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Culture (Jatti Miriek): Ilylia Iryani Binti Ibrahim

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

“Understanding each other’s languages is the key. Once you master their language, you can immerse yourself in their life and be a part of the community. Language lives longer than culture. People may forget the culture or do not practice it anymore but language proves that a particular ethnic exists like Jatti Miriek.” - Ilylia Iryani

We had a wonderful opportunity to talk to Ilylia Iryani, who is a Jatti Miriek from Miri, Sarawak. Ilylia speaks a dialect known as “Tuttot Miriek" and it is believed that this dialect is one of the oldest languages in the world. Jatti Miriek is said to be extinct, but today, they are considered as Melayu Sarawak.


The traditional Jatti Miriek food served within the community are mainly kuih or cakes, and can be found at wedding ceremonies. These include kuih tupik, bahulu, kuih rongin, kuih cap, telafaik ubih (lepat ubi), lepat pisang, and penyaram. Besides food, a lot of their culture and traditions have assimilated to traditional Malay culture, such as the attire and wedding rituals. Nonetheless, the cultural beliefs before the community converted to Islam is still alive, albeit dwindling.


She hopes the younger generation take pride in their heritage, and continue learning and preserving the cultural tradition within the community. Ilylia believes that by learning each other’s cultures, we will become a more united Malaysia.

What traditional craft is your community most known for?

Some of the crafts they make include their house, the old coconut extractor machine (which is made from wood and daun mengkuang) and bakoi (a small basket to store tunak (placenta)).


Other crafts include:

  • Sulang di’ik (small bronze item given as a wedding gift)

  • Upouk bu’ie (pinang storage container)

  • Upouk isauk ideh berudduh (container for medicated people)

  • Upouk hinnak emas (gold storage container made from soil)

  • Selapak ideh unah (old betelnut case)

  • Tekuan teh (teapot made from soil)

  • Upouk ajjuh (wooden container)

  • Pelitak summuk (pelita sumbu or axis lamp)

  • Gelleng ha'ah bai tujuk (arm bracelet and anklet made of rattan)


What is your traditional attire like? When do you usually wear them?


Ilylia and her cousin, Noor Hazwani binti Mohd Husli, Secretary of the Miriek Miri Jatti Association.

Men wear nehalauk lakaih (male attire) while women wear nehalauk lturai (female attire). According to folklore, both nehalauk are made from tree bark named ulait ajuh gitak and the sewing material is from benang daun nanas (pineapple leaves thread).


Nehalauk turai looks similar to Kebaya. Miriek women wear a black sarong with a belt called Hirrak which means perak (silver). The upper part of the attire comes with bells called berburung which is stitched at the end of the sleeves. There is also kain tajuk or Jung Sarat stitched with gold thread. This kain (cloth) is used for weddings or ceremonies. Women also wear Ayok or Selayah, a head cover which is made from sarong. There are also accessories such as a brooch called Keronsang Abel, and an anklet called Geleng Aluk Aluk. This attire is worn to the huma (paddy field) or sik jadih, with Sikong or Ra’ong to cover their head from the hot sun.


Jatti Miriek men wear a shirt which looks like Baju Melayu with leher tebuk belelang (round collar neck cutting) and seluar pelarut or seluar sumbu (pants). Men also wear a head cover called hekah uhok, tekulok, or ra’ong.


Their shoes were formerly made of deerskin and tied using roots. These shoes are used to go to the huma or hunting.


What are some of the festivals celebrated in your community?

Before converting to Islam, Jatti Miriek celebrates Mahaan Long. They will prepare dishes for the spirits at the estuary river. There is no specific time or day to celebrate Mahaan Long because it can be done by one person who has wishes such as for protection and sustenance.


Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments, or dance that is practiced in your community?

Besides berganeng or bergendang (drumming), Miriek also has its own dance called Alai

Ilyia and her cousin, Hazwani styled the nehalauk (dress) of Jatti Miriek women. This dress features a kebaya and a black sarong. The dress is equipped with a bird (small bell) at the end of the sleeves and paddy -shaped accessories on the left and right sides of the shirt. The head covering is called Sikong.

Tatong, Alai Mullah Hadih (planting rice dance), Berzapin, and Tandek Lebuwen (similar to Joget Lambak). These dances are performed at ethnic-based parties or celebrations such as weddings and Mahaan Long.


There is a traditional instrument called Letangan Ajuh made of kayu benuang (benuang wood). It is 3 to 4 inches in diameter and cut into two pieces, each 14 to 16 inches long. It is played by placing the stick of wood on the lap. The melody of the music will be heard when this stick is tapped to the beat you are required to play. Letangan Ajuh is performed during Mahaan Long, harvesting season, weddings, Makan Muara and during traditional games (strength contests).


Besides that, there are also other musical instruments such as Dummek, Gung, Tawak and Letangan Tambeh.

Are there any traditional games you played when you were young?

We played a lot of games in the community. Among children, rumak unek (gasing or spinning top) and terajudik (layang-layang or kite) are very popular.


For older kids (and even adults), they play:

  • Berkasip (finger fight)

  • Huleng Bukoh (Arm wrestling)

  • Seratat Tirai Tubeh (similar to tug of war but pulling tuba roots instead of rope)

  • Seresom (hide-and-seek)

  • Rumak Bur (haunted house).

How are weddings organised in your community?


The dress is also decorated with woven gold thread on the sides of the shirt and sarong fabric. This dress is often worn while attending a wedding or during a crowd.

Similar to Malay tradition, representatives from the bride and groom’s family will discuss the gifts that will be sent to the bride. If the promise to marry is broken, the fate of the gifts depends on who is at fault. If the groom is at fault, the bride gets to keep all the gifts, but if the bride is at fault, they can still keep the gifts if the groom is okay with it.


The wedding process itself is laborious and can be broken down as follows:

  • Tuttot Ngabah (Merisik). The groom’s family will visit the bride’s family to find out whether the bride is single or has already been proposed to by someone. Upon discussion, they will set the wedding day.

  • Hatat Tanek (bertunang or engagement). The groom’s family or entourage will bring gifts such as selapak, talam tebageh, tawag, and gung, supok, etc. The engagement of the ritual involves mekak munong (buka mulut), tanek tunang (tanda tunang or a sign of engagement, usually cincin belah rotan (rattan ring)), su’an (mas kahwin or dowry) su’an tinah, (berian ibu or mother’s gift), su’an anak lakeh (berian anak lelaki or groom's gift), lupak bannul (langkah bendul) and sarey bekanak (cerai saudara).

  • Aloh Gatung Kelamuk (pemasangan pelamin or installing the bridal aisle). It is usually held on Friday after Friday prayers, starting with Doa Selamat (prayer for safety) at the bride’s house.

  • Aloh Nikah (Majlis Pernikahan or nikah ceremony): It is the same like Muslim wedding involving jurunikah (officiator) and witnesses from both bride and groom’s side.

  • Belulut: Both brides will wear Nahalok after the Aloh Nikah.

  • Bersaning (Bersanding or wedding ceremony). The groom will have a bridal procession (diarak) on their way to the bride’s house on the next day. Upon arrival, the groom and his entourage will be greeted with a kutau performance and musical accompaniment by Letangan Ajuh. The groom will be subjected to the Baleh ritual. The tikar mengkuang (mat) was inverted by the groom’s entourage to mark the beginning of the ritual. The groom will give a sum of money to the representative of the bride’s family and take the betel nut from Selapak. The Hurik Haah ceremony will be performed for the groom by a representative of the bride’s family. The groom then approaches the bride who will be sitting on the pelamin (wedding aisle) and lifts a songket cloth that covers the bride’s face. As both bride and groom are on the pelamin, the zikir will be sung while the Tepung Tawar ceremony begins. Three gunshot into the air or a Tawag hit by a close relative indicates there is a wedding in the village.

The groom will dress in clothing similar to Baju melayu and long Kebaya for the bride. The groom will use Dastar Songket or Songkok Tinggi adorned with silver or gold accessories as head wear. An Ares (keris) is inserted at the waist with a capal (sandals) at the foot. While the bride wears a headdress known as Tajuk and gold or silver accessories on her wrists and feet. After Bersaning, the bride and groom will be brought by the parents in a Sarik Nagek ceremony. This ceremony is done by going around the stairs of the house 3 or 7 times. There are variations where they will circle the bride’s house 3 or 7 times. This symbolises that even in dispute, they will still return to the house.

  • Mulek Teloh/ Tujuk Aloh (visit to in-laws' house). This takes place 3 days after the couple stays at the bride’s house. The couple will exchange chicken and blood from nine other chickens for the Danarek ceremony. Both of them will sit on stone or Terat Latek/ Parang Panjang. The groom’s mother will bring a hen while the bride’s mother will bring a rooster. Both of the chicken feathers will be placed at the throat of the newly married couple as a blessing for many offspring and so on. Then, they will throw away Ancak to avoid bad spirits. It is believed that bad spirits will follow the Ancak which has been washed away into the river. After that, they will end Danarek with Majlis Doa Selamat dan Tolak Bala (prayer for safety and driving away bad omen).


Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments, or dance that is practiced in your community?


Besides berganneng or bergendang (drumming), Miriek also has its own dance called Alai Tatong, Alai Mullah Hadih (rice planting dance), Berzapin, and Tandek Lebuwen (similar to Joget Lambak). These dances are performed at ethnic-based parties or celebrations such as weddings and Mahaan Long.


There is a traditional instrument called Letangan Ajuh made of kayu benuang (benuang wood). It is 3 to 4 inches in diameter and cut into two pieces, each 14 to 16 inches long. It is played by placing the stick of wood on the lap. The melody of the music will be heard when this stick is tapped to the beat you are required to play. Letangan Ajuh is performed during Mahaan Long, harvesting season, weddings, Makan Muara and during traditional games (strength contests).


Besides that, there are also other musical instruments such as Dummek, Gung, Tawak and Letangan Tambeh.



Are there any traditional games you played when you were young?


We played a lot of games in the community. Among children, rumak unek (gasing or spinning top) and terajudik (layang-layang or kite) are very popular.


For older kids (and even adults), they play:

  • Berkasip (finger fight)

  • Huleng Bukoh (Arm wrestling)

  • Seratat Tirai Tubeh (similar to tug of war but pulling tuba roots instead of rope)

  • Seresom (hide-and-seek)

  • Rumak Bur (haunted house).


How are weddings organised in your community?


Similar to Malay tradition, representatives from the bride and groom’s family will discuss the gifts that will be sent to the bride. If the promise to marry is broken, the fate of the gifts depends on who is at fault. If the groom is at fault, the bride gets to keep all the gifts, but if the bride is at fault, they can still keep the gifts if the groom is okay with it.


The wedding process itself is laborious and can be broken down as follows:

  • Tuttot Ngabah (Merisik). The groom’s family will visit the bride’s family to find out whether the bride is single or has already been proposed to by someone. Upon discussion, they will set the wedding day.

  • Hatat Tanek (bertunang or engagement). The groom’s family or entourage will bring gifts such as selapak, talam tebageh, tawag, and gung, supok, etc. The engagement of the ritual involves mekak munong (buka mulut), tanek tunang (tanda tunang or a sign of engagement, usually cincin belah rotan (rattan ring)), su’an (mas kahwin or dowry) su’an tinah, (berian ibu or mother’s gift), su’an anak lakeh (berian anak lelaki or groom's gift), lupak bannul (langkah bendul) and sarey bekanak (cerai saudara).

  • Aloh Gatung Kelamuk (pemasangan pelamin or installing the bridal aisle). It is usually held on Friday after Friday prayers, starting with Doa Selamat (prayer for safety) at the bride’s house.

  • Aloh Nikah (Majlis Pernikahan or nikah ceremony): It is the same like Muslim wedding involving jurunikah (officiator) and witnesses from both bride and groom’s side.

  • Belulut: Both brides will wear Nahalok after the Aloh Nikah.

  • Bersaning (Bersanding or wedding ceremony). The groom will have a bridal procession (diarak) on their way to the bride’s house on the next day. Upon arrival, the groom and his entourage will be greeted with a kutau performance and musical accompaniment by Letangan Ajuh. The groom will be subjected to the Baleh ritual. The tikar mengkuang (mat) was inverted by the groom’s entourage to mark the beginning of the ritual. The groom will give a sum of money to the representative of the bride’s family and take the betel nut from Selapak. The Hurik Haah ceremony will be performed for the groom by a representative of the bride’s family. The groom then approaches the bride who will be sitting on the pelamin (wedding aisle) and lifts a songket cloth that covers the bride’s face. As both bride and groom are on the pelamin, the zikir will be sung while the Tepung Tawar ceremony begins. Three gunshot into the air or a Tawag hit by a close relative indicates there is a wedding in the village.

The groom will dress in clothing similar to Baju melayu and long Kebaya for the bride. The groom will use Dastar Songket or Songkok Tinggi adorned with silver or gold accessories as head wear. An Ares (keris) is inserted at the waist with a capal (sandals) at the foot. While the bride wears a headdress known as Tajuk and gold or silver accessories on her wrists and feet. After Bersaning, the bride and groom will be brought by the parents in a Sarik Nagek ceremony. This ceremony is done by going around the stairs of the house 3 or 7 times. There are variations where they will circle the bride’s house 3 or 7 times. This symbolises that even in dispute, they will still return to the house.

  • Mulek Teloh/ Tujuk Aloh (visit to in-laws' house). This takes place 3 days after the couple stays at the bride’s house. The couple will exchange chicken and blood from nine other chickens for the Danarek ceremony. Both of them will sit on stone or Terat Latek/ Parang Panjang. The groom’s mother will bring a hen while the bride’s mother will bring a rooster. Both of the chicken feathers will be placed at the throat of the newly married couple as a blessing for many offspring and so on. Then, they will throw away Ancak to avoid bad spirits. It is believed that bad spirits will follow the Ancak which has been washed away into the river. After that, they will end Danarek with Majlis Doa Selamat dan Tolak Bala (prayer for safety and driving away bad omen).

Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?

After the birth of the baby, the father will wash the placenta using water, soap and salt. Blood in the veins has to be removed in order not to attract animals. Then, he will plant the pencils and books with the placenta bandaged in white cloth, which represents the hopes that the newborn baby will be smart.


After converting to Islam, we adapted the Malay culture with our religious beliefs, where the newborn baby will be heard with Azan and Iqamah. After 6 months, they will do Aqiqah and Majlis Cukur Jambul (cutting hair ceremony).


When there is a death in your community, what are the funeral arrangments like?

There will be a crafted stone which was picked before the deceased passed away.


When there is a death, the family member will hit the Tawak or Gong to announce the death. Different gong beats carry different meanings or messages. If the death occurred at twilight or night, relatives will gather at the deceased’s house and set a campfire near the house with the intent to drive bad spirits away. Family members and relatives will gather and stay awake while waiting for the morning. Female family members will mourn the deceased in a state of sorrow. One family member will be appointed to divide the task of arranging the funeral and feast for the deceased. Relatives who come will bring items such as buah pinang, sireh, coffee, rice, chicken, and duck in preparation for the feast after the funeral. Family members would go to the forest to find firewood, bamboo shoots and forest vegetables.


Who usually leads the rituals and ceremonies in your community, is it the men or women?

There is no gender specification in leading rituals. Commonly, the elderly.



Is there any "pantang-larang" that is still observed in your community? How are they being shared or passed down?


In the case where a funeral is occurring, for a widow, she cannot wear gold or silver jewelry, and colourful or bright coloured clothes as a sign of mourning. She was only allowed to wear a head scarf made from sarong. Both widow or widower are forbidden to go to sea or go into the woods in order to avoid being lost or disturbed by bad spirits, balih jaat or bunian (elves). This taboo is implemented for their own safety and other family members that were left behind. Widows cannot eat and sleep together with their relatives throughout the mourning period. Food will be served to her in a tray and taken to the bedroom for 40 days or 100 days. This process is called Haluh (basically the process of being a widow).


Meanwhile, for the widower, he will wear songkok for 40 days in order to avoid being Liden Baluh. After the funeral ends, there is another tradition which is splitting two coconuts. The coconut which faces downward will be left while the other part which faces upward will be taken home to make oil. It is believed that this oil can relieve the longing of the family of the deceased. After the funeral (at the cemetery,) all the family members will call out their own spirits to go back with them while walking home. This is to avoid their own spirits accompanying the spirit of death.


The said taboos are still practiced by the community until today, in which the family of the deceased are not allowed to eat yellow glutinous rice for 40 days after the funeral in order to avoid having a dream of the deceased. It is said that in those dreams, the deceased expressed regret when he found his family members eating yellow glutinous rice because it seemed as if they were rejoicing after his death.


Similar to this belief, my grandmother passed away when I was 7 years old. I had to join a ritual, where my face was washed with helapah/ kelapapak/ leban leaves soaking in water after my grandmother’s body was bathed. This is done so that we would not dream of her.


But now it depends on the family. Some don’t follow these anymore because the traditions and taboos may be against Islamic values and considered as khurafat (superstitions that are fabricated based on the actions and events of nature that occur).



Could you share wiht us a well-known folklore in your community?


There are a few -

  • Pak Sarik tells the story of someone who likes to cheat until one day bad things happen causing him to repent

  • Halonok Isok Jerat (Pelanduk lupa Jerat or the mousedeer that forgot the trap) which explores the proverb “people easily forget danger, but danger remains threatening”

  • Lama Labik is a story about a funny man similar to Pak Pandir, anything he did was laughed at by the villagers

  • Kinah Bertukah is a story about a fat girl who loves to eat.


What are the common stereotype(s) said about your community?


People thought that Jatti Miriek is one of the sub-ethic group of Kayan. The truth is Kayan originated from Kalimantan while Jatti Miriek is the indigenous community who lived in Miri before the coming of other ethnic groups.


Secondly, being a Jatti Miriek does not make us pagan. Most of Jatti Miriek actually choose to be Malay when converting to Islam.

How does it make you feel to be classified as a 'lain-lain'?


Special. I disagree with people who think that being classified as “lain-lain” means you are less Malaysian. Some say it makes them feel like their presence and significance are less important to the country. For me, “lain-lain” means we are a minority in number that is why we are not recognized statistically. Plus, having a mixed-blood due to mixed marriages would be complicated to be listed down in formal forms or systems, etc. Apart from that, Sarawak and Sabah have a lot of ethnic groups, sub-ethnic groups (both that are recognised or not yet).


In order to discard the “lain-lain” category, all systems need to list down all ethnic groups which could be hard to do. I do not take this matter too personally because most official forms would give spaces for us to write down our ethnic group. To be fair, I think “lain-lain” should be changed to “bumiputera Sarawak/Sabah” (native), which is more generalised.


In terms of privilege and rights, those in the “lain-lain” category, especially for native groups, still can fight for their rights through native law. This issue could be a problem for migrants and refugees who live in subhuman conditions, denied basic rights (e.g representation in court) and denied access to healthcare, education, banking and more.

What are the current challenges faces by your community? What are your hopes for them?


The Sarawak government does not recognise us as one of the ethnic groups. I hope Jatti Miriek can be recognised among the community and can be put into our identification card.

What is your vision and wish for Sarawak?


I would like to see improvements in the education aspects because I realised that Semenanjung has a better resource of education for science subjects compared to Sarawak.


I hope the Sarawak government recognizes all the minority groups and introduces the culture of our people so that it does not become extinct. For example, organized native language classes, dance classes, and established associations for the minority groups to protect their rights.


As a History teacher, I hope young generations appreciate and continue preserving local heritage and traditions. We all know that the process of learning history is the process of learning a lesson from life. The mistakes which were made by our ancestors should be prevented. When young people get some benefit from history, the nation will develop. It is without a doubt that if the people, especially young people know their history very well, it also expresses the confidence and togetherness as a nation.


What is your vision for Malaysia, and how can Malaysians get to know each other better?


Through the languages. Understanding each other’s languages is the key. Once you master their language, you can immerse yourself in their life and be a part of the community. Language lives longer than culture. People may forget the culture or do not practice it anymore but language proves that a particular ethnicity exists like Jatti Miriek.


How would you want us to remember you/your community?


Through our dialect. It can be found on Facebook where people share their stories such as Idieh Itai.


The life motto is to treat everyone with respect, honour, and dignity regardless of their differences.


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It was inspiring to hear all the stories from Ilylia who shared with us what the cultures of Jatti Miriek are like and how the Jatti Miriek Association is trying to get recognition from the Sarawak government.


At the end of the day, the key thing is the “respect between each other” and we believe that Malaysian are working on it together, for the better future of Malaysia.


___ Interviewer: Chong Yuet Yin (Evelyn) & Law Jing Yu, facilitated by Masturina Hani Mansor (Wafa) Written by: Chong Yuet Yin (Evelyn) & Law Jing Yu Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza

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