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TRADITIONAL IBAN

NAME-CHANGING CEREMONY

Change Your Name, Change Your Destiny

The Borneo Post, August 25, 2013

Written by Geryl Ogilvy Ruekeith

For a good five minutes, the crowd was silent, observing closely which of the three bowls of rice the rooster would peck. Village elder Jampang Guntam carefully held the rooster over each bowl, chanting words of encouragement to the cockerel to make its choice. Excitement was clearly etched over the faces of the crowd in the longhouse common room as they waited for the outcome. No one dared make a sound for fear of influencing the rooster’s choice or worse, scaring it from pecking the rice altogether. If this happened, the ritual would have to be done all over again.

Sitting on the opposite side with her family was five-year-old Flora Hale, born to British couple Ashley and Rachel Hale. She waited patiently, appearing calm, probably unaware of the magnitude of the event happening before her to the Iban community of Rumah Sambun or Nanga Kesit. She was about to be bequeathed an Iban name in accordance with Iban tradition in the ceremony performed by Jampang.

The crowd, made up mostly of family members, cheered when the rooster finally made its pick. Quickly, a folded piece of paper written with an Iban name, hidden among the rice, was taken out to be announced to the longhouse community present at the morning’s event. Among the three names mulled by her parents and Jampang’s family the night before, Antan had been chosen for Flora who is the Hales’ second child.

ADOPTING PROCESS: Flora (second left) together with her parents and elder sister Ophelia, watch closely, wondering which bowl of rice the cockerel would peck. Also seen is Teresa (right) and Jampang.  - Photos by Chimon Upon.

Her sister Ophelia underwent the same ritual in 2006 when  she was only eight months and was given the name Bacha.

 

Now that the selection was over, Flora, rather sheepishly, held up a bigger piece of paper bearing her new name – Antan — to be read by the excited guests, well-wishers and members of the media exclusively invited to witness the event.

Jampang began chanting the bebiau (prayer) to give blessings, cast away bad omens and welcome the newly-named Antan into their longhouse community. This was followed by the miring ceremony for blessings from the spirits and also as intent of goodwill from the longhouse community. Following this ritual, Flora was brought to the nearby river for her first bath (cleansing ritual) as Antan.

THIS WAY: Jampang leads the newly-named Antan in a procession to a nearby river for the cleansing ritual followed by dad Ashley and mum Rachel.

I AM ANTAN: Dressed in traditional Iban attire, Antan poses for reporters upon completion of the whole ritual.

“Finding the right name is very important. According to Iban customs, this can influence the person’s health and longevity. Sometimes, when somebody feels they are often faced with bad luck, health problems, they can opt to change their names which can be done traditionally. There are cases where a person adopts new Iban names following a dream. This naming tradition can be done for a person any time, regardless of age,” Jampang told reporters after the ceremony.

However, in the modern world where many Ibans had given English names to their children, Jampang said one could bestow upon themselves an Iban name either through the traditional method or by simply following government procedures through the National Registration Department.

RITUAL AND NAME

Antan was then brought down to the nearby river accompanied by a procession of villagers. Two women were tasked to beat the traditional Iban taboh throughout the entire ritual while another two people were appointed as flag-bearers to lead the procession.

On their arrival, an appointed elder began to recite an invocation. Upon its conclusion, two gunshots were fired to drown out any potential sounds made by omen birds, which according to Iban mythology, are either ominous or foretell good fortune.

Before Antan took her first bath in the river, the elder used his ilang to make cuts into the water, a gesture requesting for the child’s life to be blessed, pure and flowing continuously until its final destination.

The event ended with the obligatory sacrifice of a boar.

UNAFRAID: The cold river water did not deter Antan one bit who was calm but excited throughout the entire process.

HOW IT CAME ABOUT

The event was arranged by Suntravel Sdn Bhd through one of its tour packages. Ashley and Rachel first wrote to Suntravel on the possibility of having an Iban traditional wedding in the state as Hale, a geography teacher, met his wife Rachel when the latter was in Sabah as a medical scientist volunteer.

“The couple, who had an Iban traditional wedding at Nanga Kesit longhouse 10 years ago, returned to see us three years later upon reading about the Iban child-naming tradition. In 2006, Ashley and Rachel’s first daughter Ophelia was given the name Bacha. The parents had also been bestowed Iban names Gumbak and Upak respectively,” Suntravel Sdn Bhd managing director Datin Teresa Bateman-Dris told reporters in an interview after the event.

She added that the agency then prepared a package for the wedding on Aug 7, 2003.

The couple, upon reading about the Iban child-naming tradition, wrote to the agency to arrange for a package, involving the same longhouse for their eldest daughter Ophelia three years later.

 

Flora’s Iban-naming ceremony this time coincided with her parent’s 10-year wedding anniversary.

“It was a grand event, our wedding at this longhouse. It attracted about 350 people from various longhouses. We had this wedding at Nanga Kesit following a package arranged by the travel agency. During the wedding ceremony, the Tuai Rumah (Jampang) suggested we should have six children! And we promised we would come back. Furthermore, it is the communal spirit of the longhouse people that really attracted us. It’s fantastic,” recalled Ashley on how the family ended up coming back to the 25-door longhouse for the third time around.

Rachel, meanwhile, said she and the husband wanted to try something different that the whole family could enjoy and cherish. Both Rachel and her husband wanted their children to experience different cultures and realise how happy people can be in different communities.

Borneo featured very significantly in their lives, considering the experience that Rachel and Ashley had here.

Also present were senior executive Suntravel Sdn Bhd Pauline Edna Manjah.

Longhouse Tuai Rumah Sambun Jampang was very happy with the whole affair: “We are very happy the family had chosen this longhouse for their wedding 10 year ago. We are happy they did not forget about the people here and returned. It’s like seeing somebody returning to their roots.”

The child-naming ceremony proceeded with a longhouse dinner to celebrate Ashley and Rachel’s 10th wedding anniversary.

BLOCKING OUT ILL-OMEN: Two women were tasked to lead the procession and beat the Iban taboh throughout the entire ritual to drown out any sounds made by omen birds, believed to be either ominous or foretelling of good fortune. Upon the conclusion of the invocation, two gun shots were fired for the same purpose.

POTENTIAL TOURISM PRODUCT

“We hope this ceremony will be known by others and encourage them to come here, requesting to adopt an Iban name. Promoting cultures and traditions of the native communities here such as the Iban is a niche tourism product in the state.

“Being travel agents, we are used to dealing with these kinds of programme which is why we want to heavily promote these kinds of activity,” said Teresa about the whole affair.

She hoped the package arranged for the Hales would also attract other foreigners.

Suntravel is looking forward to arrange for such packages, involving other longhouses and different racial communities in the future, depending on demands.

“Who knows, the children will come back and have their own traditional Iban wedding and child-naming ceremonies in the future,” she quipped.

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