Tokong: The first headhunter of Borneo (?)

Although it seemed that the Chebup were peaceful people when they were driven out of Usun Apau, legend has it that they were the ones who started the practice of headhunting. Of course, this is another oral history passed down.

Tokong is claimed as ancestor by the Chebups and by the Punans. The Chebups attribute the first head hunting to him. Back then, only the hairs of the enemy are taken to adorn their shields.

The story goes that Tokong and his people were about to attack a village. Before leaving, he was addressed by a frog who said to him, “Wong ka kok, tetak batok.”

This species of frog (Bufo) makes a croaking noise similar to that. “Tetak batok” in the Chebup language means “to cut through the neck”.

At first the people scoffed at the frog’s advice, but the frog assured them that taking heads would guarantee prosperity of every kind. It demonstrated by cutting off the head of a smaller frog.

Tokong was determined to follow the frog’s advice. he brought back the heads of his enemies. As the party returned home, the padi fields they passed through grew very rapidly. As they entered the fields, the padi was only up to their knees, but by the time they reached the end it has ripened. When the reached the house, their relatives came out to rejoice and greet them, telling of all the good fortune that has befallen them.

Thus the words of the frog came true, and the new practice of cutting of heads became the norm, and learnt by others.

Sourced from Hose and McDougall, 1902.

Of course this is just one of the legends describing the origins of headhunting. Various races make claims to be the pioneer of headhunting. What’s for sure is that we’ll never really know as the truth becomes lost in the mists of time.


Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011: My Anak Borneo Story


I was missing for some time, busy with work, dance practices and my recent trip to KL with Anak Borneo. We participated in the Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011 in the dance category, doing a Memaloh Dance and a second Dance Medley, Borneo: The Land of Gawai Aramaiti.


Those who know me would be surprised as to why I’m even interested in dance, traditional some more. It was a coincidence I guess. I’ve always wanted to learn, but too embarassed to. Then I met some friends who wanted to go for the Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011 in KL, and willing to take on newbies (who has two left feet). Besides, it’s a dying culture. So why not? Thing is, once you’ve tried it, you kind of get addicted to it. There’s something about doing something that your ancestors did, different from the rest and in touch with nature. Sorry, I’m rambling again.

Anyway, the Anak Borneo group consists of ten people with members from Limbang, Miri, Kalimantan border, Betong and Kuching. It was fun meeting everyone, learning something new. It felt like the old days of secondary school when we went on trips for competitions to far off lands (back then it sure seemed so).

3Iban, Selakau, Kadazan, Kenyah, Kenyah, Bisayak, Memaloh, Tindal, Murut, Suluk

Of course, with any groups there’s bound to be problems but we got through it. We didn’t win anything, but I’m guessing most of us expected that. We didn’t perform as well as we expected, but all in all I had a great time. Made friends with some of the other teams too.


The dances were interesting, some a bit boring. The Kumang Keligit Keling was nice, some coming up with as much accessories as possible.

For the ethnic dance category, 1st place is Sanggar Budaya from Miri, 2nd ASWARA, 3rd Kampung Benuk (proud of you!). Whether or not they deserve to win is subjective since I’m not all that versed in dance.


My only solo part and I screwed it. Missed the ballon, the arrow hitting the shield so hard it took awhile to pry it off. There’s a hole now in the terabai. Plus the wound on my feet which I guess came from somebody’s sword who dropped it.


On another note, the Borneo Hornbill Festival, organised by Warisan Sarawak is a great concept, with great ambitions, but ultimately fell flat when it came to implementation. The tickets were expensive, low turnout due to lack of promotion (there wasn’t even a banner in front of the building except a small one when you actually walk in), draggy shows (the Kumang, Keligit, Keling dragged on till 2 A.M), unorganised, messy schedule (clashing rehearsals that wasted our time), ignorant MCs (this one pisses me off the most) with stuttering speech who don’t seem to know a thing about what they were talking about,  and odd showtimes (who’s going to come on a weekday to the centre of KL??)

But the festival is a laudable effort by the organisers. The stage, lighting and audio were awesome. The prizes were extremely awesome too (Grand prize 3.5k + trip to Melbourne).

Like a journalist who was asked how the festival fared this year compared to the last, he answered, “It’s improving.”


I’m not sure I’ll be joining next year (maybe Keling, if I ever get a bit more beefier lol), but I hope they learn from this and improve. It’s one thing to delegate, it’s another to delegate and monitor.

Find a cheaper venue, charge less for the tickets (RM 70 is a lot of money for two days), promote it aggresively not just through the internet, but through travel agencies, radio, physical banners or buntings, at the airport, invitations to various ethnic associations (maybe ask them to endorse). If possible invite our Kalimantan Dayak counterparts as guest performers. New categories like folk song and instrumental would be good. Stay punctual according to schedule so as to not waste our limited time.

Provide a basic, affordable package that includes transportation and accommodation to and from the venue for teams that come from far, like many international festivals.

Find knowledgeable MCs on Bornean culture preferably from Sarawak or Sabah who don’t stutter. Confine the festival to the weekends or at least start on Fridays to allow more people in central KL to come. Cut out unnecessary parts of the show. Ideally it should end latest by 11 AM (many use public transport).

Define in the rules what the dance must be (especially the rampaian etnik), while part of the jury (ideally 5 people) should be real experts on not just dance but the culture itself because dance evolves, and there are many dances that aren’t known which might be construed as too creative.

Great time, great friends, a memorable journey in something new, and an exciting way to learn about your own culture and those of others.

Need to BERSIH some human trash

Everyone’s heard about the BERSIH 2.0 rally today, which is going to be held in Stadium Merdeka instead of the streets of KL. There has been mixed reactions to BERSIH’s rally, with opposing camps planning to set up similar rallies like the Patriot’s rally (UMNO youth) and PERKASA rally.

Odd how leaders keep saying they will not tolerate dissidents and people who threaten peace and stir up religious/racial sentiments, yet let PERKASA and Utusan Malaysia have a field day. For Dr. M fans, yes, he’s the patron. Go and kiss his senile-ness’ feet.

What BERSIH 2.0 asks for is:

8 Points

1. Clean the electoral roll

2. Reform postal ballot

3. Use of indelible ink

4. Minimum 21 days campaign period

5. Free and fair access to media

6. Strengthen public institutions

7. Stop corruption

8. Stop dirty politics

I don’t see anything wrong with these demands. They seem pretty reasonable for a democracy (oh wait, scratch that). But rallies, demos, protests, not reasonable. Unless the entire nation agrees (like Egypt), it’s a waste. I don’t see the government saying they have to accept the demands just because someone did a rally. Like those religious hillbillies from PEMBELA in Putrajaya.

Now the entire nation’s police force is being mobilized, standing. 3000 from Sabah and Sarawak has been issued orders to prepare and pack, travelling by military choppers to KL if needed.

KL ois basically shut down, roads leading in and out are jammed, roadblocks, checks, all resources wasted. It’s such a small issue to begin with.

And in Malaysia? Besides the fact that we are still children when it comes to accepting criticism (we enjoy breaking things without knowing why, and some illiterate teacher taught them that peaceful means ‘punch that person who looks at you’), all they care about is getting out of the jam at the LDP to their mamak shop.

I support BERSIH 2.0’s demands, but not the rally. Nuff’ said.

The Chebup: Long Pekun Group

The Chebup (also called Sebop , Sebup, Sibup, Sibop) is a minor group of the Orang Ulu, sharing much similiarities with (and often categorized under) the Kenyah people. In the Constitution, the official term is Sebop.

If one were to study their dialect closely, there is hardly any word that begins with the letter “S”, “Ch” instead is common. (Clement)

So for the purpose of this post, I will use the word Chebup.

Chebup is the collective name for a few sub groups. Long Pekun, Tebalau, Long Batan, Long Menapa, Long Puah, Long Temaja, Meleng, Ba Mali, Long Suku, Long Wat and Lirong. Their similiarity lies in their language, where only small vowel changes occur between the different sub-groups.

The Long Pekun Chebup are found in the Tinjar area (Lemeting), namely Long Loyang and Long Selapun, with a population under a thousand. They believe their ancestors came from Long Pekun on the Luar river in the Usun Apau Plateau.

Linguistically they are more related to the Penan, some believe sharing a common ancestry. Culturally, they share affinity with the Kenyah and Kayan.

The last place they lived at (before the migration) was believed to be at Batang Utip, Menavan. Their neighbours were the Lepo Jingan and the Lirong. The Lirong had migrated to Dapui earlier on, leaving the other two.

The reason for their migration was war. The Rajah sent raiders to attack people in the area so that they would settle downriver, within the Brooke government’s reach. When news came that they were coming to Menavan, the paramount chief, Tama Balan Dieng, called a meeting and asked all the Chebup to migrate instead of fight. Some refused, but he said, ” Let us have pity on the women and children.” (Seling Sawing)

The banks of the Tinjar.

They fled and upon reaching Batait, saw smoke rising out of their former longhouse. They journeyed and finally settled at Tang Pelutan by the Dapui river. The Lirong (who migrated to Dapui earlier) and its keta’u (aristocrat), Ukun Bulieng, invited them to stay and they bulit huts around the Lirong longhouse.

” At first they kept very much to themselves, strangers in a new country, until Penghulu Sadimusak of the Berawanpeople in the Tinjar came up to make friends with them, exchanged gifts and the promise of mutual help in the future.  Penghulu Sadimusak told (the Sebops)… about the white men… downriver… Tama Bulan took some leading men to Marudi… to meet the White Resident… asked that Dapoi should be reserved for the Sebops, to which the Resident agreed.” (Guy Arnold)

Soon they moved to Long Telangau (downriver). They built a proper longhouse there. It burned down later. They moved to Long Tebu (upriver), then Long Dulit, Long Ta’a and Pau Bilieng. Pau Bilieng is where the converted to Christianity (Catholic), introduced from the Baram.

The Longhouse in Long Loyang which burnt down in 1990.

“… they had a meeting and for three days all  the elders argued as to whether they should keep their old customs or not. Finally they declared that the Christian way, without all the taboos to deal with, was much easier, so they killed three pigs and had a feast, and declared the old customs at an end.” (Guy Arnold)

After that they moved to Long Burui. They moved after 8 years to Long Loyang, thinking that the Government would not give them any development project. But ten doors broke away from them and moved back to Long Ta’a and finally Long Selapun. Thus the Long Pekun Chebup settled in two different longhouses until today.