Tuesday, January 15, 2008

People - Rentap, Iban Freedom Fighter, c1800-1870. Part 2

View from Bukit Sadok, Ulu Layar, Betong Division
Source: Betong District Council

In Jun 1857, Charles Brooke led 3500 Ibans and 500 Malay soldiers to destroy the farmland around Mt Sadok to cut off Rentap's food supply chain. They climbed to the top of Mt Sadok at 2700 feet. From there, they could see across to the ridge where Rentap's fort was. The fort was made from thick belian woods and approach was either from the north or south directions through steep terrain. It was almost impenetrable and the Brooke army could not attack it successfully.

After 8 days in heavy rain, Charles retreated with his wounded Malay chief, Abang Aing. Rentap taunted Charles,"It's only we, Dayaks, who can walk and fight on land and climb up steep mountains. Bring all your fireguns from England. We are not afraid of you." Rentap's prestige grew with this win and he grew bolder and continued his village raids in Lower Lupar and Saribas.

The Cannon used to defeat Rentap at Bukit Sadok.
"Bujang Sadok"
Source: Men of Sarawak, A.M. Cooper, 1968

In 1858, James Brooke built a fort at Betong and launched another attack at Rentap's Sadok fort with a 6-pounder gun. Rentap drove Brooke's army away with stones, poison darts and gunfire. Rentap became arrogant with his success and his popularity with the Ibans decreased. He created unhappiness among his Iban supporters by divorcing his old wife and marrying young Ranee of Sadok. His Iban and Malay allies started to leave him.

Rentap's Monument at Bukit Sadok.
Replica of the "Bujang Timpang Berang"
cannon used against BrookeSource: Betong Resident's Office

In Sep 1861, Charles Brooke launched a better organised battle against Rentap. It comprised of 20 Chinese to make roads and earthworks, a group of negroes trained in close combat fighting, Dayaks and Malays. They were armed with a rocket firer, a 6-pounder gun and a 12-pounder gun. On 28 Oct, the 12-pounder cannon (Bujang Sadok) blasted through Rentap's fort and the army entered Rentap's stronghold but he had escaped. Inside they found trophies from Rentap's raids and ammunition supplied by the rebellious Malay chief, Sherip Masahor. The army burned Rentap's stockade to the ground.

Lumbong Rentap, Bukit Sibau, Ulu Wak, Pakan
Source: www.sarikei.net.my (URL not working anymore)

Did Rentap really come out of the jungle and surrender in early 1862 and negotiated peace with the colonial government as claimed in "Source 1"? He retired to the Entabai area (source: 1). Another source (Source: 4) disputes this because "Rentap sworn never to see or make peace with any white ruler for as long as he lives....".

Another source mentioned that Rentap had never officially surrendered to the colonial governemnt and died of old age in the 1870s at Ulu Wak, Julau, Sarikei division, about 30 minutes on foot from his longhouse. He was buried at Lumbong Rentap (Rentap's shrine), an honorable Iban burial ground sheltered from the weather in a specially constructed hut at the top of Bukit Sibau, Pakan. The final resting place of Panglima Rentap whose original name was Libau Panggau Dara, was officially opened by Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu on Oct 28 1989. (Source: 2).

Rentap's Monument at Bukit Sadok.
Beneath the cloth is the replica of 

the "Bujang Timpang Berang" cannon used against Brooke
Source: Jabatan Penerangan, Sarawak

Rentap's Monument at Bukit Sadok, 44 km from Bukit Sibau, was officiated on 26 July, 2003 by the Deputy Chief Minister, YB Tan Sri Datuk Amar (Dr) Alfred Jabu. (source: 3)

Rentap Building at Betong
Source: Betong District Council

The original one armed iron cannon, Bujang Timpang Berang, has moved from the the historic Fort Lily in Betong to the Betong district office in Bukit Bangun, where a town road and the community hall have been named in Rentap’s honour. (source: 2)

Rentap at Heroes' Monument.
Outside Kuching High Court.

On July 27 1993, the Sarawak government declared Rentap as one of the heroes of Sarawak, with his portrait displayed on a plaque at the Heroes’ Monument (source: 2) outside the Kuching High Court. Around 1998, Sarikei named the main road of the new residential area (Kampung Sebrang, etc) across Sarikei River as Rentap Road. The road has ended for the real Rentap but Rentap Road has just begun its penetration into the Sarikei jungles.

Rentap's legendary battle cry was Agi Idup, Agi Ngelaban! (I will fight as long i will live!) This battle cry later became Malaysia's Royal Ranger Regiment's motto.

Rentap's great grandson, Luyang Bansang, 48, said everyone in his 26-door longhouse, RumahUjar, knows about his Rentap ancestry and the Tawak Sadok, a type of gong, used during the Bukit Sadok battles. (source: 2 ) Now visualise the gongs, cannons and battle cries! Some day this will be a dramatic movie with the words "based on a true story".

1. Men of Sarawak. A.M. Cooper 1968
2. The Borneo Post. 23 August 2007
3. Rakan Sarawak Bulletin, November 2003.
4. Iban Cultural Heritage


Daniel Yiek said...

This is some very nice Sarawak history. The 3 famous battles were the last 3 in this post.

David vs Goliath; a very tough belian fort; a warrior falling for a younger girl and irking his community; downfall of a freedom fighter in the grand finale. This epic movie can be called "The Three Battles".

Tuan Lokong said...

Allow me to continue, That Cannon the Brooke use was nicknamed "Bujang Sadok" but then "Bujang Timpang Berang was brought by once the allies of Rentap called Nanang and Luyoh (brother) they brought this cannon from Sambas. The trio even supported Sharif Masahor at that time was also a so called rebelion along the Mukah and Igan.

Very unfortunate the allies Nanang and his brother Luyong was convinced to break off from Rentap to join the Brooke's regime. Just because there they had a heated argument with Rentap over the Gun Powder allocations. With this even Rentap's another team of Aji's brother (Aji died earlier and the owner of the Gunpowder stocks) surrended themselves to the Brooke's regime.

In fact there was say, three fort or blockage at Mt. Sadok. Rentap burnt the other two in anger of his allies.

In the third attempt to capture Mt. Sadok. Rentap's warrior named Rajau was the sharp shooter of this cannon (Bujang Timpang Berang) was killed and his blood smeared and soaked all over the cannon and gunpowder. Knowing this Rentap and his followers flee to Skrang. The last person holding the fort was "Manang Usay" who later walked over to the Tuan Muda with his sword but unfortunately felled and was strucked by Tuan Muda with his sword through his stomach killing him instatntly.

It was later learnt that Rentap's strong cannon was dated 1515, where Nanang's father captured it from the Dutch at Sambas.

Aftermath, peace and Agriculture followed. Rentap do not attempt anymore incursion later died of old age at his house (New home) in Entabai. So much about his story.

Later the Brooke regime went for The Great Kayan Expedition in the upper Rejang. This is just summary its very long and I managed to collect all these story when visited & listen to those folk in Skrang, Kanowit, Entabai and etc... Loved the legendary story will be good in future when we have SaraWood.

Daniel Yiek said...

Tuan Lokong,
Very interesting! "Bujang Timpang Berang" is the cannon used by Brooke. Do you mean the cannon used Rentap is also called the same name? Pls advise.

Looks like you have a strong interest in Sarawak history. SaraWood is a good name for Sarawak Hollywood. Mel Gibson may be interested to do this movie. :)

Tuan Lokong said...

Ahemss "Bujang Sadok" was the Brooke's Cannon, it was the 12 pounder. The "Bujang Timpang Berang" was the Cannon brought from Sambas by Nanang & Luyong. Again why it is name Timpang berang cos' one of the Cannon arm broke and is missing. Yes that will be a good movie though.

Kanga said...

Sorry! Mel Gibson does not fit my taste to act as 'Rentap'. I prefer Chow Yen Fatt instead!

Ikan Sembilang said...

I’ve just come across an old photo taken presumably in front of the old Sarikei District Office when Sir Anthony Abell, the Governor of Sarawak (1950-1959), visited Sarikei in 1957. It was a group photo showing the Governor posing with government officers and local Malay, Chinese and Iban community leaders. One of the Iban leaders sitting in the front row was in his warrior outfit and could possibly be Penghulu Ah Nin of Sg Neylong or Penghulu Eman of Sg Sarikei mentioned by Lidasar earlier.
Unfortunately, due to underexposure, the left side of the photo is a bit too dark for any faces to be clearly recognizable. Anybody knows how to use Photoshop to fix the problem?!

Lidasar said...

Looking forward to see ikan sembilang's photo with Sarikei's very own warrior.

Betong was presumably the place that produces the earliest educated Ibans. In the Brook's administration & even the early Malaysia formative years the earliest Ibans that hold high positions were from Betong. This district was a special zone for the Brook's administration where they granted special permission for early missionary work and establishing schools for the Ibans beside they gave special rights allowing the Church to issue their own currency in this district for the purpose of purchasing commodities from the Ibans and reciprocally the Ibans will use the currency to purchase supplies from the Church. Why Betong? The Rentap's episode must have influenced the event that follows.

Daniel Yiek said...

Tuan Lokong,
Thansk for the info on the cannons' names.

Ikan Sembilang,
I looked thru my collection of old pics that have not been used in this blog yet. I have a pic that may or may not be the pic you are talking about. It's at the District Council with a banner "Welcome. H.E. the Governor of Sarawak" I dont know what HE stands for (name of governor? can anyone check). The pic had Ibans, Malays, Chinese and whites.

Another pic shows similar multi-racial group photo but they were all standing.

Ease Chen also sent in a group pic of Chen Ko Ming with 1 Iban and 1 Malay. Maybe I should do I post on that soon.

Mel Gibson directed a very good movie about the tribes in South America (I think it's Mayan) and the language was tribal with English substitles. You will like it. :)

Ivy said...

Kanga, the movie that is directed by Mel Gibson is called Apocalyto. I like the movie except it is a bit too graphic on killing, stabbing.. The movie depicted on the war between the Mayans in Mexico in their earlies. You could see the similarity of those tribe jungle people with Iban; the way they hunt, blow pipe..

Ikan Sembilang said...


Yes, I think it is the same pic. The building in the background, I presume, is the single-storeyed Sarikei District Office ( po lay shu) and not the District Council building, which is double-storeyed. The initials, H. E., stand for His Excellency. It will be great if you can do a post on it soon as I am sure some Sarikeians might be able to recognise a few local faces in the pic.

stlau said...

The picture of Main Street Sarikei with a row of great looking cars (1958?) - Governor in Sarikei?? Quite likely.

Daniel Yiek said...

Yes, that's the movie's name. Great action movie with a ancient tribal theme. I watched it on DVD.

Good link back to that pic with the cars!

Kanga said...

I dare to think differently. Its 'Rentap' directed by Tsui Hark.........an Iban movie,with Malay, Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, Foochow.... and some English...

OLFTGM said...

OK ... interesting stuff. I've been reading the narratives on Rentap and the comments, and I am afraid I have to ask this -- why is Rentap a hero? From all accounts (here and elsewhere)this was a man who wrecked havoc on his own tribe as well as other tribes in the area -- raiding, burning, murdering (all right -- head hunting). In short, he took lives and destroyed people's livelihoods. These were not Europeans he was attacking, these were his own people (among others).

Now, if I were one of those poor tribes, I would be royally ticked off. I've read (I believe the Baring-Gould/Bampfylde book -- but I could be mistaken)that this eventually caused his followers to desert him towards the end, and thus hasten his defeat by Charles Brooke.

I'd still like to hear your opinion on why Rentap is a hero. I am not trying to be funny, I'm trying to get a feel for the man from your perceptions of him.

Excellent blog ... Sarawak has such a fascinating history, it's a shame that not more of it is brought to the forefront. Sarawak's colonial history is distinct and unique and cannot be compared to Malaya's or Singapore's.

OLFTGM said...

Rentap was still alive on March 14, 1879. I am looking at the minutes of the Committee of Administration which met in Kuching on that date.

As part of the Committee's consideration on March 14, 1879 was a letter received from the Dutch resident in Pontianak letting the Sarawak government know that he was about to attack Tumonggong Rentap ("who resides on the border") in reprisal for his constant marauding into Dutch territory. It would appear that the old warrior was up to his old tricks.

To assist the Dutch, the Resident of Batang Lupar sends orders to the Ulu Ayer Dayaks forbidding them under penalty of being attacked by Sarawak,to assist Rentap or to interfere in the quarrel.

I indeed have Rentap's death date in my notes somewhere. When I get to it, I will post it so you will have the date and circumstances of this death.

Daniel Yiek said...


Thanks for the great comments! My 2 cents thoughts on why Rentap is hero:

Note that this was in the 1800s...in those days, it's quite lawless around the world. People attacked neighbouring countries and territories for their own gain. Rentap comes from his tribal days and he's not an angel either (from all the things you mentioned)but he stood out as a fearless freedom fighter against colonialism into Sarawak.

Colonialism has a good side (new laws, town planning, legal system, trading, etc) to it as well as a bad side (artificial elitism, colonial vested interest like natural resources and territory expansion, etc). To have an Iban & his small group fight against the huge army of Brooke colonialism was an inspiration for all Sarawak races.

Likewise, Chen Ko Min of Sarikei started the 1955 trade hartal vs the high colonial taxes. It snowballed into a state wide protest. That's inspiration to all.

OLFTGM said...

Thanks, Daniel. I am still convinced that Sarawak under the Brookes did not fall under the usual colonial model, it was a unique creature.

Far from being a cash cow, Sarawak drained James Brooke of all his wealth. When he died, he was heavily in debt, and left a country that was unable to sustain itself. It wasn't until Charles Brooke's reign that Sarawak started to become self-sustaining. And this was entirely through his able leadership and that of his administrators.

From reading through thousands
and thousands of pages of Sarawak's history; government regulations, minutes of government administrations and also the personal narratives of the Brooke family and the Brooke administrators, I think you do them a great disservice to simply lump them in with the colonists of the East India Company.

It is in the private narratives and journals that you get the true essence of these Brooke men. It seems clear to me, researching more than a 100 years later, that they viewed themselves as stewards of the land that they fully intended to return to its people. The native peoples were just as much a part of the government as the English administrators.

Just take a look at the make up of the Committee of Administration -- it was made up of the President (the most senior ranking Brooke administrator); the Commandant of the Sarawak Rangers; and the rest were natives -- the Datu Bandar, the Emaum, the Datu Tumanggong, and a native officer. When the Rajah was in the country, he presided over the Committee. It just strikes me as interesting that these native officers had important roles, they were not just puppets. Take a look at the expeditions against various insurgents -- native leaders played important roles as well.

Nothing will ever convince me that these Brooke administrators came to Sarawak to make a quick buck. These young men left comfortable lives in England to spend most of their adult lives in a harsh, hostile land with natives like Rentap waiting to kill them, and if he didn't, disease did. I almost want to weep when I read all those lives lost in the midst of their youth. They served for very little money and some like Fox refused to take a salary. Why did they do this? That is the story that fascinates me. That is where you will find the true story of the Brookes and their band of administrators.

I call them the quiet heroes who built the foundation upon which Sarawak stands today. I don't suppose there are any monuments in Sarawak today to the Englishman who supervised the construction of that fort on a hill in Kuching during whose watch Kuching enjoyed unprecedented peace and security; or to that medical officer whose unrelenting campaigns to vaccinate the population saved thousands of lives?

I hope you do not allow the political rhetoric of the current day, blind you to your true past.

Back to searching through Committee of Administration minutes ... I will post the Rentap information.

Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks for the great insights. Yes, the Brooke government has been described as "benevolent" by many. The Petra Jaya library in Kuching has a rare book section which they have digitised...I guess you are already a reader. Likewise google has digitised many books from the Brooke days.

Looking forward to your Rentap info.

OLFTGM said...

Thank you for the tip on the Petra Jaya library in Kuching. I will check to see if they have online access. I live half-way across the world from Sarawak, so I have to depend on what I can find in the US, what I purchase from rare book dealers and what I have access to electronically. My interest is driven by the fact that two of the Brooke administrators were ancestors of mine.

Daniel Yiek said...


The Kuching library website is www.pustaka-sarawak.com

I assume you have been to Kuching, Sarawak. If not, welcome to Kuching and I would suggest travelling up the Rejang River to Kapit to experience what the Brookes went thru. There are still some buildings/forts from the Brooke days in Kuching, Kapit (and Betong, not on the Rejang River).

Tuan Lokong said...

I guess the Ibans have only one hero to cherish...

Anonymous said...

my friend,

forgive me...please check your facts...Rentap was an Iban of Upper Skrang stock...not of saribas...it's important to get your source correct...


Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks for your feedback. Yes, it's important to get the source correct. I would be glad to update the blog if you can provide the sources. eg: website, newspapers clips, books, word of mouth from xxxxxx longhouse), journals, etc.

Anonymous said...

My apologies again...it's been a year ago, but i feel duty bound to highlight such erroneous blog publication...

"..., Libau “Rentap” sworn never to see or make peace with any white ruler for as long as he lives...." source: http://gnmawar.wordpress.com

blogging is free...but careful not to mislead the younger generations....Rentap never made peace with or surrendered to the whites...he swore to that.

Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks for the update.

The source quoted is here:


Anonymous said...

“..Alexander the Great, who would become the Conqueror of the Ancient World, was born at Pella, Macedonia in 356 B.C.E. His father was King Phillip II and his mother was Olympias, a deeply spiritual woman who taught her son that he was a descendant of Achilles and Hercules. From the earliest age, then, Alexander WAS CONDITIONED FOR CONQUEST AND KINGLY GLORY. He, thus, became focused on being a great ruler…”

Source: http://www.essortment.com/all/alexanderthegr_rxdz.htm

“…Genghis Khan, whose original name was Temüjin, was born near the river Onon in the northeast corner of present-day Mongolia. When he was nine years old his father Yesugei took him to another tribe to find him a wife. On the way back Yesugei was killed by the Tatars, who in the second half of the twelfth century had displaced the Mongols as the strongest tribe in eastern Mongolia. Yesugei's followers deserted his widow and children, who were then forced to live in conditions of great hardship. TEMÜJIN SURVIVED BY HUNTING AND FISHING…”

Source: http://www.notablebiographies.com/Fi-Gi/Genghis-Khan.html

RENTAP was born to an upper Skrang Iban family...while still a baby, he was lost or rather disappeared from thin air...his disappearance caused great despair to his poor parents and the whole longhouse....he only reappeared after 3 days..the story has it that he was taken by the Iban deities of Panggau Libau...upon returning the boy to his parents, they were strictly asked to name him Libau [Rentap, which means, "Earth Tremor", was his ENSUMBAR he earned in his later years through the manner he conquered his enemies]...and the parents were informed that the little boy was destined to be a great warrior and conqueror of his time...those days you shall kill or be killed...survival of the fittest...that was the manner for a person to enforce his leadership and influence...

Most ethnographic observers of the Iban, the most populous ethno-linguistic group of West-Central Borneo, have characterized Iban society as “egalitarian”, “democratic” and “classless” (cf. Freeman 1970, 1981; Heppell 1975; Sather 1980; 1978).

...he was a mere figure playing a script in a drama of cultural confrontation with the whites.

Daniel Yiek said...

Trekking up Bukit Sadok. Lots of photos at this blog post


Anonymous said...

Take note of why Rentap never surrender .... he was already issued a "Death Warrant" from Rajah Brooke for Killing Allan Lee. Thus, surrender was not an option for him. As for other Saribas leaders (Nanang, Luyoh and Aji), they have different war strategy and was given peaceful options by the Rajah Brooke. Because of their leaders insight, the Saribas Iban never lost their territory and homeland and became the first Iban group to be developed in Sarawak. Rentap lost his homeland in upper Skrang.

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