The Pati Nyawa Custom

During that time, a man from Semalanjat’s longhouse accidentally killed a hunter from Kanyong’s longhouse while they were both out on a hunting trip.  Kanyong and his people were so much annoyed by the incident that they summoned their friends and relatives to help them take vengeance on the people from Semalanjat’s longhouse.

Like wise Semalanjat summoned all his friends to help defend his longhouse at Bungkap.  Just as it seemed that the quarrel would turn into a war, an important chief named Sulang directed his son named Rantai to visit the two parties and end the disagreement.  Rantai met Semalanjat and Kanyong separately.  He urged them not to prolong their dispute and suggested a peaceful settlement.  Kanyong and Semalanjat agreed not to fight if a peaceful solution could be found.  When Rantai came home his father asked him to summon such other migration leaders like Meringai, Manggi, Jelian, Ambau and Gunggu to help settle the dispute.

The meeting took place in the gravel bed of the river.  Sulang told the other chiefs the cause of the quarrel.  He explained that the small matter should not lead them to an open fight.  Should we fight against one another, he said, we will become disunited and the Kantu, Bugau, Punan and Bukitan whom are our enemy shall defeat us.

He urged that some rule should be worked out for the settlement of such quarrel.  The other chief agreed and asked him to suggest a solution.  Sulang suggested the following:

  1. If a hunter kills another man by mistake, the killer must be asked to compensate the deceased’s relatives with pati nyawa compensation.  The compensation comprises of two valuable old jars (tag).  Failing to pay would result the killer to be the slave (together with his descendant) of the deceased family.
  2. If a warrior kills his fighting mate by mistake while on the warpath. He must pay a pati nyawa of two valuable old jars to the deceased family.  Failing to pay, he would have to surrender himself to become their slave together with his descendants.
  3. If a man kills another person when the latter stole his property, the death of the thief is not to be compensated.  However, if the thief killed a person whose property he has stolen, then he must compensate the deceased with his own life.
  4. If a man kills another man who has committed adultery with his wife, the deceased need not be compensated.  However, if the adulterer kills his friend whose wife he has seduced, then he must compensate the deceased’s family with two valuable old jars.  If he fail to pay the penalty, he must surrender himself to the relatives of the deceased and to become their slave together with his descendants.

After the rest of the chiefs had heard Slang’s suggestion, they all agreed that the man from Semalanjat’s longhouse should be asked to compensate the relatives of the deceased from Kerning’s longhouse.  This marked the very important custom of compensation or pati nyawa among the Sea Dayaks.  It has saved thousands of lives that might have been taken in vengeance.

These men are Ambau, Lanong, Ratih, Gunggu and Kanyong were some of the most important early pioneers into the Batang Ai.  However, they were not the lasts as new Iban leaders continued to arrive there.  Some stayed others stopped for a short period before moving onto more distant areas of Sarawak.

Private Journal of James Joshua