Friday, December 17, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
The first meeting
On the fifth day, in Tawau. My Dayak Murut assistant, Didarcus and I would change our sampling site to Kampong Iban Merotai. It is located about 30 min drive from Tawau Hill Park. First, we needed to see Didarcus’s adopted father. He is an Iban Sabahan, who married with a local Dusun woman. Along the way to Kampong Iban Merotai, I saw vast oil palm plantations that are belonged to the Sime Darby Malaysia on the left and right side of the road. I assumed that the Sime Darby is the biggest investor in oil palm industry in Tawau Division. According to Imelda, the Sabah state government subleases out many lands to this conglomerate that is based in Kuala Lumpur. By 8.00 am, we reached our destination. Didarcus parked his car in front of a blue large house. The house is located at the roadside and next to it, is a yellow Catholic church. We went out from Dirdacus’s car and stood at the front, small staircase. We were greeted by a group of dogs, which I assumed belonged to Dirdacus's adopted father. Dirdacus called his adopted father.
(Wow!! You are a land dayak lady, but you can speak Iban, fluently. Where did you learn my girl?)
(I was born in Sri Aman. Stay there for almost 11 years, Uncle. Hence, I have so many Iban friends. That’s why I can speak in Iban.)
Our conversation went on for 30 minutes. During that period, Uncle Henry and his wife mentioned that they always saw two pairs of murai kampong flying in their orchard behind of their house. I was delighted to receive the good news from them. I was so eager to start my work. Uncle Henry and his wife told us to wait for them, before going to their orchard. They needed to change their clothes, and looked for their parang (machetes). We finished our coffee and then straight went down to the ground. Less than 10 min walk, four of us were in the orchard.
End of July is the beginning of fruit season in Sabah. The peak fruit season in Sabah is not congruent to the peak fruit season in Sarawak. The latter always occurs at the end year, when the rain season begins. When I entered into Uncle Henry’s orchard, the first thing I saw was, many red, yellow rambutan fruits hung on trees. Uncle Henry told me that his dabai tree was bearing its fruit. I should say to myself that I was so lucky that I could eat all those fruits before going back to the States. Uncle Henry and his wife let both of us did our works, while they picked some fruits for us. Not long after, we saw murai kampong flew over the orchard. The birds sat on branches of an old tree that was located in the middle of the orchard. Dirdacus and I started our works, and both of us worked till almost time for lunch. Uncle Henry’s wife called both of us to stop for a while and have lunch together with them.
Begulai Sejalai (Together as one)
We stopped for a while and entered into their house. To our surprise the menus composed of a wild boar soup, boiled eggplants with spicy red sambal, cooked dabai, vegetable and fried fishes. They even took out their tuak and put next to the food. It was just like a small Gawai for all of us. Auntie Bibi, Uncle Henry’s wife, was so happy that a Sarawakian woman visiting them in Kampong Iban Merotai. She did not mind to cook so many dishes for both of us, as they seldom receive visitors. For them, our visit had made their life merrier than ordinary times. I thanked them so much for their hospitality. The foods were very delicious. All of us were so full just like a snake eating a fat cow. Auntie Bibi opened a bottle of tuak (Dayak rice wine) and poured into our glasses. It is an Iban way to serve their visitors. While waiting for our food to get digested, I asked about the small Iban community in Kampong Iban Merotai from Uncle Henry.
According to him, his grandparents were originally from Betong and Kapit Division in Sarawak. They went to Tawau during 50’s and looked for jobs as loggers in timber companies. At that time, timber industry was the largest industry in Sabah. The migration occurred till late 90’s. Many of the Iban loggers married with local ladies here. Some brought their wives, and their offspring were born to be Iban Sabahan. With the increasing of Iban people in Tawau, they gathered in one area and established an Iban kampong. They named the new establishment as Kampong Iban Merotai. Once they settled there, they managed to purchase or acquire lands in Merontai, including other areas in Tawau and Sandakan. Two long houses were built, but only one remains tostand till. The other was demolished, as it was located within the Tawau Hill Park area. Uncle Henry added that, few of the new generation of Merotai Iban, met their spouses from Sarawak and moved back to Sarawak. I asked him again whether the Iban Sabahan can speak in Iban, fluently. Uncle Henry just chuckled when he heard at my question.
“Dency, bala kami ditok maioh ari area bukai. Nuan nemu jako Iban ba Betong ni sama munyi jako Iban ba Kapit, Bintulu, Miri ngau Kuching. Kami ditok sigi bercampur jako Iban. Bisi sekeda kami ditok jako campur ngau bahasa Sabah. Enti kami pulai ngagai menoa kami ba Sarawak, berjako Iban ngau bala kami, sidak ketawa ninggar jako kami. Sidak padah jako kami ndak ga bunyi baka orang Iban Betong, ndak ga baka orang Iban Kapit. Siko anak indu ku, skula ba menoa Kuching din, di tundi bala kawan Iban ya laban jako Iban ya ukai jako Ibah amai."
(Dency, many of us came from different areas in Sarawak. You may know that Iban slang from Betong is not same with Iban slang from Kapit, Bintulu, Miri and Kuching. We here speak mixed Iban. Few of us mix Iban with Sabahan language. When we come back to Sarawak and speak with our relatives, they will laugh at us. They say that we do not talk like Betong Iban or Kapit Iban. For example, one of my daughters, she continues her study at a polytechnic college in Kuching, become a laughing stock by her Iban friend because she cannot speak in real Iban even though she speaks in Iban with them.)
“Oh pia. Aku tok sama ga baka anak indu nuan deh. Apai ku ari menoa Bau, indai aku ari Siburan. Tang sigi ndak sama slang. Enti aku pulai ngagai menoa apai ku, bejako ngau bala kaban menyadi aku, bisi ga kluar mimit jako indai aku.”
(I see. I’m just like your daughter. My father is from Bau while my mother from Siburan. My father’s slang is different from my mom’s slang. When I come back to my father’s kampong in Bau, and speak with my relatives, I will mix a bit of my mom’s slang.”
“Kitai orang Borneo tang sigi baka nya. Nyau bercampur jako kitai. Aku gaga ati ga ninggar nuan lancar mai jako Iban. Aram meh kitai ngirup. Aku ngarap ke nuan lulus dalam periksa nuan ngau mai pemansang ngagai menoa kitai tok. Oh haaaa!”
(We are Bornean and we can speak many languages and slangs. I’m so proud that you can speak in Iban remarkably well. Lets bottom up. My wish is that you will pass on your exams and bring back all the knowledge that you learn and share with our people. Oh haaaaa!)
Uncle Henry, Auntie Bibi, Dirdacus, and I raised our glasses, and we drank together. An Iban, a Dusun, a Murut and a Bidayuh gathered together as one in Kampong Iban Merotai.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Land below the wind
Four years ago in Kuching, Sarawak. I laid down on my back reading Agnes Keith’s first book “Land below the wind”. Her first book talked about her life as a wife of a Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture in North Borneo (old name of Sabah). And through her book, she is able to make her readers imagine Sandakan as a place full of unique and mysterious. Readers will have the desire to travel to Sandakan, as well as Sabah, after reading her book. They want to experience the same adventure, same feelings that Agnes experienced during her stay in North Borneo. Like them, I wished that I could make a trip to Sandakan. The only place in Sandakan that I really want to visit was at the hilltop where Agnes’s house stood facing the Sandakan Bay. In her book, she described how the Sandakan was during British colonial rule from her favorite spot. She wrote “I stood looking down at Sandakan Bay from the hilltop which now was ours. The harbor of Sandakan lay below me. It was morning, and the water of the bay was motionless and flat and chromo blue as in a picture postal card. The coconut trees, where they fringed the shore, were drawn in with meticulous attention to detail, and the mushroom islands which skimmed on the water were so small and perfect it seemed that I could capture one and send it home with Greetings from Borneo.”
My Blackberry was ringing. I checked on the phone screen, and I knew the person who called me.
“Hi. Where are you Shawn? I’m waiting for you at the front of the Rainforest Discovery Center.”
“Dency, could you come to your hostel? I’m waiting you there.”
“OK. Just wait for me.”
Shawney Niko would drive me from Sepilok to the Sandakan uptown. He promised to bring me to see Agnes Keith’s house, which is located on the hilltop of the Sandakan Town. The time was 4.00 pm. We began our journey to the uptown after unloading my hiking bag and a box filled with field equipment into his little black Viva. The journey to town would take about 20 minutes. Along the way, Shawney asked about my plan to go to Tawau tomorrow morning. I mentioned that I would take a bus ride to Tawau in the early morning. He suggested checking on the bus schedule at the Sandakan Terminal Bus station first before visiting the Agnes Keith’s house. I just agreed with him. Once we checked on the bus schedule for tomorrow morning trip to Tawau, he drove me to his favourite eating outlet. He wanted me to taste cheap delicious home cooking food.
Shawney, a bidayuh man from Kuching, has been working as a policeman in Sandakan for almost two years. He knows many good places for both of us to sit down, eat and chat together. For previous three days, he showed me around the Sandakan town. He mentioned about his unexciting life, his works and people in Sandakan. From his talks and my observation, I could say that Sandakan has lost its glory as one of the busiest city in the state. It has changed so much since North Borneo became independent, and its name changed to Sabah. In addition, the state administration moved from Sandakan to Jesselton (then Kota Kinabalu). Many Chinese traders shifted their business to Kota Kinabalu, and they abandoned their shops to decay and thus eligible to be demolished. Old shop buildings are occupied with legal and illegal foreigners especially from Philippine. There is a water village that is located along the Sandakan Bay. Occupied houses within that village are not properly arranged. Shawney explained that the village is mostly occupied by foreigners. He even drove me to few dark, isolated areas where many hookers and drug dealers gather to sell their services and drugs especially syabu to their customers. He explained that Sandakan is the hub of drugs trafficking and smuggling.
Agnes Keith’s House
The home cook foods were delicious just like my mother's cooking. I looked at my watch, and it showed 15 minutes before 5.00 pm. I told Shawney that it was almost time to visit Agnes Keith’s house. We hurried ourselves to his car. Within 15 minutes, we already arrived at the foot of the hill, and I could see the house from below. I felt very happy and asked Shawney to drive faster. He just smiled at me when he saw my jolly face. When the car stopped at the parking site, I quickly opened the side passenger door. I did not want to wait for Shawney, and he had to catch me from behind. I was surprised to know that it was already closed when I reached at the front door. The only thing I could do now was just peeping inside the house through the glass door and windows. Shawney said he did not know it would close at 5 pm. I silenced for a while and told him that I will come back again to Sandakan in future. Shawney and I walked around the house while took few pictures.
Then, we descended the stairs leading to backquaters that were once occupied by Arusap, Keith’s personal man, Ah King and Ah Yin, the two Chinese amahs and Usip, the Dayak Murut small boy. I told Shawney everything about Agnes Keith, her son George, Henry Keith and their amahs and servant based on the three Agnes's books. He was surprised that I knew more about the Keith’s family than him even though he already stayed in Sandakan for almost two years. He let me told everything about Sandakan during colonial time, while we were on the way up to the house again. Then, we stopped exactly at the spot where Agnes spent her time looking over the Sandakan Town. I did the same thing like she did admiring the beauty of the town. Time passed quickly. We made a move back to Shawney's car. When we passed the front arch of Agnes’s house, I stopped and picked my Nikon compact camera from my bag. I took a picture of the front porch which inscribed with Agnes Keith House.
Agnes talked to Henry in their house "I will never forget this moment. I am doing what I would rather be doing than anything else in the world, with the person I want to do with. Some people live a lifetime and never have a perfect moment like this."
Friday, October 29, 2010
In the early 90’s, the island of Banggi accepted substantial changes to the basic amenities such as policlinic, police stations and a small district office in Pekan Karakat while schools built in strategic areas. Penghulu Gaun did mention that Bonggi in Kampong Kalangkaman and Kabatangan still lack of many basic amenities compares to the other races. He tried his best effort to help improve the Bonggi people equivalent to those of any races on the island through modern agriculture. I praised him a lot for his determination to help his own people including other races in Banggi. He is such an extraordinary leader, and I adored him so much. The rain has stopped, and the time almost 10 pm. Pengerusi Guan excused himself to go back to his house. When he had arrived at his house, we resumed our conversation. I commended the Pengerusi for his efforts to carry out his duties properly and adequately to all inhabitants on Banggi Island. Freddie and Patrick just nodded their heads agreeing.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
In the Langkon Estate
“I paid both of them. Even, your assistant got RM15 for helping me to find the two workers.”
“Good. Dency, it’s 4.30 pm now. I apologize for taking so much time to meet with my estate manager. I have big issues with him. We should make a move now, or we will be late to see the sunset. I guess we cannot visit the Runggus Longhouse today.”
Imelda and I said goodbye to all the staff in her office. We immediately jumped into her 4 x 4 Toyota Hilux. It is a rugged and pleasant car to drive. I did use her car to fetch my two helpers at their kampong that is 25 minutes drive from the Langkon Estate. Imelda likes her car, but she prefers to drive an ordinary car. For her, the 4 x 4 Toyota Hilux is better driven by guys. However, that the only vehicle that can be used in oil palm plantation.
Miss a signboard
“Yeah, you just drive. Maybe we will find the signboard. Hei, look at the farms on your left side. The owners killed some of their coconut trees by injecting the trees with chemicals until those trees do not have leaves and fruits. Among the dead coconut trees, they planted with oil palm trees.”
“I did try, but I did not see the real signboard to Simpang Mengayau. Could it be the white signboard? Imelda we must go there to check.”
She increased her Hilux speed, and we reached the white signboard less than 15 minutes. We surprised to know that the white signboard shows the way to Simpang Mengayau. It was in poor condition. Even, the direction to Simpang Mengayau on the white board was missing. Due to that, I missed the last T junction to Simpang Mengayau. Imelda just shaked her head. She complained that the district board should replace the old one to new.