The Iban ngepan (or traditional attire) is generally worn for special occasions (Gawai), ceremonies, rituals and dances. The Iban comprises about 30% of Sarawak’s population, with varying differences in terms of dialect, tradition and ngepan. Most famous of the use and promotion of the ngepan in current times is for the Kumang Gawai. Kumang is the Mother Goddess of the Iban back in the animistic days. Considered a supreme beauty and great weaver, she is now embodied in the annual Pekit Kumang, a beauty pageant that showcases the traditional attire of the female Iban as well as other qualities commonly associated with the great Kumang. The winner of the competition is crowned Kumang, which is held in many parts of Sarawak at various levels.
Due to the huge distances and location between different groups of Iban, each has developed its own different and and yet somewhat signature ngepan indu (female costume/attire). However, now a modern standard has been set that only allows a potential Kumang to wear a specific set of ngepan with its accompanying accessories, roughly based on the Iban of Saribas’ ngepan to be worn for Pekit Kumang.
1. Sugu Tinggi (Silver Headgear)
2. Marek Empang/ Tangu (Worn around the shoulder)
3. Kain Karap/Kebat (traditional woven skirt or Pua Kumbu)
4. Lampit (Silver Belt)
5. Rawai (Silver Corset)
6. Tumpa Pirak/Bentuk (Silver Bangles)
7. Gelang Kaki/Gerunchung (Anklets)
9. Selampai (Sash)
10. Tali Ujan/Mulung (Fine Silver Chain)
11. Sementing Buchai/Sengkiling (Coin Corset with Dangling Coins)
The diversity of the Iban ngepan is evident with the rise of increasing awareness among younger Ibans and Sarawakians. Here are some samples of other types of ngepan indu Iban. Bear in mind that there are many more types not listed here.
I cannot be sure as to why a standard form was set, but it was most probably due to a need to allow a cohesive look to band together the Iban identity during the rise of nationalism and preventing tampering that might occur due to over-creativity. There are both opponents and supporters of various forms of ngepan, but the main thing is to understand that we should celebrate the great diversity of ngepan we now have and know about, as well as preserving it for future generations.