Iban people were traditionally brave people. They feared no one and were well known for their bravery. History told us that they also had good leaders, who were capable to enter into military alliances with one another and able to moblilize hundreds of followers under their direction for territorial expansion.
For newly opened region or territory during their head hunting days, their tuai menoa allocated settlement areas to their followers and their young men who displayed courage in the battlefield were entitled to called bujang berani or “brave bachelor”. In the old days, they were truly warriors and they led and were never wanted to be led by other people. So, they fought against the Rajahs.
Their bravery helped young Malaysia grew to what it is today. Malaysia needed them in early years and in time of peace, they still served the nation well. Iban were good trackers and their service in the Royal Malaysian Rangers was exemplary and many were awarded with bravery awards for their prowess in fighting the insurgencies. Their display of bravery was consistent with their motto, “Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban”.
In Rangers, they also displayed not only exceptional courage, but, also exemplary leadership and discipline.
Brookes Changed Iban Leadership
Things now changed. They no more led, but, were led by others through their leaders. Why and how could this happen?
One thing for sure about the Iban people was that, the Iban or Dayaks in general were good, honest and obedient followers. The Brookes were smart and when they ruled Sarawak, they appointed Iban warriors as native chiefs. It was through these native chiefs that Brooke’s rule became more peaceful and Sarawak’s territory then expanded.
The British who took over from Brookes also did the same thing and this strategy worked well to keep the Iban in peace with the government. Iban people lived simple lives and were never demanding and it was their culture taught them to respect and be obedient to their elders or tuai.
In the longhouses, their tuai who headed their longhouses were called tuai rumah. These tuai rumah were powerful figures and they provided the link with the government.
The anembiaks in the longhouses in return for their loyalty and obedience to their tuai rumah will get some subsidies in terms of fertilizers, some granite for their roads which normally were distributed to them as “election installments”. That is, these subsidies will only normally be distributed when elections were around.
However, the Iban could not simply get these subsidies unless their tuai rumah were obedient and loyal to the government. The BN government held them under 'political ransom' and the present system will continue to make them so.
Therefore, until today the system of tuai rumah has been maintained and given the few hundred ringgits as monthly allowances, these tuai rumah had then been instrumental in controlling and influencing their anembiaks to be obedient and loyal to the government.
With the exceptional loyalty as trademark and embedded as a culture, the Barisan Nasional government has until now since independence ruled Sarawak through Iban patronage. That also prolonged Pehin Sri Taib, a Melanau and a Muslim as the Chief Minister of Sarawak. With that, Taib may wish to perpetuate the Melanau dynasty which began from his uncle Tun Rahman, in ruling Sarawak, by making his son, Sulaiman as the next chief minister.
Kuala Lumpur followed Brookes
When Malaysia was formed in September 16, 1963, the federal government in Kuala Lumpur also followed Brooke. They knew, Apai Jugah was too influential among the Ibans and other Dayaks. They respected and were loyal to Apai Jugah.
So as not to rock the peace already established through Brookes’ rule, the federal government then appointed Apai Jugah as a Federal Minister. With Apai Jugah, the Iban just continued to get some subsidies. The Iban together with the Melanaus and Malays in Malaysia were Bumiputera, but, the Iban until today could not enjoy what the Malays could get.
Gone was Apai Jugah, the BN government perpetuates Iban loyalty to the government by absorbing Iban leaders and politicians into the government. These leaders were given posts and many perks.
The few leaders, like Jabu, Moggie, Masing, Mawan, Entulu, were said very rich. So, the story continues. The Iban never then led, but, was led through their leaders. What the Iban got until now were subsidies and not capitals for the development of the community.
The majority of the Iban will continue to be poor. While their leaders lived in big towns and cities could enjoy piped water and driving luxurious cars with oil palm plantations from Native Customary Rights (NCR) lands giving them perpetuating income and wealth, the majority of the Iban will see themselves poor and to live without proper water and electricity supply.
In return for their wealth they got from their positions in the government, these Iban leaders who presently are in the government will continue to tell the Iban people that only BN government could give the Iban subsidies in the longhouses.
This was of course true, but, the Iban did not realize that the giving to them subsides will continue to make them poor. It would be different, if Pakatan Rakyat takes over the government. Instead of subsidies, the Iban will get capitals to start their lives.
The Iban now has no political warriors who are capable to lead the community against the Barisan Nasional and against the dominance of the Melanau-Malays in Sarawak politics.
Ningkan an Iban from Betong who was supported by many Chinese tycoons in his days was too aggressive. His display of the typical Dayak arrogance and bravery was seen a threat by the federal government led by the Malays from UMNO, who then politically kicked him out of his chief ministership.
Ningkan who displayed exceptional political courage and leadership of an Iban warrior, Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban, was seen a threat to UMNO rule in Sarawak through Melanau-Malays. These Melanau-Malays were mostly Muslims, but, is not a large group in the state.
Had Ningkan not been toppled, Iban today would be under a better umbrella had enjoyed better lives. Maybe, it was and still is the policy of federal government to see that Iban should not become the governor and chief minister of Sarawak.
This was made more difficult in recent years after the amendment of the State Constitution because, it seems that to be a governor, the governor must be a Muslim and in the case of Iban, this would be something almost impossible as most Ibans are Christians.
Due to the amendment of the State Constitution, the Iban, like the Chinese, would also find themselves difficult to become Speakers of the Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN).
Peter John (centre), is he our modern Iban Warrior?
Picture Credit: www.dayaknation.com
Iban Must Change
DAP and PKR are here to change the Iban lives, but, if Iban people refuses to change nothing much DAP and PKR could do. Iban leaders like, Jabu, Masing, Mawan, Sylvester Entri, Peter Nyarok and Francis Hardin, being senior Iban politicians could bring better change to the Iban community, but, it seems that they prefer to be led and not to lead.
They should be the Iban political warriors taking lead to bring the Iban to greater heights. They should realize that Iban being the largest race in Sarawak should lead and not be led by the minorities.
Never, at anytime I heard them speaking against any of the policies put up by the government. They lacked political courage to speak against the evils of the government and when they saw Taib coming to the Dewan Undangan Negeri, they all rushed towards him, trying to get Taib’s attention. Sometimes, I observed that when Taib saw them coming, Taib just shook their hands with them, but, with his face turning away looking at others around!
So if Iban people want to change themselves, they should no more be dependent on their present leaders. Instead, they have to take the lead themselves, throw away their present leaders and change the government.
The Iban people have lost its grip in power and the only way to overcome this is to change the government. So, the coming Batang Ai by-election will a testing ground for Iban Baru or New Iban. Whoever be fielded by the Opposition against the BN in Batang Ai, the Iban people, please rise up to the occasion to support the candidate for a change. He is your Iban Baru!
Good luck, my Dayak friends! DAP are with you!
14th day of March, 2009