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Iban Longhouse: A Selection of Physical and Spiritual Aspects

ROLAND WERNER (b. 1925 – ) holds degrees in both Medicine and Dentistry, namely DDS, 1949; MD, 1951; DTM&H, 1956 and MB, BS and EDS. He qualified as an Oral-Maxillo-Facial Surgeon and as an Otorhinolaryngology Specialist in 1963. During the period 1956 and 1973, Werner worked and researched in Indonesia, Nigeria, Iraq and Kuala Lumpur.

University of Malaya Press (First printing, 2013)
150 pages, including Illustrations and Bibliography

Culture of Healing in Malaysia: Preservation of Culture and Recording of Traditions


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Iban Longhouse: A Selection of Physical and Spiritual Aspects is the last part of the Aborigines and Indigenous Peoples Culture of Healing Series by Roland Werner. This part contains three important principles. It demonstrates by way of a three-dimensional computer study the variations of the structural design of different types of longhouses and sections into which the “acteurs” of ceremonies and rituals are integrated, to bring their actions to life. Furthermore, it describes with detailed illustrations selected pelian and saut-rites. A graphic explains the spiritual aspect of the relation between the ritual area, the action of the messengers (bats/ wind), to call for the help of manang raja menjaya and selempandai, the “god” who is able to recast the human. Pelian are manang performances which distinguish a different kind of actions depending on the violence of illness, to seek cure, to safeguard in advance against something that might happen, killing an evil spirit (bebunuh buyu), —the most serious ritual, and the ability of the patient to pay. They are marked by special ceremonies over and above the general course of invocations, songs, and enchantments which are common to all. The pelian rites are performed at night unless the manang thinks they are to be done immediately. The way the manang conducts the pelian rites may differ but their purpose and objectives are the same, which are to defeat and cast out evil antu causing sickness, to pursue, catch and return a soul (semangat) which is on its way to semabayan (the dead) into the patient’s head by placing it over the region of the anterior fontanelle (Bubun Aji), and to tend and fortify the ayu (life, vitality). The rites promote the vitality of the individual or the solidarity and continuity of the bilik (family) that is in relation to variously conceptualized soul-counterparts (ayu/bungai). They may entail retrieving a soul (semangat) lost or ensnared by a malevolent spirit and restoring it to its rightful owner. They may stop the interference of an antu. The kind of pelian the manang performs depends upon what he sees in his batu ilau crystal.

In Iban Longhouse: A Selection of Physical and Spiritual Aspects, the author also provides a review summarizes concepts of diagnosis and treatment and another complete review of the composition and structure of acting forces and members in the complex of “holistic healing” throughout these comparative studies. All these four parts describe in the Aborigines and Indigenous Peoples Culture of Healing Series deals with physical and psychic depth the culture and beliefs of the Iban people. Although this is an area in which many Malaysian scholars, as well as social and political leaders, would enter with some trepidation, the author considers that this is just the kind of topic that should be given the full value of objective intellectual treatment by members of our extremely multicultural society. The author has devoted more than half of his professional life to the careful inquiry and thorough description of various community traditions. He has accomplished a colossal task to an extent beyond our expectations. His investigations lead us to areas beyond mundane anatomy and microbiology. His explorations of the spiritual depths of the batu karas and the diagnostic procedures of the pentik should really concentrate the minds of casual readers. The Ibans or Sea Dayaks are a branch of the Dayak peoples of Borneo, in South East Asia. Most Ibans are located in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. These riverine peoples live in the longhouse communities, seldom with more than a few hundred members, and trace their descent through both the male and females lines. The family is the basic unit, and children remain with their parents until married. A boy usually seeks his bride outside his own village and goes to live in her community.

In general, their subsistence economies rest on the shifting cultivation of hill rice, with fishing and hunting as subsidiary activities. Their tools are of iron, and their principal weapons are the sword, the spear, and the blowpipe. Their languages all belong to the Indonesian branch of the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) family. Their religious beliefs are animistic and polytheistic, highly developed and complex. Formerly, intertribal warfare Was rife, with headhunting a major feature.


1. General Information
2. Longhouse
3. Iban Pantheon
4. Superstitious Procedures in Handling the Sick
5. General Concepts of Healing Rings
6. Pelian
7. Betanam Pentik
8. The Two Ritual Apparatus
9. Gawai
10. Saut Rites
11. Cross Section of Longhouse with Sadau
12. Lifting a Sik Person
13. Review


Weight0.463 kg
Dimensions26.6 × 19 × 1 cm





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