Iban radio channel WaiFM has a programme where various Iban vocal literary sing-song chanting are aired. The two most popular vocal chanting are timang jalung and renung.
Timang jalung is done during Gawai Antu while renung is done as entertainment in the longhouse during function and social gathering and other events.
In timang jalung, performed by a lead bard, assistant lead bard and two or three other bards, each bard carries a bowl (jalung) filled with ‘tuak’ (rice wine) from start to finish (over duration of seven to eight hours) during the Gawai Antu evening till dawn. With stops in between, they are not to place the bowl on the floor but must be carried and while seated must put on their lap or simply just carried.
In their ritual chanting, the lead bard and his assistant will alternately state the stages of the journey of the spirit of the deceased commemorated during the Gawai Antu starting from their abode of the dead Sebayan (Hades) all way through to their original longhouse that honours/commemorates their spirit via the Gawai Antu.
For that matter, timang jalung narrates the journey of the spirit of the dead (who are invited to return home during the festival) from their dwelling in the afterworld to the hosting longhouse that memorialises their existence. Thus, the journey will pass through various domains of the spirits, deities, demons, animals, birds, creatures as well as other flora and fauna. And nearer to home, the bard will narrate the spirit of the deceased being nostalgic when he/she passes the river and bathing place of old, recalling how interesting it was when bathing there with his/her loved ones.
Then the bard will come to the point of narrating the arrival of the spirit of the dead in the original longhouse that he/she left years ago (when he was dead and leaving the longhouse and was Sebayan-bound).
This narration of the journey back home is halted when the spirit arrives but then continued later after a break. The timang jalung ends with the nuntungka jalung whereby the bowl with the tuak will be served to warriors who are engaged to perform ngirup jalung (drinking from the bowl).
The lead bard will ask in poetic language the gela mantap sawa, gelar mantap ular (nicknames) of the warrior before serving the jalung to him. This is the part that is most interesting to me – since as a ten-year-old in 1964, I always listened to this part of the ritual. This included Gawai Antu at Sungai Belung longhouse in Melupa, Saratok of that year; Lubuk Bundung (1965); Munggu Embawang (1966); Sungai Klampai (1970) and Kedap (1973) all of which were in Saratok and in Ulu Bayor, Debak in 1988.
For the Gawai Antu frrom 1964-1966 my late dad Salok was the lead bard for one of the bard groups, thus making is easier for me to come closer during the nuntungka jalung ritual. In 1988 at Ulu Bayor, my uncle Dundang Enchana (now deceased) was leading a bard group. I listened attentively to the ritualistic incantation held at dawn then. For the record uncle Dundang was also featured in my earlier column about asking warriors their nicknames during the nuntungka jalung at Sungai Klampai Gawai Antu in 1970.
On the other hand, renung is vocal incantation with poetic language that rhymes that narrates a love story or journey. It also describes the beauty of the surrounding, the sweet sound of the insects and birds that adds to the ambiance of love and lust, the radiant sunset, the beautiful night and inspiring dreams.
Or in another scene, it can be a narration of longing and frustration that may lead to two damsels to go out from their longhouse, with the excuse to look for ferns but their main intention is to look for tubai (tuba poison) and to drink the poison as they cannot wait any longer for any suitor to come their way. And on their journey, they meet two handsome gentlemen with whom they immediately fall in love. Such is part of the interesting twist and turns of renung.
So, in WaiFM one may come across the renung voices of popular bards such as Segaya Geraik, Bidin Sanggu, Jelemin Jantan, Saban Imong, Ngelai Laa, Lindong (educationist Dr Lambat and Lawyer Chambai’s father) plus a few others. Mostly deceased, I knew very well two of them – Jelemin and Saban who were from my longhouse Kedap in Saratok.
Saban, who died about a decade ago, was a kind and amiable character and a real showman whereas Jelemin was an uncle whose wife was my dad’s first cousin. May they rest in everlasting peace.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.