Ibans can be fined for “chelap dapur” under native law

Sikie showing the text for his winding up speech to the press at the DUN Complex lobby today (May 24, 2022).

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By Nur Ashikin Louis

KUCHING, May 24: Did you know that it is an offence for an Iban family to allow more than 30 days to elapse between incidents of use of the family earthen hearth (‘dapur tanah’)?

In fact, this Adat is known as “chelap dapur” and codified under Section 21 of Adat Iban 1993.


Minister in the Premier’s Department Datuk John Sikie Tayai said the Iban Adat of “chelap dapur” is a legal rule and a law proper, though it is not regulated under the State law.

“This Adat makes it mandatory for every family in a longhouse to cook or light the fire at the cooking hearth (‘dapur tanah’) at least once a month.

“Failure to do so shall render the offender to be fined and ordered to provide items for spiritual ritual (‘genselan’),” he said when presenting his winding-up speech in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting here today.

At the same time, there are also Adat which creates social or moral obligations but do not have any binding and legal force and therefore are not enforceable in any court of law.

For example, the Adat of some native communities prohibit calling parents-in-law by their names as a social rule.

However, any breach or non-compliance of such social rules shall not be subject to any penalty or punishment.

Sikie also said that there are some Adat which are believed to be derived from divine law and some are spiritual sanctions, or prohibitions, or taboos of which any breach of such Adat (‘pantang larang penti pemali’) requires spiritual punishment.

While most of these Adat are now viewed as not in line with religious teachings or beliefs by certain sections of the native communities, Sikie stressed that the Adat should be looked at through a secular or comparative law perspective first as there might be wisdom underlying these Adat.

He cited an Adat of certain native communities which punishes the house owner for any bodily injury suffered by any visitor who tripped over or fell through the floor as a result of stepping on a rotten plank on the verandah (‘ruai’) belonging to the owner.

“This Adat is viewed as not in line with their religious teaching or beliefs because, in addition to a monetary fine, the owner would be ordered to provide some items for spiritual ritual (‘genselan’) to appease the spirit.

“If this Adat is viewed from the secular or comparative law perspective, it imposes a duty of care on the owner to any visitor to his premises. The owner has a legal duty to ensure the safety of any visitor in the house or passing through the verandah (‘ruai’).

“There is wisdom or rationale underlying this Adat which is similar to the rationale underlying the English law of Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 which imposes a duty of care on the owner of a premises to ensure the safety of any lawful visitor to the premises,” he explained.

Sikie stressed that Adat, both legal and social rules, act as a force for social cohesion which bind members of every community together and plays a very important role in social engineering and governance of the native communities.

Despite all that, he noted that progress and modernity have brought about social and cultural changes to the native communities and to a certain extent diminishes the relevance of some Adat and traditions.

“In view of the importance of Adat in the governance of the native communities, the Sarawak government will always give its unwavering support to the native communities in any effort to preserve, protect, promote, and promulgate the Adat.

“To resuscitate or resurrect these Adat, perhaps, the Adat need a reinterpretation and adjustment to adapt to modernity and the flux of socio-economic changes,” he emphasised. — DayakDaily