The melodious beats of the Iban people's Taboh music

IN Sarawak, the Iban community's tradition comes alive in the vibrant melodies of Taboh. Taboh, meaning the harmonious resonance of four main instruments — 'tawak', drum, 'engkerumong', and 'bebendai' — stands as a vibrant expression of Iban heritage.

Taboh is not merely music; it is a cultural hallmark, played during significant moments in the Iban community's life. These occasions include the Gawai Dayak celebration, Gawai rituals, the construction and blessing of longhouses, lunar eclipses, wedding receptions, river-bathing rituals for children, and times of sorrow, such as a death in the longhouse.

The beats of Taboh echo the heartbeat of the community, marking the rhythms of joy, celebration, and even solemn reflection. It is a cultural compass guiding its people through the various chapters of life.

Distinguished by beats ranging from slow to medium and fast, Taboh adapts its melody to the function and cultural event it accompanies. Notably, each Iban tribe in Sarawak boasts its unique Taboh melody, adding a layer of diversity to this melodic tradition.

At the heart of Taboh lies the 'tawak', a substantial gong crafted in various sizes, colours, and materials. Made of copper and other iron types, the tawak's distinct sound is produced by striking the bump in the middle with a wooden beater covered in rubber sheets. This central instrument takes centre stage during rituals, especially those calling for 'petara' (God) to descend from heaven, and it harmonises with the 'engkerumong' to create a melodic tapestry.

It is said the 'tawak' is not just an instrument; it is a vessel that carries the spirit of the community's rituals. Its resonance connects them to the divine, making each beat a sacred invocation.

The drum, a testament to meticulous craftsmanship, is fashioned from high-quality hardwood, ensuring longevity and producing a resonant melody. Its beats vary according to purpose and necessity, providing the rhythmic heartbeat to Taboh.

Engkerumong, an ensemble of copper gongs arranged in parallel on a rack, complements the tawak's resonance. Consisting of eight smaller gongs, it is played with a pair of light wooden beaters. Bebendai, a thinner and smaller cousin to the 'tawak', made of copper and hung on a wooden frame, adds a delicate touch to the Taboh ensemble.

As the beats of Taboh echo through the vibrant hills of Sarawak, they carry with them the legacy of the Iban community — a legacy that resonates not just in sound but in the cultural stories that endure with each rhythmic note.

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