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Henry Gerijih anak Jabo 1917-2004.

Henry Gerijih anak Jabo passed away on the night of June 11, 2004, at the Bau District Hospital and was buried, according to his wishes, in the ancient Ulu Paku cemetery at Nanga Pejok, Saribas. His death marks the final passing of a remarkable generation of Iban writers, most of them, like Henry, from the Saribas region, whose works, originally published by the Borneo Literature Bureau, captured in print something of the rich wealth of Iban oral literature, storytelling, and epic and ritual poetry. A widely admired bard in his youth, a great storyteller, and throughout his life, soft-spoken and scholarly by temperament, Apai Jatan (or Apai Chendang), as he was known to family and friends, will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Henry Gerijih was born on the 15th of June, 1917, at Nanga Samu Longhouse, Ulu Paku, the son of Jabo anak Gurang, who, before he settled down to marry and raise a family, had been, like his father Nakoda Gurang before him, an active trader in early colonial Sabah. Later, during Henry's youth, Jabo took up pioneer rubber planting and became, during the last ten years of his life, the Nanga Samu headman (or tuai rumah). As the son of a prosperous family, Gerijih was educated at St. Andrew's School, Nanga Anyut, Paku, and at St. Augustine's School, Betong. Following his graduation, and after a short term of apprentice teaching in 1949, he was trained as a primary school teacher at the Batu Lintang Teacher's Training College in Kuching, and beginning in 1951, he taught at a number of mission schools in the Sri Aman Division. His final posting was to St. Christopher's School, Debak, from which he retired in 1973. Following his retirement, Gerijih and his wife, Indun anak Libau, returned to the Nanga Samu Longhouse where they continued to live until the last year of Gerijih's life. In failing health, Gerijih and Indun moved to Bau to join their adopted son, Chendang.

In his youth, Henry Gerijih studied with a number of notable Paku bards (lemambang) and became, at the age of 18, a member of a troupe of bards led at the time by the redoubtable Lemambang Luat anak Jabu, also of Nanga Samu, and considered by many to have been the most learned Paku bard of his generation. Although later, after becoming a teacher, he gave up active singing, Gerijih never lost his interest in the bardic chants. Indeed, following his retirement, he resumed this interest and performed several times in smaller Gawais. By this time most Paku troupes had, however, disbanded, owing to a lack of younger bards, including that of Lemambang Luat. In later years Gerijih was regularly called upon to preside over public prayers and offerings whenever major ceremonial events were held in the Paku and to recite the genealogies (tusut) of couples during local engagements and wedding ceremonies. In his home area of the Ulu Paku, Gerijih was widely recognized as the last great tukang tusut, or genealogist, of his generation. Much of his genealogical knowledge was written down in notebooks which he continually amended and added to until his death. Like his cousin, Benedict Sandin, Gerijih, too, had an encyclopedic knowledge of Saribas oral history, much of it gained from the same sources.

During his years as a primary school teacher, Gerijih published six books with the Borneo Literature Bureau: Satangkai (1963), Kumang Betelu (1963), Raja Langit (1964), Aur Kira (1965), Raja Berani (1967), and Brave Mujong (1966). The first five, written in Iban, are literary retellings of traditional Saribas Iban oral epics (ensera). The sixth, published in English, consists of a brief compilation of mousedeer stories and a longer folktale, "Leader of the Birds." In the 1990s, the first three of these books were translated and reprinted in Bahasa Malaysia by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (see below). In addition, I recorded two collections of Saribas lban comic fables (ensera Apai Alui) told to me by Henry Gerijih in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Sather 1984, Apai Aloi Goes Hunting and Other Stories, Kuching: Persatuan Kesusasteraan Sarawak, and Sather, 2001, Apai Alui Becomes a Shaman and Other Iban Comic Tales, Kota Samarahan: Universiti Malaysia Sarawak) and discussed a rice origin myth which he had related in 1988, comparing it with several different published versions, in an essay on Iban rice myths and ancestry (Sather 1994, "The One-Sided One: Iban Rice Myths, Agricultural Ritual and Notions of Ancestry," Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography, 10:119-50).

In recognition of his achievements, Henry Gerijih was awarded the Bintang Bintara Sarawak in 1974 and in 1996 he was invited to present the second Tan Sri Datuk Gerunsin Lembat Memorial Lecture sponsored by the Tun Jugah Foundation. The title of his lecture, presented in Kuching on the 23rd of July, 1996, was, fittingly, "Tusut/Jerita Iban" ("Iban Genealogies [and] Historical Narratives").

I am grateful to have known this wise and kindly man and to have been able to record a tiny fraction at least of the vast repertoire of stories he knew, treasured, and told so well.

Published Writings of Henry Gerijih

1963a Kumang Betelu (Iban). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

1963b Satangkai (Iban). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

1964 Raja Langit (Iban). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

1965 Aur Kira (Iban). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

1966 Brave Mujong (English). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

1967 Raja Berani (Iban). Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau.

1990 Kumang Bertelur (Bahasa Malaysia translation of 1963a). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

1994 Raja Langit (Bahasa Malaysia translation of 1964). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

1995 Satangkai (Bahasa Malaysia translation of 1963b). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Note: In writing this memorial, I am grateful for the help of Stanley Jugol Sandin, Anthony Samuel, Jantan Umbat, and, in earlier years, of Henry Gerijih himself who supplied most of the background information on his family, early years, and career as a teacher. Additional biographical information can be found in The Encyclopaedia of Iban Studies, Volume l, and in "The Storyteller" (pp. x-xi) in my Apai Alui Becomes a Shaman and Other Iban Comic Tales (Clifford Sather, Editor BRB).
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Title Annotation:MEMORIALS
Author:Sather, Clifford
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Datin Amar Margaret Linggi: 1949-2006.
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