Iban Cosmology

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Like the widespread animistic beliefs of prehistoric Borneo, the Iban held similar belief systems based on omens, birds and rituals. An aggressive and ruthless tribe, they were famed for their ngayau (headhunting). Unlike the Kayan, one of their bitterest foes, they do not have a stratified society.

Here is a brief outline of the pantheon of gods/spirits that govern the Iban worldview back in the day.

Raja Jembu begat seven children who possessed divine qualities.

(Aki Lang) Sengalang Burong: Son, Supreme god of War appears as a Brahminy Kite Bird to man.

Selampandai (Selampetoh/Selampeta): Son, healer & creator of man, great blacksmith

Ini Inee (Ini Inda): Daughter, great healer

Menjaya Raja Manang: Son, who received the skills of healing from his sister and became the first “transformed”/transvestite shaman healer

Bhiku Bunsu Petara: Daughter, high priestess of the supreme creative deity called Bunsu Petara. Emissary.

Anda Mara (Ganggang Ganggong): Son, god of material wealth

Raja Simpulang Gana: Son, god of earth and agriculture

Sengalang Burong and Raja Simpulang Gana are considered the supreme gods in this pantheon, communicating via omens and signs to the people of the earth. They live in Tansang Kenyalang (Hornbill’s Nest), in the dome of the sky.

Communication between Sengalang Burong and man is done through eight principal omen birds, seven of them being his son-in laws.

Living on the right side of his longhouse in the heavens:

Ketupong (Rufous Piculet)

Beragai (Scarlet-Rumped Trogon)

Pangkas (Maroon Woodpecker)

Living on the left side of his longhouse in the heavens:

Bejampong (Crested Jay)

Embuas (Banded Kingfisher)

Kelabu Papau (Diard’s Trogon)

The 7th messenger is Burong Malam (Night Bird), although he is actually a cricket, who is married to Sengalang Burong’s youngest daughter Endu Chempaka Tempurong Alang. They don’t live in Tansang Kenyalang after being expelled for committing incest with his nephew, Sera Gunting.

The 8th omen bird is Nendak (White-Rumped Shama), not a son-in-law, but merely a client who lives in an attached room to Kelabu Papau.

Sourced: Gregory Nyanggau, a direct descendent of Sengalang Burong.

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