Borneo: Ibans and Cockfighting and Gods


– Gameness til the End

The Origin and Traditional values of Iban Cock-fighting


Cock-fighting is another type of culture or recreation which is commonly shared by the Ibans. Their interest for this culture originated from the game introduced by Raja Machan who held a cock-fighting bout with Ambong Mungan. The later lost the contest to Raja Machan and decided to go to visit the supernatural being in the sky to look for a fighting cock. In the domain of the God in the Sky, he met with a Supreme God called Raja Petara who gave him a fighting cock with the coloration of “Tuntong Lang Ngindang Terbai, Biring Belangking Pipit Kechuai”. Raja Petara told him that the fighting cock would never be defeated in the contest. With this prized possession given by the Supreme God, Ambong Mungan staged another cock-fighting session against Raja Machan. With such divine help, he won the contest.

There is another story of an Iban man named Kendawa, who went to the underworld in search for a good fighting cock with the coloration of “Biring Gerunggang”. In the underworld, he met with Ensing Jara who is a deity who looks after the soul of the dead fighting cock. He is also known as God of Cockfighting. These tales goes to show that cock fighting is a serious affair to the past Iban man who went through great length in search for a good fighting cock. Furthermore, they also imitated the game where their fable hero Keling, his friends and Gods of war, Sengalang Burong and his party held a cock-fighting contest against their arch enemies, Apai Sabit Bekait and demon Nising or Beduru in the sky.

The Iban believed that all the fighting cock that the supernatural being (Petara and Bunsu Antu) used in the cock-fighting contest, turned into human warriors. That is why cock fighting is closely tied to intangible qualities of human nature, their spiritual fulfillment and their religious refinement. It signifies a man’s chivalry while fighting enemies during war expeditions. As human beings became the fighting cocks of the supernatural being, they bore many different types of coloration (bulu manok), which is believed to reflect the personality profile of each warrior. The Iban believes that every warrior is born with his or her own “god given” fate (tuah diberi Petara) and destiny (nasib). These fate and destiny can only be seen and read from the scales of the fighting-cock’s leg and in its coloration. The scale is unique to individual rooster reflecting the unique fate given by god to individual warrior. That is why an Iban warrior is called “manok sabong” (fighting cock), spiritually sharing and possessing similar properties and characteristic. Thus, through these supernatural being, the Iban learn how to recognize the different type of coloration of the fighting cock and choose their preferred colorations that fit their personality when they became true warrior. With this traditional knowledge, the Iban learn how to recognize the quality and profile of each warrior and the natural element that influence them.

An Iban man is only a true warrior after he has slain an enemy in a battle. A true warrior will declare to God his praise name (ensumbar) and his choice of fighting cock coloration with the blood of his first slain enemy on their hand, which they tapped on their knees, elbows, on top of their head (bubun) and at the tip of their tongue. The declaration is also followed by swearing to God to abide by the rules of engagement handed down for generations. Once the fighting cock coloration has been declared with an enemy blood, the same coloration fighting cock must be used to honour the said warrior when he is invited to grace any major festival of the Iban people. If he needs to change his praise name later in life, he needs to repeat the same process using a fresh blood of his slain enemy.

The Iban warriors adorn beautiful headgear during major festivals or war expedition. These headgears are decorated with beautiful Angus pheasant feathers to resemble the beauty and grace of a fighting cock. The art of cock fighting teaches them to recognize the vulnerability of individual warriors. This helps the warleader to select individual warriors to perform specific task in a war expedition, which, at times, would include death duel with enemy warriors. That is why cock-fighting is not only a favorite pastime, but it is also a school of thought that teaches chivalrous behavior (courteous and considerate behavior) associated with the spirit of Iban warriors. It also teaches the Iban about the natural behavior, character and instinct of different fighting cock as it’s coloration represented the type of fish, birds, animals and insect living in its natural environment; location of the sun for their active and inactive time, feeding time, playing time, rest time; river tide situation; etc. Cock fighting thus represented the Iban’s religious and personal ideal. It is certainly their unique way of life.

The period when the Ibans normally hold cock-fighting bouts is between the felling season and the time when the burning is approaching. In the past, this was known as the annual cock-fighting Season.

In the past, on the eve of a cock-fighting contest, leaders of the cock-fighting teams would ask two bards to sing renong (folk songs), one after another. The renong that they sang were the ones that were formerly prescribed for war expeditions. They mentioned Keling, Bunga Nuing and party who went on war expeditions against their archenemy, Apai Sabit Bekait. War expeditions are similar to cock-fighting contests. Therefore, whenever the Iban leaders wanted to go on war expeditions, they would ask the bards to sing the renong specifically prescribed for cock-fighting contests, following what Ensing Jara did when he held a cock-fighting bout against Ngerai and Niram from the land of the dead (sebayan). Whenever they sing the renong, mainly for cock-fighting bouts or war expeditions, they must prepare offerings because the supernatural being that used to go on war expeditions or held cock-fighting contests are all mentioned in their songs.

However, to the Ibans who adhere to the old customs, cock fighting does not bring them any harm. It is a traditional sports and if organized professionally, it will be good for the tourism industry which benefits the Dayak people. In the past, the cock-fighting session is the time they exchange views and contemplate various meaningful undertakings with each other. Through their conversation at the cock-fighting arena, a majority of them receive ideas on how to improve their methods of farming, gardening, trading and carrying out activities to raise their community standard of living.

The cunning ones do not indulge themselves too much in gambling and betting during cock-fighting bouts because they remember the advice of their elders on being thrifty. They are aware of the dangers of doing things irresponsibly which will not only reduce their families to destitution but create problems for their children after their deaths.

Nowadays, cocks fighting are being organized occasionally following a major festival, annual gawai Dayak festival and final death rites (ngetas ulit) to mark the end of mourning period. In the headhunting past, death rites was completed with the acquisition of fresh heads. Such practices of blood letting have been replaced with cock-fighting session. This beautiful tradition should be preserved and kept alive in a contemporary Iban society through a better-organized session, proper set of rules and better arena.

(additional*in Iban)


1. Mimpi rurus – Manah
2. Burong rurus – Manah
3. Bulu manok maioh bunoh – Ngeraup – Siti Bulu
4. Manok manah bintih – Kering sereta Silat
5. Tisik ngemudi ka bulu manok ti manah – Tuah
6. Ngangkat ka manok ngena hari – enggau atur
7. Saa manok enggau chukup – manah intu
8. Taji ka bulih – tajam

Lapan iti Rukun Sabong ti diterang ka datas nya, rukun sabong menang, enda bertuakal agi, tentu menang. Nya baru tau berani masang manok naka pemisi, tau dipasang nerima pasang besai.

Enti kita nyabong enda ngena rukun sabong datas nya, kita semina nyabong enggau buta-tuli, sapeneka ati aja, nyabong betuakal, nyabong nasit, nyabong ngapa, nyabong nadai penemu, nyabong nadai pelajar. Tampak bendar kitai enda nemu nyabong dipeda orang ti bisi ngembuan pelajar nyabong.

Enti udah belajar sereta nemu rukun sabong, nya baru tau nyatup orang nyabong sabarang maia lalu manok ke dibai kita ka gelanggang endang disadang menang. Baka kitai ka ngerja pengawa bukai, kitai mesti bisi petua, isharat enggau rukun awak ka pengawa kitai lurus pejalai. Nadai semua utai nyamai sereta mudah diulih kitai enti enda enggau petua, isharat enggau rukun. Kitai enda tau ngutuk diri empu enti alah kategal salah petua, isharat tauka rukun, laban penyalah nya endang penyalah kitai empu ti enda chukup pelajar tauka penyabar dalam pengawa nyabong.

Besabong ka manok tu baka pengawa kitai mensia ka bentaruh ka nyawa bebuti enggau pangan diri. Sapa alah, nya mati. Nya kabuah kitai enda tau enda betati ka tiap-tiap rukun sabong, enggai ka alah uti enggau pangan diri. Kelia, enti alah uti enggau pangan diri, ngagai ringka ga pemulai sida. Nya alai rukun sabong enda tau enda dipelajar awak ka enda lebu bebuti enggau pangan diri.


Bansa kitai iban endang udah lama bisi panemu ngelala bulu manok. Ngelala bulu manok tu siti panemu sabong ti nyelai bendar enti dibanding enggau panemu bansa bukai ke sama bekunsi ka uti sabong bakatu. Bulu manok endang dikelala bansa iban nyemaka semua bansa utai ti idup (jelu, burong, ikan, indu utai enggau bansa utai tumboh) baik ka di dalam ai tauka di darat. Lalu pengangkat bulu manok mega ditemu kitai bansa nitih ka ulah, bunyi, gaya, pendiau enggau pemakai utai idup ti sabaka bulu enggau manok nya. Bakanya mega tuah manok ti dipeda kitai ba tuboh enggau ba tisik kaki manok sabong kitai. Tisik enggau tuah manok endang nitih ka pemai enggau gamal utai idup ti sabaka nama enggau bulu sida. Semua ulah enggau pendiau utai idup ti nyemaka enggau bulu manok endang dipelajar ka kitai Iban ngambi ka nemu maia hari sida kering, maia sida makai, maia sida diau, bansa utai di empa sida enggau maia ulah bukai. Semua utai tu endang bisi sangkut-paut enggau maia kitai nyabong manok sereta enggau sapa bulu manok ti disabong kitai nya ninggang pangan diri. Ari tuah enggau bulu manok, orang ke nemu nyabong endang nemu ni bagi manok ke bebintih nya tau dulu datai kaki ba lawan diri.

Bedudok ari pelajar sabong tu anak pungka lelaki Iban kelia endang udah diajar ngelala bulu manok kenyau ari sida iya agi biak. Sida mega diajar ngintu manok sabong ti aroh ati diri empu. Enti sida nyau udah nyadi ka manok sabong orang, sida nemu ngambu bulu manok sabong nyadi ka tanda pemerani sida tauka pengering bulu diri. Pengawa ngambu bulu manok sabong tu dikerja chara besumpah ngena darah munsoh ka udah didengah sida. Bulu manok sabong tu beguna bendar dikena miau enggau niki ka bala Raja Berani enggau Bujang Berani enti sida diambi ngerja pengawa gawai besai kitai bansa. Enti salah bulu manok dikena, pengawa sida tau sabau ngapa laban salah ripih pengawa lalu enda chukup intu. Utai baka tu tau ngemedis ka orang ka bempu pengawa. Nya kabuah ngadu enggau ngintu pengawa ba pengarap bansa kitai Iban pedis bendar enti nadai penemu ti chukup kena ngerja pengawa. Nya alai anak Iban enda tau enda nemu ngelala bulu manok, ukai semina dikena bebuti nyabong aja, tang mega ka penemu kena ngerja pengawa pengarap kitai bansa.


poultry gamefowl chicken gamecock


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