Iban leader’s failed skyward journey

At Ketapang close to the tributary of Kayung River in West Kalimantan of old, there lived an Iban leader called Beji.

According to stories from our forebears, Beji and his followers and fellow longhouse folk were told to leave Ketapang unless they change their cave dwelling into a new community dwelling known as longhouse adhering to the instructions from Samarugah Petara Tanah the Earth Deity. 

When he asked those men who threatened him and others to reveal the whereabouts of Samarugah, he was told that the deity lived in the sky.

“In that case I am only willing to build a new community dwelling known as the longhouse if I am able to get a direct instruction from Samarugah,” Beji told them. 

They must wait for his return from his journey to meet the deity.

“We hope you know the way to climb up to the sky,” the leader of the threatening gang answered him and said they were willing to wait for his return.

Shortly after the encounter with the threatening gang, Beji gathered the Iban longhouse folk and neighbours to consult them on his trip and the likely whereabouts of Samarugah.

At the meeting all the local leaders agreed to help him in constructing a ladder as an access to Samarugah whose abode was believed to be in the sky.

Immediately after the meeting, Beji went to see his brother Bada who lived in the cave miles away. During those early days the Ibans in Borneo were still living in caves for the simple reason that they still had no idea of building any type of shelter. 

During their brief encounter, Beji told his younger brother about his intention to climb up the sky in search of Samarugah whose instruction was needed in building a longhouse.

He told Bada to take care of his family and followers. Bada was asked by him to act as their leader in his absence.

In Danau along the Kapuas River, a short distance from Ketapang, Beji and his followers came across a big tree called ‘enchepung’ whose base was as big as a shifting cultivation paddy farm with its crown high up and not really visible with their naked eyes.

“This ‘enchepung’ tree will be used as a base to our ladder going to the sky,” Beji told his followers and supporters numbering over a thousand.

Prior to the ladder construction he held a big ‘miring’ (offering to the deities) event and called for assistance from men and animals or creatures. All these were invited to attend his offering and feast. He, however, forgot to invite the bear and termite.   

Once the ‘miring’ and feast events were done, Beji and his supporters started constructing the ladder by pulling up ‘belian’ (iron wood) poles and planks. These planks and poles were put up skyward using the ‘enchepung’ tree canopy as base.

After a while the construction phase reached the clouds but seemed to be still far from the sky and the deity’s abode. Such height was unimaginable but the construction continued.

Meanwhile, at the tree base below both the bear and termite were angry and feeling slighted by Beji for not inviting them to the feast. As such they agreed with each other to sabotage the effort of the Iban leader in building an access to the sky.

So one morning they carried on their plan. The bear started scratching the three bark while the termite summoned its members to destroy the inside of the tree. They never stopped.

After many months of the destructive process led by Mr Bear and Mr Termite, Beji’s so-called ‘enchepung project’ came to an end — the big tree broke and tumbled down, spreading destruction to areas around the Kapuas basin and adjacent regions, killing scores of his followers.

It was discovered later that some pieces of Beji’s belian were found in Anap River in Bintulu, in Batang Ai in Lubok Antu, Sarawak as well as other areas in neighbouring regions of Borneo.     

Luck was on Beji’s side as he was still not yet up in the project. He was still supervising the construction at the tree base but failed to notice the destructive bear and termite.

In Iban folklore, the destruction was referred to as ‘Beji Nangga Hari Patah Titi Enchepung Pungkang’ (Beji’s skyward journey ended with the destruction of enchepung tree bridge).

Many of the belian pieces falling into the aforesaid regions were found hundreds of years later. 

Due to his failure of the ‘enchepung project’ Beji decided to build a longhouse on their own initiative. But he was lucky when he dreamt of Samarugah who showed him the ways to build a longhouse.

This episode of ‘enchepung project’ happened many centuries ago. After receiving instructions from Samarugah in his dream, Beji and hundreds of his followers started searching for the most suitable land to build a longhouse.

But their most vital lesson was when they saw a five-year-old boy who used leaves to shelter himself from rain.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.

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