Our stay in Rumah Jugah was better than we expected because we were privileged to witness a rare Niri ke Panggau ceremony which takes place every 10 years.
Ibans take dreams very seriously as they believe their Gods communicate with them through them, as well as birds and signs in nature. The night before, a young girl in Rumah Jugah had a dream and woke up clutching a crystal rock. This was considered a bad omen for her, her family and the people in the long-house.
Niri ke Panggau is conducted to cast bad spirits away, heal the girl`s “sick” spirit and guard against misfortune.
The ceremony commenced at sunset when three elderly men started chanting and making noise by hitting a metal stick against the floor while walking around the long-house. This ritual, performed until sunrise the next day, can only be conducted by those who are familiar with the verses. Others can replace the two men, but the leader must persevere throughout the ceremony, breaking only for food and short rests.
Just after dinner, the girl`s family and close relatives gathered at her family`s bilik. A miring ceremony was performed to appease the spirits as the three elders chanted. The girl was seated in a panggau (square box) representing a boat that connects this world to Panggau Libau, the Iban`s spiritual world. The crystal rock and other offerings were placed inside the panggau.
Her family members then proceeded to stitch thread on her T-shirt as well as that of her father`s. We were told that this protects the wearer from bad spirits who might re-enter the body through the heart. Her father took part in the ceremony because he is her guardian and also responsible for her life and soul.
After prayers were said, the panggau with the girl inside was hoisted up and tied to the ceiling. RM1 notes were tied to the four corners of the boat so that the spirits could pay for the boat fare to the other world. The cock used in the ceremony was sacrificed after the girl climbed down from the panggau. The panggau will be left hanging from the ceiling for a year.
We considered ourselves very lucky to have witnessed this rare ceremony. It was an eye-opener.
Source: www.thestar.com (25 Juni 2007)