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Weavers’ Stories: Dapong anak Sempurai

Anthropologists have described Iban society as egalitarian with status based on achievement rather than birth, and this is still evident when visiting an Iban longhouse today. At Entawau, the central apartments belong to the family of Temenggong Koh, perhaps the most famous Iban leader of the first half of the twentieth century. Dapong anak Sempurai was born at the far end of the longhouse, but married Koh’s grandson and moved to one of the central apartments. There she lived with her husband and her mother-in-law, Iba anak Temenggong Koh, a renowned weaver.

While Iba was steeped in the full historical significance of Iban cloths (especially their association with the taking of enemy heads in warfare), Dapong came of age at a time when remarkable changes were coming to the interior of Sarawak. In order to give her two daughters a better education, Dapong left the longhouse and moved to Kapit, a trading port on the Rejang River. She opened a clothing store but had no time for weaving. When her daughters finished school and her husband died, Dapong became the manager of a canteen in a logging camp, and she also returned to weaving. Today Dapong balances the diverse circumstances of her life, although the cultural complex that once supported weaving has completely altered.

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