Gauging the potential of the Rentap legend


The group at Rentap’s burial place.

IF you can climb Bukit Sadok, Mt Kinabalu is a piece of cake.

One of the staffers from the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) said this during an expedition to scale Bukit Sadok in Betong.

As it took a hike of two and a half hours to reach the summit, there could be different opinions regarding this but it was a tough climb, nevertheless.

Basically, it isn’t a question of whether you can do it, but rather, are you brave enough to try it? After all, Bukit Sadok symbolises bravery, strength and patriotic resistance – a fortress, built by an Iban warrior, named Rentap, to defend against the Brooke army.

A miring is being performed before the group ascend Bukit Sibau to see Rentap’s tomb.

On Sept 20, a group of STB staffers and tourism industry players were on a racee (reconnoitre) trip to Bukit Sibau and Bukit Sadok on the Rentap Trail.

It was a study tour to gauge the tourism potential of the areas and how tour packages could be put together to promote them.

Bukit Sibau is the retreat and final resting place of Rentap. It’s where his tomb still lies.

Rentap’s real name was Libau anak Ningkan. Rentap, meaning “Shaker of the world” was famous for his battlecry — Agi Idup, Agi Ngelaban (I will fight as long I will live) which was later to become the motto of Malaysia’s Royal Rangers Regiment.

The name Rentap might not ring a bell for many tourists as the stories of his life and his battles have not been fully documented in history.

A longhouse woman drying pepper at a longhouse in Bukit Sadok.

For the Iban community, however, his life narrative is being passed down from generation to generation.

During the reign of James Brooke, Rentap was regarded as the Iban warrior who fought for the rights of his people.

But for Brooke, Rentap was a rebel and troublemaker and he tried to get rid of him.

Rentap’s rebellion was said to have been caused by the White Rajah’s action against the Skrang Ibans who he thought were pirates.

As a leader of the Ibans in Skrang, Rentap resisted the Brooke’s army and this led to the building of the wooden fortress at Bukit Sadok where Rentap strategised his battle plans.

It was also there that he gained the reputation of a fearless warrior by thwarting many of the Rajah’s sorties to control the Skrang and Saribas areas.

James Brooke launched three expeditions to defeat Rentap and his army at Bukit Sadok.

The first was on June 7, 1857, but despite having an army of 4,000, Brooke could not gain control of the fortress.

The second started in August 1858. After another failed attempt, Brooke launched a third, much bigger and aggressive assault in September 1861.

Finally, on Oct 28, 1861, Brooke gained control of the fortress. Rentap and his followers retreated to Bukit Lanjak, Skrang, then to Entabai, Kanowit and Julau.

STB staffer Angela (left) helps prepare dinner at Rumah Joseph.

Rentap, who refused to give up and surrender, died at Bukit Sibau around 1870, due to old age.

On Sept 20, 2018, the STB expedition began at his resting place in Bukit Sibau, Julau. It took about two hours’ drive to reach and on arrival, we took a few hours’ break at Rumah Kadam Tajak in Wak, the guardian of Rentap’s tomb.

Anyone who wants to visit the tomb must first get permission from the nearest generation of Rentap’s descendants.

And for this, Jelie Bansang, 65, a seventh generation Rentap descendant, is the one to look for.

“When people want to climb Bukit Sibau and visit the tomb, they need to ask permission from me as I’m the nearest generation of Rentap.

“Once I’ve given the permission, a miring must be performed for protection,” he said.

The tomb is not very far from the longhouse — about half an hour’s drive away, followed by less than 10 minutes’ walk uphill.

We spent the first night at a hotel in Betong. On Sept 21, we visited Fort Lily and Betong Putra Jaya before heading to Rumah Joseph Sanda at Jambu Kerampak.

This longhouse overlooks Bukit Sadok where the group spent the night before embarking on the “Rentap Expedition” on Sept 22.

Trekking in the thick jungle, we saw a landscape of diverse flora and fauna, including various species of trees and plants such as raflessia.

A general view of Bukit Sadok.

Once at the summit, we were caressed by a gentle cool breeze amidst a panorama of mountain scenery.

There was plenty of space for barbeques and to mingle with the locals staying nearby.

According to Tuai Rumah Remong Ungat, the place is their land where they are free to roam around.

He said most of the local folks went to Rentap’s resting place to pray for protection, strength and bravery.

“Rentap was just an ordinary man but he was brave and strong and he was a big man. The folks here hope their children would be as strong as Rentap.”

The climb up Bukit Sadok along the Rentap Trail.

Remong said he learned from his ancestors that Rentap was defeated at Bukit Sadok because one of his guards betrayed him by passing information to the White Rajah.

“Rentap didn’t like war but he had to fight for his people. Then his own people betrayed him but he didn’t want to kill his own people — that was why he ran away,” he added.

According to STB (Visitor Information Centre Sibu) Tourist Co-ordinator Jessie Mangka, it doesn’t matter whether Rentap is famous or not – what’s important is his story.

STB staffers and industry players enjoying a break after arriving at Rumah Kadam.

“This is the second time we have gone on the Rentap’s Trail. VIC Sibu and VIC Kuching, all of us from STB are trying to experience this adventure first hand. We’re here for product update — we need to gather information for tourists,” he explained.

However, Jessie admitted STB alone could not do it and they needed industry players, especially tourist guides who knew how to package the product.

But is it enough with the story and the plot?

According to a tour guide, Ling How Kang, packaging the product will not be easy.

“We have the history. I think STB really put a lot of effort into this but they can’t do it all alone, they still need travel agents and operators.

“We do face a lot of challenges — the main things are transport and logistics — not forgetting that those who can join the trip are those who are fit,” he said.

A photo-call of STB staff and travel agents before the climb up Bukit Sadok.