SIBU: Some 35 descendants of those buried in an old Iban graveyard near Lorong Tun Abang Haji Openg 23 in Sg Antu yesterday held a peaceful protest to claim back the site after finding out that the site had been taken for development purposes without their consent.
According to their spokesman, renowned land and human rights activist Peter John Jaban, the site had been used as an Iban cemetery since 1916.
“However, to their (descendants) shock in April 2013, the old Iban graveyard near Lorong Tun Abang Haji Openg 23 in Sg Antu has been developed.”
Peter said the descendants then went to the Land and Survey Office here to double check and according to records the land was still recorded as an old Iban cemetery.
“As they were still not satisfied with the situation they then went to the Sibu Municipal Council to check, and they were told that their old Iban graveyard land was believed to have been taken for development purposes,” he added.
Subsequently, they lodged a police report in the same year – 2013.
Later, he said, the descendants approached Temenggong Stanley Gramong Bandar for advice and assistance, but to no avail.
“This old Iban graveyard is believed to be located on NCR land,” he pointed out after joining 100 others including descendants of those buried in the graveyard and members of non-governmental organisations.
Among those present were organising chairman David Majang Sang, Persatuan Dayak Sarawak (Pedas) Sibu chairman Mathew Mudai Umpi and Gerakan Anak Sarawak (Gasak) Sibu representative Tuah Lumpoh.
According to Peter, in the early days Sg Antu was known as Sg Setulak and the area was the earliest Iban settlement in Sibu before the occupants moved to other areas.
“Thus, once they moved out from this area, they definitely left behind ‘tembawai’ (old longhouse foundation) and their graveyard.
“So the site still belongs to the descendants who are still alive today and they have the rights to claim it even though it has been developed,” he stressed.
Peter said the last burial at the site was in 1977 for a three-day-old baby girl.
“Besides the three-day-old baby girl, others buried there include two Iban community leaders, namely Penghulu Tukik and Penghulu Jimbat who were buried there during the Raja Brooke era as well as the late Salok Ribut who was buried there in 1916,”
“This old Iban graveyard was shared by six Iban longhouses during the Raja Brooke era – namely from Sg. Bidut, Aup, Sungai Antu (Sg. Setulak), Emperan Tekalong, Meluan (Seduan) and Ulu Sungai Merah (Gerijak),” he noted.
Meanwhile, Majang said “Those involved in the development of the area should have approached the descendants of the ancestors buried in the old Iban graveyard before proceeding with their development project. Their act does not respect the ancestors of the descendants.”
Majang said they would pursue the case up to the court.