Saturday, January 12, 2008

People - Rentap, Iban Freedom Fighter, c1800-1870. Part 1

Rentap, the most famous Iban warrior in Sarawak, was from the Betong Division but lived his last years in the Sarikei Divsion. The Sarikei story during the Brooke era needs to include with this Iban freedom fighter that fought against the Brookes.

Rentap - fearless Iban warrior, circa 1800-1870.
Source: Men of Sarawak, A.M. Cooper, 1968

Rentap was named Libau when he was born in the Kapuas River area in Kalimantan. His parents moved to the Saribas River region when he was young. After he took his first human head in one of his raids at other villages, he took the name Rentap ("one who makes the world shake" in Iban). In 1837, he fearlessly captured the brass cannon from the boat of the Sultan of Pontianak in full sight of its Dutch ally warship.

Batang Lupar and Batang Saribas - Home of the Ibans.
Source: Men of Sarawak, A.M. Cooper, 1968

On 31 Jul 1849 at the Battle of Beting Maru, he lost to James Brooke's men and withdrew to upstream Saribas and built a fort at Tabbat on Mount Sadok, overlooking River Lang. In 1852, James Brooke built a fort at Lingga to protect the villages at Lower Lupar from Rentap's frequent raids. Rentap came up with a battle plan to beat James - he attacked another Brooke fort at Skrang to draw people away from the Lingga fort. Then he quickly attacked Lingga fort and killed Lee, the English head of the fort. James was shocked and sent Charles Johnson Brooke to oversee Lingga fort.

In Dec 1852, James went to the Skrang fort and invited Rentap to negotiate peace but Rentap declined to meet.

Rentap's fort near Tabbat.
Source: Men of Sarawak, A.M. Cooper, 1968

In Aug 1854, James and Charles led an army of 7000 Malays and Dayaks to fight Rentap. To prevent Rentap's allies from coming to help him, an army under Steele went to Kanowit and another under Datu Temonggong went up the Saribas. The main army then travelled up River Lang and built a fort at Entabai. James then led an army of 500 to attack Rentap's Tabbat fort. The wounded Rentap escaped. After this, James Brooke was kept busy with other Iban groups attacking Lower Rejang trading posts near Sarikei and Julau. This allowed Rentap to return to Mount Sadok.

Rentap continued to fortify his Sadok fort. He called himself the "Inland Rajah" and became the centre of the Iban resistance against the intruding colonial powers. Did the Tuan Besar, Rajah James Brooke and his Tuan Muda, Charles Brooke, strike back? Stay tuned.

Men of Sarawak, A.M. Cooper, 1968.


Daniel Yiek said...

The Rentap story was a dramatic piece of Sarawak's history. What happened to Rentap in the end and how did the Sarawak gov honour this Iban hero? Come back for the concluding episode.

Ah Gau said...

Hi David. That's a good story man. maybe we can learn more about sarikei's history from this web too.. Great to have stories to tell when friends come to Sarikei!!

Lidasar said...

Is great to know we have such Iban hero in the early days. It would be greater if such warrior still emerge today but after 44 years of marginalization by the power in the west peninsular it seem that the race has already lost almost everything that the land of the hornbill provided for, from the huge forest to the last drop of black gold. I can't rational the fact that 95% of oil revenue is given to the west peninsular where as hornbill's zealots collected the balance 5%. Rentap would have surely be turning in his grave and looking for his war outfit if he knows that the land of the hornbill is now an Islamic state. I hope the next reincarnation of Rentap will be the catalysis for the imminent and eventual separation of the land of the hornbill from Islamic Bolehland.

Let us not forget our Iban's contribution to Sarikei and today I will recall again the little story about our own old Ibans warriors.

Under the Brook's administration Penghulus & Kapitans were appointed to represent their respective people and as Sarikei is made up of two rivers running on each side the appointment was make for one Penghulu to represent each river.

In the old days there were many long houses and each long house had a Twai-Rumah-Panjai to represent their long house but two warrior stand out among all of them. Those early days in the 1930's Penghulu Ah-Nin was made to represent Sugai Neylong and Penghulu Eman to represent Sugai Sarikei. Penghulu Ah-Nin was the Twai-Rumah-Panjai of Sugai Rusa where as Penghulu Eman was the warrior from Sugai Payong.

Penghulu Ah-Nin always wear his full warrior outfit to town, wearing silat & a coat given by the Raja with decorated colours plus feathers and always carriers the symbol of power and authority a Kayan sword. Wearing Silat was using a long piece of cloth covering the groin, those days it was the most common outfit for Ibans men and the ladies wear Sarong but topless. The Penghulu cut their hair the old Iban warrior style, fondly known as the Yakak-Tow (coconut head style). When on official both will appear wearing the full warrior outfit completed with Silat and Kayan sword.

Penghulu Eman could be the 1st Iban ever been to China, he was a good friend of the big boss Mr. 林 of the Hokkien shop 順發 Soon Huat and together they make a trip to China in the 1930s. Even the great Temenggong Jugah only managed to follow Tun Razak to China 40 years on in the early 1970s. Together with Mr. 林 they are a great pair of cock fighting kakies. In the 1950s Penghulu Eman also invested in shop lot, he bought half a shop lot at the last unit last block at Central Rd that is closes to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. The shop was occupied by a Hakka dentist. Penghulu Eman was childless and understands he adopted two Foochow girls as his daughters.

It would be great if we can have some Ibans visitor to this blog to add on the comment of the two old warriors of the 1930s - 1950s, photos of the two warriors would be great and who is holding Penghulu Ah-Nin & Eman sword now?

Kanga said...

Trivial comment: should '1952' be '1852' & '1954' be '1854'??

Good to know this bit of history of Sarikei. I remembered my family employed Ibans to do lots of hard work in pepper and rubber plantations. They know the land well.

Tuan Lokong said...

From past conversations with some older folks in the Lemanak and Engkari area, reveal the actual lost of Rentap at Bukit Sadok Expedition. On the other hand those who were on the Rajah side will never agree. I may tell this so called evidence later. All that we have understood and read so far have been from the Historian are they always right? I don't know too.

Tuan Lokong said...

Lets read it as "fictions", In the first and second expedition up the Sadok mt. The Rajah's army lost their battles. This is because Rentap at that time was fully supported by the Ibans from the otherside such as Lemanak or Engkari and etc.

Later declared Inland Raja, there was a decision that this Raja should have a young beautiful wife. Meaning to marry again, so with anger and demotivated the family and relatives of the first wife retreat out from the Inland Raja's orgainsation.

Many of those came down the Mt. to join the White Raja side. The second wife relatives were mostly younger and less experience in the warfare. So all the weakness of the Sadok Fort were exposed.

This defecting team knew that the main strength of Rentap is the warrior such as "Bujang Timpang Berang" he was so strong at that time and is good at handling the Cannon.

In the 3rd attempt concentrations was at this so called warrior. He was killed and Rentap tried to handle the cannon himself. This was too late because the cannon would not fire due to too much blood flowed over and into the flint hole (the blood of his warrior). Thereby later Rentap himself was shoot and wounded. He was force to flee away towards Sarikei side, thus later died in Kanowit area at his second wive longhouse (nobody will admit that because the Raja were looking for all these relative/rebels. Therewas further story about him Maybe I could tell again in the next round.

Tuan Lokong said...

Sorry just to check about the date:

In Aug 1954, James and Charles led an army of 7000 Malays and Dayaks to fight Rentap.

This was two years before I was born. Maybe update the dates, just in case.

Kanga said...

Good point Tuan Lokong. History is depending who writes it with an unique view point. For example an identical incident happening and viewed by two parties could be described differently by each party. I guess I can imagine that Rentap existed and played a part in Sarikei's history.

Lidasar said...

Yes I agree with Tuan Lokong & Kanga, history is depending who writes it. Did anyone heard the story of Hang Tuah, Hang Jebat etc where DNA done on skeletons from their graves was proven they weren't Malay stock but Muslim Chinese from the Ming Dynasty send by the Emperor to protect the Sultan?

I read following the DNA result the chapter on the 5 warriors were removed from history text book to conceal the true fact. How embarrassing if this is true.

Daniel Yiek said...

Tuan Lokong,
Good catch on the dates. 1800's not 1900's. Amended the typo.

Also corrected typo Tuan Muda, not Tuan Mudah, for Charles Brooke.

Most Brooke era stories are from what the colonial folks documenented in their journals from their point of view, ie they view themselves as the good guys.

Tuan Lokong said...

Cheers guy, well the Cannon "Bujang Timpang Berang" now is in Betong at the District Office at Bukit Bangun. I saw it before. At that time do not take any photo, I do not why. Maybe could someday.

Anonymous said...

I've heard some said that Rentap's grave was moved from Kanowit to someehere in Entabai area.. To visit the grave, we must walk around 2 hours. Sorry 4 my bad english.

Gillian Perrett said...

I see from The Borneo Post of July 17 that they are planning to make a movie about Rentap. I'll be happy when they finish constructing the road to Bukit Sadok; I never quite made it to the fortress.

Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks! I pasted the news below. I'm keen to understand
why you are interested in Rentap. Research?

Rentap the movie in the making
By Anthony Aga

Production company says movie should be in cinemas by end of next year if all goes well
SARIKEI: A film featuring the legendary Iban warrior, Rentap, is now in the making.
If the effort of the production company, Audio Master Sdn Bhd, goes as planned, the film should be in cinemas by the end of next year.
Audio Masters Sdn Bhd’s film crew comprising the managing director Abdul Rahman Daud, executive director, Roslee Sako, stunt director Norazmi Hassan, and financial controller Melawati Yahya are in town.
They are almost done with the final preparations and it won’t be long before the actual filming.
Roslee, who spent a while with The Borneo Post and thesundaypost, said their main task at the moment was more on research – gathering as much information as possible on Rentap by interviewing elderly Ibans and received stories passed down by their ancestors.
The information gathered would be “tuned up” to ensure consistency; ridding them of contradictions as observed in the different versions by historians; and as a measure to avoid mistakes which could adversely affect the quality of the movie.
An area of great concern is culture as they don’t want any misrepresentations that could offend the Ibans. “We must be very careful when dealing with the culture of any community because it is a sensitive matter,” he said.
“A mistake in the presentation of a community’s culture or customs can be very costly. One sure thing is condemnation from the community, which would be contrary to our original objective of highlighting their hero for the appreciation of the new generations,” he said.
In this particular respect, Roslee expressed his gratitude to the longhouse people who had been helpful during their weeks of research.
It was with their co-operation that the crew gathered information from genuine sources to form a version of Rentap’s story which would not only make them proud but also appealing to those watching the movie.
Among the places that the crew visited were longhouses in Pakan, Julau and Sarikei districts.
These longhouses, including Rumah Anjar, Rumah Jawa and Rumah Sedik, surround the area where Rentap was buried.
The other places were longhouses surrounding Rentap’s last fortress on Bukit Sadok.
Hoping for the best, Roslee said if the movie became successful it would be a source of pride for the Ibans in particular and Malaysians in general.
It would of course be financially beneficial for the company which coincidentally has two Sarawakian directors – Rosmah Rosli and Abdul Razak Abdullah.
Roslee also sees the movie as an indirect way of promoting the colourful culture and history of Sarawak, “which would be a contribution to the development of our tourism industry”.
In short, making the movie is like killing several birds with one stone.
With the research almost finished, the script, which is undertaken by Roslee himself and Abdul Rahman, is also very close to completion.
The next to be done is a ‘miring’ ceremony at Rentap’s grave in Pakan to fulfil the requirement of an Iban custom.
Roslee said it would be carried out after consulting the community and political leaders.
Hopefully, in November or December, they should be ready to start filming which is estimated to take about three months.
The shooting would be done mainly in Pakan, particularly at Rentap’s grave, nearby longhouses and around Bukit Sadok.
As it is difficult to reach the actual spot where the fortress once stood, an alternative setting had been identified for the fight between Rentap’s men and James Brooke’s soldiers.
The making of Rentap requires an investment of RM8 million which Roslee considers a worthy venture, especially as the target is the world market.
The dialogue is in English and Iban with subtitles in Bahasa Malaysia and English.
Initially when the movie was proposed in 2004 the budget was RM5 million, but after taking into consideration the present state of economy, they increased it, Roslee said after checking the information with Melawati.
During shooting, many locals will be employed either as workers or actors. In fact, locals would make up over 70 per cent of the people involved, according to Roslee.
Abdul Rahman (or Armoda within the film fraternity) is the director assisted by up and coming director, Nahar Akhbar Khan.
While Abdul Rahman is both an actor and director who had been involved in the production of many television dramas and theatre shows, Nahar is young, creative and rich in new ideas.
Roslee believed their combined efforts would make Rentap a hit, both locally and internationally.

Anonymous said...

Bujang Timpang Berang is actually not a person. It is a cannon owned by Nanang, an ally of Rentap. It is originally owned by Orang Kaya Pemanca Dana "Bayang" (Nanang's father) captured in Kalimantan. The canon is now at Betong District Office.

Anonymous said...

Rentap was never a Saribas Warrior or Chief. He was a man from Skrang (an upper tributary of Batang Lupar river system) who was allied to the Saribas powerful leaders, Orang Kaya Dana, Linggir "Mali Lebu" and Unal "Bulan". He also never fight with Jamed Brooke at the Battle of Beting Maru. The fight was between the Rajah Brooke and Linggir "Mali Lebu" men from Paku, Saribas. Better get your story right, do a better research and do not claim other Iban leaders credit.

Daniel Yiek said...

I'll be glad to quote your source(s) ..whether academic or anecdoctal sources eg: names elders from which longhouses. I'm sure readers would love to hear them too. Rentap is a historic figure and is of tremendous interest and heritage to Sarawakians. For the moment, all I have are the sources I have quoted in these posts. Looking forward to hear from you.

Daniel Yiek said...

The source that anonymous referred to can be found at Iban Cultural Heritage blog at

Anonymous said...

i agree with anonymous. Linggir was the real hero. He couragessly fought the rajah's army (beting maro war) together with Okp Dana Bayang and their saribas malays allies.

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