“Ngajat” Iban Dance

The Ngajat Dance of The Iban

The ‘ngajat’ dance originated from the Iban community and has been passed down from generation to generation. The origin of this indigenous Iban dance is not clearly known but it is believed to have been in existence along with the Iban tribe since the 16th Century. The Ngajat dance is believed to have been performed by warriors on their return from battles. This dance is now performed to celebrate the most important harvest festival, Gawai Dayak, to welcome important guests to the longhouses and so on. 

When performing the dance, the male dancers wear a headgear made from the tail feathers of the hornbill (though nowadays most likely artificial feather may be used, to save the birds). He holds a long sword in one hand and an ornately decorated shield in the other. Around his chest are necklaces made of beads and cowrie shells, and he wore a ceremonial cawat, or loincloth.

The dancer make slow movements, as though stalking the enemy. This is interspersed with dramatic prances as though he is leaping forward to attack. The dance is performed accompanied by the music from tribal musical instruments, usually percussions, including the enkeromong, bendai, canang and dumbak or ketebong.  The musicians may be either male or female.

The female dancers have an elaborate headdress, chains, beads and a ‘dress’ that reaches to below their knees with intricate weaving. Traditionally this dance was only performed by male dancers but not anymore.The dance is arranged straight lines and in a circle and does involve dramatic leaps and jumps performed by the male dancers.

Iban men and women have different styles of ngajat. The ngajat involves a lot of precise body-turning movements. The ngajat for men is more aggressive and depicts a man going to war, or a bird flying (as a respect to the Iban god of war, Singalang Burong). The women’s form of ngajat consists of soft, graceful movements with very precise body turns. Each ngajat is accompanied by the taboh or the body.

There are in fact several types of Ngajat dances, among them:

  • Ngajat Induk
  • Ngajat bebunoh
  • Ngajat Lesong
  • Ngajat Semain
  • Ngajat Berayah
  • Ngajat ““Ngemai antu pala”

Ngajat lesong is performed with a heavy mortar which the warrior dancer holds in his teeth. This dance can be seen performed at the Sarawak Cultural Village. The lesong can weigh as much as 20 kg.