The Iban people, also known as the Sea Dayaks, are an indigenous group predominantly found in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. With a rich cultural heritage, the Iban's beliefs, mythology, and rituals form a significant part of their identity. This article delves into aspects of Iban culture and beliefs, emphasizing their deities, mythological narratives, and unique practices.

Beliefs and Mythology

The Iban people adhere to a traditional belief system known as Iban religion, with elements of animism, ancestor worship, and a complex pantheon of gods and spirits. Their cosmology consists of three realms: the Upperworld, the Middleworld, and the Underworld.

  • The Upperworld (Petara): Inhabited by gods and deities, the Upperworld is the highest plane of existence. The gods are called "Petara," and are invoked for guidance, protection, and blessings.

  • The Middleworld (Dunya): This realm represents the physical world where humans reside, and it is where the daily lives and activities of the Iban people take place.

  • The Underworld (Sebayan): The Underworld is the realm of the dead, inhabited by the spirits of deceased ancestors, who are believed to continue influencing the lives of the living.

Deities and Mythological Figures

The Iban pantheon includes several deities and mythological figures, each with distinct personalities and roles. Some of the most noteworthy are:

  • Singalang Burong: The supreme god in Iban mythology, Singalang Burong is the god of war and the augural bird. He is believed to be responsible for guiding the Iban people in matters of war and headhunting. Singalang Burong's residence, Tansang Kenyalang, is said to be a massive longhouse in the Upperworld.

  • Sengalang Burong's Seven Sons-in-Law: Singalang Burong has seven sons-in-law, who are also associated with different bird species. Each of them represents a different aspect of Iban life and culture, such as agriculture, war, and craftsmanship.

  • Ini Inda: The goddess of creation and fertility, Ini Inda is believed to have created the world and everything in it, including the Iban people. She is revered as the mother of all life and is often invoked to ensure bountiful harvests and fertility.

  • Selampandai: The deity of craftsmanship and creation, Selampandai is the patron of blacksmiths and artisans. He is believed to have taught the Iban people the art of metalworking and craftsmanship.

  • Menjaya Manang Raja: The god of healing and medicine, Menjaya Manang Raja is the divine source of knowledge for traditional Iban healers, called "manang." He is believed to have introduced the practice of healing to the Iban people.

  • Keling: A legendary hero in Iban mythology, Keling is known for his bravery, strength, and skill in warfare. He is often depicted as the ideal Iban warrior and serves as an inspiration for the community.

Rituals and Practices

Iban rituals are a central aspect of their culture, and they serve to connect the people with their deities and ancestral spirits. Some important rituals include:

  • Gawai Dayak: A significant annual harvest festival, Gawai Dayak is a time for thanksgiving and honoring the deities. The Iban people offer various sacrifices, prayers, and traditional dances to seek blessings from their gods.

  • Miring: Miring is a ritual offering performed during various occasions, such as before the start of a new venture, during the Gawai Dayak, or in times of crisis. Offerings include food, drinks, and betel nuts, which are presented to the gods and spirits to seek their blessings and guidance.

  • Gawai Kenyalang: The Gawai Kenyalang, or Hornbill Festival, is a ceremony that celebrates the Iban warriors' accomplishments and honors Singalang Burong. The ritual involves the erection of a kenyalang (hornbill) statue on top of a tall pole, symbolizing the connection between the Iban people and their supreme god.

  • Gawai Antu: The Gawai Antu, or Festival of the Dead, is a ceremony that honors the deceased and eases their transition to the Underworld. This ritual involves the preparation of offerings and a symbolic journey to the land of the dead, guided by a shaman.

  • Bejalai: A rite of passage for young Iban men, Bejalai involves leaving the community to embark on an adventure, during which they must prove their bravery, skill, and resourcefulness. Successful completion of a Bejalai is an essential part of becoming a respected member of the Iban society.

Unique Beliefs

The Iban people have several unique beliefs that set them apart from other cultures. One such belief is the practice of headhunting. Although no longer practiced, headhunting was historically considered a sacred duty, with the heads of enemies believed to contain powerful spirits. The Iban people believed that capturing these heads would bring prosperity, protection, and spiritual power to their community.

Another unique belief is the concept of the soul, or semangat. The Iban believe that humans possess multiple souls, each responsible for different aspects of life, such as health, intelligence, and strength. The loss of one's semangat is believed to result in illness, misfortune, or even death. Various rituals and practices are performed to protect and maintain the integrity of one's semangat.