Sunday March 3, 2013
Peace in longhouse now restored
By ANDY CHUA
SIBU: Two walls put up in an Iban longhouse at Bukit Aup near here for segregating its headmen as well as his family and his supporters, have been taken down and the quarrelling parties have also made peace.
The “Berlin Walls” as some of the residents of the 19-door Rumah Jonathan Juna called them, were erected on Nov 16 last year by 60 of the 86 families in the village to reprimand their chief, Tuai Rumah Jonathan Juna, who refused to relinquish his position after he resigned in July 2011. The walls isolated three bilik (living quarters) belonging to Jonathan and his family.
The whole settlement of more than 1,000 people actually have two longhouses and several detached houses.
Local Government and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh who was at the village yesterday, managed to get the people to make peace and take down the walls.
Before the walls were dismantled, he wiped them with the blood of a pig using a flower leaf in keeping with an Iban belief that it would protect the residents from evil.
The division’s Chinese community leader Temenggong Vincent Lau, who was also present, used a crowbar to prise off one of the boards.
Speaking to reporters after that, Wong said it was a happy day for the longhouse folk.
However, he admitted to feeling quite guilty because when the walls first went up, he did not act fast enough to settle the dispute.
“I thought that the matter could be left to community leaders such as the Temenggong, Penghulu and Pemanca. Yet, it remained unresolved, dragging on over the past three months,” he said.
Wong went on to explain that according to an Iban custom, when a tuai rumah has either relinquished his or her position or passed away, the anak biak (his/her charges) would elect a new leader.
In the case of Jonathan, he voluntarily resigned in July 2011 due to ill health.
His people then went through a democratic process of finding his replacement, which culminated in them electing one Catherine Tamoh Liong, who had been told to go for medical check-up — a requirement for all chiefs elect.
The appointment of the new chief was handled by Sibu District Office, but Wong was not informed of the matter due to a miscommunication. As a result, the new chief was not officially recognised. It also resulted in Jonathan continuing his role as the chief, which irked the people.
Jonathan, a former headmaster of a school in town, was appointed tuai rumah in 2003.
“Recently we held talks with both sides with help from the adviser of the longhouse’s JKKK (village development and security committee).
“I must thank Jonathan for his understanding. I now hope that everyone in the longhouse could live together in peace,” Wong said.
A thanksgiving dinner would be held in the evening of March 7 to commemorate the peace-making and new beginning for the longhouse, he added.
At yesterday’s ceremony, Jonathan was not present — instead he was represented by Pemanca Tadong Liang. A resident of Rh Jonathan Juna said Jonathan was “attending to business somewhere”.
Catherine was also not present as she attended a Catholic conference in Kuching. The new chief, 64, is a former teacher. She is also a member of PBB. According to a resident, Timorthy Chundi, the longhouse had gone down in Iban history as the first one to put up walls to isolate their headman.
Rh Jonathan Juna was built in 1957, having undergone three renovations over the years.