Free «People of the World (Iban)» Essay

People of the World (Iban)

The Ibans are among the indigenous peoples of the world. The Iban people are an ethnic branch of the Dayak people of Borneo who occupy several areas of the Malaysian state of Sarawak and the Indonesian areas of northwest coast and West Kalimantan (Mertz et al., 2013). The Ibans associate themselves with the streams, rivers, and other significant geographic features in their area of residence. During the traditional era, the Ibans gained fame due to their warring prowess, headhunting capabilities, and territorial expansion through conquests. Today, the days of warring are over and the Iban people continue to coexist peacefully with their neighbors. The Ibans still uphold some of their traditions much as living in a longhouse (rumah panjai), which acts as a center of social, economic, and political territory (Beynon, 2013). It is surprising that despite the increasing urbanization, the Ibans continue to retain most of their traditional heritage and culture in their respective villages. Overall, appreciating this unique society requires one to get an in-depth understanding of how leadership, gender roles and relations, and the way the society reacts to the effects of globalization contribute to the maintenance of harmonious balance enjoyed by the Iban society.

Leadership

Leadership is an integral part of the Iban society. During the 19th century, Iban leaders represented the longhouse and the wider river region. The regional leader known as tuai menoa came from the raja berani (the rich and brave) (Beynon, 2013). Such leaders were highly reputable for their military prowess, resourcefulness, and judgmental abilities. The leaders had the role of settling disputes and mobilizing people to participate in raiding and territorial defenses. In later years until the present, there was the creation of formal administration with officially appointed leaders who act as the intermediaries between the local community and the state (Rousseau, 1980). There are two notable Iban leaders: the longhouse headman (tuai rumah) and regional or native chief (penghulu), and they perform various roles that promote social cohesion and harmony.

The Iban leaders perform several functions. The longhouse headman (tuai rumah) manages a single longhouse (rumah panjai), which is a series of bilik or family compartments that are joined together to form a long house that hosts 80-90 persons (Rousseau, 1980). There is a common roof, covered verandah that is the focal point of many activities and open space. The functions of the longhouse headman include watching over the conduct of the locals and ensuring the safeguarding and administering the adat (customary system of rules and beliefs that stipulates the basic values, code of conduct, and conventions established and upheld by the Iban people) (Rousseau, 1980). Furthermore, the longhouse headman is an arbitrator in land disputes and acts as an intermediary between the longhouse he leads and the government. Moreover, the longhouse headman helps the people living in the longhouses in spiritual matters by making some recommendations concerning the spirit world (Kadam-Kiai, 2016). The functions performed by the longhouse headman are aimed at ensuring the stability of the society.

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In the same context, the native chief also performs some roles that must stabilize the Iban society. The native chief (penghulu) is a regional leader in charge of few longhouses within the given jurisdiction (Rousseau, 1980). The Penghulu also tackles judicial matters and is regarded as the court of appeal, whereby those who feel unsatisfied with the verdicts of the headman during trials may appeal in the court of the penghulu (Beynon, 2013). The native chief settles misunderstandings and imposes fines on offenders in land disputes, tax evasions, and other issues. This leader also links people with the state administration. In general, both the longhouse headman and the native chief perform their duties in accordance with the state law and the customary law.

The power and authority of the Iban leaders depend on various interplaying factors. For example, the recognition of the leaders by the government means that their authority now has the backing of the legislation and they can enforce compliance based on their legitimacy (Rousseau, 1980). Moreover, in the Iban society, the notion of the leader is synonymous with authority, which is reinforced by the adat. Consequently, from a young age, the Iban people learn to respect those in authority. While in the olden days becoming a leader required one to possess outstanding headhunting skills or warfare prowess, modern day longhouse leaders are characterized by leadership qualities including impartiality, high morals, integrity and prestige, or success in life (Kadam-Kiai, 2016). As mentioned earlier, the Iban society is highly moralistic and all the aspects of their lives revolve around the adat. Therefore, leaders can base their power and authority on the profound knowledge of the customary laws and legal traditions when maintaining justice in the economic, physical, and spiritual environment.

 
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Nevertheless, there are limits to the powers held by the Iban leaders. For example, despite the official government recognition, the leaders have no authority to command other community members and they can only lead others by means of persuasion and example (Rousseau, 1980). The implication is that Iban leaders cannot exhibit any dictatorial tendencies; rather, they must consult their fellow community members before making any final decisions on the matters affecting the community. For example, the longhouse headman often consults each family to get their views before making important decisions. The Iban tradition emphasizes the need for close rapport and dialogues that mainly happen in the longhouse verandahs. Trying to impose the will of the leaders on the people would result in a lack of continued goodwill and approval (Kadam-Kiai, 2016). The fact that the headmen do not have commanding powers does not restrain their powers, since the Iban people hold the adat in high regard, which compels them to always adhere to the rules and typical practices.  

Gender

Although the adat advocates for equality, it does not guarantee that men and women have equal duties. From an early age, both boys and girls are educated on different functions that they should perform to prepare them for the future responsibilities expected from them (Beynon, 2013). For example, girls learn some skills including cooking, pounding and husking rice, tending to children, fetching water, helping in farm work, tidying the house, weaving, gathering fruits, and juggle products and other domestic chores (Daniel et al., 2015). Boys of the same age learn to fetch, chop, and split firewood; make and fix fish nets; fish and hunt. Moreover, they learn martial arts as well as traditional dances and songs (Osup, 2017). It is crucial to emphasize that men are the ones that have the duty to recite their genealogy by learning many stories of their past ancestors (Mertz et al., 2013). Both men and women in the Iban society acknowledge and appreciate the position meant for them in the society.

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Although men and women in the Iban society have different roles, there are ways that they complement each other, even though there are still some conflicts at times. The people of Iban understand the prestige that comes with crop farming, and that is why they work together to ensure that they get the best product (Mee, 2016). For example, both men and women work collectively in the household fields, with men being responsible for conducting the heavier work such as clearing the lands, carrying the loads, and thrashing rice, while the women engage in the tasks such as planting, weeding, and harvesting (Daniel et al., 2015). Despite the complementary roles, some occasional conflicts arise between men and women. For example, emerging conflicts relate to the matters pertaining to family responsibilities and also to the opportunities for travel and the acquisition of prestige. In particular, while the women are sowing, weeding, and reaping, most of the men would often have travel adventures known as bejalai (which women are not allowed to have). These activities allow the men to leave their families for months or even years for work or even adventures (Osup, 2017). During such times when the men are away, the principal portion of responsibilities should be shouldered by the women. This notwithstanding, the Iban people appreciate the roles played by both men and women in ensuring the stability of the community.

The Iban people place high value on relations among men and women. Socialization begins from an early age, and women are taught about the need for mutual respect when communicating with the opposite sex (Mee, 2016). Both boys and girls learn the socially required skills and the code of behavior when interacting with people of the opposite sex, such as how to behave and speak politely to others. At the age of fourteen, young men learn some courting skills from older bachelors. The Iban traditional dating method involves courting (ngayap) with the hope that it will be an essential prerequisite for a marriage (Osup, 2017). Courting happens at night, so the young men wait until all the members of the family are asleep after which they can creep into the family room of their lovers. After the courtship period, the couple then makes their intention to marry known. Shortly afterwards, their parents arrange and set the wedding date. Relations between men and women do not involve aggression such as rape or violence, and men tend to respect women’s decisions (Mee, 2016). A woman can take a more flexible approach to a man, and if she admires him due to his kindness, she might feel that he is a suitable partner. The emphasis on positive relations between men and women ensures that they coexist harmoniously.

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In the recent decades, gender roles and relations between men and women in the Iban society continue to change. For example, there have been shifts in social organization, whereby women are engaging in labor intensive activities, since most men are migrating to the urban areas and seek wage employment in the timber, oil, and construction industries (Daniel et al., 2015). For example, unlike the earlier decades when men were solely the heads of the bilik, the modern day scenario is different, since women are continuously taking the headship roles. Relations between men and women also continue to change. For example, some Iban people, especially those in urban areas, no longer practice the ngayap, but instead many of them are starting their relationships without courtship (Osup, 2017). Such deviation from the tradition means that the young people no longer seek the guidance of their elders in marriage matters, and for this reason, there are many dysfunctional families, which was not the case in the traditional Iban society. Moreover, in the traditional Iban society, people married young in their teens, but now they are getting married at a mature age in their twenties and above, since they are pursuing other obligations such as education before considering a marriage (Mee, 2016). The changing gender roles and relations within the Iban society are attributable to the ongoing modernization.

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Effect and Reaction of Globalization

The incorporation into modern nation states has both positive and negative effects on the Iban society. One positive effect is that as recognized citizens of these modern nation states, the Ibans are enjoying various amenities that come with modernization. For example, the Iban rural society can now access modern facilities including electricity, water supply, tarmac roads, telephone lines, and Internet connection (Mertz et al., 2013). Moreover, the Ibans have more jobs available to them now, and for that reason, many people are leaving the villages to work in the cities. In the same context, one negative outcome of the incorporation into modern states is the implementation of land tenure policies that give the state government land control (Yong & Pang, 2015). The state government continues to occupy indigenous lands belonging to the Ibans. Some of the Iban people have become victims of displacement as the government takes their land for logging purposes, establishment of oil palm plantations, building roads, generating electricity, and building hospitals and schools without compensating the families (Yong & Pang, 2015). The fact that the government dictates the land use depicts the loss of land control among the Iban people. The incorporation into modern nation states continues to expose the Iban society to the market economy.

For the Iban society, the market economy represents opportunities as well as challenges. On a positive note, integration into the market economy has resulted in crop diversification. Over the last few decades (1940s-present), the Ibans who initially focused on rice growing have diversified their agricultural production to include other crops such as rubber, pepper, and cocoa due to the high market demand for the products (Mertz et al., 2013). The inclusion of other crops is to ensure that they can act as a safety net to protect their incomes and consumption in a competitive market economy. However, the market economy has some negative effects too. For example, while the Ibans were previously engaged in farming for domestic consumption, the market economy prompts them to engage in commercial farming to meet the demands of trade and that has put a strain on the available resources (Yong & Pang, 2015). What is more, as the society strives to meet the demand for more products, they resort to deforestation to ensure that they get bigger portions for farming.

The Ibans have devised certain strategies to overcome some of the threats posed by the market economy. These people have very close ties to their land and that is why they are raising concerns over the continued exploitation of the land resources. In a bid to counter the declining productivity of land, some people are engaging in wage employment and non-farm activities (Mertz et al., 2013). For example, many capable young people are seeking employment in certain industries such as the oil and construction industries as well as private and government sectors. Furthermore, the Ibans are focusing on commercializing their arts. Particularly, they have been able to create a niche for their indigenous products, especially for their woven materials including baskets, rugs, blankets, clothing, and other woven products (Yong & Pang, 2015). Involving themselves in wage labor and non-farm activities, the locals hope to supplement the family income, preserve their land, and restore its stability.

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Conclusion

The Iban society has been able to maintain its stability as evident in the way it tackles the issues related to leadership, gender roles and relations, and the effects of globalization. The Iban society continues to thrive under the leadership of the elected leaders, namely the longhouse headman and the native chief who perform various functions. Furthermore, the society has different gender roles with women running the domestic affairs and men performing heavy work. Although the men and women complement each other in their roles, sometimes conflict arise. Despite some minor misunderstandings, however, they are able to appreciate each other. The Iban society holds strong values and relations between men and women in high esteem, and they uphold the courting process which is a sign of mutual respect. The Iban society has experienced both positive and negative effects caused by the continued globalization, including incorporation into the modern nation states and the growing market economies. In spite of the difficulties, the Iban society is always ready to tackle all emerging issues that it faces, and that is how it has managed to maintain its harmony and stability over the years. 

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