Iban art of ‘begendang’ in danger of fading away

Kulan (second right) and her all-women ensemble performing the ‘begendang’ during the Kanowit District-level ‘ngiling bidai’ recently.

KANOWIT: Playing the traditional Iban ‘gendang’ (drums) will be a dying art if the younger generation of the community does not make an effort to preserve it.

Kulan Dana, a ‘gendang’ enthusiast from Rumah Mani Labong at Nanga Tada in Kanowit, said she was very young when she started learning ‘begendang’ (playing the drums).

“It was ex-Tuai Rumah Labong Mani who taught us how to play the drums and what the sound is like when the tune is played right.

“It was an informal music class conducted at the longhouse ‘ruai’ (common area in the longhouse) whenever the elderly had free

time especially after a hard day at work at their ‘umai’,” she said.

Kulan, who is in her late 50s, said in the community, ‘gendang’ was usually played by men in a group but to find skilful women playing the ‘gendang’ is not uncommon now.

This was so, she said, especially among women of her generation and younger because ‘begendang’ was among the entertainment available at longhouses during their time.

She said there were different names for the music produced by ‘gendang’ based on the rhythm.

“The most common is ‘gendang pampat’ or ‘gendang lanjan’ that is usually played at occasions

that involve the ‘miring’ ritual. It is played to welcome the gods to the ‘miring’.

“There is also ‘gendang betunggang’ which we usually play for entertainment during gatherings at longhouses. Another is ‘gendang pelanduk tinggang batang’ (deer struck on fallen tree branches),” she said.

For example in ‘gendang pampat’, the first sound from the first drummer is called ‘ngindu’, the second sound from the second drummer is ‘nimbal’ or ‘nangkan’ and the third sound and thereafter from the drummers are called ‘malut’, she explained.

Kulan said the body of the ‘gendang’ was made from hardwood species like ‘tapang’, ‘kelampai’ and ‘belian’ while one of its ends is covered with animal skins. However, the use of wood to make the ‘gendang’ body is now being replaced by PVC pipe while the animal skin is replaced

with packaging as it is getting difficult to get the traditional materials, she said.

She advised the younger generations of the community to learn not only the ‘gendang’ but other Iban arts and traditions

to make sure they are still there 50 or 100 years from now.

Source: The Borneo Post

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