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Notes on the Seping of Belaga District, Sarawak.


Almost nothing has been written about the Seping except for an occasional passing mention by administrators (de Crespigny 1882; Low 1884a and 1884b; Urquhart 1955) and ethnographers (Brosius 1992; Haddon 1932; de Martinoir 1974; Nicolaisen 1977-1978; Rousseau 1973, 1974. 1990). This paper is a general description of the community. It looks at Seping history, social organization, socio-economic activities, and how the community has managed to maintain its ethnic identity in the face of increased mobility, intermarriage, rapid change, and development.

The Seping are among the few tiny ethnic minorities that have survived assimilation by bigger groups and exist today as a distinct community, keeping their cultural identity and language intact. They claim to be the first group to occupy the Belaga River region and have left their mark on the landscape as proof of that. In 1956 they lived in one longhouse comprising 16 households at Long Koyan along the middle reaches of the Belaga River. in the early 1960s a major portion of the population migrated to the Tinjar River in the Baram District; four households, however, remained at Long Koyan. After almost twenty years on the Tinjar, the group that migrated there returned to their ancestral homeland on the Belaga River. Today, the Seping comprise three longhouse settlements: Long Bala with 28 households and a population of 205, Long Koyan with 8 households and a population of 56 people, and Mile 6, Belaga-Long Urun Logging Road, 4 households and a population of 23 people. The four households at Mile 6 comprise the group that did not migrate to the Tinjar.

The 4 households at Mile 6 insist that they are Bemali, a group culturally and linguistically related to the Seping, but in reality they are offspring of mixed marriages between Bemali and Seping, or Bemali-Seping-Kejaman. The Bemali used to live as a separate community, but due to a rapid decrease in population they merged with the Seping in 1956, at the single longhouse settlement at Long Koyan. Given their small number, and that they are offspring of mixed marriages involving Seping partners, they will be considered in this paper as Seping.

Oral History

According to an oral narrative (see attached Appendix) by a Seping elder, Beng Lian, the Seping people are the original settlers of the Belaga River. Originally they comprised seven longhouses: two at Long Segiam, and one each at Long Seduk, Long Tegelem, Long Semakat, Long Belaan (in the Koyan, tributary of Belaga) and Long lga (see Map 1). A long time ago, a supernatural event took place: they killed a dragon and cooked it. Because of this, the seven longhouses either turned to stone or were swept downriver by a gigantic flood. All the people, except two, died. The two people were a brother and a sister. (1) They fled up the Penyuan, a true left-bank tributary of the Belaga River. After years of roaming the jungle, they became adults, lived as husband and wife, begat many offspring, and revived a new community of Seping. They lived for many years along the Seping River, a tributary of the Belepeh which in turn is a tributary of the Murum that flows into the Balui. After living on the Seping River, the community moved back to their original homeland on the Belaga River, led by their leader Lakui. They reoccupied the Belaga River as one longhouse community. Since the time of Lakui, leadership has changed twelve times: Lakui to his son Biat; Biat to his son Lakui; Lakui to his son Kiat; Kiat to his son Selalau, Selalau to his son Balan; Balan to Jengai; Jengai to his son Utung; Utung to his brother-in-law Likah Usa; Likah Usa to his cousin Lian Lakui; Lian Lakui to his step-son Kebing Gau; and Kebing Gau to the present headman, Lenjau Lian. They also moved settlements from one location to another along the Belaga River, leaving traces of their occupations in terms of old longhouse sites, temuda- and burial poles. According to Beng Lian's narrative the Seping have established no less than eight settlements in different locations along the Belaga River (see Map 2).



Written Records

The first mention of the Seping in the literature is in the official traveling report of the Third Division Resident published in the October 1882 issue of the Sarawak Gazette. The report mentions a fine imposed on the Seping for not being able to produce for sale the agreed amount of camphor to Brunei traders. On page 45 of the October 1882 issue of the Sarawak Gazette, the Resident, de Crespigny, wrote:

Tama Laang came and made arrangement with the Brunis by which they are to pay in a further amount of three piculs [of camphor], l demanded one more payment of three piculs and said l would not press for the remaining six and took the liberty of forgiving the Sepengs that amount, seeing that the interests of traders would be in better condition were this done (de Crespigny 1882:45).

Hugh Brooke Low made a number of entries on the Seping in the diary of his official travels up the Upper Rejang. On Thursday, 6 December, 1883, he made the following entry:

Dian reports that Aman Urieng brought 7 rifles into Baloi from Tinjar and left 2 here (one he gave to Jiu a Punan, now in Dian's possession); and the other he sold to Inau a Kajaman now in Akam Bato Merieng's possession. Ama Sulan a Sepieng has two... (Low 1884: 42).

He made another entry the following month, on Tuesday, January 1st 1884:

Aban Jalong told the Rajah that 3 Sepiengs (Tama Selalang, Tama Lahang and Lajah) had come to him with a message from Tuloi that unless he paid a fine of 30 tetawaks, 4 slaves and 50 ilangs within one moon he would be attacked by Government bala (Low 1884:51).


On his journey up the Tin jar in 1899, Haddon mentions the Seping thus:

At every house we stopped at subsequently Hose made inquiries for Baling Go's [Bale' Gau 's] tooth-nails ... a very typical adze-head... These Seping Kenyahs brought it with them when they came from the Pliran River. a branch of the Rejang (Haddon 1932:201).

The Belaga Station Diary provides a bit more information, but nothing else besides the locations of the two longhouses, and who the headmen were. The Diary indicates that in 1938 there were eight longhouses on the Belaga River (see Map 3), two of which were the Seping and Bemali longhouses. The two longhouses were located near Long Koyan. At this point in time, the Bemali people were slowly being absorbed by neighboring groups through intermarriage. The remarks written about the Seping and Bemali by administrative officers, on official visits to the Belaga River, were, to say the least, far from complimentary. For instance, in 1940, when the Kapit District Officer visited all the longhouses on the Belaga River, he had these comments on the two longhouses, which appear on page 16 of the Belaga Station Diary:

On the 2nd day we managed to struggle against the falling river up to the Seping house, passing Bemalis, but calling them up to Seping for evening business. Night with Seping. New T. R. [Tuai Rumah or headman], Lian Lakui. For orders to these two miserably small and dirty houses...danwa..see p. 14. (Sgd.) A. R. Snelus 6.6.1940

The orders, contained on page 14 of the Diary, read as below:
 Rh Lian Lakui, Seping and Rh Talip [Nyagung], Bemali have agreed to
 join up together and build one new and good longhouse, since both
 existing houses are miserable shacks of only 8 doors and not far
 apart, and their races are now intermarried and always
 intermingling, House to be built on true left bank of S. Belaga
 near [Long] Bala after 1941 harvest. At the same time Juing Jimun
 who has two doors at present living in a 'dampa' 2 hours upriver
 from Rh Lian Lakui .... must rejoin the longhouse taking his rooms
 on to theirs after harvest 1941 he may no longer live alone,
 separated from the longhouse...he is now so ordered. (Sgd). A. R.
 Snelus 4.6.1940

The District Officer's order was not carried out until 1956 when Kebing Gau became the headman of the Seping, and Sem Talip the headman of the Bemali. The Seping and the Bemali built one longhouse at Long Koyan with an unusual arrangement of two headmen, Kebing Gau for the Seping and Sem Talip for the Bemali.

However, in the early 1960s (3) a large number of them moved to the Tinjar on their own accord, with official endorsement from the colonial government. Four families decided to stay put in the Koyan and Bala area, and not migrate to the Tinjar for several reasons. First, they found it unthinkable because of the possibility of losing customary rights to their land in the Koyan and Bala areas. Second, they didn't like the idea of being dependent on the generosity of host communities in the Tinjar to provide them land for farming. Third, as migrants, and a minority group at that, they feared their voice might not be taken seriously, especially in times of need.

With regard to the majority who chose to migrate, there were two basic reasons they chose to do so. The first was the difficulty of communication. There were two main routes to Belaga Town from Long Koyan: l) by boat to the head of Giham Hulo (Hulo Rapids), and then on foot, climbing steep hills, the highest of which is Bukit Jayong; or 2) on foot along the steep river bank and then paddling between four sets of rapids: Giam Hulo, Giham Urek, Giham Padeng, and Giham Pasang. Whether one took the route through Bukit Jayong or passed the four sets of rapids, the journey from Long Koyan to Belaga Town took three days to complete and the round-trip journey to Belaga and back took a week. On the Tinjar one could make the journey, using a boat with an outboard motor, from any of the longhouses right to Marudi Town in one day.

In addition to easy access to Marudi Town, another advantage of living along the Tinjar was that it made it possible to live near the Sebop people whose language and culture are similar to those of the Seping. In fact, when the Seping were living in the Seping River, they used to have close contact with the Sebop who occupied the Plieran River and its tributaries, the Luar and Menavan. The Sebop Penghulu in Tinjar at that time was Balan Lejau whose maternal great-grandparents were Seping. He was personally involved in making arrangements for the Seping migration to the Tinjar.

Upon their arrival in the Tinjar, they split into two groups: the larger group established a new longhouse settlement at Long Pejawai, not far below the Sebop longhouse of Long Sobeng, and the smaller group joined Penghulu Balan Lejau's Sebop longhouse of Long Sobeng. The larger group that settled at Long Pejawai said that they did not join Penghulu Balan Lejau's longhouse so as to maintain their Seping identity.

After almost 20 years in the Tinjar, the Seping faced a shortage of land to farm. As migrants they depended on the generosity of the host communities to provide them land to farm. At the same time, in the early 1980s, the upper Belaga River area was connected to Belaga Town as well as Bintulu by a network of logging roads. The migrant Seping then decided to move back to their ancestral homeland in the Belaga River in the early 1980s. Those that settled at Long Pejawai established a longhouse at Long Bala, and those that settled at Long Sobeng joined the four families who had remained in the Koyan area, the site of the longhouse they had left 20 years earlier.

The more important reason for the Seping to come back to Belaga River from the Tinjar was to reclaim their customary rights land. Fortunately for them, their land was not occupied by other groups during their absence in the Tinjar. However, the area was opened up for logging. This was to be followed by oil palm plantation development, and the resettlement of 15 longhouse communities from the upper Balui affected by the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam. Most of the land the Seping claim by native customary rights has now been taken over for oil palm plantations and resettlement.

While the Seping who had moved to the Tinjar faced a land shortage there, the four families who remained on the Belaga River faced a different kind of problem. With a 10-door longhouse rule, the four families did not qualify for official recognition by the government as a longhouse community. To maintain their legal existence as a longhouse, the then headman, the late Sing Tahe, invited nine families of Kenyah Bakong who were then staying at the failed coffee plantation of Datuk Tajang Laing in Spakau to join them in 1982. They first built a longhouse at Long Koyan, and then moved to Mile 6 on the Belaga-Long Urun Logging Road, near the Ekran Oil Palm Plantation. The Kenyah Bakong have now expanded to 22 families as an uncontrolled number of additional families moved in. There is now considerable tension between the host community and these invited newcomers over land.

The eight families of Seping that came back to Long Koyan from the Tinjar refused to move to Mile 6 because that community is now made up largely of Kenyah Bakong. Officially, however, they are considered part of the group at Mile 6, with Nyelang Tahe as their headman.

Ethnic Identity

The Seping consider themselves a distinct people. They call themselves Seping and are recognized by their neighbors as such. As a people, they share a sense of common ancestry, as exemplified by their oral history (see Appendix). They identify themselves with a specific territory, the Belaga River, and share elements of a common culture and the Seping language. They are aware of their ethnicity, and recognize their differences from others. Looking at themselves in this way reflects both Barth's (1969:15) ideas concerning ethnic boundaries and Smith's (1991) notion of ethnic identity as being associated with six possible criteria, namely group name, common ancestry, shared attachment to a specific territory, shared culture and language, and awareness of ethnicity.

This sense of ethnic identity applies in particular to Seping relationships with their Kenyah neighbors. Today, the Seping are surrounded by four large Kenyah groups, the latter, in contrast to themselves, relative latecomers to the Belaga River area. Between themselves and the Kenyah, the Seping perceive the existence of clear ethnic boundaries marked by all six of the criteria defined by Smith.

At the same time the Seping also consider themselves to be Kajang. Here, ethnicity is a much more complex phenomenon. The term "Kajang" was first introduced into the Borneo ethnographic literature by Edmund Leach (1950:50). He included in the category the following "tribes": Sekapan, Kajaman, Lahanan, Punan Bah, Seping, and Bemali (Bahmali). The category "Kajang" is interesting. Tom Harrisson (quoted in Rousseau 1990:63) denied the significance, indeed, even the existence of the category. However, there are groups who not only acknowledge the term's existence, but regard it as an important ethnic category. For instance, the Punan Bah include the following groups within the Kajang category: Sekapan, Kejaman, Lahanan, Punan Bah, Seping, Bemali, Tanjong, Kanowit, Sihan, and Bekatan, the coastal Melanau of the Rejang delta, the Segan and Tatau of Bintulu division, and the Berawan (whom they call Melawan) (4) and Sebop of Baram district (Nicolaisen 1977-8). As a social category, the term "Kajang" denotes a sense of interethnic solidarity (Nicolaisen 1977-8:191) among the early inhabitants of the upper Rejang, in opposition to the Kayan and Kenyah who expanded later into the area (see Rousseau 1990:63).

Two distinctive cultural traits that groups belonging to the Kajang category used to share in common were the role of sago in their economy--it was formerly their staple food--and the practice of secondary burial (Metcalf 1975:54-9) in which the remains of dead chiefs were stored in jars atop elaborately carved poles made of ironwood (belian). Nowadays, rice has replaced sago as their staple and the practice of secondary burial has long been abandoned. These shared past traits were the basis of a sense of similarity and hence of interethnic identity.

The question as to whether the Seping have compromised their Seping identity by simultaneously claiming to be Kajang does not arise, as the term "Kajang" is used in a much broader, interethnic sense.

Interactions between the Seping and the core groups of Kajang--Sekapan, Kejaman, Lahanan, and Punan Bah--which Ida Nicolaisen calls the Kajang lan or 'true Kajang' (Nicolaisen 1977-8:194), especially the Kejaman, have always been close and frequent. Virtually all Seping over the age of 50 speak Kejaman, Sekapan, Lahanan, and Punan Bah fluently. Likewise, a large number the Kajang lan, especially Kejaman and Lahanan, speak Seping with reasonable fluency. Over the years, intermarriages have occurred between the Seping and the Kajang lan. Intermarriage has encouraged frequent visits by relatives from each side of the married couple, and offspring of marriages between different ethnic groups can trace their ethnicity through both the mother and father. (5) The most important marriage between the Seping and Kajang lan was that of the famous Kejaman chief, Taman Tipung Tuli, and a Seping woman named Lesung. Lesung was, of course, a keta'ak, an aristocrat. It was a marriage that the Seping, to this day, take particular pride in. As a powerful chief in the upper Rejang, he protected minority groups from being taken advantage of by larger groups. (6) Taman Tipung did not have any descendants from his marriage with the Kayan aristocrat, Bulan. (7) However, he had several descendants through his union with the Seping woman, Lesung. Figure I shows three individuals who can trace their lines to Taman Tipung Tului: Mura, a greatgrandson; Lejau, the current headman of the Seping longhouse at Long Bala, a greatgreat-grandson; and Usin, a successful businessman, a great-great-great-grandson.


Intermarriages, especially the one between the powerful Kejaman chief Taman Tipung Tului and the Seping woman, Lesung, have been used by the Seping to assert their membership in the Kajang category. On the other hand the Kajang core groups have readily accepted minority groups into their category to give them added strength to counter the influence of the newly arrived Kayan and Kenyah, and especially the political dominance of the former.



Language and ethnic affiliation

In his oral historical narrative, Beng Lian claims that the Seping language shares a lot of words in common with Kejaman, Melanau, Penan, and Kenyah. A number of Seping elders agree with Beng Lian's claim with respect to Penan and Kenyah, but have some doubts with regard to Kejaman and Melanau. Linguists suggest that the Seping language belongs to the Kenyahic subgroup (Hudson 1978:23), while Kejaman belongs to the Rejang-Bintulu group and Melanau to the Lower Rejang group (Hudson 1978:20).

Tables 1 and 2 show how closely related the Seping, Sebop, and Penan languages are to one another. Table 1 compares a number of kin terms used by the Seping, Penan, Sebop, and Kenyah Lepo' Tau, showing some commonalities, while Table 2 is a comparative vocabulary list. The vocabulary that appears in these tables was collected by the author.

Relations between the Seping and the Sebop are not confined to the similarities of language. Their relationship dates back to the time when both were living in the Usun Apau. At that time the Seping occupied the Seping River area and the Sebop, north of them, lived on the Luar, a true right-bank tributary of the Plieran. They interacted frequently, and married into each other's group. Even after they moved out in different directions, the Seping to the Belaga River, and the Sebop to the Tinjar in Baram District, they maintained close relationships with each other. Thus, when the Seping migrated to the Tinjar in the early 1960s, it was the Sebop Penghulu, Balan Lejau, who they approached for a site to build a longhouse and land to farm. Penghulu Balan Lejau was in fact, an offspring of a Sebop father and Seping mother. During their 20-year stay in the Tinjar, the Seping say they were well accepted as if they were Sebop. As mentioned, a number of Seping families joined the Sebop longhouse of Penghulu Balan Lejau, participating with them in farm work and other community activities.

Despite the closeness of the Seping language to Sebop, frequent interactions, intermarriages, and the fact that a number of Seping families lived under one roof with the Sebop at Long Sobeng for twenty years, the Seping say that the Sebop are a distinct group. The Sebop consider themselves to be a subgroup of the Kenyah, while the Seping have been historically associated with the Kajang.

The Seping and Penan were also close neighbors when both lived in the Usun Apau. When the Seping still occupied the Seping River area, a group of Penan calling themselves the Penan Apat (8), roamed the Apat River, a tributary of the Jek, which in turn is a tributary of the Seping. Seping elders confess that they know nothing about their relationship with the Penan when they were in the Usun Apau, other than they were close neighbors. However, Penan Apat oral history suggests that their apical ancestor, Poven Teguli' accompanied the Seping on raids against the Kelabit, indicating a cordial relationship between the Seping and Penan (Brosius 1992:84). However, when the Seping were living at a place called Tuju Batu Buwin, also in the Seping River, a feud broke out between them and the Penan (Brosius 1992: 84-85). The Penan surrounded the Seping longhouse and this prevented the latter from leaving the longhouse to tend their farms and look for food. The Seping sued for peace and in return the Penan demanded the two daughters of the Seping chief in marriage. Jamai was married to Daang, the son of the Penan Apat chief, Poven, and Kedisi to another Penan by the name of Nyai. It is from the offspring of these two marriages with the daughters of the Seping chief that the Penan Apat lay claim to have aristocratic blood in their society (Langub 2004:193). None of the Seping elders I interviewed had heard of the feud between the Seping and Penan, but a Seping grandmother residing at Long Koyan says she heard of the story of Jamai who was pregnant out of wedlock and given to live with the Penan. She later married Daang, the son of the Penan chief, Poven. She confirms that Jamai was a daughter of a Seping aristocrat. With regard to Kedisi, the Seping grandmother says she never heard any story about her.

The Seping do not have the same close relationship with the Penan that they do with the Sebop. Apart from linguistic affinities, the Seping do not see other similarities with the Penan, as they do with the Sebop and Kajang. The Seping say that the Penan are different. They were nomadic and lived by hunting and gathering. They settled down recently, about thirty years ago. As nomads they did not live in longhouses, but in leantos. They also engaged in barter-trade with their settled neighbors. Since the Seping left the Usun Apau, they have had almost no interaction with the Penan, no intermarriage, or other links. Today, the Penan are the only people left in the Usun Apau area.

The Seping language is in everyday use in all the three settlements, although older people complain that younger people tend to bring foreign words, especially Malay, into their conversations. A small number of outsiders who have married into the Seping community and live with them speak the language with reasonable fluency. Kejaman, Sekapan, and Lahanan in their 60s and 70s speak fluent Seping, and although those in their 50s and below are not as fluent as their elders, the fact is that there are still non Seping today who speak the language.

The Seping have various types of folk stories (suket) and epics (beguan). Today, folk stories are rarely told, and the only person who could sing the beguan passed away a few years ago. With the passing of Beng Lian, also a few years ago, the Seping also lost their only oral historian. The Seping used to welcome visitors to their longhouse with "praise" or "drinking songs," but these are no longer performed. Suket and beguan are rich in poetic vocabulary and idioms and the elders say that their loss has greatly impoverished the language.



Belief System

The Seping are Catholics. They adopted Catholicism in 1966 when they were at Long Pejawai, in the Tinjar. Their ancestors believed in omens which they called amen. Omen creatures include a number of birds, deer, and snakes that were also recognized by their neighbors, when augury was prevalent among the indigenous peoples of interior Sarawak. When Adet Bungan, a reformed indigenous belief system founded by Jok Apui, a Kenyah from the Apo Kayan, East Kalimantan, was introduced to Belaga in the late 1940s, the Seping, like most of the indigenous people in Belaga District, adopted the new belief system (see Lake' Baling 2002; Langub 2002; White 1956: 472-475; Aichner 1956:476-477; Prattis 1963:64-87). When they moved to the Tinjar, the Sebop and most of the other indigenous peoples in the area were Catholics. After a few years in the Tinjar, they decided to convert to Catholicism through Father De Varies.

Household and Community

There are a total of 40 households in the three Seping longhouse settlements. Of the 40 households, 31 are nuclear families, and nine extended families. The biggest household has 21 members, an extended family, made up of the husband, wife, children, married children and their spouses, and grandchildren. The smallest household has two members, comprising a husband and wife; their children have married and formed their own households. The head of the household is normally the most senior male member. However, four households have female heads. In three cases, the female member became head of the household following the death of her husband, and in one case she accepted the role when her Chinese husband declined it.


As mentioned earlier, there are three Seping longhouses--Long Bala, Long Koyan, and Mile 6--located outside the perimeter of the Sungai Asap Resettlement. Long Bala is located upriver from the Sungai Asap Resettlement, at the confluence of the Bala and Belaga Rivers; Long Koyan is situated downriver from the Sungai Asap Resettlement, slightly below the confluence of the Koyan and Bala Rivers; and Mile 6, also downriver, and on the opposite bank of Belaga River from the Sungai Asap Resettlement (see Map 3). The Sungai Asap Resettlement area is, according to Seping oral history, within the Seping traditional territorial domain.

Although the Seping live in three longhouses, at three different locations, they have only two headmen or ketua kampung, one at Long Bala, the other at Mile 6. Long Bala is a solid settlement with it own headman. The groups at Long Koyan and Mile 6 used to be one longhouse located at Long Koyan. When the group of four households, including the headman, decided to move to Mile 6, together with 22 families of Kenyah Bakong, the other eight households refused to move. The four households are the families who did not migrate to the Tinjar, while the eight households staying put at Long Koyan are returnees from the Tinjar. The latter refused to move primarily because they were concerned about the eventuality of losing the post of headman to the Kenyah Bakong majority. Administratively, Long Koyan is under the jurisdiction of the headman at Mile 6.

Because of their small population, no Seping has ever been appointed to the post of penghulu, or area chief. Beng Lian, in his oral history narrative (see the Appendix), claims that the Seping headman, Selalau, was appointed to the post of penghulu, but there is no written record of this appointment in the Belaga District Office.

The Seping claim that their society is stratified into two strata: keta'ak (aristocrats), and panyin (commoners). In the past they had a third stratum at the bottom, dipen (slaves). Today this stratum no longer exists. By tradition the village headman is chosen by consensus from among the keta'ak class. The duties and responsibilities of the headman are: I) to maintain harmonious social relationships among the members of the longhouse; 2) to resolve conflicts; 3) to act as an intermediary between the local community and the outside world; and 4) to oversee development activities in the village. In matters pertaining to development activities, he is assisted by a village development committee, Jawatankuasa Kemajuan dan Keselamatan Kampung.

In the past, the Seping practiced secondary burial. For a person from the keta 'ak class, secondary burial was an elaborate affair. The bones of the deceased were cleaned and stored in a jar which was then placed on top of a carved belian burial pillar, known as a salong. This practice was abandoned when the Brooke government outlawed it (Nicolaisen 1984:5). Today, salong poles (see Plates I and 2) are no longer made, and the ones raised by their ancestors are kept as a form of cultural heritage and as markers of their territorial domain. Seping ancestral salong can be found along the Belaga River and its tributaries, at Long Kelat, Long Sekupu, Long Belaan, Long Koyan, Long Bala, and Long Iga (Map 1).


The Seping are a monogamous people, and an individual is allowed only one spouse at a time. An individual is prohibited from marrying somebody closely related, up to a cousin three times removed. Ideally, an aristocrat (keta 'ak) is expected to marry within his or her own class. Given their small population, this is not possible. The headman of Long Bala and another aristocrat from the same village married women of the same standing from other ethnic groups. The headman married a Kenyah woman, and the aristocrat a Sebop. Today, the difficulty of finding a spouse within the community is not only confined to the keta'ak class, but also the panyin. Increasingly, commoners find it difficult to find a spouse within the community who is not a close relative. Of the 51 existing marriages in the Seping community, 33 are with persons from outside the community. This means that 65% of the existing marriages are with individuals from other ethnic groups. Table 3 shows the different ethnic groups that have married into the Seping community. The figures include only in-marriages, in which the non-Seping partner has become a member of the Seping community, and not out-marriages, where the Seping spouse has left the community.

When an individual from the keta'ak class marries, the bridewealth comprises one large gong called a ketawak, one kelem bau (high quality bead), and cloth. If the bridegroom wants the bride to move to his family apartment, the bridewealth is doubled, that is, two large gongs, two beads, and double the amount of cloth. The bridewealth for a commoner comprises one small gong, and one talem temaga (brass tray). If the bride moves to the bridegroom's apartment, the bridewealth is doubled.

Livelihood and Economic Activities

Virtually all households say their core economic activity is farming, that is, the cultivation of hill rice, which some of them combine with cash crops such as cocoa, pepper, and, perhaps, a few fruit trees. The Seping are not skillful rice cultivators like their more industrious neighbors, the Kenyah. This is so because, according to Beng Lian's oral narrative (Appendix), the Seping were in some distant past hunter-gatherers, relying on wild sago as their staple food. They became rice cultivators just before their migration from the Seping to the Belaga River, with Lakui as their leader. Since the time of Lakui, Seping leadership has changed twelve times. Although the Seping still cultivate rice today, the size of individual farms is much smaller than it used to be, with an average of 3 to 4 gantang of planting seeds per household farm. An often mentioned reason for the smaller size rice farm nowadays is that family members are involved in several activities, such as cash crop farming, and wage employment. Another reason is that the size of their customary rights land has shrunk, taken over by logging companies, oil palm plantations, and the Sungai Asap Resettlement, a resettlement for 15 longhouse communities comprising Kayan, Kenyah, Lahanan, Buket, and Penan who were moved from the Balui River to make way for the Bakun Dam.

Map 3 shows that the three Seping settlements are just inside the land area given to Ekran Oil Palm Plantation. Ekran was given a provisional license (PL) to develop the area into an oil palm plantation, but the Seping insist that the whole area is their native customary land. According to the Seping, Ekran went ahead with the development of about 30% of the total area given to it, largely on the left bank of the Belaga River, across the river from the Seping longhouse at Long Bala. This includes native customary land on the iga and Pelule, an area the Seping have a strong emotional attachment to, as it contains the sites of their former longhouses.

The area between the Bala and Koyan is supposed to be developed as the third phase of Ekran's project, but the villagers protested and requested that the company not enter the land as it is badly needed by the people for farming. While the Seping were preventing Ekran from entering the area, a group of Kenyah from the Asap Resettlement, hungry for land to farm, sneaked into the area two years ago, to plant rice. The Kenyah were advised not to enter the area again.

In the 1930s there were six settlements along the Belaga River above Giham Hulo (see Map 2): Long Bangan (Kenyah), Urea Sambop, Long Semutut (Kenyah), Uma Bemali, Long Koyan (Bemali), Uma Seping, Long Bala (Seping), Uma Pawa (Kenyah), Uma Badeng (Kenyah Badeng). As the earliest group to settle along the Belaga River, and then having occupied different locations, the Seping have left burial poles (salong) of some of their long dead ancestors, and talun or native customary rights land along its length. Of great concern to the Seping are their rights to native customary rights land in the general area of Long Koyan and Long Bala, where they are now permanently settled. They brought their concern to the Belaga District Office, discussed their plight with lawyers, but nothing much has happened other than the fact that they have managed to stop Ekran from developing the area between the Bala and Koyan, albeit temporarily.

The Seping consider land as the most important asset they possess. It is the source of their livelihood. The land can be cultivated with both food and cash crops; while talun (fallow land) provides for a host of activities, i.e., here the villagers can cut firewood, bamboo or cane and gather shoots, wild fruits, edible leaves, fungi, tubers, and other uncultivated foodstuffs. The older people consider farming, i.e. the cultivation of hill rice, an important occupation. Prior to the arrival of timber companies in the interior, rice cultivation was the main occupation of rural people, and the Seping were no exception. Rice is grown mainly for domestic consumption.

As they live just outside the Asap Resettlement area, they now have access to the resettlement trading center, as well as to Bintulu Town, which is about two and a half hours away by car. As a consequence, cash has become important for the Seping. Since their return to Long Bala and Long Koyan in the early 1980s, younger Seping have sought cash employment with timber companies, oil palm plantations, and elsewhere. Most have found jobs as mechanics, drivers, tree cutters, scalers, security guards, etc., or as administrative assistants and clerks in the public and private sectors, and for young women, as shop assistants.

A few individuals have moved to urban centers to look for jobs. The only Seping who has a tertiary education moved to Kuching to work as a manager in a well-established firm. He is married to a Kenyah woman who works as a lawyer in Kuching. Two young men traveled to Johor Baru, one of them a foreman, the other a driver in the same factory. Four individuals are employed as factory workers in Miri.

Five individuals are self-employed: two run transport services using 4W-Drive land cruisers, one owns a canteen, and two others own coffee shops, which sometimes act as restaurants. A young Kayan man who married a Seping woman operates a small scale commercial vegetable garden. Table 4 shows the cash-generating employment of the Seping.

Although it was difficult to find out how much individuals are paid for the jobs they are doing, especially those who are self-employed, I managed to get approximate figures as to how much employers pay their employees. A lorry driver transporting timber from one location to another is paid an average of RM 5,000 a month, and an ordinary driver between RM 800 and RM 1,000 a month. An ordinary mechanic is paid between RM 800 and RM 1,000 a month, depending on his experience and length of service, whereas a chief mechanic is paid between RM 1,500 to RM 2,000, also depending on the length of his service. The two security guards are paid RM 800 each a month. A laborer working on an oil palm plantation is paid between RM 15 and RM20 per day. One of the administrative assistants in a government department says her salary is RM 900 per month, and a clerk in a private company, RM 600 a month. As mentioned earlier, these are just approximate, not precise figures.

Although the younger people are attracted to cash employment, they still consider farming, i.e. cultivation of rice and cash crops, important. Farming and cash crop cultivation mean attachment to the land. Land is important. When a person loses a job, he has land to fall back on; he can plant rice or cultivate cash crops. This concern was expressed by a number of people employed by timber companies and oil palm plantations. They say that their jobs are not stable; they can lose them at any time if the company changes management or a particular type of work is no longer required. A mechanic who works with a timber company said:
 As long as the company I am working with is here, I have a job; but
 if it moves to another area, I will lose it. I will not follow the
 company because I am attached to this place, and my family has land
 here. There are too many outsiders moving into this area and I
 don't want my land to be taken by people who have no historical
 attachment to this place.

As we checked the list of jobs that the people of Long Bala have, a young man made the following remark:
 On paper and as of now this list looks impressive; people have cash
 employment and earn good money. [But] In a few months' time some
 people may lose jobs, and it may take them months or years to find
 other jobs. With land one is never without a job.

Job security is of great concern to the Seping. It is precisely because of this that younger people look to the land as a source of livelihood security. Their strategy, it seems, is to get cash employment, and keep the land on which to fall back on when there is no cash employment available.

Individuals who have job security are the two professionals working in Kuching and Peninsular Malaysia, the lawyer wife of one of them, four women and one man employed as administrative assistants and clerks. Their number is small.


Road. One reason why the Seping moved from their homeland on the Belaga River to the Tinjar in the early 1960s was difficult access to Belaga Town and other urban centers. Today settlements along the Belaga River have road access to Belaga Town, Bintulu, and Miri. Although returning to their land they left behind was the main reason why the Seping decided to move back to the Belaga River in the early 1980s, one cannot ignore the fact that the road, opened up by timber companies and oil palm plantations, was also a major factor in making that decision.

Water and Electricity. In the 1940s a District Officer called the Seping houses "miserable shacks." Their houses did not improve in the 1950s and 1960s, and people fetched their water from nearby streams. The presence of timber companies in the area in the early 1980s made it possible for the Seping to obtain timber to build longhouses of reasonably good quality. All three longhouses have a piped-water supply, provided by the government as minor rural development projects. A good number of young people are earning reasonable monthly income from timber companies and oil palm plantations, and this has enabled the community to buy generators to supply them with electricity.

Health. In the late 1950s a rural clinic manned by an ulu dresser was established at Uma Sambop, Long Semutut, about two hours' journey downriver by boat from Long Koyan. When they moved to the Tinjar, they were not far from the rural clinic at Long Sobeng. Today, there are two rural clinics in the Sungai Asap Resettlement, one at Local Center 1 and the other at Local Center 2. These clinics can be reached by motorable road within less than half an hour from Long Bala, and an hour or so from Long Koyan and Mile 6. For serious cases, patients are taken to Bintulu Hospital, about a three-hour journey by road.

Education. Education was first introduced to the Seping in 1957 when a primary school was established at the Kenyah longhouse of Urea Sambop, Long Semutut. Half a dozen Seping children enrolled as students. When the majority of the Seping moved to the Tinjar in the early 1960s, their children enrolled in the school at Long Sobeng. In the early 1980s, they moved back to Belaga River. The children enrolled in the school at the Penan settlement of Long Urun, about a two-hour drive by logging road up the Belaga River. With the establishment of the Asap Resettlement in the late 1990s, Seping children had the choice of attending school at either Local Center 1 or Local Center 2. For their secondary education, they go to Belaga Town, Kapit, or Bintulu.

In providing a picture of educational attainment of the Seping, a practical approach is to take into account the population of the community aged 6 years and above. Table 5 below shows the educational attainment of the three Seping longhouses.

There is a small difference in overall educational attainment between Long Bala and Long Koyan and Mile 6. This can be attributed to the fact that Long Bala seems to be the better organized settlement.

The majority of Seping have primary education. The number continuing onto secondary schooling drops significantly: for lower secondary, 25 for Long Bala and 6 for Long Koyan and Mile 6, and for upper secondary, 17 for Long Bala and 6 for Long Koyan and Mile 6. Only three individuals have tertiary education: two from Long Bala and one from Mile 6. However, the third individual is a Kenyah woman married to the graduate from Long Bala. The three individuals are gainfully employed in urban areas, two in Kuching and one in Peninsular Malaysia. The three individuals maintain their own apartments and visit their respective longhouses regularly as their roots are firmly planted there.

Of those with secondary education, four young women found stable jobs as administrative assistants and clerks in government and the private sector. Most of the young men with secondary education work as drivers or mechanics in nearby timber camps or oil palm plantations. Only one young man found an office job, as a clerk on an oil palm plantation.

Observations and concluding remarks

Increased mobility and intermarriage have altered the ethnic landscape in even the most rural areas of Sarawak, making them increasingly multi-ethnic. The Seping landscape is an extreme example of this. As noted earlier, the Seping were once the sole occupants of the Belaga River area. By 1938 there were four large Kenyah settlements above the series of rapids: two below the Seping longhouse at Long Koyan, these being the Kenyah Long Bangan at Long Bangan, and the Kenyah Ulna Sambop at Long Semutut; and another two above the same Seping Long house at Long Koyan, the Kenyah Badeng at Long Dulit, and the Kenyah Uma Pawa at Long Penyadan. The Seping were thus sandwiched between these four large settlements of industrious Kenyah. Today, not only are the Seping surrounded by these four Kenyah groups, but also by an additional 15 longhouse communities comprising five ethnic groups--Kayan, Kenyah, Lahanan, Buket and Penan--and by several oil palm plantations with hundreds of workers, both Malaysian and foreign.

With a small population of less than 300 individuals, and being surrounded by larger and more powerful groups, the Seping have been confronted with two major challenges: potential assimilation by larger groups and loss of rights to their traditional hands. Today, the Seping have survived as a group. The fact that they have survived as a distinct community despite being surrounded by larger and more powerful groups is amazing. In their relationship with other groups, the Seping positioned themselves in such a way as to avoid being overwhelmed by the latter. For instance, when the Kajang needed to strengthen interethnic solidarity of the early inhabitants of the Belaga District to counter the expansion of the newly arrived Kayan and Kenyah, the Seping associated themselves with the early inhabitants under a "Kajang" umbrella without losing their Seping identity.

Another event that nearly caused the Seping to lose their separate identity was their migration to the Tinjar in the early 1960s. When news of their intention to migrate became public, the Sebop Penghulu, Balan Lejau, himself an offspring of a Sebop father and a Seping mother, was eager to accept them into his longhouse at Long Sobeng. Fearful of being absorbed into the Sebop community, the Seping elders negotiated for a token number of their households to join the Sebop, with the main group establishing their own longhouse nearby. The Penghulu agreed to the request of the main group to build a longhouse at Long Pejawe, not far below the Sebop longhouse, sparing the Seping from a possible loss of identity.

Their desire to maintain a separate Seping identity was recently tested when the group at Long Koyan discussed whether to move to Mile 6, Belaga-Long Urun Logging Road, to take advantage of the skills of the Kenyah Bakong in farming and house building. Four households, including the headman, decided to move to Mile 6; while eight refused because they did not want to be outnumbered by the 22 Kenyah Bakong households. Today, eight households remain at Long Koyan, technically under the leadership of the Seping headman at Mile 6.

Although Table 3 indicates that 65% of existing Seping marriages are with individuals from outside the Seping community, virtually all these outsiders have taken residence in Seping villages. A good number of them have learned the Seping language and speak it with reasonable fluency. Their children, having been brought up in a Seping environment, naturally speak Seping.

The Seping were first to occupy the Belaga River and have left their mark on the landscape as proof of occupation. These marks include old longhouse sites (ugan levau), cemeteries (tanem) including burial poles (salong), and farm land (talun) which they currently use or have left fallow for use in successive farming seasons. Being the sole occupant of the river basin, the Seping had free access to the land and its resources.

Things changed toward the end of the nineteenth and early the twentieth century when four groups of Kenyah moved into the Belaga River. Of the four groups, the Kenyah Sambop located downriver from Long Koyan at Long Semutut were the Seping's nearest neighbors. When the Kenyah Sambop settled at Long Semutut, a boundary was drawn between them and the Seping, at Long Penyuan. Over the years the area allocated to the Kenyah Sambop was not sufficient to accommodate the growing population. As a gesture of goodwill, and to avoid a situation where the Kenyah Sambop would have no alternative but to force their way into areas occupied by others, the Seping elders agreed to move the boundary upriver, from Long Penyuan to Long Unen, in Seping territory. This boundary is still observed by the two communities.

When the majority of Seping migrated to the Tinjar in the early 1960s, four households did not. The four households that refused to migrate were regarded by the majority as stubborn. At that time, none of those who migrated to the Tin jar thought of coming back to the Belaga River. In hindsight, the four "stubborn" households are now regarded as a blessing in disguise as they prevented the area from being occupied by other groups.

In the mid 1980s, the area around the Koyan and Bala was earmarked for the resettlement of the 15 longhouses from the Bakun catchment area. Then, in the early 1990s, various plots of land in the area were allocated to large companies for oil palm plantations. It should be noted that since the visit of A. R. Snelus, then District Officer of Kapit, in 1940, the Seping have settled more permanently around Long Koyan and Long Bala. The Seping accepted the decision to allocate land in the area to the 15 longhouse communities as fair, but consider it insensitive on the part of the authorities to allocate land in the Koyan and Bala area to an oil palm company, without consulting the people who claim rights over the land, having lived and farmed on it generation after generation. The company has developed about 30% of the land, but is unable to continue work on the rest of the area, especially between the Bala and Koyan, as the Seping have asserted their customary rights to this land.

Despite their small number, and living in an increasingly complex social milieu, the Seping have tried persistently to keep their identity intact. The physical landscape has dramatically changed from an area largely covered by a biologically diverse primary forest, except for patches of land used for shifting agriculture, to that of vast oil palm plantations. While the Seping take pride in maintaining their ethnic identity, they are not so sure of their ability to defend their rights to the land they claim as theirs by custom and tradition.


History, Descent, Rights and Territorial Domain of the Seping Community in the Upper Belaga River (Sejarah asal usul, keturunan, hak dan kawasan penempatan masyarakat Seping di bahagian Hulu Sungai Belaga) (1)

Summary of an Interview with Beng Lian

The Seping community is one of several indigenous groups found in the state of Sarawak. The Seping are not so different from other indigenous groups in terms of dress, manners, customs and traditions, skin color [kulit], way of life, and so on, and the Seping language has obvious similarities to Kejaman, Melanau, Penan, and Kenyah. It is not surprising then that the Seping people are categorized as part of the Kajang peoples. The settlement history of the Seping in the upper Belaga River area is here narrated in the form of a legend which has been passed down through the generations by word of mouth, and is here told by a Seping elder, Beng Lian (79 years old [at the time of this interview in the early 1990s]), of Long Bala.

In the distant past, the Seping community consisted of seven separate longhouse settlements, all of them found along the length of the Belaga River. According to Beng Lian's narrative, there were two Seping longhouses at Long Segiam, one longhouse at Long Seduk or Lubuk Tegan, one longhouse at Long Tegelem, one longhouse at Long Semakat (Kuala Koyan), one longhouse on the upper Koyan River, that is, at Long Belaan, and lastly, one at Long Iga.

It is most unfortunate that these numerous Seping communities no longer exist today as living, vibrant communities. [Oral] history suggests that all seven longhouses were cursed and turned to stone or swept downriver by a gigantic flood as a consequence of inappropriate behavior committed by everybody in these longhouses. This legendary event is still of cultural significance today, as the Seping continue to retell the story of this catastrophe.

According to Beng Lian's narrative, the Seping of today are the descendants of a pair of Seping ancestors who once lived at Long Seduk or Lubuk Tegan. This longhouse met with a terrible disaster as a consequence of inappropriate behavior, that is, in this case, of catching a dragon and subsequently killing it and cooking its meat. Realizing that this was a bad sign, because of what they had done, a grandparent advised two grandchildren, one a boy, the other a girl, to flee. The two grandchildren took flight up the Penyuan River [a left bank tributary of the Belaga]. Only these two survived the disaster that otherwise wiped out the entire Seping population of all seven longhouses.

As the story goes, these two wandered through the primary forest for years until they became adult. Finally, they came to know each other and lived together as husband and wife. They had many offspring who married one another. Over the years, the number of families increased, giving rise to a new community of Seping. They lived a nomadic life, moving in search of food from one place to another.

Toward the end of their wandering, they came to a river called the Seping, a name which remains to this day. The river was so named to commemorate the name of the original Seping people. The lower portion of the river was, however, called Balui Peh, one of several tributaries of the Murum, which has the Kayan village of Uma Bawang at its mouth. They established a new settlement [along the Seping River] and lived there for many years. It was here that the original couple, who had become the apical ancestral parents of all the Seping people, became weak and frail, and finally died. Evidence of the Seping occupation of the area can still be seen to this day.

Lakui, a grandson of this apical couple, took over leadership of the Seping community. Lakui recalled the story of the Seping people as told by his ancestors which stated that the Belaga River area had been their original homeland. Thus, it was Lakui who led the Seping people back to the Belaga River. Having migrated, they established a settlement at Long Tepin along the upper Belaga; Lakui was still their leader.

When Lakui passed away, he was replaced as leader by his son Biat. During Biat's leadership, he led the Seping downriver to Lubuk Puda. Biat had a son whom he named Lakui, after his grandfather. Lakui later took over the leadership of the group from his father. Under Lakui's leadership, the Seping moved further downriver to Long Iga. After Lakui's death, he was replaced as leader by his son, Kiat. The Seping stayed at Long Iga for quite a long time. Here their leadership changed three times, from Lakui to his son Kiat, from Kiat to his son Selalau (who later, according to Beng Lian, was appointed to the position of penghulu), and finally from Selalau to his son Balan, who led the Seping downriver to Long Sekupu.

Upon Balan's death, Jengai became the leader. Jengai led the Seping upriver to Long Koyan. Jengai was replaced by his son, Utung. Under Utung's leadership, the Seping moved downriver to Long Kelat. Utung led the Seping in moving a second time, this time upriver to Long Bala, where he died. His brother-in-law, Likah Usa succeeded him as leader. Likah Usa did not make any decisions in terms of moving the Seping community to a new area of settlement.

A cousin of Likah Usa, Lian Lakui (the father of the narrator of this oral history), was then appointed to lead the Seping people. Under Lian Lakui's leadership, the Seping moved upriver to Long Selukan. When Lian Lakui died, leadership passed to his stepson, Kebing Gau. Kebing Gau, in his turn, led the Seping downriver to Long Koyan. When Kebing Gau died, he was replaced by Lenjau Lian who is the current headman of the Seping, now residing at Long Bala.

The truth is that, according to history, the Seping people were the first to occupy the Belaga River area. Although there are many different ethnic groups living along the Belaga River today, this change in ethnic composition took place comparatively recently.

In the old days, the Usun Apau area, which was occupied by various ethnic groups, was raided. The people were not able to defend themselves from the attack, but certain groups managed to escape to freedom. Among the groups that fled to safety were the Lepo Arian, Lepo Tau, Lepo Meleng, Memali, Kelabit, Kenyah Sambop and others. It was at this time that the Sambop people became inhabitants of the Belaga River area.

Like other indigenous groups in Sarawak, the Seping people recognized territorial boundaries, declared by the chiefs and leaders of the Orang Ulu people. During his lifetime, the Orang Ulu chief Taman Tipun Tupui demarcated the territorial boundaries of the Belaga River area thus: from the mouth of the Belaga River going upward to the Penyuan River, thence to the Mejawah River, moving downriver to the Balui/Rejang River, as far as the Belaga Bazaar, was the territory under the jurisdiction of Taman Tipung Tului. From the Penyuan River, going up the Belaga River, was the territory under the jurisdiction of the Seping people.

Taman Tipung Tului and Lake' Sebuang were brothers; and together with Kebing Laleng, they were the leaders of the Kejaman people at that time. The area then allocated to the Sambop was restrictive or "tight." Under the wise decision-making of Seping leaders, such as Likah Usa, Lian Lakui, and Kebing Gau, the boundary line at the Penyuan River was moved upriver to Long Unen, a tributary of the Belaga River. This change was agreed upon by all parties concerned so as to provide enough land area for the Sambop people.

(1) This summary of Beng Lian's interview was recorded in the early 1990s by an unknown interviewer. It was prepared for a lawyer who was then planning to represent the community in a legal case involving their customary land rights claim to areas surrounding these present-day Seping settlements. A copy of this summary came into the possession of the author. Jail Langub, in 2006. The original was written in Bahasa Malaysia and is here translated by the author. Beng Lian died sometime in the early 2000s, several years before the author began this study.


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Jayl Langub

Institute of East Asian Studies

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Kota Samarahan 94300

Sarawak, Malaysia

(1) Another version of the story says that the two individuals were from different households, one from the upriver and the other from the downriver end of the longhouse.

(2) Secondary. forest that grew from the land cultivated with hill rice.

(3) Two other longhouses above Long Koyan, the Kenyah of Uma Pawa, and the Kenyah Badeng, also migrated to the Tinjar in the early 1960s. Official involvement in this migration is described by Stewart Ngau Ding in his "Administrator at Large" in Chin and Langub eds, Reminiscences: Recollections of Sarawak Administrative Service Officers, 2007, pp. 224-6. Individual households started to move to the Tinjar as early as 1962, while others moved in 1964.

(4) The four large Berawan settlements in the Baram--Long Jegan, Long Teru, Batu Belah and Long Terawan--classify themselves under the category of Lepo' Pu'un (see Metcalf 1974), and recognize cultural similarities with the Kajang.

(5) However, it is interesting to note that our data show that, today, the Seping intermarry more frequently with Kenyah than they, do with Kajang. They also appear to be more closely related to the Kenyah linguistically. Thus, A.B. Hudson (1978: 20) places the Kejaman, Sekapan. and Lahanan languages within the "Rejang-Bintulu group," while classifying the Seping language as "Kenyahic" (although Hudson (1978:22) does not refer to "'Seping'" but to "Bah Malih" whom the Seping consider a Seping subgroup.

(6) Seping elders say that the Kejaman, especially the powerful Kejaman chief, Taman Tipung Tului, helped prevent the Seping from being overwhelmed by the four Kenyah groups. Thus, this Seping-Kajang association appears to be historical rather than linguistic.

(7) Taman Tipung had a son, Tabun, and adopted a Kayan girl, Tipung. Neither of them had any offspring.

(8) The Penan Apat are today's Penan Gong, residing in the upper Belaga. Danum. Plieran, and Seping rivers.
Table 1 : Comparative kin terminologies: Seping, Penan, Sebop
and Kenyah Lepo' Tau

English Seping Penan Sebop

grandparents ake' tepun ukun

father ama tamen tamen

mother ina' tinen tinen

uncle/aunt ve' ve' (EP) *, vi'
 vi' (WP) **

sibling pade pade' (EP). padi'
 padi' (WP)

elder sibling token tuken token

younger tadin tadin tadin

cousin pade' pecak pade' pata (EP), pade' pecak
 padi' pesak (WP)

child anak anak anak

nephew/niece aong ahong (EP), aong
 aong (WP)

parent-in- kivan kivan kivan

husband laket banen laki'

wife ledu do (EP), ledo
 redu (WP)

brother-in-law sabai laket sabai cabai

sister-in-law sabai ledu langu cabai

 Kenyah Lepo'
English Tau

grandparents uko/ukun

father amai

mother we'

uncle/aunt embe'

sibling pade'/panak

elder sibling seken

younger sadin

cousin senganak

child anak

nephew/niece aung

parent-in- ivan

husband lake

wife leto

brother-in-law sabai

sister-in-law sabai

EP = Eastern Penan, WP = Western Penan

Table 2: Comparison of Seping, Penan, Sebop, and Kenyah Lepo'
Tau Vocabularies

English Seping Penan Sebop

I a'ak akeu'(EP) *, aau'
 aku' (WP) **

you ka'ak kaeu'(EP), kau'
 kau (WP)

we ulik/amek amee' (WP), kami
(exclusive) ami' (WP)

bachelor laket danak lake' lemanai (EP), laki' danak
 lake' usa (WP)

damsel ledu danak redu lemanai (EP), ledo danak
 redu usa (W P)

us ulik uleu' (EP), ulu'
(inclusive) alo' (WP)

water ba' ba' ba

fire peruk porok peru'

hot pana pana pana

cold/cool genin genin genin

sleep pegen pegen pegen

day langi' dau (EP), langit
 langit (WP)

night darem marem marem

far jo' ju' ju'

near dane' dane' (EP), dani
 dani' (WP)

run pelayu nekedeu'(EP), ngaca
 mengasa (WP)

jump uduk nekuja (EP), uduk
 ujek (WP)

flee kaleo' kelap kelap

house uma lamin (EP), uma
 uma (WP)

hut lapau lepo' pangup

post liit/suka' lihie/suka' (EP), suka
 je' (WP)

chicken diek yap (EP), diek
 dik (WP)

barking deer tela'o tela'o (EP), tela'o
 telao (WP)

wild boar mavui mavui mavui

pig buik iduk (EP), buin
 uting (WP)

snake acen asen acen

English Kenyah

I ake'

you iko'

we ilu

bachelor lemanai

damsel lemanai

us ilu mung

water sungai

fire luten

hot pana

cold/cool sengim

sleep lundok

day tau

night alem

far cok

near nyeng

run ngasa

jump nekejuk

flee kelap

house amin

hut lepau

post suka'

chicken yap

barking deer tela'o

wild boar bavui

pig buiu

snake jung ulai

EP * = Eastern Penan, WP ** = Western Penan

Table 3: Number of marriages with other ethnic groups.

 Total Other
 number of M F ethnic
Seping M F marriages (groups

Seping 0 2 2 2 0 Berawan
Seping 1 1 2 1 1 Kejaman
Seping 4 9 13 9 4 Kenyah
Seping 1 2 3 2 1 Iban
Seping 0 2 2 2 0 Lun Bawang
Seping 1 1 2 1 1 Sebop
Seping 0 1 1 1 0 Kayan
Seping 1 0 1 0 1 Bajau
Seping 0 1 1 1 0 Sekapan
Seping 0 4 4 4 0 Chinese
Seping 1 1 2 1 1 Indonesian

Total 9 0 33 24 9 Total

Table 4: Cash-generating employment of the Seping

 No. of
 Employment people

1 transport services (self-managed) 2
2 small businesses (self-managed) 5
3 drivers (timber co. and oil palm plantations) 9
4 professionals 2
5 administrative assistants and clerks 5
6 factory workers 4
7 foremen 2
8 mechanics (timber co. and oil palm plantations) 13
9 welder 1
10 tree cutters 4
11 security guards 2
12 laborers 20
13 shop assistants 2
14 vegetable farmer I

Table 5: Educational attainment of the Seping

Longhouse N P LS US T Total

Lg Bala 86 75 25 17 2 205
Lg Koyan & Mile 6 38 28 6 6 1 79
Combined 124 103 31 23 3 284

N = no schooling: P = primary: LS lower secondary (Form 1-3):
US = upper secondary Form 5-Upper 6; T = tertiary education
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Author:Langub, Jayl
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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