Christmas Day baptisms. The first results of our Mission to the Iban (Dyak) people of the Upper Rejang River valley in Sarawak, Borneo, were realized on Christmas Day when 29 adults and children were baptised into the Christian faith. This work which was begun by the Rev. and Mrs. Paul H. Schmucker and Mr. and Mrs. Lucius Mamoera (Elizabeth, his first wife, who died in December, 1947), and the faithful work of the Mamoeras during the war years, followed by the work of Mr. and Mrs. Djaleb Manoeroeng and the Rev. and Mrs. Burr Baughmann, is now showing very definite results. A number of the names of those baptised are already familiar to the readers of The Malaysia Message. The chief persons baptised were Penghulu Temengong Koh and family, Penghulu Sibat and family, Penghulu Jugah and family, Penghulu Jinggot and family, Tedong, Kumbang, Penyau; several others, were among the number. There are others who wanted to be baptised but they could not remember the exact date and so were not present. It is planned to baptise them later. This was an epoch-making experience for our Kapit missionaries and an account of the same will appear in the next issue of this magazine.
The Malaysia Message
Vol. 54 No. 1
The following letter was sent out by the Rev. Burr Baughman to members and friends of the Home Missionary Society telling of the wonderful Christmas Day they celebrated at Kapit. This gives in full detail the information promised in the January issue.—Ed.
A Letter from Kapit
Christmas really came to Kapit. We experienced again the fact of the birth of Christ into the world.
We had invited to the mission station parents of the school pupils, a few Old Boys (alumni) of the school and some friends who have been most closely in touch with the mission programme. From forty to sixty actually turned up to help us celebrate Christmas.
Our object in these festivities was two-fold:
1. to try to put across the Christian message of the birth of Christ; and
2. to show the Iban people that we could have a good time, a festival (“gawai”) without the pagan accompaniments of their traditional feasts—pagan offerings and sacrifices, wide-spread drunkenness and lewd horseplay.
A programme was arranged, and included a midnight Christmas Eve service with pageant by the school children, a Christmas morning service and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the evening. There was also carol singing in the public square of the village, and in homes of local Christians. There were picture shows, and sports for young and old. Christmas morning there were gifts for the school pupils, and biscuits and sweets for everyone. There was also (a big item) lots of food for all, through the efforts of Tek Lin and her helpers.
On Friday and Saturday we gathered a group of the elders together to talk over this matter of entering Christianity. These were the men with whom Paul Schmucker (American missionary) had started our work before the war, and with whom Lucius Mamora (Batak missionary) has been working since 1939. I began the discussion by emphasizing again that Christianity means the worship and obedience of the one God, whom we know through Jesus Christ: all other gods, spirits and demons must be discarded. This was all right; but then the men had some questions to ask.
If they become Christians, would they have to throw off all their traditional Iban customs, manners and way of life? Would they have to cut their hair short? Stop wearing the loincloth? Dress their women in long dresses? Take European names?
When I assured them that long or short hair, long dresses or short black skirts, loincloth or trousers were entirely optional—they could do as they pleased about such. The next question was: Why, then, do so many of the high government officials tell them they must never cut their long hair, must never wear trousers instead of loincloth, must never confine the women in dresses or sarongs, must never change their age-old long-houses culture? (You answer that one).
About one thing several of the men were quite emphatic: they could not give up their charms— the charms that ensured their getting a good rice crop, those that made it certain they would shoot straight and get their game when out hunting, or those that protected them from their enemies’ shot and sword when at war.
This was a sticker. How do you reconcile pagan magic with Christianity? I cannot. But I could not help remembering that the Gallic and Germanic forebears of modern European Christians probably kept as many pagan, magical elements in their lives after entering Christianity as these Sea-Dyaks were asking to do. Also I knew that in the Roman Catholic sect of our religion, to this day, “Christian” charms and amulets are sold and used openly and with the full knowledge, and often the approval, of the church authorities. I could, and did, speak feelingly of the uselessness of any charms; but I could not feel that here was reason enough to cast out those who were honestly trying, to the best of their ability, to undertand and follow a religion which is in so many ways different from that which they have known all their lives.
After the periods of discussion, the men were asked if they wished to be baptized and to become Christians. As each was questioned, he answered, “Ka” (wish). As we were anxious to make this a family as well as individual affair, we then took the names of the men and of such members of their families as were present at the time. These plus several of our older school students who had been given special instruction, totalled twenty-nine individuals—from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-year-old patriach.
The service of baptism was held on Chrismas morning. Well over a hundred Iban crowded into our large front room to take part in the worship as Lucius Mamora and I conducted the ritual by which these twenty-nine Sea-Dyaks pledged their allegiance to Jesus Christ, and were accepted into the fellowship of the Christian church.
There was old Penghulu Temenggong Koh, the paramount Iban chief in Sarawak. There were Penghulu Sibat and Penghulu Jugah, two of the ablest leaders in this district, and their fellow-chief, Penghulu Jinggot. There were Kumbang and Tedong, brothers of Jugah; and Panyau and Majau, former pupils of the school. There were Bawang, Sagura, Gading, Madu and Ilam: school-girls; and Igai, Manja, Ajan, Ajat and Jimbun: school-boys. There were wives and children.
As you realize, the service did not just bring twenty-nine more converts to the fold. It brought into the church twenty-nine individual men, women and children who will need continued education and nurture in the Christian life.
We call this a harvest. For them it is the beginning of a new life in which they will need much help.
By Burr Baughman
(P.S.— “Sea-Dyak” is the English name used to denote the people with whom we are working. “Iban” is the local, indigenous name. Both mean the same thing: either this people of Sarawak, or their language).
The Malaysia Message
Vol. 54 No. 4