The Name Of The Iban
To the outside world the Iban were first known as Sea Dyaks. The word ‘dyak’ or ‘dayak’ has beenwidely used, in particular by Dutch colonial administration in the East Indies, to signify any non-malay native.The Chalmers thought that the word dyak meant simply ‘man’ in Land Dyak(Ling Roth,1896,i.42).Charles Brooke, however, states (1866,i.46), in reference to the Land Dyaks, that ‘the generic term Dyak (or properly called Dya by themselves) in many dialects means inland, although among many of the branch rivers the term is not known as being referable to themselves, further than its signification as a word in their language. Some of the interior populations….are called ka-daya-n.’ The Land Dyaks’ word for inland is ‘kadayo’. From this appears to have arisen the ‘error of applying the name Dyak to all the inland tribes’. Althought Bamplylde call this the ‘Dutch’ error, it was common to both Dutch and English speakers. At the time of his compilation, Ling Roth wrote (1896,ii.287,n.5) that ‘the name Dyak is here used in its generally but incorrectly accepted application to all natives of Borneo more or less wild’. This interpretation of the world has been queried, but whatever the derivation and meaning of ‘dya’ or ‘daya’ or ‘dyak’ itself, there is no doubt that as a description of indigenous Borneans it was early adopted by the Europeans.
James Brooke first encountered the Land Dyaks. In suppressing piracy he subsequently came across a distinct people who were superficially similar but different in language and culture: these he called Sea Dyaks, since ‘these people frequent the ocean’ ( Ling Roth, 1896,i.43). St.John (1863, i.4) actually attributes ‘Sea Dayak’ as a term to the Malays. It is not unlikely that Brooke inquired of the Malays the name of the people and was given this description in answer. Thus ,through their association with the Malays engaged in off-shore piracy or on independent expeditions, the Iban became known to Europeans as the Sea Dyaks(Hose and McDougall,1912,i.88). Throughout a century of Brooke rule the Iban were known to the administration as Sea Dyak:both the 1947 and 1960 Census Reports (Noakes,1950; Jones,1962) refer to “Sea Dayaks’- the former including notes and an appendix on terminology (and classification)-but, as many writers, including the author of the second Census Report, have observed,the name is inaccurate and misleading. The Iban are not a seafaring people in spite of occasional head-hunting forays off the coast; they are a hill people who live for the most part long distance from the sea and whose economy is agricultural.
While Sea Dayak survives as an alternative name,Iban has long been used throughout large parts of Sarawak.Iban is thought to be in origin a Kayan word. According to Hart-Everett (Ling Roth, 1896,i.40}; ‘……the Kayans habitually designate Sea-Dyaks as ‘’Ivan’’ among themselves, whence the Dyaks have applied the name; but having no v – sound in their language,they say ‘’Iban’’…… I have been informed, though I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the statement,that ‘’Ivan’’ in Kayan is a term carrying with it a sense of opprobrium….. That on the Rejang the Sea Dyaks should have adopted the name given them by their enemies is very curious’. Needham (1955, 168) thinks it is most unlikely that ‘Iban’ would have been adopted had it been a term of derision. Another (tentative) explanation claims that ‘Iban’ or ‘Ivan’ means merely a ‘wanderer’ but this has not been substantiated. Whatever its derivation, Iban was adopted by the Sea Dyaks and quickly came into widespread use – especially in the Third Division, the Rejang and its tributaries. It was certainly in use some years before Haddon (according to Freeman) introduced [it] to ethnographical literature’ in 1901 (Haddon, 1901, 325); it occurs, for example, in a quotation from Hart-Everett (see above, Ling Roth,1896,i.40).
For a long time Sea Dyak continued to be the preferred name of the sophisticated who had received some Western education and,commonly, abandoned their traditional religious practices; and on occasion these would refer disdainfully to the others as ‘Iban’. In recent years,more especially with improved communications, Iban has come into general use not just as the only name for information, broadcasting, and other official services in the Iban language, but for the people as whole.
Among the Iban themselves the word can be used in three ways:
- Firstly, in the ordinary sense to mean an Iban as opposed to a Land Dyak,Kayan,Malay,Chinese, etc;
- Secondly, to mean an ordinary Iban as opposed to a healer or shaman(manang);
- And thirdly, to mean, quite simply, a person, as, for example, in the phrase ‘is there anyone at home? ( bisi Iban di rumah ?)
The first sense is the most common. The name Iban is used principally to distinguish their own from other peoples, when necessary. For although the Iban recognize the common language,culture,and religion of their people,among themselves they continue to use the name of the river valley they inhabit as if it were the name of the people.They say, for example, ‘nya orang Skrang’ - ‘that’s an Iban (literally, ‘a man’) from the Skrang’ or to mean merely ‘that’s someone from the Skrang’, and ‘sida Delok’- ‘the people from the Delok’. They call themselves ‘kami Undup’ – ‘we of the Undup’ or ‘kami Lemanak’ – ‘we of the Lemanak’, or, quite simply, ‘kami menoa’ – we (people) of this district’.