The largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak is comprised of ethnically diverse population, which consists of both the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The indigenous people constitute of Bisayuh, Kenyaks, Iban, Malays, Pennan, Malanau, Kayan, Kelabit, Muruts and Pennan. The indigenous people according to the 2000 Census is 1.46 Millions, forming 70.6% of the total population of 2.07 millions.
The Ibans also known as Sea Dayaks represent the largest group with a total population of 6000,000, which is 29.1% of the state total population. Like the Malays, the Ibans are of Proto-Malay decent; their origin traced back to Yunnam China.9 The Nagas tradition and customs have affinities with some of the Malaysia tribes in many aspects. The Iban, reputed to be the most fearsome of the Borneo’s headhunters,
“It was not so long ago that the Iban celebrated the captured heads with a great festival called Gawal Kenyalang (the Hornbill festival). It was believed that the magical power of the heads would bring strength, virtue and prosperity to the long house.”
Peter Kunstadter who studied the south Asian tribes also mentioned about the headhunting in Sarawak and the rest of Borneo, “This is all tied up with the past traditions of headhunting and aggression and warlikness, which were very much a part of pagan animism among the hill peoples of Sarawak and the rest of Borneo.” The reason or the purpose of headhunting by the Iban is quite similar with the Nagas.
The Nagas take a head to reveal his manhood also they believed that bringing a head to their village brings prosperity in the village. Nagas had their own beliefs about the value of human heads. They believed that heads of those belonging to villages other than their own would add to the fertility of the soil. It is also an important factor to bring the head to be recognized in the society12. The British intervention on Nagas headhunting after 1832 and introduction of Christianity brought to cease in headhunting. No longer, the Nagas practice headhunting but the skulls of man hanging in old Nagas houses can be still found in some remote villages.
“Thankfully the Iban no longer headhunt, and have adopted a peaceful agrarian lifestyle. Any modern day visitor to an Iban longhouse will testify that they are a generous, hospitable and placid people…. Although the majority of Iban are now a days Christian, many traditional rituals are still practiced, including the Gawai Dayak (harvest festival) Gawai Kenyalang (Hornbill festival) and Gawai Antu (festival of the dead). The traditional Iban religion is a fusion of animistic and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs, and they worship a triumvirate of gods under the authority of Singalang Burung, the bird-god of war, Iban woman are superb weavers, using the back strap loom, while Iban men are excellent silversmiths.”
The ancient Nagas and the Iban people were resembled in their tradition and customs, like Headhunting, animistic religion, harvesting festival, hornbill festival, woman-weaving etc. The Harvesting festival and Hornbill festival are still very common in Nagaland (Nagalim). Every year the Hornbill festival is hold in Nagaland. Recently the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland was held from 1st –5th December 2004 at newly constructed Naga Heritage Complex at Kisama.
The majority of the Nagas had adopted Christianity but they still practiced traditional festival like the Iban people. Both ancient and modern people of Iban are similar with the Nagas in India. The Nagas women are good in weaving clothes like the Iban women. All the Naga tribes have different beautiful color of shawls representing their own tribes.
There are also many Nagas expert in blacksmiths. The Nagas men made all kinds of sword, dao, knife, spear etc for different purposes. Nagas are similar with the Iban people in religion, tradition and custom, festival, economic activities etc. Besides, they also have similar attitudes to the outsiders and to their fellow people. The Nagas are generous, hospitable, frankly, honest and amicable, as many authors on Nagas had written about the Nagas.
The Iban were largely known for their fierce reputation as warriors, particularly because of their headhunting tradition. In fact, it was as recent as during World War II, the community celebrated the victorious warriors of a headhunting raid with a grand festival called the Gawai Kenyalang (the Hornbill Festival). The tradition of headhunting gradually came to an end after the British made it illegal after the war.
A large majority has become Christians although they still maintain their strong cultural identity and heritage, keeping their traditional beliefs. The Nagas are very resemble with those nomadic people of Penan tribe. Those Penan people who have converted into Christianity no longer live the nomadic life and have settled in long houses.
Their long houses are similar with the ancient Naga houses where they built the big houses for the village chief and dormitories. The Orang Ulu another group of people from Borneo also resembles with the Naga people in some aspects. Most of the Orang Ulu people are now Christian and they are warm and hospitable people like the Nagas. Their long houses and woodcarvings houses are similar with the Naga ancient houses.
Credits: R.B. Thohe Pou *