Traditional Attire of The Iban in Sarawak, Malaysia

A little about me, am born into Iban people or Sea Dayaks from Borneo, in the South East Asia located in the Sawarak. Sarawak is a beautiful state of Malaysia full with diversity cultures, languages, and people. Malay and English is the common spoken language but Sarawakian has their own dialect / accent which not quite known to the West of Malaysia. According to the Borneo Post Online, Sarawak is a land of many tongues. Besides, there are main 6 major ethnics groups: Iban, Chinese, Malay, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau, and severals minor ethnics group. Click the link for more information Sarawak Tourism.

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Photo credit to Sarawak Tourism

One of the most unique about Iban people is their female traditional attire (ngepan iban indu) that only wear during special occasions such as annual festival every year, rituals, weddings, beauty pageant, and certain ceremonies. Ngepan most wore during Kumang Gawai (annual festival), and back in the ancient days Kumang is known as the Mother Goddess. Wearing the attire highly considered a supreme beauty, and every year there is beauty pageant (Pekit Kumang) where female iban showcases the traditional attire as well other qualifications and the winner will be crowned as Kumang.

To wear the costume, this whole process taking about 4 – 5 hours including make up (about the same getting ready for a wedding ceremony) . First of all, make sure no eat and drink during the process because it is impossible to go to the toilet while wearing full costume. To get started, lady only wears tank top and short pants so it won’t get obvious.

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  1. Kain Karab / Kebat ( Traditional Woven Skirt or Pua Kumbu)
Picture sourced from : borneoart.com

Pua Kumbu is the first item will need to be put on as a skirt. The folding line need to be shown slightly in the middle and not on the side. Every pieces of attire needs to be wore in a proper way. Pinned and secure around the waist area.

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2. Selampai (Sash)

Picture sourced from : handicraft.my

Sash is used to wrap the body and to show your end sash behind your back.

3. Marek Empang / Tangu ( worn for shoulder)

Picture sourced from : museumvolunteersjmm.com

There’s many design and colour available for this piece and mini pom pom is attached to every end of the beads.

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4. Sugu Tinggi ( Silver Headgear)

Picture sourced from : ngepanibanonline.com

The head piece usually pinned to a headbun and lace to wrap around the bun for extra secure, so it will not fall off. It’s thin and light but after awhile, you will feel heavy and tight. Long hair is more appropriate for this headgear as easy to used compare short hair because you will need to used extra hair extensions to make a bun.

5. Sementing Buchai / Sengkiling ( Coin Corset)

Picture sourced from : ngepanibanonline.com

This Coin Corset can weight up to 5kg or even more. Wore it around your waist and the dangling coin will be making a loud noise, it is heavy even the coin is fake. But it is so traditional which makes it expensive to buy and difficult to find these day.

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6. Rawai (Silver Corset)

Picture sourced from : borneoartifact.com

Back in the days, this Silver Corset made in one size and nowadays it seems impossible to fit in. Usually, if the corset is not available Silver Belt can be used to replace.

7. Lampit ( Silver Belt)

Picture sourced from : ngepanibanonline.com
3 / 4 Silver Belts instead of Silver Corset
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8. Tali Ujan / Mulung ( Silver Chain)

Picture sourced from : ngepanibanonline.com

Wore around your neck after Marek Empang / Tagu.

9. Tumpa Perak (Silver Bangles)

Picture sourced from : borneoartifact.com
Silver Bangles
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As you can see from the photo above, traditionally 2 bangles on the arm and 7 bangles on your hand (both hand/arm). If you have more or less, usually it’s fine but number 7 is somewhat appropriate. Wearing it for more than 8 hours will leave a mark on your hand as it need to stay and properly cling to each other.

10. Gelang Kaki ( Anklets)

Picture sourced from : ngepanibanonline.com

Traditional anklets has many form and sizes and its all depends not the preference.

11. Bush Pauh (Silver Purse)

Picture sourced from : ngepanibanonline.com

Silver Pauh is a piece of accessories that Kumang will carry along with her when she wear the attire. It’s like carrying a purse.

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Under Iban ethnics, there various other different cultures and dialects. Beautiful and unique cultures up to today it’s still exists and maintained.

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Leave me a comment below.

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