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Explanation in English relating to various Terminology (Iban Words) connected with Gawai Antu

(written by Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr) Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang)

Miring, Ngempi, Ngambi Buluh, Nganyam Garung, Lemambang, Tukang Sabak, Nimang Jalung, Ngirup Jalung, Ngirup Buluh, Bujang Berani, Nganjung Raga or Nganjung Garung (Raga Sebayan) ngagai Pendam are very important Iban Words to describe the various “Gawai Antu Protocol”.  The various stages of events are Essential Integral Components of Gawai Antu.


The explanation as described below is according to the sequence of Gawai Antu Protocol at our longhouse Rumah Gensurai, Layar, Betong in Sarawak, Malaysia in December 2018.

Nganyam Garung
Tukang Sabak
Ngambi Buluh.jpg
Gensurai Longhouse 11.jpg

Rumah Gensurai, Layar, Betong, Sarawak



Miring ingredients

Miring is done by the Iban Community as their traditional ancestral method to invite their gods to come and bestow blessings to the celebrants good health, longevity, strength, protection from danger, success and prosperity.


Essential Ingredients for the Piring (offerings) comprise of the following:-

Betel Nut, Daun Sireh, Kapu (lime), Semakau (tobacco) and dried nipah leaves for tobacco roll, cooked/ boiled in bamboo various type of Glutinous Rice (asi pulut kuning/ yellow, mirah/ red, chelum/ black, burak/ white), yellow rice grain (asi kuning), Penganan/ Iban “doughnut”, popped rice (letup or rendai), chicken egg (telu manok), banana (pisang), vegetable oil, sagun/ stir fried sugared rice powder and live cockerel preferably red feathers – this cockerel is used by Tukang Biau Piring (lemambang/ bard) to perform Incantation Invoking the benevolent gods to shower blessings.


Miring is done at the very start of the Gawai Antu.




Ngempi follows immediately after Miring, accompanied by “Gendang Rayah” special sound of Gongs Beat to summon the gods to attend and bless the ngempi.


This involves cooking glutinuous rice which after being spread out to cool down – then sprinkled with Ragi (yeast powder) to effect fermentation to produce tuak.


This special brew at the outset of Gawai Antu is called TUAK INDAI BILLAI – a very powerful Matriach of the Gods of the Spirit World who must be accorded priority Protocol to Respect – otherwise if she is offended she can cause havoc, while on the other hand if she is happy she is the overall Great Support to bless the success of Gawai Antu.


This Specially Initiated Tuak Indai Billai is then put carefully in a small or medium size earthern jar (tajau or kebuk) and safely placed on the shelf or platform in the family room/ bilek, not to be exposed to contamination.


This Tuak Indai Billai will be required as the “mother” and highly revered fluid (AI TUAK KE DI TIMANG LEMAMBANG during NIMANG JALUNG).



Ngambi Buluh.jpg
Ngambi Buluh

This is the event describing the celebrants of Gawai Antu, during one agreed specially chosen day, in big group go to the jungle to collect young bamboo stems in sufficient calculated quantity for raw material to be used to make/ weave the Garung/ special baskets designated to the dead relatives to be honoured for Gawai Antu.


These young bamboo stems are processed with sharp knives to remove the outer skin, then dried (sun dried and stored away from rain) then painted with various weather-resistant coloured paints of red, black, yellow and green – which later on will be split to small pieces to weave the multi coloured, multi-tiered garung at the Nganyam Garung Ceremony which is usually held 7 days before the Actual Peak of the Gawai Antu (ARI GAWAI NYADI).



Nganyam Garung
Nganyam Garung

In the long preparation period for Gawai Antu, the celebrants bilek family members have approached and secured important key personnels of accomplished talents to execute various compliances with Gawai Antu Protocol. The personnels for these functions must be confirmed to accept their duties e.g. Accomplished Lady Weaver as leader of NGANYAM GARUNG and her team members of accomplished weavers.


Accomplished brave warriors (Bujang Berani) who have excelled with decorations for bravery and valour with enemy head trophies as their accolades – to perform the Role of NGIRUP JALUNG and NGIRUP BULUH.


Distinguished leaders of Lemambang to recite Incantation, Invocations with deep knowledge of Iban Ritual Folklore Protocol as LEMAMBANG – NIMANG JALUNG and his team or as LEMAMBANG TUKANG SABAK.


(Usually a lady)

Tukang Sabak
Tukang Sabak

This is one category of Accomplished Wailer whose responsibility is to chant melodious but sad melancholous wailing citations describing the various experience/encounters throughout the painful journey undertaken by the dead relatives, together with griefs and sadness of parting with the living relatives whom they have shared many episodes of happiness and joy during their life in this living world.


The Lemambang Tukang Sabak endured about 7 hours of her very sad chanting crafted in her own talent to create very appealing feeling of sadness and grief, and towards the end of her wailing she describes the joy and the jubilance of the dead to be invited and warmly welcomed with honour during that special window that they have opportunity to Revisit the Living World as provided through the rigidly complied protocol arranged by the Living Relatives during Gawai Antu.




The nearest English word to describe “Lemambang” is Bard or Poet.


The centre of attraction during Gawai Antu is the LEMAMBANG and his team performing chant of poetic phrases (Iban poetry), and classical Iban praises during their 7 to 8 hours of NIMANG JALUNG during Gawai Antu.  The Tuai Lemambang is very knowledgeable in Iban Oral and Cultural Tradition and Adat Iban while at the same time very conversant with Gawai Antu Protocol and having very good memory relating to the sequence of Gawai Antu Protocol.  He is also very alert and in his talents in Iban Oral Tradition/ Timang and having very good singing melodious tone he commands good attention from the audience – hundreds and hundreds of Gawai Attendees.  The Tuai Lemambang is assisted by talented members of their team usually not less than 5 persons.


Lemambang Nimang Jalung are special breed of Iban Oral Tradition experts who can endure long hours of singing chants of Invocation and Incantation capable of chanting with their eloquence of poetic lyrics which they crafted to describe the experience of the dead as they traverse along the journey from this living world to their eternal resting place in the spirit world.


With their full Iban attire, the Lemambang during NIMANG JALUNG paraded to and fro along the crowded corridor of the longhouse throughout the night chanting fulfilling the compliance of Gawai Antu Protocol whereby at about 4.00 am, during the early morning their Recital reached the stage, the CLIMAX peak i.e. to approach the BUJANG BERANI with Recital of their Timang praising and highlighting the accolades of Bravery and Valour of BUJANG BERANI  befitting him as a Worthy Warrior and authentic Celebrant to represent the big Entourage from the Spirit World of SEBAYAN.


Just before the Actual NGIRUP JALUNG, the Lemambang offered songs of praise acknowledging the Accomplished INDU KALU, PANDAI NGAR PANDAI NAKAR, PANDAI NGANYAM PANDAI NYULAM (The team Leader who is also the accomplished Lady Garung Weaver) who befittingly deserved the citations of praise for her qualified talents and high status hence has been chosen to present the AI TUAK INDAI BILLAI AND THE SPECIALLY BREWED GAWAI DELICIOUS TUAK TO BE PRESENTED AS THE CONTENT OF THE JALUNG (CEREMONIAL BOWL) to BUJANG BERANI.


The Lady Leader of Garung Weaving then kneel down with the White Porcelain Bowl filled with Tuak Indai Billai topped up with Special Tuak Gawai in her hand and graciously presented to BUJANG BERANI who stood up with Victory Shout and in Iban Style Exclamation and Exultation of Confidence, then he stoop down to consume the AI JALUNG TIMANG.


Immediately after this, the Team of Lemambang retreated and retired from the Ruai after the Timang Jalung and NGIRUP JALUNG towards the Bilek to perform Mulai ke Semengat – Iban Chant of Blessing after the successful night long marathon of Nimang Jalung.


Then immediately before Daybreak, the process of Procession for NGIRUP BULUH. The Bujang Berani – after Ngirup Jalung Ceremony proceed to Ngetas Rugan (dismantling the shrine) and collecting the BAYA (gift to the dead – ie . clothings etc).  Bujang Berani led the procession by carrying at knee level – bunches of Garung/ Raga for the dead parading 3 rounds along the longhouse corridor followed by long entourage of men, women and children with JARS, Iban Kueh, ai Tuak and Cockerel and eventually reached to Ruai at the End of the Longhouse where a selected team of another group of accomplished Bujang Berani have seated to wait for the Climax Gawai Antu Event at the longhouse ie. NGIRUP BULUH.


Within the Garung/ Woven Baskets for the dead, there is placed in each Garung a bamboo receptacle, slashed obliguely with sharp end filled with Tuak Indai Billai final portion of Tuak Indai Billai harvested from the Rugan/ Shrine.


The Bujang Berani leading the parade with cluster of Garung containing the bamboo receptable filled with Tuak Indai Billai perform in front of the seated Bujang Beranis who are well prepared for the Ngirup Buluh, with graceful gesture of Iban Ngajat/ Kuntau/ Marshall Art Movement, he pirouetted elegantly few times and joyfully presented the Garung – Bamboo containing Tuak Indai Billai to the Bujang Berani – who before they consume the content of the Bamboo receptacle (Buluh) shouted and courageously exclaimed their title of glorification associated with their brave encounters on the “battle field” - the event called Nyebut Ensumbar - before drinking the Ai Tuak – NGIRUP BULUH.


When all the events of NGIRUP BULUH is about to end the Bujang Berani crushed the Bamboo receptacle for Tuak Indai Billai with their feet.


The Bujang Berani receive their Token of Appreciation from the participating families of Gawai Antu given in the form of earthern Jar Tajau, with cash gift, Iban kueh, live chicken, kain belachu (calico).


The function at the longhouse is followed by Nganjung Raga or Garung (Raga Sebayan ka Pendam) ie. Sending the Woven Baskets and Parting gifts to the dead to the cemetery where there are activities of decorating the gravestone with flower, and placing the Garung on the rafters of Grave houses shed together or side by side with gifts of clothings etc.  Candles are being lit on the graveyard.


Before returning to the longhouse, after completing the Nganjung Raga, a small ceremony of merriment with food, drink and jokes often takes place some distance from the cemetery.


The final part of the Gawai Antu Event is the Pengap Ngambi Asi at the longhouse performed by group of Lemambang Mengap – chanting Incantation seeking forgiveness from the gods for any misgivings/ human offences, and incorrect protocol or procedures, exchange of bad words, quarrel etc during the Gawai Antu, especially in seeking blessing of bountiful harvest, good health, long life and prosperity for the whole community.

The Gawai Antu officially ends after Pengap Ngambi Asi.

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