ONE of the past-times of the Kelabit was wrestling. The Kelabits remember one interesting event 1950s in Pa Main when a Lian La’ah, veteran wrestler, overcame all his opponents to become the greatest Kelabit wrestler during the post-War years.

by James A. Ritchie

Menon Parir said his father, retired policeman Cpl Parir Udan who witnessed the evens, related the story of how Lian La’ah became the Champion in a well-publicised wrestling event which many of the old folk still remember.

Menon said: "There was a big festival at Pa Main,-the largest Kelabit settlement and Longest long house,-in the highlands. One of the events was wrestling and all strongest Kelabits from the surrounding settlements were invited.

The first events was wrestling in waist length water. This was for the young amateurs. Then came the highlight which was for the “Professionals”.

Menon who himself is world martial arts exponent, said many challengers came and were beaten by Lian Laah in the morning . The strongest challengers were Penghulu Miri @ Raja Umong of Pa Mada and Raja Bala of Long Lellang.

Everyone was excited, showing their support to the local heroes by hitting the surface of the river with their palms, clapping and screaming when a challenger was beaten.

In the preliminaries before the final, Balare of Long Peluan (the father of former State soccer player, Isai Raja) was pitted against Agan @Ulit Mattu @ Inan Diu (the father of Dr Roland Dom Mattu) of Pa Bengar. Balare wrestled Agan to the ground and was declared the winner. But while getting up, Agan rolled over and grabbed and twisted Balare's nose until it bled! A near fight almost occurred between Long Peluan and Pa’Bengar people.

The final for the professionals, held just after 12 noon, was held at the open space near the Pa Main longhouse. Lian La’ah was pitted against Long Lellang’s champion Raja Bala--a young six-footer who was very strong and powerful. Menon added: “In the match, Raja Bala tried to topple Lian La’ah. But Lian was too powerful and experienced and after a long contest, smashed Raja Bala to the ground."

Lian La’ah (his other names are Matah Ribuh and Tepun Ulun), came from a family of famous Kelabit wrestlers. His father Balang Ngela’ah (unbeatable Tiger) of Pa Main, was also mighty warrior and wrestler Balang Ngela’ah was the younger brother of Lun Atdo (On top of the Sun)—another powerful exponent of Kelabit wrestling.

Menon said that Kelabit wrestling was similar to Korean Wrestling where once an opponent was grounded , he was declared the loser.

--- ends/jr January 30, 2015