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Iban Baby Naming Ceremony

This morning we are giving this child a bath in accordance with our tradition. We beseech thee to confer on him fortune, Give him sharp vision, So that he will be fortunate and wealthy in his life.

−Traditional Iban Prayer

Video of Recent Ceremony

Tour Details

The Iban people of Sarawak believe it is unwise to give an infant his or her adult name until the child’s soul has matured sufficiently to withstand any evil spirits or other unseen forces wishing to harm the child. The child is only named when he or she is old enough to be given a first bath in the river, usually anything between 8 and 18 months. This first bath is accompanied by an elaborate baby naming ceremony calling on the gods and benevolent spirits to bring the child good health and fortune in later life. For more information about longhouse rituals, check out Greg Mawar’s splendid blog about the Iban way of life.
 
We arranged for this child naming ceremony to be performed as a one-off for a family who wanted an alternative to traditional western rites of passage such as christening and baptism. What delighted us (and the happy parents) was the total commitment of the longhouse community, who performed the full set of traditional rituals with tremendous enthusiasm and pride. They let us know that they would welcome anyone else who wanted their child to undergo a similar experience, so we are now offering this unique celebration to parents who want to give their offspring the best possible start in life.

Suggested Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive Kuching (D): Meet and greet on arrival at Kuching International Airport and transfer  to Hotel in Kuching City Centre. After a detailed briefing by your guide, you can enjoy an afternoon and evening at leisure to explore historic Kuching. Overnight in hotel.

Day 2 – Kuching – Lemanak (B L D): After breakfast, depart Kuching by air-conditioned van for the Lemanak River. First stop is the colourful farmers’ market in Serian town, with time for shopping or a coffee break in one of the many cafés. Continue through rural Sarawak, enjoying the distant mountain scenery while passing paddy fields, rubber plantations and the occasional longhouse. Visit a pepper garden to learn how this valuable spice is grown. Lunch is at Lachau Bazaar, where local Iban farmers come to sell their produce and handicrafts.  After lunch, we enter the Iban Heartland, with longhouses every kilometre or so along the road. After about 90 minutes you will arrive at the Lemanak River jetty and board a native longboat.

After a 40-60 minute river journey in the shade of overhanging ensurai trees, you will arrive at the longhouse jetty to be met with a rousing welcome from the chief and longhouse residents. A special miring or welcoming ceremony will be performed involving the ritual sacrifice of a pig. Upon arrival, the longhouse chief or authorized elders will hold a meeting to inform the people of the child naming and bathing ceremony to be held the next day. After dinner with your host family, the elders will conduct a ceremony to pick a number of suitable Iban names for your child (usually names of prominent ancestors). The final name will be chosen by a cockerel pecking at balls of rice bearing the respective names. Spend the rest of the evening listening to tales of your baby’s ‘ancestors’, accompanied by a free flow of tuak (rice wine), then overnight in the longhouse.

Day 3 – Lemanak – Baby Naming Ceremony (B L D): After breakfast in the longhouse, join the procession to the riverbank.On arrival at the riverbank, the designated elder recites an invocation requesting the Iban gods and the various river spirits to attend the ceremony. Once this is complete, the flag-bearer ‘slices’ the river with his ceremonial sword so the ceremony may proceed. A cockerel is ritually slaughtered upriver and its blood drained into the water. The honorary grandparents then bathe the baby in the river (the baby is not immersed and the experience should not be distressing), attended by the parents. The procession then returns to the longhouse where the child, in its mother’s arms, is sprinkled with holy water that has the power to cast away any bad omens. Once the ceremony is complete, traditional snacks are served. Later, a lunch is hosted by the proud ‘grandparents’ for all those present at the ceremony. In the evening, a celebratory feast is held for the entire longhouse.

Day 4 – Lemanak Kuching (B L): After a late and leisurely breakfast with the ‘grandparents’, meet up with your guide to observe the cockfighting which is still part of important ceremonies until today, then try your skills on the blowpipe. Say your fond farewells and depart downriver by longboat, than overland to Kuching with lunch en route. Proceed to your city hotel for check-in. Evening free at leisure, then overnight in hotel.

Day 5 – Kuching – End: After breakfast you are free at leisure. Later, transfer out  for departure flight or extension of stay.

Note 1: This is a suggested itinerary only. You want your child’s ceremony to be unique and we can customise the programme to suit your exact wishes, including a host of post-celebration possibilities in both Sarawak and Sabah.

Note 2: The slaughtering of the pig and the cockerel are unfortunately not negotiable. The longhouse community would not be prepared to host the ceremony with such enthusiasm and authenticity if their traditional beliefs were not respected in full.

No Baby to Name?

If you are not a parent, or your children are older, you can still witness this fascinating ceremony. You just have to visit around the time of Gawai Dayak (1st and 2nd of June), when city-dwelling families return to the longhouse to have their children officially named. Please contact us for further details.

What's Included in the Price?

The ceremony price is negotiated with the community according to your requirements and the number of guests. Please enquire for a detailed quotation. Check the small print for our terms and conditions.

Ceremony Price Includes: 

  • Accommodation  as indicated
  • Meals as indicated (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner)
  • All costs of the traditional ceremonies, including the feast for the longhouse residents.
  • Transfers to/from Kuching city hotels. Transfers from Damai Beach are subject to a RM20 surcharge.
  • English/Malay/Iban-speaking tour guide and wedding planner.

Ceremony Price Does Not Include

  • Flights/transport to/from departure point (Kuching, Sarawak)
  • Tipping for guides, drivers and boatmen
  • Alcoholic beverages (except those poured for guests as part of a traditional ceremony)
  • Gifts for longhouse residents. Your guide will advise.

Note: Weather conditions and the water level may force our guides to modify the programme in the interests of safety. No refunds will be offered for any ceremony or extension sold.

Payment Methods

International Payment Methods:

  • 5% surcharge for payment by PayPal, Visa and Mastercard – we will email you a PayPal invoice that you can use to pay either from your PayPal account or by Visa or Mastercard.
  • Telegraphic Transfer – TT (bank wire) in Malaysian Ringgit to our bank account. You are responsible for all originating bank charges. 

 Domestic Payment Methods (for Malaysian customers and overseas customers already in Malaysia)

  • 5% surcharge for payment by PayPal, Visa and Mastercard – we will email you a PayPal invoice that you can use to pay either from your PayPal account or by Visa or Mastercard.
  • Online transfer to our bank account. 
  • Cash deposit to our bank account at any Maybank Counter/Cash Deposit Machine. 
  • By cheque (Malaysian cheques only, payable to “Suntravel Sdn Bhd”) at any Maybank Counter or Cheque Deposit Machine or by mail to the address shown on the page footer (please allow up to 7 days for clearance). 
  • By cash in person at our Kuching office. 

Bank Details 

  • Bank:  Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank)
  • Branch:  Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
  • Account No:  011 038 810 818
  • Account Name:  Suntravel Sdn Bhd
  • SWIFT Code (for telegraphic transfers):  MBBEMYKL

Notes 

  • When you deposit to our bank account via cash or cheque, please ensure that you retain the deposit slip and email the scanned image to sun@suntravelborneo.com as proof of payment.
  • If using online transfer, please state your name and invoice number in the comments area.
  • If paying by telegraphic transfer, please note that Malaysian banks do not use IBAN codes. Please ensure you include the SWIFT code.

Hints & Tips

  • There is no hot water in the longhouse. Be prepared for cold showers, or bathe in the river like the Iban do.
  • The cockerels usually crow all night. If you are a light sleeper, bring some earplugs. We recommend the soft foam type, available from most pharmacies.
  • Mosquito nets are supplied. However, you should cover up or apply mosquito repellent to prevent getting bitten in and around the longhouse.
  • Don’t wear your best shoes. If the water is low, you may have to get out of the boat and help to push.
  • It is extremely impolite to refuse any food or drink by waving it away. If you are full or don’t like the look of something, just touch the offered plate or glass with your fingers.
  • The rice wine (tuak) is usually stronger than it appears.
  • Please don’t give any money, sweets or gifts to children. Anything you may wish to donate should be passed to the longhouse chief for equal distribution amongst all families. Your guide will advise.
  • Please carry small change and low value notes to buy drinks and souvenirs.
  • If you are vegetarian/vegan or have any food allergies, please let us know when you book so we can make the necessary arrangements.

Give your child the best possible start in life

Contact us now to arrange a private, exclusive and totally authentic Iban baby-naming ceremony.

Photo Credits

All photos on this page were taken on the Lemanak River at an authentic Iban baby-naming ceremony, and are a fair representation of what you may expect to experience. All images © Suntravel Sdn Bhd, with thanks to Ophelia ‘Bacha’ Hale and proud parents Rachel ‘Upak’ Hale and Ashley ‘Gumbak’ Hale. YouTube video © Suntravel Sdn Bhd, with thanks to Flora ‘Antan’ Hale, family members as above and videographer Paul Hiew Chi Wang.

Travel Agency Services

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