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More than just fabric

Time-tested elegance of the Ngepan Indu and its enduring legacy for the Iban community

Every culture and tradition carries its roots deep in history, revealing its significance and influence on a nation’s growth and development. The same holds true for Brunei Darussalam, where diverse cultures and traditions persist, finding unique ways to express themselves in the contemporary era.

For many, these traditions surpass not only as a culture but also as a way of life for ancestors living the past and how their lifestyles, stories and legacies are still being passed down from one generation to the next which forms the basis of the community.

Emerging from neighbouring Sarawak, the Iban community has not only persisted but has flourished within the Sultanate, a resilience that echoes in the enduring strength of its cultures and traditions.

In the present day, the Iban community keeps its culture alive in a compelling way that captivates the curious and appreciates the artistic legacy of the past.

The traditional costumes worn by the Iban, alongside their rich cuisine, handicrafts, music, and art, serve as a vibrant demonstration to the enduring significance of their cultural heritage.

Known affectionately as Ngepan Indu, translating to the Traditional Iban Dress worn by girls and women, these vibrant costumes are more than just fabric; they are threads that intricately weave a tapestry of rich culture and tradition.

A woman dressed in Ngepan Indu. PHOTO: DANIEL LIM

This living legacy persists through the ages, embraced with heartfelt passion in the present day.

Worn traditionally during festive celebrations like Hari Gawai, the Ngepan Indu is not just an outfit; it’s proof to the cultural roots and the elaborate traditions that have stood the test of time.

The emphasis placed upon its use during these occasions underscores the commitment to preserving and honouring the deep-seated culture and tradition that this dress represents. It’s not just attire; it’s definitely a vibrant expression of heritage that resonates with emotion and pride.

This extends to the order in which the various parts of the dress are being worn first which can be made of different cloth types, to the position and use of the 18 types of silver jewellery used to accentuate the beauty of Ngepan Indu.

Various accessories used in Ngepan Indu. PHOTOS: DANIEL LIM

In the face of modernisation, Ngepan Indu has continued to captivate audiences and onlookers as it can be seen in weddings as well as in competition, in a bid to showcase the Iban cultures to the masses as well as to continue this rich tradition.

Dedicated individuals like Angela Anak Singlee Jantin work tirelessly to ensure the meticulous preservation of these full traditional dresses, ensuring that they are cherished and appreciated by everyone.

She shared that her journey began during her school years, where she had the opportunity to showcase the Iban culture at numerous festivals and events. Enthralled by the distinctiveness and beauty of Ngepan Indu, she has since established a rental service, offering these highly sought-after garments to individuals desiring attire steeped in history and tradition.

Angela Anak Singlee Jantin dresses a woman in Ngepan Indu. PHOTO: DANIEL LIM

Furthermore, these traditional costumes have also been incorporated into modern fashion, as the fusion between traditional textiles and modern style has contributed to the growing of a platform for the preservation of Iban cultures as well as to the broader narrative of Brunei’s diverse cultural heritage.

As the history of Iban culture continues to make its mark in Brunei and beyond, traditional customs such as Ngepan Indu have made it evident that the threads of tradition have not unravelled with time but instead have been woven into the very fabric of the nation.

Close-ups of the details and accessories of Ngepan Indu. PHOTOS: DANIEL LIM

The Iban people’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding their cultural legacy, particularly manifested in their traditional attire, serves as a poignant reflection of Brunei’s resilient multicultural fabric.

Amidst the dynamic interplay of tradition and modernity, the Iban culture in Brunei not only endures but flourishes, creating a vibrant mosaic that extends into the future while remaining firmly anchored in its historical origins. – Daniel Lim

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