Growing Up Sexually



IES: Indonesia






IBAN (Indonesia)








According to Padoch (1982:p92-3)[1]:


“The exact age of Iban at first sexual union is a topic difficult to explore, partially because of the usual reticence of women to discuss the subject, but mostly because of the impossibility of determining precise chronological ages. It is probable that among women in the Engkari region, courtship commences at about sixteen or seventeen years of age, while among men a somewhat later age, of eighteen or nineteen, is indicated. I have found no reason to assume that ages at which courtship begins in Bintulu are different. Whether there has been any change over time in the ages at which young Iban begin to court is uncertain. Several older women assured me that the age at first courting has declined, but there is no possible way of verifying this allegation”.


Gomes (1911)[2]:


“The mode of courtship among the Dyaks is peculiar. No courting goes on by day, but at night, when all is quiet, a young lover creeps to the side of the curtain of his lady-love, and awakes her. The girls sleep apart from their parents--sometimes in the same room, but more often in the loft. He presents her with a roll of sireh leaf, in which is wrapped the betel-nut ingredients the Dyaks love to chew. […] This nightly courtship is, in fact, the only way a man and woman can become acquainted with each other, for such a thing as privacy during the day is quite unknown in a Dyak house. If the girl be pleased with her lover, he remains with her until close upon daybreak, when he leaves with her some article as a pledge of his honour, such as a bead necklace, or ring, or a headkerchief, or anything else which he may have about him. This act of leaving some gift with the girl is considered as a betrothal between the two parties, and the man who refuses to marry the girl after doing so is considered guilty of breach of promise of marriage, and liable, according to Dyak law, to a fine”.


Komanyi (1973:p81-2)[3]: “An Iban girl may marry when she is fifteen or sixteen years old. Now, however, as educational opportunities improve, marriages tend to occur at a slightly later age, such as eighteen to twenty-two. A period of courtship, called ngajap , which is a uniquely Iban custom, precedes the betrothal”.




“The traditional Iban patterns of courtship (ngayap) , which involve nocturnal visiting of women by men, are a topic mentioned frequently by earlier writers (Roth 1896,I:109-11)[[4]], among whom there is disagreement on the frequency or occurrence of sexual intercourse during the visiting. A more recent account of the practice (Beavitt 1967)[[5]], and all informants I encountered, concurred that sexual relations take place often, although not always. It is reported that ngayap is now being replaced among some Iban groups, particularly those converted to Christianity, by other forms of courtship not involving sexual union (Beavitt 1967:p409-10)[[6]]. However, the traditional form prevailed in all the communities that were studied during the period of field research”.


“[…] when a girl reaches maturity, and if there is a suitor, her parents will arrange for her to settle down. Normally, an Iban girl marries when she is seventeen years of age. When a girl attains her spinsterhood, her mother teaches her the ways employed to protect herself. She must be taught to behave and speak courteously to boys who court her at night. She is aware that it has been a tradition for a boy to court a girl. However, the question of getting her to offer herself to the boy depends very much on the girl herself, because he cannot force her to give consent unless they love each other through his kindness and winning ways. These are secretly explained to her by her mother. The mother also emphasises the methods in which her daughter can judge whether or not the boy is sincere enough to marry her”[7].







Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1]Padoch, Ch. (1982) Migration and its Alternatives among the Iban of Sarawak, The Hague [Holland]: M. Nijhoff

[2] Gomes, E. H. (1991) Seventeen Years among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo. London: Seeley & Co., Ltd.

[3] Komanyi, M. I. (1973) The Real and Ideal Participation in Decision-Making of Iban Women. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms

[4] Roth, H. L. (1896) The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo. London: Turslove & Hanson

[5] Beavitt, P. (1967) “Ngayap”, Sarawak Museum J 15:407-13

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sandin, B. (1976) Tusun Pandiau. English / Iban Way of Life: A Translation from Tusun Pandiau. Kuching: Borneo Literature Bureau