In my column last week, I shared with readers about adherence to an ancestral ban ‘mali tiong’. This pertains to some Iban families who are descendants of Ranggung, the gallant warrior who led a band of fighters to protect their ladies from Kantu guerillas during the warring days between Iban ethnics in Sarawak and the Kantu tribe of West Kalimantan.
During the ambush by the big group of Kantu men, Ranggung and a few of his longhouse mates were outnumbered but their enemies were scared by the ‘tiong-tiong’ noise of the Hill Mynas (burung tiong) and fled, thinking they were men coming to reinforce Ranggung and company.
Another Iban tale of old is about two bachelors who were close buddies and were both interested in the same girl but it was the younger Achup who succeeded in getting her hand in marriage.
This left Ikap heartbroken. He was furious and started to plan something to get rid of Achup, including resorting to homicide.
One scene came to his mind. At his farm there was a tall tree housing a family of hornbills inside a lobe hole. His plan was to bring Achup to climb the tree with the pretext of catching a young hornbill to be made as pet.
He was hoping Achup for to fall down when his eyes are blinded by the beak poke when peeping at the hole housing the hornbills. That fall hopefully would kill the young fellow. There was also an intention to push the man down a steep slope that could get him killed.
After a day or two harbouring such thoughts, Ikap called on his younger friend and they planned to go to the hill to catch a baby hornbill the next day. So, upon arrival Achup was told to climb the tall tree and upon peeking at the lobe hole, his left eye was poked by a hornbill. When looking via the hole with his right eye, he again met with the same fate – both eyes were now blinded by the bird’s beak.
“My friend, both my eyes have been poked by the bird’s beak and now I cannot see a thing; I am totally blind. Please save and help me! You must carry me back to the longhouse!” Achup yelled from the tree top.
“Okay,” Ikap replied, but it seemed that he had moved away very far from the site.
“Please help, don’t go back without me as I am blind,” Achup shouted again.
“I will help on one condition – give me your wife,” replied Ikap.
So Achup had no choice but to reply in the affirmative, as long as he was taken home safely.
Upon hearing Achup’s agreement, Ikap was very elated and agreed to take his blind pal home, carrying him on his back. But during their journey home Ikap broke his right leg when crossing an unstable log. They had to change role. The blind man now was carrying the one with a broken leg but had his sight intact.
Achup’s wife was the first to show rejection by declaring she was divorcing the blind man. When Ikap made attempt to court her, she also rejected.
It was not the end of the road for the handsome and well-behaved Achup because one spinster who suffered from a skin ailment volunteered to take care of him. The lady called Lusung cooked and looked after him 24/7. She also found a shaman who could cure him. One of his eyes could see perfectly while the other one was improving. He courted his wife again but she steadfastly refused. Achup ended up marrying Lusung.
They were happy together and begot a daughter. Achup’s sight returned to normal and Lusung’s skin decease was fully cured. Both were hardworking. It seemed that the deities were kind to them as they were blessed with good fortune and prosperity as compared to Achup’s ex-wife and her new husband who were struggling to make ends meet.
One night Achup dreamt of meeting a hornbill. His head bore the typical hornbill head with its beak but he had the body of a man.
The bird-man said: “I am the Hornbill King (Raja Kenyalang). All this while I have made sure you and your wife obtain riches that surpassed others. This is our reward for your kindness and humility. From now onwards, you and your future descendants are forbidden to kill, eat or keep in captive my subjects, the hornbills.
“If any of you go against this ban, the culprit will be blind like what happened to you earlier,” the Raja Kenyalang said.
Since then Achup, family members and descendants became ‘mali kenyalang’.