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‘Iru’ programme – Becoming part of an Iban community

There is this term in Iban: ‘iru’. It means adopted. It’s a centuries-old practice by the Ibans, that in case a couple cannot have any children, they will ask to adopt a child from relatives or friends. The adopted child will be brought up as if it was their own, but without secrets about having been adopted or who the biological parents are. As the child grows older, it is free to get to know and interact with its real parents.
With this 15 days/14 nights ‘iru’ programme (adoption programme), we offer you the truly unique opportunity to be adopted by an Iban longhouse community! You will stay with different families and get yourself involved in their daily life. The majority of the Ibans are farmers, mostly growing pepper. Hunting and fishing are an integral part of their lives as well. And as the longhouse is located at the foothill of a mountain, surrounded by jungle, it is no surprise that many longhouse dwellers still practice animistic beliefs.
The program will give you an insight into communal longhouse living and the hospitality of the Iban. Even though language will be a barrier, you will be given a handbook with useful Iban words and phrases. The Iban language is relatively easy as it uses the same alphabet, but of course you will need to practice it. Anyway, the locals will keep talking to you in Iban as they always do and will encourage you to give it a try.
The women are skillful in plaiting baskets and mats. Materials used are mostly rattan as well as other natural materials like ‘bemban’, and sometimes plastic too (as it can last longer and comes in many colours). You may sit with them and learn their traditional craft. This program was designed to let you experience the daily life in an Iban longhouse and witness the transition of an ancient lifestyle trying to adapt to a modernising world.

Day 1:   (-/L/D)
Transfer from Kuching to Betong town (about 4-5 hours drive) with lunch en-route. From here, you have 3 options to reach the village of Perdu (also named Rumah Siba):
– By trekking for about 6-7 hours through jungle scenery towards the summit of Bukit Sadok and the memorial site of one of the most famous Iban warriors called Rentap.
– By a shorter hike of 3-4 hours through dense jungle, crossing 7 rivers.
– By 4-wheel-drive along a challenging jungle path (depending on the weather).
You will reach the longhouse late afternoon and will be introduced to your adoptive dad, the village chief himself. Enjoy a welcoming dinner with all the Ibans and get to know each other.

Day 2 to 14:   (B/L/D)
From the second to the fourteenth day you will spend every day with a different family. The village comprises of 14 families, so you will be able to spend a full day with each of them, one by one. You are free to choose to follow any family member in their daily routine. Become a farmer for a day, try your skills as a hunter another day and learn the local way of fishing in the river and waterfalls. The Ibans will teach you how to farm pepper and other crops, as well as how to collect wild vegetables and raw materials for weaving, such as rattan, ‘bemban’ or bamboo. Learn how to process the natural materials and to plait them into baskets, mats and “backpacks”. After all the hard work, enjoy spending time in the village, playing with the youngest and listening to memories of the oldest.
At some point you might have the chance to spend 1 or 2 nights in the jungle, camping at a nearby river. This is a good experience and you may observe how they hunt and fish at night. It is something that every Iban man and woman experiences while growing up.
In the evenings you can mingle with the longhouse people and get to know who is who in the longhouse. As the Ibans live in a close-knit community, it is quite interesting to try and figure out their individual skills and talents. As time passes, you will hear stories and gossip amongst the people at the longhouse about who is good at this and who is good at that, who is an expert in hunting, farming, animistic rituals, fishing, plaiting baskets and so on. The female longhouse dwellers love eating and socialising while doing weaving. This is the time where they will exchange knowledge and skills. And the perfect time for you to practice your Iban language! We will provide you a basic dictionary of English – Iban. As sometimes pronunciation of certain words can be difficult, you might have to use body language to gesture things or actions. Don’t be shy, it works! You will also find out that Ibans have a great sense of humour and love to joke around and make fun of themselves or others. It might not take you long to realise that those people are simply always smiling or laughing! Join the fun and you will quickly become part of the community.
On the evening of the 14th day, a farewell party will be organised in your honour. It will be time for you to say good-bye (and see you again “Jumpa lagi”) to your unique adoptive families.
And before you leave, don’t forget to sign the chief’s ‘iru’ programme family booklet! Then you will be able to say “Aku anak Iban!”

Day 15:   (B/L/-)
You will have the same three options as on day one to head back to Betong. From there, transfer back to the modern city of Kuching.