Kenyahs and Kayans ‘counting’ feathers on their hats

Effort being made to regulate the number of feathers on `lavung tepo’.

BELAGA: Hornbill feathers might be light and insignificant to others, but they are a symbol of authority and sovereignty to the Kenyahs and Kayans.

For these two communities, only the `maren’, the ruling class of the communities, are allowed to wear the feathers on their `lavung tepo’ (a round-top hat).

Not every `maren’, however, can simply wear a feather hat.

There is a process involved before a `maren’ is given a feather, known as `kerip’ by the Kenyahs and `dok’ by the Kayans.

First of all, when a boy of `maren’ descent reaches puberty (about 13 to 15 years old), and if the headman deemed the boy to be matured enough, the boy will be given a tweezer, which he must wear on his necklace.

Only after the boy has collected three tweezers would he be entitled to wear feathers on his `lavung tepo’.

Presently, the number of feathers on a `lavung tepo’ can be as few as one or as many as a ‘maren’ would like to wear.

As such, the patriarchs, or community leaders, are in the process of fixing the number of feathers for `marens’ of different status.

“We are hoping to regularise the number of feathers on a `lavung tepo’ to avoid any confusion. We are proposing that for ordinary `marens’ the number of feathers be three, for headman four, penghulu five, Pemanca seven, and Temenggong eight,” Pemanca Tony Kulleh told The Borneo Post yesterday.

The Village Headman Council (Majlis Maren-Maren Uma) of Sungai Asap has agreed to it.

For the Kenyah and Kayan communities in Belaga, a Belaga Community Leaders’ Committee (BCLC) is being formed to discuss and debate on the matter.

“We have also talked to the community leaders of the Kayan and Kenyah communities in Baram. They have more or less agreed. Our assemblyman (Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang), as well as the district officer, have also agreed.”

Once the issue has gone through the Belaga Community Leaders’ Committee, the committee and Sg Asap Village Headman Council will propose to the Majlis Adat Istiadat (state Heritage Council) to include it in the customary laws of the two ethnic groups.

Once approved by the State Heritage Council, it would be gazetted and be effective in the 15 longhouses in Sg Asap and more than 60 longhouses in Belaga.

Effort is now being made to regulate the number of feathers on `lavung tepo’.

“The regulation after being gazetted will be put in black and white, which will clear any confusion with regards to the number of feathers to be worn. It would make it easy for everyone to understand.

“It will also be applicable to all the Orang Ulus at large.”

Tony believed the regularisation of the feathers needed to be carried out or the wearing of feathers would be meaningless, as it had no other significance other than showing that the person wearing it is a `maren’.

In the old days, only the paramount chiefs of the Kenyahs and Kayans wore feathers, and they only wore them at important functions.

Feathers are to be respected and not used anyhow.

Later, with the introduction of religion, the significance of feathers is further forgotten and feather-wearing was taken lightly by some quarters.

That was why Tony and other patriarchs decided to regulate the use of hornbill feathers, now a rarity as the birds are facing distinction.

“We hope to do this for the maintenance and preservation of our tradition and culture.”

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