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EXPRESSING IBAN COMMUNITY’S SPIRIT OF

PATRIOTISM IN POPULAR MUSIC AND FILMS
Connie Lim Keh Nie 1, Yow Chong Lee2, Anna Durin3, and Alexander anak Chelum4

1,2,3,4
Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

ABSTRACT

Popular media such as music and films provide great repository of knowledge should we study from, just to
name a few, socio-cultural and political lens. In conjunction with rapid lifestyle changes as a result of socio-
cultural development as well as the demand for political consciousness for the formation of a newly formed
nation, popular music and films had rapidly embraced both modernity and nationalism to the detriment of
traditional practices in culture in order to adapt themselves in the era of modernization. Using the concept of
modernity, historiography and textual analysis method, we will then look at differential transformation within
Iban music industry and Malay language films in responding to agents of socio-cultural and political changes in
Malaysia. From the song lyrics and film textual analysis, it is portrayed that popular songs and films are used as
a medium to express the socio-cultural identity of its people. It is shown in the popular song lyrics how the Iban
react and reflect in adaptation of modern demands of change as a result of the effects of historical processes on
the social, cultural, physical, economic and political environments. Meanwhile, the Malay language films chosen
also reflect on the political demand of state, soon after it obtained its independence from the British. Hence, the
aim of this paper is to examine how modernity has historically framed the development of Iban and the Malay
people and how they responded to the modernity and the socio-cultural environment during 1950s to 1970s
through the use of popular song and film as a medium to express their spirit of nationalism.

Keywords: Patriotism, Iban Film, Iban Popular Music

1. INTRODUCTION
From the colonial period to postcolonial era, Southeast Asian nation states have gone through
dramatic historical developments and experienced political and economic changes. But
looking at the history of popular music and film through the lens of the nation building,
existing research do not respond to the expression of patriotism among the Iban people. This
paper will review the songs and films produced during the 1950s-1970s; the spirit of
patriotism could be seen through popular media.

2. BACKGROUND
Past research focused mainly history of film making in Singapore and Malaya, and paid very
little attention to localize film making and even exhibition in Sarawak let alone on film with
Iban as a subject matter. Whereas in Iban popular music, it is not created for commercial
purposes as in film. Popular is created as a form of propaganda, expression towards nation
building during the period of psychological warfare.

On the other hand, through the lyrics analysis, the historical context and socio-cultural of the
songs had been done by „peeling off‟ in order to uncover the layers and levels of meaning in
the context of modernity. The Iban tradition of being a Bujang Berani and Keling, who is
legendary Iban warriors commemorated in the folklores as well as Rentap, who dared
challenge the Brooke monarchy had deeply influenced the Iban as reflected in the song lyrics.
It shows the traditions had always been a source of motivation, inspiration and encouragement
to the Iban Trackers, Sarawak Rangers, Ranger Regiment, Border Scouts and Police Field
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Force. They are the modern Iban warriors who fight in the battle fields. Articulating
modernity through Iban popular song, the lyrics written in the songs had shown their
exemplary and their admirable courage, uncanny skills in tracking the enemies in the jungle
and their prowess in the battlefield. These songs could lift sagging morale. It lifted up and
strengthens their confidence in the battlefield. They could push soldiers far beyond
themselves to overcome obstacles that seemed impossible.

3. DEVELOPMENT OF HYPOTHESIS
During the era of Malayan Emergency and Confrontation, music and film do not exist in the
vacuum only. They are invested with agenda that push political goals yet there were
concealed in the name of cultural media commodities. Without people realizing it, it had
become embedded the history of Malaya and Sarawak during that period.

4. METHODOLOGY
Iban songs with the theme of patriotism and film related to Iban subject are chosen. This
research applies historiography and content analysis methods. Using historiography, the
authors are trying map out the timeline and events which happed when the songs and music
are created. Meanwhile, content analysis method is used to provide insight of the lyrics and
film texts in relation to patriotism.

5. RESULTS AND ANALYSIS
Portraying Patriotisms in Malay Language Films
‘Bujang Berani’ sung by Penny Lily
Expressing the spirit of patriotism in the 1950s, it is seen that nothing stirred the hearts of Iban
men more than the opportunity to fight in the battle as they want to earn the title of „Bujang
Berani‟. It shown that the legendary Iban warriors as immortalized in the Iban folklores had a
deep influence on the Iban men who joined the aim force. As expressed by Unau anak Saoh,
“He joined the war in Malaya as he wanted to look for enemy in the jungle and to fight them
until the end” (Backhary & Abdullah, 2012). „Bujang Berani’, sung by Penny Lily (refer to
Figure 1) expressed the honor to the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers as a man of
outstanding ability, of martial spirit and commitment to battle, a man who has never wavered
before the enemy, a man who fight and protects the country. He is a man who is outstanding
and extraordinary degree of courage. He and his men fought heroically. He himself was in
danger, facing the bullets in the war zone. His courage and heroism are worthy of recognition
as ‘Bujang Berani’. He is brave, fearless, fighting for the nation ensuring the peace and
prosperity of the country. They became famous the world over, only because of their skill in
the art of tracking but also because of their courage, aggressiveness and ability to mingle and
interact with soldiers of different nationalities they were operating with. They were respected
for their prowess in the battlefields, including by the Gurkhas and the Special Air Service
personnel from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Rhodesia (Robert Rizal Abdullah,
2008). Recognition and encouragement by the leaders are seen and felt during the Malayan
Emergency from 1948-1960. The British Army and British Government had showered
deserving soldiers and Iban Trackers from Sarawak with bravery awards and certificates of
recognition. Among the bravery awards received by the Ibans during the British Colonial
Government are the George Cross Medal, George Medal, Military Medal, Mention in
Despatch, British Empire Medal and Commander in Chief Certificate.

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Oh Nuan Bujang Berani Oh, you are Bujang Berani
Nyaga Rakyat Menua Diri Look after the country
Mutus Ati Anang Takut Whole heartedly, don‟t be afraid
Lebuh Menua Kena Charut When the country is in trouble

Angkat Nuan Bujang Berani Don‟t you Bujang Berani
Nyaga Rayat Menua Diri Looking after the country
Enti Menua Rayat Mayuh If the country has a lot of trouble
Ari Kachau Langgar Musuh Being attack by the enemies.

Chorus: Chorus:
Nama Nuan Suah Di Dinga We always heard of your name
Bulih Nama Bintang Berani Being awarded on your bravery
Diberi Ulih Tuan Rajah Given by the Rajah (ruler of the country)
Laban Nuan Bujang Berani Because of your bravery, known as „Bujang
Berani‟

Anang Kakang Anang Chamang Don‟t be in doubt, just strike
Napi Peluru Leka Senapang To face the bullets
Enti Berani Anang Nagang If brave, don‟t try to stop him
Lebuh Menua Langgar Orang When the country is attack by enemies.
Figure 1: ‘Bujang Berani’ sung by Penny Lily, song lyrics in Iban and the translation in
English.
As shown above, the Ibans are proud with the warrior and hero, who had given the
recognition and award by the British Government. The message written in the song ‘Pantun
Puji’ (refer to Figure 2) reflected as a remembrance to Iban Trackers who are also the
Sarawak Rangers on their achievement during the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960.
Specially written to honor the achievement of Awang Raweng towards his contribution and
achievement is what we Sarawakian should be proud of. As mentioned by Christopher Kelly
in the second verse of the song lyrics “Awang Raweng ke terubah iya (Awang Rawang is the
first), Ngarika anak bangsa Sarawak (Sarawakian with extraordinary courage), Patut digelar
keling menua (Should be called „keling‟ of the country), Laban iya udah meri penampak
(Make Sarawak reknown to others)”. Praising Awang Raweng, who is the first Iban who are
awarded with George Cross medal. Through song, Christopher Kelly is hopping that people
will always remember the sacrifices made by Awang Raweng as well as the fellow Iban
Trackers known as the Sarawak rangers. Awang Raweng1,born in 1929, an Iban from Nangka
Skrang in Simanggang (Sri Aman) who joined as a trackers in the Sarawak Rangers. After
one month of intensive weaponry-training, Awang Raweng, was an Tracker with the Malayan
Government, patrolling with Platoon 10, Delta Company, First Battalion from the
Worcestershire Regiment2, in Labis Segamat, based in Johor, Malaya.

1
Awang Raweng‟s father had served in the Rajah‟s Sarawak Ranger.
2
“During operations against the bandits in Malaya a section of a platoon of the Worcestershire Regiment was
ambushed by about 50 of the enemy. The leading scout was killed instantly and the Section Commander fatally
wounded. Awang anak Raweng was hit through the thigh bone and at the same time a soldier, moving behind
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‘Pantun Puji’ by Christopher Kelly

Kami rakyat temegah ati We, the citizen
Ninga berita kita sedadu Received the news of our soldiers
Nerima bintang gagah berani Receiving the award of bravery
Pangkat ti endang pemadu tinggi Highiest ranking award

Awang Raweng ke terubah iya Awang Rawang is the first
Ngarika anak bangsa Sarawak Sarawakian with extraordinary courage
Patut digelar keling menua Should be called „keling‟ of the country
Laban iya udah meri penampak Make Sarawak reknown to others.

Patut digelar keling menua Should be called „keling‟ of the country
Laban iya udah meri penampak Make Sarawak reknown to others.

Sekumbang kitai udah merdeka Since we are already independence
Mayuh peti ti udah pegari The treasure is now famous
Kita tentu berasai gaga We surely feel happy
Ninga bangsa kitai dipuji Hearing our people being praised

Bangsa kitai endang tampak rita Our Race is famous
Enda buyan ngapa lebuh betempuh Not afraid in battle
Mutus ati ngetan menua Whole heartedly protect the country
Setapak kaki sigi enda undur Not even a step he will move backward
Mutus ati ngetan menua Whole heartedly protect the country
Setapak kaki sigi enda undur Not even a step he will move backward
Figure 2: ‘Pantun Puji’ sung by Christopher Kelly, song lyrics in Iban and the translation in
English.

Due to his examplanary and extraordinary courage, the songwriter said Awang Raweng
should be called the „keling‟ of the country. In myths, Keling is highly visible because of his
cleverness and bravery, becoming the leader. Iban mythology had provided a character for
Iban men to emulate their cultural heroes, like keling and other great ventures (Kedit, 1980).
Besides, it is believed that keling owned a magical power (tau ajih), which is like he could be
invisible, disappeared from the enemy as well as he could change his appearance into different
roles. An Iban hero who had once seek the assistance from keeling, it is for sure he is difficult
to be defeated by his enemies. It is believed the keling is the highest ranking among the male

him, was hit below the knee, the bullet completely shattering the bone. Awang anak Raweng, although wounded
and lying exposed under heavy rifle and automatic fire, collected his own weapons and that of the soldier and
dragged him into the cover of the jungle. In view of the impending attack Awang, completely disregarding his
own wound, took up a position to defend the injured man. There he remained, firing on every attempt made by
the bandits to approach, and successfully drove off several attacks. Ultimately Awang was again wounded, the
bullet shattering his right arm and rendering further use of his rifle or parang impossible. Despite loss of blood
from his undressed wounds, he dragged himself over to the wounded soldier and took a grenade from the man‟s
pouch. He resumed his position on guard, pulled out the pin of the grenade with his teeth and with the missile in
his left hand defied the bandits to approach. So resolute was his demeanor that the bandits, who had maintained
their attacks for some forty minutes, and who were now threatened by other sections, withdrew.
The coolness, fortitude and offensive spirit displayed by Awang anak Raweng were of the highest order. Despite
being twice severely wounded he showed the utmost courage and resolution to continue the fight and protect the
injured soldier.” (George Cross citation published in The London Gazette, 20th November 1951).
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deities in the Iban mythology. It shows the significant of Keling‟s mythology is being
practiced by the Iban Trackers and Sarawak Rangers after they had killed and enemy while
they are in the battle field. Dreams were important sign which the Iban always pay attention
to as the spirits meet within the confines of dreams. The Iban believes there are three types of
dream. First, there are dreams about meeting particular individual in the spirit world and
receiving advice from them. Second, there are those dreams in which one doesn‟t meet spirits
but comes across certain objects in daily life which serves as a pointer towards particular tasks
a person must fulfill. Third, some dreams deal with everyday experience and have no special
meaning. Therefore, the Iban believe the spirits are able to provide accurate and useful
information in their dreams. As it is practiced in Iban culture before a person embark or
begins its journey or fight in a war, they always carry out the miring (saucer) ceremony, so
that the gods and deities will bless their journey as well as helping them to win victory and
protect them far from danger. In the Iban community, the name Keling is definitely highly
honored and respected as it is closely link to their culture and tradition. As reflected in the
lyrics “Mutus ati ngetan menua (Whole heartedly protect the country), Setapak kaki sigi enda
undur (Not even a step he will move backward)”, shows the spirit of ‘Agi Idup Agi
Ngelaban’, fight until death stays at the heart of the Iban warrior.
As mentioned in songs, ‘Bujang Berani’ and ‘Pantun Puji’ express courage and bravery of the
Iban who had served as an army, many of them had received medal from the British
Government. These were the bravery virtue that has been upheld with their life as a warrior.
For these warriors, bravery was the virtue has been upheld in their lives.
Portraying Patriotisms in Malay Language Films
While Iban music, as demonstrated, played a pivotal role in constructing the spirit of
patriotism among Iban community in Sarawak, there was barely film industry in Sarawak that
produced films in Iban language. Unlike the relatively feasible means of production for Iban
music, film production requires large production cost, skillful crew and actors hence explains
why there was no Iban film production until 1957, when the first feature length narrative film
was produced in Kapit, Sarawak.
Produced by Shaw Brothers who founded Malay Film Productions (MFP) based in Singapore,
“The Long House” was eventually one of the Eastman-colour films ever produced by Shaw
Brothers. The film depicts the story of unrequited love between a local Iban lady, Luli and her
partner, Kenny Buchannan. The film was only available in both English and Malay versions
sidelining Iban language altogether. To say the least, however, there is no trace of the film
available to the public and only some private write-ups that illustrated their memory watching
the film in theatre.
In a year later, another film set in the remote area of Sarawak was filmed. The film, “The
Virgin of Borneo” like the film before it, reflects the sexual fantasy created around the
indigenous people of Sarawak. While the former film shows topless female figures, the latter
film attempted to entice its audience with title coated with sexual connotation. Hence, it is
clear that these two films had positioned the audience to gaze on the exotic others. Produced
by Chinese producers and directed by Indian directors for vast Malay audiences in British
Malaya, Singapore and Borneo, these films thrived around melodrama theme of love between
the male and female characters. The audience‟s attentions are also directed toward the cultural
identity of Iban, viewed from the point of view as an outsider.
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Despite the fact that narrative films that feature Iban people only realized in the late 1950s, the
film viewing culture was already in place as early as early 1940s when films screening
schedule can be found at The Sarawak Gazette3. Although mainly English films were shown
in the cinemas such as Sylvia and Lilian, there were also cinemagoers who watched Malay
language films produced mainly by two major studios based in Singapore, namely Malay Film
Productions and Cathay-Keris Productions (Wong, 2008). In other words, film consumptions
among the Sarawakians were by no means isolated in this context.
Having experienced the World War II and brief encounter with the Japanese, films such as
“Sergeant Hassan” and “Matahari” had nonetheless found their audience‟s (in this context, the
people of Sarawak) attachment to these films. These films are among the earliest Malay
language films made with nationalistic sentiments featuring two fictional figures, aptly named
Hassan and Matahari who fought the Japanese for their ill-treatment towards the people of
their community.
Could not stand the atrocities inflicted to the local community and the people they love, the
main characters in both “Sergeant Hassan” and “Matahari” were compelled to fight the
Japanese as well as the Japanese collaborators. The treason acts of the Japanese collaborator
in the film have exacerbated the harsh encounter between the locals and the Japanese armies
hence justified the needs for Hassan and Matahari in toppling the Japanese armies. Their
gallantry acts in defending their people were in line with the sentiments shared between
reviewers who seen the potential in these film in recreating the history of Malay Regiment in
fighting the Japanese and the communists, the common threats to the nation.
Since these two films, especially “Sergeant Hassan”, were also shown widely in the free-to-air
national television broadcast, RTM and pay TV, Astro especially during the Merdeka and
Malaysia Day month, they have then reinforced the narrative of national building for people
across the country (Yow and Emang, 2016). The audience are constantly shown films with
patriotic sentiment.

6. DISCUSSION AND FINDINGS
Having to think critically how patriotism is articulated in the Iban popular music together with
the history and development of Sarawak, the changes in geographical and cultural landscape
in Sarawak has been understood as a socio-cultural representation through popular songs as a
media. Although these three songs are just a song sung in Iban language by emulating the
Malay tunes from Malaya and Indonesia, but songs had served as a propaganda tool. Whilst,
it is just a popular song for entertainment purposes but the Iban popular music is used as a
modern media in nation building within the Iban territories.
Meanwhile, the films industry was at its peak during the 1950s, it is during this time that
Malay language film productions were brought to Sarawak to capture the lifestyle of Iban
people to be shown on screen. The authors contested that both “The Long House” and “The
Virgin of Borneo” have positioned the audience to look at the indigenous people of Sarawak
from the exotic gaze. There is no other record of Malay language films that were shot in
Sarawak from 1950 – 1970s. Hence, the authors have shifted focus to two outright patriotic
films for textual analysis, namely “Sergeant Hassan” and “Matahari”. The analysis indicates
that patriotism was forged on the film texts by first showing the hardship the people of

3
Sample of advertisement can be found at http://www.pustaka-sarawak.com/gazette/gazette_detail.php?id=1941
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Malaya has to endure during the Japanese occupation. As a result of pain inflicted by the
Japanese army as well as treason acts of the locals, the main casts Hassan and Matahari have
inevitably embraced patriotic acts by fighting the Japanese notwithstanding the predicaments
and danger that they have to overcome.

7. CONCLUSION
As popular music and films associating lifestyle of the people, they often made in line with
the historical dimension of socio-cultural phenomena as shown in the music and films made in
1960s to 1970s. Perhaps, in future research, the highlight could be shifted from the West to
Southeast Asia in particular Borneo region merging the concept of modern, and modernity,
followed by alternative modernities to justify what sounds modern in analyzing the
reciprocation of popular music production in Southeast Asia. Alternative modernities,
emphasizing the appeal of modernity in a localize context of Southeast Asia, as a cutting edge
to analyze the movement and dynamics of people, music, films ideas and technologies among
the urban setting in this region.

Acknowledgement
The researchers would like to thank Sarawak Broadcasting Department for the access to the
audio archive.

References:

Donald, J. (1991). Keling Of The Raised World. Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Penerbit Fajar Bakti
Sdn. Bhd.

Donald, J. (1998). Hikayat Keling Gerasi Nading. Kuching: Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka.

Ensiring, J., Saleh, R. M., Sutlive, J. V., & Sutlive, V. H. (2016). A Comprehensive Iban-
English Dictionary. Kuching: Dayak Cultural Foundation.

Kedit, P. M. (1980). Modernization among the Iban of Sarawak. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan
Bahasa Dan Pustaka.

Robert Rizal Abdullah. (2008). My Adventure: An Iban Warrior’s Autobiography. Florida:
Metier Books.

The London Gazette, 20th November 1951

Wong, S. C. (2008). Rice Wine and Dancing Girls: The Real-life Drama of A Roving Cinema
Manager in Fifties Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore: Monsoon Book.

Yow, C. L. and Emang, C. J. (2016). Selling the past in films: Shaw Brothers and the
Japanese occupation of Malaya. Malaysian Journal of Communication, 32(2). Retrieved
from http://ejournal.ukm.my/mjc/issue/view/877

Television Broadcast:

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Backhary, K. M. (Director), Backhary, K. M., & Abdullah, R. R. (Writer) (2012). Last
Journey to Sarawak. In History Channel Documentary (26 August 2012). Malaysia: Mills in
Frams Sdn. Bhd. for FINAS. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/RSh4I_K12cQ

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