A ceremony involving intricate rituals, miring is performed to reach out to the Gods of the old religion. A rite performed mainly by the Iban tribe of Borneo, but it is still nonetheless seen carr ied out in other tribes on the island as well. According to most Iban, miring is known an adat or tradition that should be kept alive, as it is the heart and soul of their ancestors before them.
There are many reasons miring is performed and there are hundreds of unique ways it is performed. In this article we will look into predominantly the miring ceremony of the Iban people, performed during the Harvest Festival known as Gawai Dayak. Be sure to get comfy as this is a slightly lengthy read.. whenever you’re ready, let’s dive into the realm of the spirits!
Or you can click here for a shorter version of what to expect when attending a miring ceremony and my personal experience spectating the ceremony, it’s an old story though. Either way read on!
What is Miring?
Miring is an Iban word which translates to the word ‘ritual’ in English. Miring is also sometimes referred to as piring which means ‘offering’. Piring or offering is done in odd number (3, 5, 7, 9) and in folds. There are four types of piring. It goes as follows:
~ 3 plates, is used to address bad dreams.
~ 5 plates, is for when a marriage will take place
~ 7 plates, is used for when anyone from the longhouse will move out or travel far
~ 9 plates, is for when a war will take place
A pig’s blood is required when there is 5 or more plates used as offering. There are various reasons there is a need for a miring ceremony to be performed, however it’s main purpose is to contact the Gods (Petara) of the old faith or good spirits (Orang Panggau & Bunsu Antu) or spirit of dead ancestors (Petara aki’-ini’). Although today, miring is done in a less stricken manner, nevertheless many Iban still feel the need to keep their adat (tradition) alive.
Rites of Miring during Gawai Dayak
A miring ceremony is performed on the night of the eve of Gawai Dayak which is the 31st of May. During this time, the residents of the longhouse would sit outside of their rooms/house to participate in the ceremony. Today, not everyone is obligated to join the ceremony, some would just spectate.
A miring ceremony before Gawai Dayak is done to give thanks and to ask for guidance in planning for a new farming season. A more serious ceremony, it begins with a ritual music being played before the ceremony start called gendang rayah. A ritual expert known as lemambang will be the one whom will lead the ceremony.
The most important part of a miring ceremony is the food offering known as piring. An animal sacrifice is also required for the piring; a pig is usually slaughtered beforehand and only its’ blood is used as an offering whilst the rest of the pig is shared among the longhouse people.
To prepare the piring (food offering) requires experience as each item presented has special requirements. I would say that the Gods are just picky with what they want. The piring consists of:
The first to prepare:
semakau (tobacco), kapu (lime), buah pinang (areca nut), sirih (gambier leaves), sedi (wild gambier leaves), daun ruku (cigarette wrapper)
The main dish:
asi (cooked rice), pulut (glutinuous rice), rendai/ letup (pop rice), tepung (rice flour), sungki and ketupat (packets of cooked glutinuous rice)
garam (salt), telu (eggs) tuak (rice wine) is to be sprinkled on the prepared offerings.
All the ingredients are collected and sorted out then and there into plates, and once complete the popped rice (letup) will be thrown in all directions. Then after that, the lemambang will wave a cockerel above the offerings while giving thanks to the Gods for good harvest, this action is call bebiau. After all this is done, the cockerel is then sacrificed by slicing its’ neck. It’s blood covered feathers is then placed into one each into each plate alongside the offerings.
Eggs are the main ingredient needed in offerings ceremony. This is because an egg symbolises fertility and the beginning of a life. Do take note that the offering differ according to region, the one listed here might not be the same as in other regions of the island. After the bebiau is over, the offerings are then placed in different parts of the longhouse to ensure the right spirits are invited. Among the places are:
~ The memorial pole known as tiang pengingat – this is done at the first miring session.
~ Longhouse entrance door then covered with a blanket called pua kumbu – this blanket is used as an emblem of a successful ceremony.
~ Antu pala (enemy skulls).
~ Entrance of a room/house – to protect the people within the room/house.
~ On top of the rice jar – to bless the jar with infinite rice.
… and other significant places within the longhouse.
After the ceremony is over, this is when the people especially the youngsters of the longhouse get to start their celebration.