Traditions are preserved in order to ensure that the practise continues even as younger generations take over. It is what defines a person’s identity because it is a reflection of their roots. Though modernisation is gradually changing certain traditional practises, it is crucial to preserve them as a reminder of one’s ancestors.
Traditions are preserved in Sarawak’s Iban culture, particularly in longhouses. Certain rituals have survived the passage of time, despite the fact that some practises have become obsolete. Among many, the miring ritual has become a custom within the ethnicity.
Miring was once a protective practise performed before going to wars, to bless a new plantation field, to bless a new home, and to protect oneself before embarking on long voyages. It was done to please the Gods, known as Petara, or to ask blessings from the ancestors, known as Petara aki ini.
Long ago, the Ibans believed that there are spirits in everything on earth, and Petara represents a group of beneficent creatures with control over natural phenomena.
The miring process is no longer as strict as it once was. Most Ibans nowadays, however, do the ceremony before the harvest festival, Gawai Dayak. The rites are performed in order to express gratitude for the previous crop year and to seek guidance for the coming one. Residents of the Rumah Ragai longhouse in Nanga Balang, Kapit, are required to perform miring twice before celebrating Gawai.
The process of miring
According to Lily Ambau, miring in their longhouse is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. She said that, in order to preserve the tradition, her longhouse conducts it twice — once on Gawai eve and again on Gawai morning. “It is a yearly prayer to Petara that is performed without fail. The ingredients and materials for the ritual will be prepared the day before the ritual.”
Miring requires the following items:
Semakau (tobacco), kapu (crushed shells), buah pinang (areca nut), sirih (gambier leaves), sedi (wild gambier leaves), daun ruku (cigarette wrapper), asi (cooked rice), pulut (glutinous rice), rendai (rice seeds), tepung (rice flour) and ketupat (packed glutinous rice).
Apart from the ingredients listed above, Lily’s longhouse would also prepare salt, eggs, and tuak to sprinkle over the offerings during the ritual.
Once everything has been placed and sorted, the person performing the rites will wave a live chicken above the offerings while reciting words of appeasement and blessings. After that, he will slice the chicken’s neck and dab its blood upon each plate of offerings. When the ritual is over, the plates of offerings will be placed in certain locations throughout the longhouse to assure protection.
The dos and dont’s during the ritual
Miring, like many other rituals, is sacred and should be performed with caution. The Ibans believed that if it was not done properly, it would have long-term implications. From bad luck to terrifying dreams, they would treat it with care to avert it. Here are some things to remember during the ritual:
Do not get drunk prior to the ritual.
Do not joke or laugh.
Do not take or steal from the offerings.
Everyone is encouraged to be involved as a symbol of respect.
Do not offer ingredients that have gone bad.
While there are plenty more to note down, the most important thing to remember during any ritual is to show the utmost respect.
Miring is not something that every Iban family does. Despite this, every Dayak in Sarawak looks forward to the harvest festival. The importance of family gatherings has been preserved as the festival’s main custom to this day.