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According to a Saribas Iban oral history, the Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang (OKP), the acknowledged leader of the Saribas Iban, presented Rajah Sir James Brooke with a sungkit textile called a lebur api at the sealing of the Saribas Treaty in 1849 when OKP agreed to surrender to Brooke after a devastating Iban defeat at Betin Maro.

Brooke presented one lebur api (Figure 1) to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew which was later passed on to the British Museum. As far as the author is aware, it is the only known lebur api in the British Museum's collection of Iban textiles and the only Brooke gift of a lebur api to any British museum. This paper examines the likelihood that OKP's "gift" to Brooke and the cloth that eventually found its way to the British Museum are one and the same.

The lebur api

Lebur apis fall under a general rubric of Iban textiles called pua 'sungkit. They are very rare. The meaning of lebur api is 'white hot' or 'white heat' (1) in Iban, which refers to the distinctive composition of a predominantly un-dyed supplementary weft which is colored white. White flames signify intense heat and this characteristic of spiritual heat gives the textile its ritual name. Its principal role was to receive a newly taken trophy head. The taking of trophy heads by Iban men was the apogee of achievement of the Iban up until the Second World War. In many Iban communities, this achievement continues to be ritually recognised: men who had served in the army and police force and had engaged in combat and achieved bedengah (realized a 'kill') are celebrated as modern day 'warriors' at grand festivals and accorded high status.

The lebur api was also used to cradle heads that had already been taken in the past, but their ritual power was called upon in grand festivals like the gawai burung. Such heads were removed from the baskets in which they hung above a bedilang (hearth) in the communal gallery of a longhouse, each one then wrapped in a lebur api individually by senior women of the community, and then praised and sung to by them on the third night of the gawai burung at the climax of the pengap (an extended chant comprising complex passages sung by a priest bard and his chorus of other bards over the course of three nights invoking the deities, describing events and recounting the sagas of the immortals and deities) when the god of war, Singalang Burung, in an ultimate battle, decapitates his arch-enemy Nising (2), and then returns to his longhouse and presents Nising's head to his wife Indai Kecendai Pantuk Jerak Dara Santaba Balun Kupak. She receives it with a lebur api and then leads the women of Singalang Burung's longhouse in a dance procession traversing the entire length of the longhouse three times called the sangkah, (3) which comprises sung praises to the severed heads. The senior women of the longhouse celebrating the gawai burung reenacted the same wa' puji (praise lullaby) narrated in the pengap.

Lebur apis were woven by experienced weavers under strict weaving rules in the days when headhunting was practised. They were only started when their men folk went off to war. Any woman in the longhouse where the men had gone off on a raid would immediately cease tying the knots of a design on a pua' kumbu' (Iban ritual blankets made by the ikat method) temporarily until the men folk returned: tying a knot around a bundle of warp threads on the warp frame to resist the dye was akin to tying the legs of their warriors on the raid who would trip and fall. In contrast, lifting the supplementary weft thread of a lebur api with a bodkin was akin to stabbing the eyes of the enemies and blinding them. With every bodkin-lift of the supplementary weft, the weaver would utter a curse against the enemy. It was her part in assisting her men folk who had gone off on a raid.

Based on available records, this was the only lebur api given to the British Museum during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Letters written by Brooke indicate that he donated several textiles to Sir William Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, sometime between 1851 and 1856. (4) Records at Kew and the British Museum (5) confirm most of these textiles gifts. Some of them, including As.3426, were transferred from Kew to the British Museum in 1866 with the notation that Brooke originally donated them.

British colonial administrator, zoologist, and ethnologist Charles Hose, who in the late 19th century assembled a large collection of ethnographic material from Borneo which was later partitioned and sold to various British and European museums, collected none. As far as the author is aware, no British museums acquired any (until very recently perhaps). (6) Lebur apis were the apogee of a woman demonstrating her skills during the time of OKP, and therefore the pool of weavers able to do them was relatively small. Adding to their rarity was that they went to the graves of either their weavers, or warriors and war leaders. There are very few in the public arena. The Dutch museums probably do not have lebur apis collected during the 19th century, with possibly only two at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, the Netherlands. Those in public collections in the United States of America and Australia were all acquired after the Second World War. Lebur apis were also never sold nor gifted during OKP's time--which in itself makes this 'gift' rather particular.

The British Museum's lebur api was examined by Pamela A Cross. (7) She made the following observations.
Firstly, it was a "Pristine piece of cloth and there were no signs of
any use... It could almost have been freshly cut from the loom although
there was some softness in the cloth from handling," which strongly
suggests it came straight from the loom, which supports the second
significant observation by Cross: "There were no holes down either
selvedge or the remains of any thread to suggest that As.3426 had ever
had applied borders or been attached to another textile."

When a weaver wove a lebur api, she only wove the body of the cloth to receive one trophy head. The adding of borders occurred only if a head in fact was taken, and the cloth used. The presence of borders was an advancement which is termed betambah bulu ('adding on of feathers for the weaver'), and it was manifested physically on the cloth as an elevated status marker both for the cloth and its weaver; borders are made up of plain colored vertical strips of selvedges called ara (a metaphor for feathers) and decorated anak pua' (an inner vertical strip filled with patterns made by the supplementary weft method). One Iban creation myth recounts that the world was created by two mythical bird deities, Ara, and his sister hi. Iri, in her haste, created a distorted world which Ara had to reshape into the world the Iban recognize today. Iban weavers have named their selvedges on lebur api as well as pua' kumbu' as Ara in remembrance of how he brought order back from the chaos unwittingly created by his sister, just as their cloths and designs are ordered beautifully. Borders, when containing anak pua' with patterns of either rattan ropes, monitor-lizards, crocodiles, snakes, omen birds or even spirit-figures, acted as a counterpoint to the main body and reflected the theme of the design. The weaving of these added-on borders could be done any time after the cloth had been used to receive a trophy head, when the men had returned successfully from their raid. Conversely, if the men returned without trophy heads, or worse, did not all return, the weaver's cloth, which did not receive a trophy head, would be folded away and most likely follow her to the grave, or stored for a future raid for use by a descendant of the weaver. The British Museum's lebur api would be called a lebur api mekang (8) in the Saribas, as it lacks the added-on borders that embellish a lebur api that had received a trophy head and shows no signs of any previous attachments on the selvedges, as confirmed by Cross' observations.
Cross' third observation, which was about the weft threads, was
intriguing: "The thread colour is not constant throughout Starting from
the left-hand end of the textile as viewed in Figure 1, the weft is a
similar colour to the warp threads. This gives a particularly rich
look. This then changes to a light blue thread about 29 picks before
the supplementary weft is introduced and is about 46 picks in total.
There are two further, much narrower, bands of light blue weft of 10
and 8 picks each around motif-separating white lines of supplementary

The sudden presence of blue wefts just before the central design of the textile begins is an anomaly not often seen on lebur api. We know that the weaver began the cloth at the bottom end of the textile as viewed in Figure 1 by looking at the positioning of the motifs on the central design. A question arises: why did the weaver switch to blue wefts before starting on the supplementary wefts which make up the design, and then returned to red wefts when supplementary wefts were added, and then used blue wefts again in between motifs? Nearly half-way through the central design, the weaver switched to a fawn colored weft till she finished the cloth. These uses of different weft colors is a mystery. Weavers always had their own reasons for doing what they did, and the presence of blue and fawn wefts must have had reasons. The color blue on Iban cloths is often associated with death rites. The fawn is consistent with the many sungkits which do have such an emphasis.

It should be noted that the terms lebur api and lebur api mekang are used interchangeably by Saribas weavers when referring to a sungkit cloth without added-on borders. When a weaver wanted to draw attention to the fact that a lebur api lacked borders, she would then use lebur api mekang to make her point clear.

Ritual use of the lebur api

The lebur api was principally used in a short festival lasting a whole day and a night known as the gawai enchabuh arung (literally "festival of opening a channel") which was to celebrate the introduction of a new trophy head into the longhouse, besides its use at the grand gawai burung.

A typical scenario (9) that led up to the gawai enchabuh arung would begin six days before the festival itself when a successful war party returned home but stopped short of landing their war-boats at the landing place of the longhouse. War-parties consisted of men from many longhouses along a river system, sometimes several river systems. This scenario would be happening concurrently at all longhouses where the men came from.

Instead of returning straight to the longhouse, a war-party would make camp on a pebbled beach or clearing down-river (or up-river, depending on the direction from which they came) within ear-shot of the longhouse. Their arrival would be announced with the beating of gongs playing a victory rhythm that would be immediately recognizable to those in the longhouse: the signal for the women to start preparations for the war-party's "official" arrival at the landing place of the longhouse six days later.

A typical raid could take from several weeks going into months before returning, either successfully or not. A successful war-party would need their trophy heads cleaned, treated, and smoked for six days. The operation of cleaning would begin with removing the brains, and then the rest of the head's internal organic matter. The men would then gather rattan to plait baskets (ringka) to hold their trophy heads. The women, back at the longhouse, would be preparing abundant amounts of food for the feast that would follow, and more importantly, preparing the ritual offerings for use during the gawai enchabuh arung on the seventh morning or hari jadi (main day of festival). Some women, who had yet to complete their lebur apis, would be working almost continuously night and day to complete the all-important textile that would feature as the most important paraphernalia of the various rituals that would follow. During this period of great excitement, no contact would have been made with the war-party by residents of the longhouse. The only exception was for pre-pubescent boys, who would be sent by their mothers to the war-party, to deliver the appropriate ceremonial outfits that the victorious men would be attired in when they eventually made their "formal" appearance at the landing place where the boats would be tethered to the pengkalan (wooden jetty at the landing place). News would also be smuggled back and forth as the pretence continued. Messengers from the longhouse would also be sent to neighboring longhouses to invite relatives and friends to the short festival. Invited guests would arrive on the sixth day, pretending not to see the encampment of the recently returned war-party along the way.

On the seventh morning, the war-party would punt with poles (in low waters) or paddle (in high waters) their war-boats, decorated with isang (shredded young palm leaves) signifying victory, to the landing place, calling out with shouts of victory and beating their gongs and drums. The women, all suitably attired and taking their stations according to their status within the community, and ail-importantly, holding a large ceramic plate-like bowl (either the green glazed Sung celadon, or large Ming/Ching kitchen ware bowls or trays) called a jalung pinggai batu each, and the lebur api folded with the white supplementary weft showing and draped over the shoulder, would descend the ladder of the longhouse and welcome the men at the laman landai (flat open space) usually situated at the front of the longhouse facing the river. Where a lebur api was not available, the next most important textile which the gawai enchabuh arung's specific convention allowed for use to receive a trophy head was the pua' belantan, a scarf-like textile with both ends worked in sungkit (Figure 4).

Then, an elaborate and ritualized exchange between the leading woman of the longhouse (often the wife of the leader of the war-party who almost always was also the most experienced and spiritually mature weaver amongst her peers) and the leader of the war-party would take place. Using highly stylized language in jaku tuai (archaic verse) filled with jaku dalam (to speak with metaphoric references) and jaku kelaung (riddles), she would ask what great news the men brought, having just heard the jubilant beating of gongs and shouts of victory. The leader would reply, also in similar fashion, that they had returned from a successful venture into enemy territory. She would then ask to see what 'fruits' had been 'plucked,' since she and her peers had laboriously woven their lebur apis and cursed the enemy while they were away, and that these cloths now called out to be filled. Smoked heads would then be revealed, and the women would then manjung tampak (shout in a high pitched shrill) abandoning all decorum of the preceding formal exchange, and rush to claim the 'fruit of their labor' from their men. Each would grab a smoked head in her hands and bite the cheeks as a sign of authority over the head. This would be followed by more yells and shouts of victory by both sexes.

The pivotal moment in the gawai enchabuh arung would climax with the trophy heads being wrapped by the women within their lebur apis, ensuring that the ends of their textiles which displayed no white supplementary wefts would show. Hence, enveloping each head entirely within the design which showed white supplementary wefts, and then placing the prize in the bowl. This fundamental act of the women claiming their 'fruit' wrapped in their cloths would be repeated later in more elaborate fashion in the evening. The women carrying their bowls of heads wrapped in cloths would also sing short verses of victory as they followed the men in procession into the longhouse.

The war-party would then begin playing the gendang rayah, with their gongs, a musical form which was and still is only played to specifically invite deities to attend a festival. They would then enter the longhouse and begin the slow and swaying berayah dance, interjected with leaps, which mimics the flight of the Brahminy Kite, the earthly representation of the god of war, Singalang Burung, from one end of the longhouse to the other. The leader of the dance would be the war leader himself, or a lead warrior if it was not in the longhouse of the war leader, holding his blade in his dominant hand and isang leaves filled with bells in the other while clutching another trophy head. If he had taken more than two heads (the other wrapped in cloth on a bowl carried by his female counterpart), the rest would be attached to his sword belt, swaying at his thighs. This dance is described as ngerandang jalai ("to clear a path and open a portal") for the gods and goddesses who were invited to grace the festival to 'cross over.' The berayah continued to the open veranda.

The women with their prizes followed, with the invited guests already seated throughout the longhouse. The women would take their place facing the men who were now seated in front of the offerings prepared earlier on the open veranda of the war-leader or warrior-celebrant who returned with heads. The veranda would be decorated with more isang leaves and an enclosure curtained with pita' kumbu' was created to form a sacred space for the deities who were believed to be now in full attendance. For the ritual on the open veranda, pua' kumbu' displaying designs of the sandau liau (10), berasuk (11), pandung Keling (12), and berinjan bungkung (13) were used--these very specific designs (14) pleased the deities and were a further sign of welcome to grace the gawai enchabuh arung. Lebur apis were never displayed at an enchabuh arung as this genre of textiles often show variants of the motif of antu gerasi which alludes to Nising, the arch-enemy of the gods. Nising's presence on cloth would be disdained by the deities, as it is believed that they would not attend a festival where Nising was shown victorious; only when he was displayed at his proper place on a cloth would the deities be delighted--at the bottom end of a tiang chandi (ritual pole erected at a gawai burung depicted as the 'tree of life' design of either one of the nine degrees of the gawai burung). This is another reason the supplementary wefts of a lebur api must be completely hidden from sight when it wrapped the trophy head. The ceramic bowls with their coveted prizes were placed on flat winnowing baskets (chapan) in front of the offerings and a bamboo pole the ends of which were split and plaited into a cone shaped receptacle called a seregang (15) was erected. The swords recently used in battle would also be suspended from this. A lemambang (priest bard) would invoke the ancestors, spirits, immortals, deities and finally Singalang Burung, the god of war himself, (in that order) by bebiau (waving a fowl over the offerings and the heads of the celebrants) and uttering a sampi (prayer of invocation). A fowl would be sacrificed over a sacrificial pig which was then eviscerated, and its liver divined to read the portents of the deities' present. The ritual climaxed with the placing of the trophy heads, unwrapped from their lebur apis, on the cone shaped receptacle along with the offerings, and another sampi was intoned by the bard, followed by the powerful ritual of the betabur beras (16) kuning (17) curse against the enemy where uncooked rice grains colored yellow (by mixing in pounded turmeric) were sprinkled first by the most senior woman of the community over the warriors to create a dinding bulu (wall of supernatural protection) around them, while holding one of the suspended blades used by the successful warriors in her left hand to strengthen her spirit (ngering semengat), and draped with a pua' kumbu' bearing the design of the miga duduk (18) or the kumbu' muau (19) to guard her spirit from harm (ninding bulu) and layu' (to become spiritually weakened which could lead to death). Then she would face the enemy's territory and invoke a terrible curse (sampi sumpah) while spitting these rice grains in their direction. The warriors would then sprinkle the same grains on the offerings, seeking special protection from the deities present, (20) and then throw the grains in the direction of the enemy's territory, calling on bad spirits and demons to devour them (asuh empa antu jelu antu buyu' antu gerasi antu beduru') and sickness to befall their men (alah ayu lemi tubuh busung perut parai magang) so that they may not retaliate. This signalled the end of the ritual. The unwrapped heads were returned to their ceramic bowls and brought inside to the communal gallery (ruai), each warrior and his senior lady who received his trophy head (e.g. mother, wife, sister, or daughter) returning to their individual galleries. A feast was then served.

The day was filled with a celebratory atmosphere, tales of daring were told, and copious amounts of glutinous rice wine was consumed. The men praised their 'fruit' with stylized language, which were placed in front of them ensconced in their individual ceramic bowls. Warriors who had displayed acts of bravery during battle would then be persuaded by their peers to give themselves ensumbar (21) or praise-names, or the war-leader himself would bestow praise-names on the successful warriors. At sunset, everybody would go down in regular clothes to the river to bathe, and the common practice was for the women to bathe upstream and the men downstream. However, this practice did not apply to menstruating women, and distinguished warriors waited till dark to bathe:
Bujang Berani sigi enggai mandi ari, lebih agi enti iya ngembuan
pengaruh ngayau, laban enggai ayankan diri telanjai, lebih agi maia nya
sida agi besirat. (22)
A successful warrior did not bathe in the day, preferring late evenings
after all the rest have bathed, especially if he possessed charms about
his person which assisted him in taking heads. As a distinguished
warrior, he would not reveal his amulets, and remained respectably
modest, as in those days men wore loincloths [which had to be fully
removed when bathing].

They would then return to their respective households to get dressed in fresh ceremonial outfits and be ready for makai amat (main feast) and the second half of the festival. After the evening feast was served, consumed and cleared, the ceramic bowls with their prized contents, which had remained on display at the respective communal galleries of the household they belonged to, would then be emptied as the trophy heads would be taken up by the women and wrapped again in their respective lebur apis as the grand finale to the gawai enchabuh arung, the part of the festival when the trophy heads were ritually welcomed, praised and sung to. In the pengap, a manang bali' (transgender shaman) was the only person present who could console Nising's crying decapitated head when the inebriated Singalang Burung unintentionally dropped it. In the enchabuh arung, the services of a manang bali' were not required as no trophy heads would have been dropped and the role of appeasing the heads was delegated to spiritually mature senior women of the longhouse who would be singing the sangkah. They would form a single line, again taking their stations according to status with the most senior woman at the head, and in a slow dance with hand gestures, (23) traverse the entire length of the longhouse, back and forth three times, the lead woman singing the verses with the rest responding with the refrain. While the women sang and danced to the trophy heads, it was believed the intense heat and spiritual energy of the lebur api would metamorphose the heads from being objects of malevolence to objects of benevolence. The heads were praised and honored, and the spirits of the dead enemies were therefore said to be appeased. This carried on throughout the night as nobody slept, the sangkah taking several hours to complete. One of the phrases sung would be pengerandang dan kota begitang or 'traversing the branch of the hanging fortress' (24)--an allegorical reference to the trophy head opening new life for the longhouse community--a clear and unequivocal reference to fertility. In fact, the very name enchabuh arung means to 'open a channel' and this fundamental phrase in the sangkah is the very reason women incite their men to bring them trophy heads. The final ritual would be placing the trophy heads in the ringka (rattan baskets) which would then be suspended over a bedilang (25) in front of the individual warrior's household door in the communal gallery. More shouts of victory would have erupted. A final meal would be served at the break of dawn and the gawai enchabuh arung officially ended.

The gawai enchabuh arung lasted only a whole day and a night because it was strictly a short festival to welcome new heads into the community. The grand festival of gawai burung, which was held later, could be fully and entirely sponsored, and celebrated by any man who had taken a head and whom had had an auspicious dream about hosting such a festival which would have lasted three nights. The entire longhouse would come together to host other longhouses that would be invited to witness and acknowledge the elevation of the sponsor to a higher status among his peers. Sponsoring an entire gawai burung was no mean affair; the resources needed to host hundreds of guests for three days and nights were monumental, which meant that he had to first gain the support of his kaban (close kin), and then respect from his peers (bala), to assist him in the preparations, and then he would have had to provide for all the food and beverage, and pay for the work, both physical and ritual, required for a successful gawai burung.

Bodies of the fallen were not brought back but left where they fell. (26) Where and when possible, war jackets, weapons, and charms of fallen relatives would be salvaged and taken home, to become heirlooms of the households of the dead warriors and used by succeeding generations. (27) Their whole bodies would be buried near the battlefield or along the way home, if the enemy did not already take their heads. Fallen warriors were not considered failed warriors; conversely, they were much honored, especially if they had taken heads in prior raids or great battles. Often these fallen warriors had inherited their war jackets and weapons from their fathers and grandfathers who were also warriors, and it was important that these war paraphernalia, especially the amulets and charms, were retrieved and returned to their respective families. Immediately after the gawai enchabuh arung, households who lost warriors would commence the mortuary rite of ngerapuh (28) to honor their dead in situ sine corpora and bury their clothes and belongings as an alternative, and a period of mourning would follow. Posthumous honors measured in values equivalent to jars (adat pemati) were given to the dead, and if such warriors had distinguished themselves in previous battles, their 'worth' would reflect their past achievements; their deaths did not erase their former accomplishments. In fact, deaths of renowned warriors or war leaders in battle would be immortalized in cloth and the mother, wife or daughter of such a warrior or leader would go on to weave the great pua 'jugam (29) in commemoration of her beloved. A tajau (Martavan jar) would be placed where a corpse would normally lie in state in the communal gallery within a curtained off sacred space of pua' kumbu' called a sapat, and the tajau with the personal belongings (baya') of the deceased would be buried three days later.

Motifs on the British Museum's lebur api

The representation that recurs throughout the central design of the British Museum's lebur api is called the antu gerasi berayah or dancing giant hunter-demon (six rows of three representations each). (30) It shows a figure with legs apart as in a dance, and seemingly attached to its outstretched arms are trophy heads. The design is showing that antu gerasi berayah, dancing with outstretched arms, has trophy heads tucked under his arms. At his thighs are also trophy heads. Trophy heads at thigh level recall how warriors, immediately after a battle, would attach freshly taken heads to their sword belts at both sides of their waist, attached with rattan ropes, as recounted in the sangkah. The representation of antu gerasi berayah indicates the same practice and he is depicted with a small head. The small head shows the Iban belief that all decapitated beings in the afterlife, when invited to a gawai (festival), declined because they were embarrassed by their small heads. The sex of the demon is clearly indicated with the exaggerated phallus and a palang (penis-pin) protruding at the base. Its enlarged feet are curled to the motions of a dance. In the sagas, an antu gerasi, who was actually Nising (31) the arch-enemy of Singalang Burung, was finally decapitated by the latter. This act of decapitation then takes on a profound meaning: a metaphor of the Iban triumphing over their enemies supernatural and natural.

All eighteen motifs, which appear almost identical to one another, represent the same spirit but a closer inspection would reveal that the weaver had made eighteen different variations of the same motif with only the slightest of changes on each one. Curiously, the middle motif in all six rows stands out, appearing whiter than its flanking neighbors. When we consider that lebur api means 'White Heat', it is entirely plausible that the weaver intended for the middle motifs to be the essence, as it were, of her entire design, where the greatest amount of life-force resides and where the most intense spiritual heat of the cloth would be. We can also surmise that the subtle contrast in shades seems to also suggest that the weaver was probably intending to show negatives and positives of the motif; colors cleverly transposed to imitate life and death, and even spirits manifested and spirits unseen.

The Batang Ai interpretation of this motif, 'Trophy Heads Hanging in their Baskets above the Demon's Hearth,' differs from the Saribas interpretation. In the Batang Ai the motif represents heads at the hearth of antu gerasi which take the form of a tree where "roots have been converted to the hearth, the branches carry heads rather than blossoms and fruits, and the top has become a basket in which men store knives and other odds and ends." (32) (Figure 2).

In the Saribas, antu gerasi berayah is dancing in victory as he tucks trophy heads under his arms and attaches more to his sword belt as they sway alongside his thighs, while in the Batang Ai, the trophy heads are already hanging above his hearth. Each motif is a visually strong pictorial representation of the taking of heads, with a second common denominator of antu gerasi the giant hunter-demon. When Singalang Burung took the head of Nising, we have a metaphor for Iban prevailing over their enemies. It then follows that antu gerasi berayah, in this context of triumphing over the enemy, becomes a metaphor for the successful headhunter.

At one fringe end of this lebur api the weaver has repeated the conventional representation of the bali mabuk (drunken soul) motif. The motif represents a beheaded torso with wavering legs, recalling the look of a person whose head has just been severed, and the headless torso on the verge of falling, not unlike an intoxicated person unsteady on his feet. The ends of the central portion are framed by large transverse bands called selaku'. They are filled with the buah bunut motif (horse-mango fruit, Mangifera foetida, see footnote 36 for full explanation), shaped like a spider with its legs inverted, which is a reference to severed heads. A row of isang bejila', fashioned as shrubs, which represents the shredded young palm leaves used to decorate boats of successful raiding parties and then waved by the warriors during the berayah, finishes the cloth.

The provenance of this lebur api is unclear. There is nothing to identify it as being undeniably woven by a Saribas weaver. Neither is there a case to show that it was not. Almost all lebur apis of the time, whether woven in the Saribas, Lupar, Skrang or Batang Ai, seem to have followed the same conventions. This singular uniformity in an otherwise diverse assembly of Iban weaving traditions and plethora of design inventory possibly suggests a common genesis for the lebur api class of textiles dating back to antiquity when the Iban were living in Kalimantan prior to migrating into the various regions of Sarawak. This was possibly because lebur apis were ritualized around a set of motifs which have remained reasonably consistent.

While the provenance of the British Museum's lebur api remains inconclusive, we can be certain that lebur apis were woven by Saribas women. Any proficient weaver who knew the method of the discontinuous supplementary weft technique would have had the technical competence to have woven a lebur api, and the Saribas was certainly not short of such weavers. The first piece of evidence is that we have a cloth about which there is incontrovertible evidence with indisputable provenance that it was woven by a Saribas woman (Figure 3). The second piece of evidence is the white based pua' belantan (Figure 4) which only the Saribas made.

This Saribas lebur api (Figure 3) was woven by Muna anak Imang from the Rimbas. Muna was the wife of Repun "Betuah" anak Kudang who was the sapit tuai kayau or deputy battle leader of the Orang Kaya Beti Tajai Ngindang, the father of OKP. The mother (33) of the owner of the cloth provided the following remembered information, translated into English:
"This pua sungkit, known as the lebur api, is the property of our bilek
tuai [ancestral household]. It is 10 generations' old and was woven by
Muna, the wife of Repun whose praise-name was "Betuah" ['Fortunate 'for
having taken the head of a cloistered child] and who was the sapit of
the Orang Kaya Beti Tajai Ngindang. Muna wove it when Betuah went to
war with Beti Tajai Ngindang against the Kantu'. She wove forbidden
pictures of the spirits and gods and goddesses to incite her husband to
return to her with the trophy head of an anak umbung [cloistered
daughter of a leader] so that she could use this lebur api filled with
pictures of the spirits and deities to receive such a coveted trophy
head. Betuah succeeded in securing the head of a cloistered child among
the Kantu', and the child was aged about fourteen. The small trophy
head of the child still hangs in the ruai [communal gallery] of our
longhouse. This lebur api is named Pumpung Ijuk ['To cut the top off
the palm Arenga pinnata']."

Neither the owner, nor her mother, neither of whom could weave, was able to identify or name any of the motifs on the cloth but instead repeatedly asserted three important points of information which were remembered and passed down with the lebur api, namely that (i) it was called lebur api pumpung ijuk; (ii) the anthropomorphic and human-like representations on the lebur api were powerful "gambar mali sida antu sida petara lama ke mantu 'kitai ngelaban munsuh" (forbidden pictures of spirits and the old gods and goddesses who aided us to defeat the enemy); and (iii) the principal reason Muna had woven this textile was to incite her husband Betuah to bring home the head of an anak umbung: a near impossible task as such a child was always protected by the last line of defence of the fiercest of the leader's warriors. Betuah did not disappoint and a small skull still hangs above the household's entrance at the communal gallery of the owner's longhouse as testament to a glorious past.

Saribas informants (34) in the early 1990s, prior to my interview with the owner of this lebur api much later in early 2012, used the words 'gambar mali' which means picture, image, or physical likeness, as a generic form to identify and describe human-like representations that were restricted to only skilled and spiritually mature weavers. The owner's mother, whether coincidentally, also used the word 'gambar mali' to label these figures. The exact usage of this Iban term by a non-weaver with no knowledge of weaving is significant: human-like representations were more than just another 'buah' (motif or design) but were certainly recognizable as special beings, creatures, or personages with supernatural potency which give the cloth spiritual currency.

Muna started her cloth by decorating the lower fringe end with a band filled with the buah bunut, which is also found on the British Museum's lebur api. Skilled sungkit weavers of OKP's time often placed the buah bunut at the beginning of their designs as a signal of their prime objective: to receive a trophy head, the metaphor for a ripe fruit filled with the primordial sacred rice seed (pun padi), (35) with their woven lebur api. A ripened buah bunut is "yellow skinned (not unlike the pale shade of a recently severed head), and fibrous inside (not unlike the flesh inside a severed head)." (36) When sliced, only one seed fills it. Its use as a metaphor by weavers was of a trophy head containing the sacred pun padi.

She then began her main work with the leku sawa' (path of the python, which represents the route to the enemy's country) worked in green and each pyramidoid is crowned with 'seeds' representing trophy heads. She then wove the selaku' (transverse band) filled with an early version of the motif of the bedilang. The selaku' has a specific purpose: it is the resting place of the patroness of the weaver who supernaturally assists the weaver in the making of the dangerous motifs that follow in the central design.

Muna then began the central design, showing, from bottom to top, a row of four representations of the antu gerasi berayah, then three rows of four gambar mali (37) per row followed by two rows of variations of antu gerasi berayah. In the Saribas, the three rows of gambar mail in their highly stylized poses represent various personages. (38) At the bottom of the three rows of gambar mali, a row of a figure colored almost entirely white with a hair bun (shown as an incomplete box at the right side of the head) indicating the sex of the figure is shown; all four figures are identical. Then a middle row depicting figures with front and back loin-cloth flaps (shown as an inverted 'V') in between parted legs; also identical to one another, is woven. We do not know the identities of the female figure and male female figure in the lower and middle row respectively, but Saribas informants and the owner concur that they represent images of immortals or deities. An upper row finishes the tableau of human figures showing two pairs of a male figure with loin-cloth flaps (again, an inverted 'V') between parted legs facing a female figure with hair bun (shown as a sideways 'V' at the right side of the face) wearing a female sleeved baju kelambi worn by senior women at rituals and festivals. In between their faces is a suspended lozenge with short vertical extensions. The identities of the upper row figures are certain, as identified by Saribas informants. The female deity is Indu Dara Tinchin Temaga, eldest daughter of the god of war, Singalang Burung, shown receiving a trophy head from her son Sera Gunting, depicted in the scene as a suspended lozenge. This scene recounts the story of Sera Gunting presenting his first trophy head to his celestial mother Indu Dara Tinchin Temaga. (39) In the Batang Ai, these figures represent the Underworld goddess of weaving Meni, wife of the Underworld god Genali whom she goads to take heads. (40) Meni (41) is also a patroness of expert weavers, and is invoked during the takar ritual (42) to assist the lead expert in measuring out precise portions of ingredients to treat cotton threads.

The presence of the giant hunter-demon in rows below and above the three rows of personages is equally significant: Muna was not only cursing the enemies with every lift of the bodkin of the supplementary threads that make up these creatures but like the giant hunter-demon on the British Museum's lebur api, applying the same metaphor: Betuah triumphing over his enemies and returning as a successful headhunted

Muna finished her central design with another selaku' of bedilang, and the same pattern of the leku sawa'. Her celebratory added-on borders, after Betuah's return, are filled with the burung belah (split bird motif), recalling how her husband had danced the berayah with his arms outstretched. As Heppell succinctly states, "Sungkit announced to the heavens that what was being enacted was extremely important." (43)

Muna's cloth passed through ten generations to its present owner. Following the protocol that one generation equates to twenty-five years, this lebur api has an age of about two hundred and fifty years and was therefore woven in the latter part of the 18th century.

The other textile used in the Saribas to receive trophy heads when a lebur api was not available was the pua 'belantan, a long plainly woven scarf-like textile colored white with ends worked in sungkit (Figure 4). This white based pua' belantan is a uniquely Saribas creation which is not found in other river systems populated by the Iban. Heppell presents a persuasive and compelling case that white based cloths preceded cloths dyed red. (44) In the sagas when the god of war, Singalang Burung returned from a raid, the women of his longhouse came down to greet him (45):
Indai Kecendai Pantuk Jerak Dara Santaba Balun Kupak ga' dulu nurun
nyandek pua' lebur api. Tangkan ke anak iya empu Dara Tincin Temaga
Mangkuk Cerebuk China Laki nyandek belantan sungkit. Lalu ditangkan ke
Indu Kecepah Dulang Mas Indu Ketupang Bunga Lebas nya' bini Embuas lalu
nyandek pua' bali berinjan. Lalu ditangkan Indu Kecepah Senggai Pemakai
Indu Ketapang Bunga Legal nya' ga' bini Beragai lalu nyandek pua'
ampang tengkebang.
Inda Kecendai Pantuk Jerak Dara Santaba Balun Kupak descended the
ladder first, with the pua' lebur api on her shoulder. Her daughter
Dara Tincin Temaga Mangkuk Cherebuk China Laki followed with her
belantan sungkit on her shoulder. Then followed Indu Kecepah Dulang Mas
Indu Ketupang Bunga Lebas, the wife of Embuas, with a pua' bali
berinjan, (46) on her shoulder. Indu Kecepah Senggai Pemakai Indu
Ketapang Bunga Legai, the wife of Beragai, followed with the pua'
ampang tengkebang (47) on her shoulder. (Bold italics mine.)

Lemambang Mujah anak Mambang, who also recited the history of OKP returning from his famous war against the Undup in 1834, listed the following order of textiles with their designs that were used by the women of Buloh Lachau (48) longhouse along the Padeh to receive the trophy heads that were brought back:
Lalu beradu sida kai indu masuk ka ngepan lalu mai pua' lebur api, bisi
mai pua' balantan sungkit, bisi mai pua' bali belulai, bisi mai pua'
belumpung, barang pemesi diri nya ga bai. Lalu nurun bini tuai kayau,
bini manuk sabung nurun magang. Bini tuai kayau ga dulu nya baru
tangkan kai bini manuk sabung bukai mega. Semua sida kai dara mega
nurun. Semua datai sida bala indu ba mua bala kai pulai ngayau.
And so, the ladies dressed in ceremonial clothing and brought with them
the pua' lebur api, some brought the pua' belantan sungkit, some the
pua' bali belulai, (49) some the pua' belumpung, (50) each brought what
she had at hand. Then the wife of the chief of the war-party, followed
by the wives of the lead warriors, and all the unmarried ladies of the
longhouse, all progressing in their proper stations and according to
order, went to receive the returning war-party. (Bold italics mine.)

Both orders of cloths recorded followed the conventional order of the highest status cloths and designs of the time of OKP. What is striking is that in both scenarios (the first mythical, the second actual), the lebur api was the first cloth mentioned, followed immediately by the pua' belantan before other high status pua' kumbu' were listed. The first and second cloths listed in both accounts are textiles worked with supplementary wefts, and the colour white recalling the 'white heat' featured predominantly either as the base of the cloth or in the supplementary wefts. A Saribas pua' belantan woven sometime around the 1890s on machine spun threads by the author's great-great-grandmother Mengan anak Budin Gerasi is shown in Figure 5, where the ends are worked in sungkit while the rest of the cloth is left plain and undyed.

Figure 4 shows the motifs (51) anak buau, isang bejila', aji besumping, bali mabuk, the important igi leka begumba balang bera' ang (which a lebur api or pua' belantan must always display (52)), buah chayam, burung berayah, and mucuk tubu'. These motifs are almost de rigueur for an accomplished weaver to know, memorize and store in her memory palace of motifs that should appear on the pua' belantan, passed down from mother to daughter and memorised for future generations of weavers to sustain the family's repertoire of designs, and to keep the knowledge of these designs remembered. (53)

The weaver's narrative, taught to her by mother and in turn would teach daughter, could be read in the following order:

(i) Anak buau, a cross-like motif (two rods with sharp pointed ends [imitating the tips of spears or blades] placed on one another to form a cross, its shape replicating the powerful chalk drawing made by a manang [shaman] as he intoned a curse, found on the back of many household doors which act as pelepa' antu [ritual sign] against bad spirits from entering after accomplishing pelian [healing ritual]) worked in predominantly yellow supplementary threads. This rare and powerful motif represents potent curses intoned by its weaver against her enemies. The weaver intoned a similar curse used by the manang, which protected her men, and crippled the enemy, at the same time.

(ii) hang bejila', the weaver's metaphor for victory.

(iii) An old variant of the bali mabuk (drunken soul)--bali has no English translation, is not a pre-fix or title, but refers to a motif, pattern, or design's essence or soul that has supernatural power, 'enlivened' by the life-force of the weaver.

(iv) Igi' leka begumba balang bera ang (round seed with cropped hair and a gaping jaw), decorated with hooked like extensions, is the bali mabuk's recently severed head.

(v) Buah chayam (whiskered seed), a reference to freshly smoked trophy heads with bristles of hair still intact, which the weaver would expect to receive in her pua' belantan.

(vi) Aji besumping, shown in an inverted form, is a metaphor for the slain enemy impaled but the motif's name is a play on words--Aji in archaic Iban means noble or royal, and so the weaver honors the trophy head, while besumping means impaled but the root word sumping also describes the ritual that ends a mourning period when a trophy head is believed to be carried by the winds to Sebayan. Three aji besumping motifs complement three buah chayam in Figure 6: the correlation is clear. Their heads in the Land of the Dead are tiny; the three exaggerated diamond-shaped buah chayam are their recently smoked heads in this world.

(vii) Muchuk tubu (in the Layar) or pemuchuk rebung (in the Paku), both meaning bamboo shoots which grow very quickly and are found in abundance in secondary-forests and even farms. They are harvested for food, and new shoots would sprout almost immediately. The reference to fertility is explicit.

The vertical side borders subsequent to the selvedges on both sides of the textile of the ends of Figure 4 show various depictions of omen birds signalling good news, in particular the burung berayah which recalls the victory dance the successful warriors would have performed. All the motifs shown at both ends of this pua' belantan are directly associated with headhunting and fertility. The weaver of this pua' belantan could not have been more explicit with her intentions. Sather's informants made the same observation about the white pua' belantan. (54)

Muna's pictures of personages give and receive trophy heads; and the unknown weaver of the British Museum's lebur api's giant hunter-demon dances with his trophy heads. The motifs on the ends of the white pua' belantan all represent either celebratory paraphernalia, trophy heads, curses, or corpses. What then do the motifs that make up the designs on these two examples of lebur api and one pua' belantan really mean to the Iban weaver? Connotations are intended and attributed by the weavers to these pictorial representations and motifs in the context of the designs of these three textiles. The images are redolent with deep meaning, mostly camouflaged in pictorial and verbal metaphors known only to the weaver and her peers who perceive their two-dimensional textiles in their minds' eye as three-dimensional spatial objects with motifs, pictorial representations and images rising, falling, forming shapes and morphing out of the design and through the threads to imitate objects and replicate concepts of their world-view--thus making complete sense to them, and utterly indecipherable to an untrained eye. (55)

Based on the analyses of the designs of two different lebur apis from, presumably, the same region (56) and woven about the same time period (spanning just under four generations when information on textiles could still be transmitted from great-grandmother or grandmother to great-granddaughter or granddaughter, circa 1760s to 1850s), we can conclude that the central theme that recurs in both lebur apt, and the white pua' belantan from around 1890s, is unmistakable: a vivid celebration of trophy heads and headhunting on cloth, with the overt message of meransang or incitement by weavers to their menfolk--"Bring us trophy heads so that we and the land shall continue to be fertile, and our community prosperous!" As Freeman writes:
"Indeed, the troplry head, phallic and procreative, becomes a veritable
font of fertility--a most potent object which not only confers an
undying prestige on the warrior who has procured it, but becomes, for
his community, a source from which their sacred padi may draw an
ever-continuing fecundity." (57)

Historical Context

Regarded by Saribas Iban and their allies as well as confirmed by Western historians as one of the greatest 19th century coastal raiders of Western Borneo, the Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang from Buloh Antu, Padeh, in the Saribas led his bala (war-party) as far as Sambas in the western part of Borneo. His role as tuai serang (war leader) of the great bala that successfully attacked the Undup and then continued into Kantu' country in West Kalimantan sometime in 1834 (58) cemented his influence and authority, just before the arrival of James Brooke in Sarawak in 1838.

OKP has been described by Western historians in many ways, him being the chief pirate of the time in the region always being the theme: "The most dreaded Saribas 'pirate', the man who commanded the marauding fleets,". (59) OKP had also threatened to put Brooke's head in a basket. (60) James Brooke himself wrote,
The Orang Kaya Pomancha, of Sarebas, is now with me - the dreaded and
the brave, as he is termed by the natives. He is small, plain-looking
and old, with his left arm disabled, and his body scarred with spear
wounds. I do not dislike the look of him, and of all the chiefs of that
river I believe he is the most honest, and steers his course straight
enough. (61)

The British colonial administrator and naturalist Hugh Low wrote:
All the tribes of Sarebas, though each has its particular chief,
acknowledge in war the authority of the Orang Kaya Pa-mancha; but it
does not appear that, excepting when his orders and instructions agree
with their own wishes, the petty chiefs, who command their own boats
and the people of their own villages, pay particular attention to them,
but still they always look up to this old man - who has distinguished
himself by his bravery - with respect, and his opinion possesses great
weight in their councils, more particularly, as, from his sanguinary
nature, and the long practised custom of taking heads, his store of
which he is always anxious to increase, the counsels of peace are
seldom those he offers to the nation. (62)

Several years later, Mengan Tuai, the wife of OKP passed away, sometime between late 1848 and 1849, and OKP needed a trophy head to end her mourning period; the ritual of severing the symbolic cords that bound the dead to the living, and vice versa (ngetas ulit). The Saribas Iban of the 19th century had a belief that the souls of recently departed leaders and, sometimes, their wives who had also achieved elevated status within the community as master-weavers and lead ritualists, required a severed head so that the departed soul could be released from the realm of the living and the living could be released from mourning obligations.

OKP needed a trophy head to end his deceased wife's mourning and written records show that in July of 1849, a formidable war fleet from the Saribas which included Saribas Malays, the Skrang Iban and the riverine chiefs of the Paku and Rimbas, intended to raid east of the Saribas river mouth towards Mukah and the Rejang This intended raid came to Brooke's attention and on the 24th of July 1849, Brooke's forces took up positions at the mouths of the Saribas and Kalaka rivers. The famous battle of Betin Maro ensued and Brooke won the night.
On the second day after the victory, the Rajah s forces followed it up
by later destroying the homes of the 'pirates ' on the Saribas river. A
short time later the headmen of 250 Saribas Iban longhouses and the
representatives of all the Saribas Malays signed an agreement promising
not to raid in future. (63)

The surrender was unequivocal, and the Saribas Treaty of 1849 was sealed, with OKP's name mentioned throughout the treaty document. (64)

OKP still needed a severed head to end his mourning period. If he was to agree not to obtain one himself, someone else had to get one for him. He needed a resolution to this within the framework Brooke was imposing. In the case of someone else providing the head, it was conventional for a victorious war party returning home and passing a longhouse in mourning to be required to enter the longhouse and perform a ngetas ulit. So, OKP getting someone else to provide the head was quite in keeping with mortuary custom. A Saribas Iban oral history states the following:
Alah sida aki OKP ba Betin Maro, lalu bebaik aki OKP seduai Rajah. Tang
lebuh nya, rumah [Buloh Antu] agi mali laban bala benung ngulit ini'
Mengan Tuai keh midang. Rajah enda ngasuh bala nurun ngayau agi laban
udah bebaik. Aki OKP lalu nyurung selambar lebur api mekang ngagai
Rajah maia sida bebaik, minta igi leka awakka tau ngetas ulit sida
serumah. (65)
OKP lost at Betin Maro and so made peace with the Rajah. But at the
time, the longhouse [Buloh Antu] was in a state of ritual prohibition
as they were mourning the loss of Mengan. The Rajah had banned the
people from going on raids to take heads. That being the case, OKP gave
a lebur api mekang to the Rajah when they made peace, asking that a
head be provided to end the mourning period.

OKP presented Brooke with a lebur api mekang at the peace-making ceremony when the Saribas Treaty was sealed, and Iban oral history states that OKP, a man of few words it was said, declared in Malay, which Brooke was conversant with, the following caveat:
Here is the lebur api which is to receive the head that would end the
period of mourning for my wife. (66)

The indomitable OKP, meanwhile, did not desist in his quest to ensure that his wife was able properly to exit the living world. In 1853, OKP agreed to meet up with Charles Brooke, hoping to receive the trophy head that would end the mourning period of his wife, or at least be allowed to go on a final expedition to get said trophy head, but was plainly denied, sorely disappointed, and left without a word. Brooke, at that time the Tuan Muda (heir to the throne), wrote:
In the course of the day, the Dyak Chief, the Orang Kaya Pamancha, came
aboard, and having often heard his name as being one of the most
trouble-some of head hunters, I was surprised in meeting a very old,
decrepit, and mutilated man, dressed in the worst habiliment. He took a
seat on the deck, and remained silently looking down. His eyesight was
nearly gone; and when told that the white man had come to pay him a
visit, and hoped that his news was good, his only answer - which he
drawled out significantly - was, "Ragus " (very good). As for making
peace, he said he was too old, but that he would send some of his
younger chiefs as his representatives, after farming season. He then
requested to be allowed to go for heads, as, he said, his wife had
lately departed this life, and he was consequently in mourning, which
he wanted to 'open'. On this being denied, he turned sullenly round and
left. (67) (Bold mine.)

The following year, OKP died of smallpox at his home in Padeh; a husband with an unfulfilled obligation.


We have described why and how OKP presented Brooke with a lebur api in 1849. It was a lebur api without added-on borders. We also know that Brooke gifted to Kew several Iban textiles between the years 1851 and 1856, and we know for certain that Kew transferred a lebur api to the British Museum in 1866, labelled today As.3426 and registered as a donation from Brooke.

Brooke being presented with a lebur api mekang by OKP when he agreed to the surrender and sealing of the treaty in 1849 after Betin Maro would have been fully consistent with his request that Brooke was to supply the trophy head instead so that OKP could finally ngetas ulit, and the weaver of the cloth would have completed the borders.

There is a Saribas Iban oral history that OKP gave Brooke a lebur api mekang in 1849, and that Brooke donated one lebur api mekang to Kew sometime between 1851 and 1856 which was then transferred to the British Museum in 1866. Lebur apis were never given as gifts by the Iban while headhunting was still an important part of Iban culture and their use had such ritual importance. Internally, a weaver might have woven a lebur api to be given to another warrior to avenge a loss of a close relative she might have experienced, but a household would never have given such a cloth to a stranger. Further testimony to the fact that lebur apis, were never given as gifts is provided by the fact that no British museum other than the British Museum possesses a lebur api which was acquired very much prior to the First World War. There must therefore be a reasonably strong presumption that the British Museum's lebur api is the very cloth presented to the Rajah Sir James Brooke by the Orang Kaya Pemancha Dana Bayang who was informing him that he expected it to be returned wrapped appropriately around a trophy head as the only condition he was making to the surrender of all Saribas Iban.


Brooke, Charles Anthoni Johnson

1866 Ten Years in Sarawak, 2 Vols. London: Tinsley Brothers.

Brooke, James and George Rodney Mundy

1848 Narrative of Events in Borneo and Celebes down to the Occupation of Labuan, 2 Vols., London: J. Murray.

Freeman, Derek

1979 Severed Heads that Germinate. In: R.H. Hook, ed., Fantasy and Symbol: Studies in Anthropological Interpretation. London: Academic Press, pp. 233-46.

Gavin, Traude

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2003 Iban Ritual Textiles. Leiden: KITLV.

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2015 Communication: Michael Heppell, The Seductive Warp Thread: An Evolutionary History of Ibanic Weaving. ASEASUK NEWS: Newsletter of the Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom, No. 58, Autumn 2015.

Gavin, Traude and Ruth Barnes

1999 Iban prestige textiles and the trade in Indian cloth: Inspiration and perception. Textile History 30:81-87.

Gittinger, Mattiebelle

2005 Textiles for this World & Beyond: Southeast Asia--Treasures from Insular Southeast Asia. New York: Scala Publishers.

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2014 The Seductive Warp Thread: An Evolutionary History of Ibanic Weaving. Phillips, ME: Borneo Research Council, Material Culture Series No.1.

2016 Response to Traude Gavin's review In Aseasuk Newsletter. ASEASUK NEWS: Newsletter of the Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom, No. 59 Spring 2016.

Heppell, Michael, Limbang anak Melaka and Enyan anak Usen

2005 Iban Art - Sexual Selection and Severed Heads: Weaving, Sculpture, Tattooing and Other Arts of the Iban of Borneo. Amsterdam: Kit Publishers.

Jabu, Empiang

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2009 Restoring Panggau Libau: A reassessment of engkeramba in Saribas Iban Ritual Textiles, Borneo Research Bulletin, 40: 221-248.

2013 Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, edited by Reimar Schefold in collaboration with Steven G. Alpert. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art Publications, pp. 150-171.

Linggi, Margaret

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Low, Hugh

1988 Sarawak - Notes during a residence in that country with H.H. The Rajah Brooke. Singapore: Oxford [originally published 1848].

Pringle, Robert

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Sandin, Benedict

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Sather, Clifford

1988 Meri' anak mandi': The ritual first bathing of Iban infants, Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography, 7: 157-187.

St John, Spenser

1853 The Indian Archipelago; Its history and present state, Vol. II. London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans.

Sutlive, Vinson and Joanne, general editors

2001 The Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies. 4 Vols., Kuching: Tun Jugah Foundation & The Borneo Research Council, Inc.

Vernon Kedit

(1) The English translation, 'White Hot,' was first used in the literature by Linggi (Linggi 2001: 35) and comes closest to matching the Iban within the context of ritual language.

(2) Also known as Antu Beduru.

(3) Another Iban term used in neighboring river systems to describe the same ritual is naku pala'.

(4) Michele Losse and Mark Nesbitt at Kew generously provided photographs of records and helped in the tracing of letters and documents and afforded invaluable information on the Brooke collection received by Kew.

(5) Imogen Laing at the British Museum was extremely helpful with providing information on As.3426.

(6) See Gavin, June 2004, for a complete list of Iban textiles deposited in public institutions in the UK.

(7) I sought the generous assistance of Pamela A. Cross who kindly agreed to visit the British Museum's Store at Blythe House (Olympia, London) on 13th August, 2010, to view and examine the textile physically on my behalf based on a set of questions I supplied. Cross' photographs and extensive report based on a meticulous examination and close inspection of the object were an immense help.

(8) My information on the conventions that govern the making of a lebur api were transmitted by Saribas informants Lenguti anak Langi, Julia anak Ipa, Take [Gelang anak Malang], Judy anak Kelimbang, and Gabol anak Ngadan. All five were master-weavers.

(9) The gawai enchabuh arung was described by Temenggong Matthew Dana anak Ujai of the Paku, Betong in 1992. Additional information, which corresponds with Temenggong Matthew Dana's account, was taken from the transcribed recited history of OKP by lemambang (bard) Mujah anak Mambang, also from the Paku, kindly supplied by Michael Heppell. Other Iban river systems had variations on the rituals and order of events but all Iban agree that the main purpose of the short festival was to receive and welcome new heads into a community. Nicholas Bawin Anggat from the Batang Ai and Nicholas Bryan from the Saratok read this section and confirmed the events and rituals described.

(10) See Linggi 2001: 127, plate 55

(11) See Gavin 2003: 228, plate 162

(12) See Heppell 2005: 77, plate 68

(13) See Linggi 2001: 137, plate 65

(14) It is the designs that are referenced, not that the authors are confirming that these designs are expected parts of the gawai.

(15) Also called teresang, sempuyung. kelekuyang or kelingkang in other regions.

(16) Uncooked rice grains are called beras in the Saribas and berau in the Batang Ai.

(17) Additional information on the ritual of the betabur beras kuning were transmitted by Nicholas Bawin Anggat, Nicholas Bryan and Magdalene Bucking.

(18) See Linggi 2001: 77, plate 5

(19) See Gittinger 2005: 109, plate 7.5

(20) A photograph of a similar ritual of cursing bad spirits with yellow rice grains to keep them away from his longhouse by an Iban leader with pua' kumbu' over his head is shown in Iban Art (Heppell, Limbang, Enyan 2005: 39).

(21) Another term used in other regions is juluk.

(22) Nicholas Bawin Anggat. personal communication.

(23) An informant, Lemok anak Charlie from Kerangan Pinggai, Paku, Saribas, sang a phrase from the sangkah and demonstrated with an action of her hand brushing against her thigh, recalling how trophy heads attached to sword-belts of the warriors returning from fresh kills swung against their thighs, causing them to line the warriors' thighs with dry blood.

(24) The Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies, Vol. 2, page 1246-1247.

(25) Trophy heads must be kept warm to keep them from becoming restless and malevolent, and the hearth fired at the very least once a month, if not every night.

(26) Additional information on fallen warriors of the raiding war-party, and the proceeding mortuary rites, were provided by Nicholas Bawin Anggat and Nicholas Bryan.

(27) Nicholas Bawin Anggat, personal communication.

(28) Iban believe that the deity Puntang Raga taught an Iban ancestor Serapuh proper mortuary rites. The verb ngerapuh is derived from the name of Serapuh, the first Iban to bury his sons slain by the enemy following the rites given by Puntang Raga. Serapuh's daughter, Remi, was the first Iban woman to cry the sabak, a lament lasting two nights in the Saribas which honors the dead and describes the journey taken by the dead to Sebayan (Land of the Dead). Rapuh also means grave goods, including a tajau, that were laid out during the wake and then buried instead of the deceased.

(29) A rare genre of pua' kumbu' where the main field (buah pua') and vertical ikat patterned inner borders (anakpua') were dyed a completely deep blue leaving the vertical selvedge strips (ara) colored.

(30) In my fieldwork in the Saribas in the early 1990s where I conducted separate field interviews with multiple Saribas informants, namely Lenguti anak Langi, Julia anak Ipa, Take [Gelang anak Malang], Judy anak Kelimbang, and Gabol anakNgadan, all have independently stated, repeated, and confirmed the same names in identification of the motifs in this section based on enlarged photographs. Nicholas Bryan kindly read this section of the paper, and where he was familiar with a motif or pictorial representation also identified them with the same names.

(31) For an explanation of restrictions on portraying Nising on cloth, see Kedit 2013: 312, footnote 7. See also Empiang 1991: 82.

(32) Heppell, Limbang, Enyan 2005: 71. 73

(33) Belining anak Lamat, Rimbas, Saribas.

(34) Saribas informants who transmitted the names and identities and method of identification of these human-like representations were Julia anak Ipa and Lenguti anak Langi, based on enlarged photographs of the figures I showed them. Julia remembered seeing lebur api with these human-like figures in other longhouses along the Paku and pointed out the loin-cloth flaps (tanda sirat), trophy heads (antu pala'). female sleeved jackets (baju kelambi) and hair buns (sanggul), and specifically identified Indu Dara Tinchin Temaga and Sera Gunting. Lenguti remembered the same and confirmed Julia's identification. I interviewed them separately and was careful not to prompt either but instead noted their data, which matched. Lenguti further transmitted the memory that Indu Dara Tinchin Temaga was the patroness of all the past weavers of the author's family.

(35) The sagas sung at gawai burung climax with Singalang Burung beheading his arch-enemy Nising. The much-intoxicated god of war then accidentally dropped Nising's head while performing the berayah. The head began crying despite the nursing and lullabying of the women, and only after it was picked up by a transgender shaman (manang bali') did it suddenly burst out in laughter at the sight of the strange looking person. It then pleaded to be buried, but Singalang Burung only agreed if it was first split in two. Out of the split head spilled the first sacred rice seed (pun padi) of life, which was then buried.

(36) As described by Julia when explaining the metaphor of the buah bunut.

(37) According to Gavin & Barnes, sungkit displaying 'dancing figures' are rare and only approximately twenty pieces were known to exist, including fragments, both in museums and private collections (Gavin & Barnes 1999: 86, footnote 17). Gavin's estimate later rose to "at the most thirty." (Gavin 2003: 301).

(38) Kedit2013: 168 - 171

(39) For a different opinion of these gambar mali which the literature calls "dancing figures," see Gavin & Barnes 1999: 88 and Gavin 2015: 32, footnote 33. For a defence of the author's attribution of names to these motifs, see Heppell 2016: 28 and 29.

(40) Heppell, Limbang, Enyan, 2005: 81.

(41) In the Saribas, she is known as Kumang Dara Meni, and the sometime secret paramour of Keling.

(42) An elaborate ritual of soaking bundles of raw cotton threads in baths of boiling water filled with palm salt, oil extracted from seeds of the Pangium edule tree [the taxonomy of the tree is uncertain and it may also be classed in the Flacourtiaceae or the Violales], ashes of certain dried leaves, bark and roots, and various gingers to prepare the threads to receive natural dyes after the process of tying patterns and designs onto these threads.

(43) Heppell 2016: 25

(44) Heppell 2013: 52-62

(45) Mujah anak Mambang

(46) See Linggi 2001: 137, plate 65

(47) Ampang tengkebang denotes a new design composed by the weaver, often revealed to the weaver in a dream encounter with her patroness.

(48) Buloh Lachau, the longhouse of OKP, was renamed Buloh Antu after his death in 1854 in commemoration of the extended period of mourning accorded to him as the paramount war leader of the Saribas and the Skrang at the time.

(49) See Linggi 2001: 138, plate 66

(50) See Heppell 2014: 135, plate 147

(51) These were all identified and named by Lenguti anak Langi, grand-niece of Mengan anak Budin Gerasi. They were later confirmed by Julia anak Ipa separately.

(52) This information was transmitted by Julia anak Ipa who said that the trophy head is the main feature ("enda tau enda bebuah igi leka antu pala laban iya ga tanda kena kitai ngansak sida bujang berani nurun ngayau"--"the motif of the trophy head must be present because it is that which we use to provoke the warriors to go on raids") of a lebur api or a belantan. When asked whether a belantan that had been used to receive a trophy head may also be used to cradle a new born child to the river for its bathing ceremony, Julia said there are no such restrictions. Conversely, a belantan that had been used to receive trophy heads is much preferred and would be used to decorate wedding baskets as well as draped around a couple getting married as they sat on gongs. Such a belantan has spiritual currency in ritual and ceremonial events.

(53) In the Saribas, the sustainability of a bilik's success often depended on an unbroken chain of memory of knowledge of the bilik's ritual, physical and intangible property. Men of a bilik pass down heirloom swords, weapons and male charms, and the ritual names of these objects and their proper usage, to ensure success when used by future generations of sons. They also pass down knowledge on warfare, ritual, custom, and oral history. Women, likewise, pass down knowledge of weaving and the memory of motifs and designs and their meanings to their daughters to ensure the bilik has the prerequisite knowledge and expertise to reproduce designs and create new ones to maintain or increase the bilik's reputation for weaving.

(54) Sather 1988: 169

(55) Principal informants Julia and Lenguti, in separate interviews, always described and explained designs with their hands and fingers rising from the cloths above motifs to create outlines of shapes and forms in the air above the motifs to illuminate what they were transmitting, and would often say, "peda nuan utai ke diterangka aku?" ("Do you see the resemblance?"). They took for granted the morphing of the design on 2D cloth into 3D space, and made forms in the air, expecting the author to 'see' what they 'saw,' which the author realized was a three-dimensional sculpturing of the design as 'seen' by the informants.

(56) For a contradictory view of Saribas sungkits, see Gavin 1996: 72, Gavin & Barnes 1999: 86 and 87, and Gavin 2003: 291. The Batang Ai, according to Gavin, was the center for pua sungkit weaving (Gavin 2003: 291), and she writes that the Saribas plundered their lebur api from them (Gavin 1996: 72).

(57) Freeman 1979: 243

(58) Sandin, Benedict, Sources of Iban Traditional History, edited by Clifford Sather, Special Monograph No.7, Sarawak Museum Journal, XL VI, 67 (New Series), 1994.

(59) Pringle 1970: 56

(60) Brooke, James 1848 [I]: 313-14

(61) Brooke, James 1848 [II]: 78

(62) Low 1988: 183

(63) Pringle 1970:83

(64) St. John, 1853:337-339

(65) Oral history transmitted by Lenguti anak Langi, a great-great-great-granddaughter of OKP.

(66) Gregory Nyanggau Mawar communicated this quote in English and not in the original Malay, which corroborates the account transmitted by Lenguti. (

(67) Charles Brooke 1866 [I]: 24-25
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Title Annotation:James Brooke
Author:Kedit, Vernon
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Jan 1, 2017

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