Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Notes on the Seping of Belaga District, Sarawak

Academic journal article Borneo Research Bulletin

Notes on the Seping of Belaga District, Sarawak

Article excerpt


Almost nothing has been written about the Seping except for an occasional passing mention by administrators (de Crespigny 1882; Low 1884a and 1884b; Urquhart 1955) and ethnographers (Brosius 1992; Haddon 1932; de Martinoir 1974; Nicolaisen 1977-1978; Rousseau 1973, 1974. 1990). This paper is a general description of the community. It looks at Seping history, social organization, socio-economic activities, and how the community has managed to maintain its ethnic identity in the face of increased mobility, intermarriage, rapid change, and development.

The Seping are among the few tiny ethnic minorities that have survived assimilation by bigger groups and exist today as a distinct community, keeping their cultural identity and language intact. They claim to be the first group to occupy the Belaga River region and have left their mark on the landscape as proof of that. In 1956 they lived in one longhouse comprising 16 households at Long Koyan along the middle reaches of the Belaga River. in the early 1960s a major portion of the population migrated to the Tinjar River in the Baram District; four households, however, remained at Long Koyan. After almost twenty years on the Tinjar, the group that migrated there returned to their ancestral homeland on the Belaga River. Today, the Seping comprise three longhouse settlements: Long Bala with 28 households and a population of 205, Long Koyan with 8 households and a population of 56 people, and Mile 6, Belaga-Long Urun Logging Road, 4 households and a population of 23 people. The four households at Mile 6 comprise the group that did not migrate to the Tinjar.

The 4 households at Mile 6 insist that they are Bemali, a group culturally and linguistically related to the Seping, but in reality they are offspring of mixed marriages between Bemali and Seping, or Bemali-Seping-Kejaman. The Bemali used to live as a separate community, but due to a rapid decrease in population they merged with the Seping in 1956, at the single longhouse settlement at Long Koyan. Given their small number, and that they are offspring of mixed marriages involving Seping partners, they will be considered in this paper as Seping.

Oral History

According to an oral narrative (see attached Appendix) by a Seping elder, Beng Lian, the Seping people are the original settlers of the Belaga River. Originally they comprised seven longhouses: two at Long Segiam, and one each at Long Seduk, Long Tegelem, Long Semakat, Long Belaan (in the Koyan, tributary of Belaga) and Long lga (see Map 1). A long time ago, a supernatural event took place: they killed a dragon and cooked it. Because of this, the seven longhouses either turned to stone or were swept downriver by a gigantic flood. All the people, except two, died. The two people were a brother and a sister. (1) They fled up the Penyuan, a true left-bank tributary of the Belaga River. After years of roaming the jungle, they became adults, lived as husband and wife, begat many offspring, and revived a new community of Seping. They lived for many years along the Seping River, a tributary of the Belepeh which in turn is a tributary of the Murum that flows into the Balui. After living on the Seping River, the community moved back to their original homeland on the Belaga River, led by their leader Lakui. They reoccupied the Belaga River as one longhouse community. Since the time of Lakui, leadership has changed twelve times: Lakui to his son Biat; Biat to his son Lakui; Lakui to his son Kiat; Kiat to his son Selalau, Selalau to his son Balan; Balan to Jengai; Jengai to his son Utung; Utung to his brother-in-law Likah Usa; Likah Usa to his cousin Lian Lakui; Lian Lakui to his step-son Kebing Gau; and Kebing Gau to the present headman, Lenjau Lian. They also moved settlements from one location to another along the Belaga River, leaving traces of their occupations in terms of old longhouse sites, temuda- and burial poles. According to Beng Lian's narrative the Seping have established no less than eight settlements in different locations along the Belaga River (see Map 2). …

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