak, lived a very powerful Iban war leader named Unggang “Lebor Menoa”.

During his time, there was no chief in the Saribas river area more well known than him.

When he was still a young warrior, Unggang dreamt that he was travelling in a boat from the mouth of the Saribas river to Mount Santubong.

He then attempted to climb to the top of that mountain. Halfway up, he met two beautiful maidens who just finished bathing.

They said that they did not have much time to talk, and one of them handed him a stone that she had used to scrub her skin. The stone was called Batu Perunsut.

She told him that the stone was a charm that he could use whenever he led his people to war.

The woman also told Unggang that none of the people who lived in the countries between Santubong and the mouth of Saribas river could possibly beat him in war.

Luckily for him, she warned him if he led his war parties southeast beyond Santubong, the stone would have no effect.

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Later, the women revealed to him that they were Kumang and Lulong, the goddesses who lived on the summit of Santubong.

Unggang’s path to becoming a great warrior

Shortly after he had the dream, Unggang built a large war boat with which he used to lead his warriors to guard the mouth of the Saribas river from being penetrated by enemies. At the time they were the Bajau and Illanun pirates.

They also killed strangers that came into the river from the South China Sea.

Besides guarding his territory, Unggang sailed farther along the coast of Sarawak to look for trading ships.

During one of his sails, he came across with a band of Chinese traders who negotiated with him.

The Chinese traders sought his permission to trade in the Saribas country.

Unggang agreed with condition that these Chinese traders agreed to fly white flags on their vessels.

Due to this agreement, many Chinese traders came to Saribas to trade their cooking pots, brassware, earthen bows, pants and cloths. In return, the Chinese brought back shell armlets, beads, cowry shells and so on.

Meanwhile, Unggang and his men killed anybody who entered the Saribas river without flying a white flag on their boats.

Although Unggang seemed to be a ferocious warrior, he was also a savvy tactician, and allied himself with the Malays who lived in the coastal areas. Hence, he never attacked his Malay neighbours.

Unggang’s son Luta

Illustration of Dayak men.

After Unggang died, his son Luta succeeded him as the chief. During Luta’s reign as chief, a fight started between the Dayaks of Saribas and Skrang against their neighbours of the lower Batang Lupar (the Dayaks from Undop, Balau and Sibuyau).

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During one of these tribal wars, Luta’s youngest brother Ngadan was killed by Temenggong Juti and his men from Sebuyau.

Also killed during the war in Undop was Angkum, one of the brothers to Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang, a leader from Padeh who led the Saribas Iban.

Due to these incidents, Luta took his revenge by invading Sebuyau and killed many of them there.

Meanwhile, Dana Bayang avenged his brother’s death by invading Undop with the largest force from the Saribas and Skrang.

After invading Sebuyau, Luta took his brothers Mulok and Ketit to sail to the Belitung island near Sumatra.

He wanted to go there because he heard a rumour that someone in Belitung was selling a tuchong (shell armlet) which could be fitted over one’s head. Apparently, Luta was anxious to buy this for his inheritance.

However, the three brothers never returned to the Saribas. The rumour back then they were shipwrecked. A piece of their broken boat found at the beach near Sungai Ubah not far from Tanjung Datu.

The location of Luta’s alleged shipwreck was located beyond Santubong mountain from Saribas. Perhaps the charm that worked to protect Unggang before did not work to protect his sons once they went beyond southeastward of Santubong.

After the brothers’ untimely death, none of their descendants were able to lead their warriors to fight.

Hence, the leadership in the Saribas area fell onto the shoulders of Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang. He later became one of the most of famous Iban warriors and leaders.

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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