Biting a legendary blade for strength

The path of the Warrior is lifelong, and mastery is often simply staying on the path.

– Richard Strozzi Heckler, American author

Any history about headhunting during the Brooke era would feature Iban warrior Kedu, nicknamed Lang Ngindang (Vigilant Eagle).

Kedu, a native of Skrang at Nanga Bunu, was given the nickname for his bravery and agility. It was due to these virtues that the Brooke rule appointed him as Penghulu of the area.

His heroism included leading war parties to Merakai area under the Dutch rule in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Legend has it that Kedu, while in the process of building the boat, fell asleep and had a dream.

In his dream, he was felling the tree meant to be the material for the war boat. While toiling to chop the tree, he saw a longhouse above the tree canopy and a woman was looking at him from the window. She told him not to fell any tree around that area as there were banana plants and sugarcanes around the compound.

“I’m so sorry but I didn’t know there are residences here, so I beg for your pardon,” Kedu replied, and asked who owned the longhouse.

“This is the Gelung longhouse,” the lady replied, adding that Tutung (longhouse chief and renowned warrior) was around.

Upon hearing that, Kedu immediately went up the longhouse. He saw Tutung who greeted him.

“Kindly stop cutting trees around our area as you will disturb our plants,” Tutung said.

“In the future, if you are going for or holding anything big, please inform us and we will lend a hand,” Tutung added.

“All you need to do is slaughter a rooster and wave it, calling us with a loud voice; that is enough to call us for help.”

Kedu was also told, if he wanted to lead a war party, he must call Tutung for help. At this point he woke up and realised it was a dream and then headed straight home.

Despite being appointed as Penghulu, Kedu was unhappy with the Brooke rule, especially when it imposed taxes. He in fact told the rakyat under his charge not to comply. His anger was also fuelled by Brooke’s attack on his men.

Due to his non-compliance and rebellious acts, then Simanggang Resident Maxwell ordered Orang Kaya Pemancha Nanang to lead Brooke soldiers in attacking Kedu’s longhouse at Skrang’s Nanga Bunu in 1879. Kedu failed to defend his longhouse that was burnt to the ground by his attackers.

After the loss, Kedu led his men to settle down and build a stockade at Bukit Stulak. However, in 1881, Nanang led another attack on Bukit Stulak and thereafter Kedu and his men surrendered to the Brooke regime. Some of them returned to Skrang while the rest followed him to Kanowit. Kedu was ordered to settle with the government a total of 10 jars as a guarantee that he would not inflict further troubles.

In Kanowit, he settled at Nanga Tebalung and later at Nanga Tesit in Entabai. Later he brought his followers further downriver to Bawang Assan, Sibu and stayed there until his death.

I came into the picture when my father Salok and I were tasked to ‘miring’ for the ‘parang ilang’ (war blade) known as ‘nyabur’ in Iban, belonging to Kedu’s grandson Gani at a Bawang Assan longhouse in Sibu under its chieftain Engkamat, the eldest son of Gani.

The offering was called ‘tusun semilan’ (level 9 — the highest order) and only could be done by a lead bard. Dad fitted the billing.

The year was 1971 and we were in Bawang Assan to celebrate Christmas with my eldest brother Edward.

As a 17-year-old, I was told by dad to bite the ‘nyabur’ blade first prior to joining him in the special ritual. This was to embolden my spirit and strength.

There was a small dent on the sharp blade, perhaps due to cutting of hardened skulls/head trophies or fights against almost immortal enemies.

Hitherto I remain in contact with the youngest son of Engkamat, Johnny, whose wife Evelyn Holly Sebom is the first Iban lady appointed as Penghulu in Sibu.

In 1971, I had no idea the nyabur blade that I bit belonged to Kedu’s grandson, despite coming across the name Kedu when reading an Iban book in 1965.