The First Iban Families


The Iban people have been migrating across Borneo for many generations.  Their migration to Sarawak and into the various rivers of the Second Division, and later to other parts of Sarawak will be written here up to the best of my knowledge. This article is based on oral history that has been past down from one generation to another.  Unfortunately, there is little written evidence of this migration process.

According to the Iban legend, the ancestors of the Iban people lived at a very remote place in the Middle East.  This Middle Eastern origin was mentioned in the beginning of a few of the longest Tusut1.

Some legend says that Bujang Ganggam lived in the large forest, while  Bujang Mereti lived in the wilderness and Bujang Biak takes his hat and explores the lands.

This Bujang lived in a fairyland guarded by Kumang, whose back was white scorched by the setting sun.  It was also the land of Lulong, who carried her basket to look for snails below the river of the under world.  According to the legend this land was situated opposite the present-day Holy Land of Mecca.

The Iban migrated from the Middle East to Sumatra and from there some of them continued to explore the island of Borneo where they lived in the Kapuas River valley for a long time.  It is during this period that the most famous Iban gods including Singalang Burong are to be found in the genealogy.  It was here that men mingled with gods and learned the customs, which still characterize the Iban way of life.

The Kapuas basin is the most important source of the various migrations mentioned in the tusut.  There is also some indication that two other groups of non-Kapuas ancestors led by Sabatin and Drom landed at Cape Datu at the extreme western end of Sarawak territory.  From this group, not only the Iban but also the Melanau and other people as well.
The second group of non-Kapuas ancestors came from Java and landed on the coast of Borneo near Merudu Hill not far from Brunei Darussalam.  At least one famous descendant from this group later returned to Indonesian Borneo, where he met and inter-married with the forbears of pioneers whom later migrated back to Sarawak.

This article was written based on my interview with the late Henry Gerijih of Paku, Samu in the Betong Division.

Notes: If you have photos of the places and people mentioned in any of the articles, please email it to me for inclusion in the article. Your contribution will be acknowledge accordingly.


  1. Tusut is the Iban term for tracing their family tree. []

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