Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Kampongs

Trip to Sipitang from June 22 to July 3, 2010:

A new journey began

Morning was breaking. The earth was awaking from slumber again. Magpie-robins were singing
beautifully on trees. Freddie, Patrick, Kuming and I were busy packing our things into our pickup car. We were moving out from SFI Mendulong Station to Kampong Mendulong. The kampong was located about 20 kilometres from the Station. It is considered one of the biggest Dayak Lun Dayeh kampongs in Mendulong area. After returning the keys of the rest house to one of SFI staffs’, we stopped our vehicle near to a nursery house to take some pictures of Mount Muruk Miau. The mountain peak rose through the morning fog. It was such wonderful scenery at Mendulong-Lumaku. While I was taking some pictures of Mount Muruk Miau, Patrick mentioned about two Nuri helicopters that crashed near the mountain in 1997. From his story, the crash happened when the fog already engulfed the mountain and this led to poor visibility. Eleven RMAF men were killed in that crash.

As soon as I finished photographing the Mount Muruk Miau, Patrick and I hopped into our pickup and we went straight to Kampong Mendulong. Along the way, we saw a long stretch of Acacia trees on the left and right of the road to the Kampong. The trees belong to SFI and based on the height of those trees, I assumed they are seven years old now. When we reached a barren area, I saw a long stretch of Crocker Range in blue color. I asked Kuming to stop the car as I wanted to take a photo shoot of the range that separates the east and west coast of Sabah. Then, we continued our journey till we reached a large rubber tree (Havea brasiliensis) plantation and a small oil palm plantation. All of us knew that we were almost reaching to our new destination. Suddenly, I saw a male magpie-robin flew across the road into the oil palm plantation. I was so excited and told to my helpers about my plan to make the area as my sampling site.


After 20 minutes driving, we reached the Mendulong Headman’s house. We were greeted by his youngest son and to our dismay, the Headman was not at home. I was hopeless to hear the news as I wanted to know whether we could stay at his rented house. But, I kept my hope that he would tell us the good news. Without wasting our time, we went to the Bumbok River that was located at the end of the Kampong. Again, we were shocked to see the condition. There was no good place for us to set our tents. I never let myself down. I just walked all over the area and saw a couple of magpie-robins flew from a “Tarap” tree to a mango tree. I went back to my helpers and we made a decision to start our works there. By 1 pm, we finished our works and again we went to the headman’s house to meet him for the second time. Again, we were disappointed to find out he was sleeping. Hungry and thirsty, we went to the nearest grocery shop and bought drinks and junk food. Inside the pickup, Freddie suggested to try to find a balai raya (small hall) in other kampong. I just agreed with him and we continued our journey to the next kampong. Less than 10 minutes, we arrived at Kampong Bamban.

Balai Raya of Kampong Bamban

The Kampong Bamban is a small kampong. There are about 30 families resides in the kampong. While checking on the Kampong, Patrick pointed a small balai raya that is located at the opposite of Dewan Kebudayaan Lun Dayeh (Lun Dayeh Cultural Hall). The balai raya was a perfect place for us to stay in. Freddie asked me to ask anyone in the kampong to show the way to the house of the headman of Kampong Bamban. I went out from our pickup and proceeded to a big blue house by the Kampong Bamban Church. I was greeted by a female pastor and she just pointed the headman’s temporary house which is just located next to the balai raya. His real house which is located behind the Church was still under construction. After exchanging a short conversation with the pastor, Patrick and I went straight to the headman’s little house. We were greeted by a young man. He is big and tall man with fair skin. I was astonished by the sight of this young and good looking Dayak Lun Dayeh man. Patrick noticed it and he patted me from behind. I stopped staring at the young man and straightened my pose while Patrick started the conversation.

“I’m Patrick from Sabah Museum and she is Dency from Sarawak. We would like to use the balai raya for three days. Is the headman at home now?”

“Ah my father, he went to Sipitang this morning. He will come back home this evening. Please have a sit while I make a call to my father regarding your intention”

We were served with a red syrup drink while the Headman’s son made a call to his father. When he switched off his hand-phone, he mentioned that his father allowed us to stay at the balai raya. We were so grateful to hear that good news. Without further ado, we cleaned the balai raya before moving our things in. Once we were done with our cleaning works, we went to Kampong Mendulong to check our mist-nets. After checking, we took a bath at Bumbok River. All of our weariness on that day was washed away by the river water. We bathed till the day was almost closed and then made a move back to Kampung Bamban.

Political structures of the two kampongs

At the balai raya, we met the headman. He introduced himself and corrected us that he was not a headman but a community manager of Kampong Bamban and Mendulong. I just wondered why he needed to manage two kampongs. He explained that Kampong Bamban is a part of Kampong Mendulong. In detail, the headman of Kampong Mendulong is an administrator of Dayak Lun Dayeh customary laws while the headman of Kampung Bamban is an administrator of social and developmental communities of those two kampongs. The information given by him was fair enough for me to understand the political structures of Dayak Lun Dayeh people. Patrick also added that Dusun people also practice the same structures. I could see that there was a big difference in political structures between Dayaks in Sarawak and Dayaks in Sabah. In Sarawak, a Dayak headman will be a leader of a kampong or a longhouse and he will be assisted by a vice headman. Their jobs are almost the same like headman and managers in Sabah but only concentrated in one kampong.

The curtain closed

Four of us worked so hard for the whole day. Eventhough we were so tired, we were still enjoying ourselves chatting and teasing each other. Night time for us was to get to know to each other and share some good and sad stories. We talked till 10 pm and all of us went into our own niche. It was a good night for everyone and we were hoping tomorrow will be a perfect day for us.

Survivors of Pulau Tiga, Sabah

Trip to Pulau Tiga from June 14 to 18, 2010:

Life of a Sabah Parks worker

It was 5.00 pm on my second day at Pulau Tiga. I just finished all my works on that day and decided to have a walk to the Pulau Tiga jetty belonged to Sabah Parks. At the end of the jetty, I saw some of the Sabah Parks staff and their family members busying themselves with their own activities. The men and their children were catching fish while their wives and daughters just enjoying chatting to each other. At the corner of the jetty, there was a man sitting alone on a bench looking over the sea. My feet dragged me to his place and asked him whether he allowed me to sit next to him.

“Ah Dency sure you can sit next to me.”

“Thanks Pak Nizam. How’s your day?”

“Everything is fine for me here.”

“How is your work Dency? Get any magpie-robins today?”

“Ok but I only got two.”

“There is a tomorrow for you. I’m sure you can get more birds.”

He just smiled and assured me everything would be fine. I asked him again about his life as a Sabah Parks worker in Pulau Tiga.

“Pak Nizam, don’t you get bored working here? It’s so far away from the mainland. How about your family ?”

“No. I never get bored. I’ve been working here for 25 years ago. Cut grasses and clean the park every day. I always come back to Kuala Penyu on Friday. So I will spend two days with my family members. They are used to it. All my children are grown up now. My eldest son is working with Sabah Fisheries Department. The rest are doing ordinary jobs. My youngest daughter is starting a home-based sewing business. She finished her sewing course a month ago”.

Pak Nizam told me that my parents are so lucky to have a smart daughter like me. He wished all his kids followed my footsteps. I just said to him that everybody has his or her own destiny and it is up to him or her whether to take the chance or not. He nodded his head agreeing with my opinion. I asked him again about the Survivor Borneo that was filmed 10 years ago.

Survivor Borneo and sunset moment

“At that time we have to close this island to tourists for two months. The producer spent more than a billion US Dollar for this shooting. I could still remember all of us became audiences during the voting nights. One by one the participants were voted out from the game. There was an old lady; I could not remember her name, cried after she was voted out. We just sympathized at her and sat there quietly.”

“Can you tell me where is the voting chamber?”

“The voting chamber was located by the big public toilet. You are not going to see it as we already demolished it five years ago. You can only see an empty grassy area surrounded by trees.”

“I see.”

“Well Dency, why don’t you go to the mud volcano? I’m sure you will like it.”

“Yes, I will once I finish my sampling.”

“Dency, would you like to join all of us to catch some fish?”

“Yes, sure.”

I spent the whole evening with all of the staff and their sons catching some ocean fish while taking sunset pictures. When I saw their happy faces, I knew that they enjoyed their life so much. I wished I could be like them and enjoy every moment of my life. For me they were the true survivors of Pulau Tiga.


“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”

By Grandma Moses

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beufort-Klias: Where all are mixed up

Trip to Membakut-Klias Beaufort from June 7 to 13, 2010:

First day at Membakut

It was a raining night when I first arrived at Pekan Membakut. I just sat down and stared blankly through my car side window. Two dogs, male and female were scratching their back to each other. A middle age man was walking over to the automated teller machine (ATM) belonged to the only government bank in Malaysia. What a silent night in Pekan Membakut. After 10 minutes waiting at the front of the bank, I saw a 4 x 4 Hilux Toyota approaching and parked behind of my car. The driver must be Imelda, my best friend since five years ago. We did our Master study together in the same university in Sarawak and graduated at the same time. Now, she works as an Agronomist in one of the biggest oil palm plantation companies in Sabah. Previously, she wanted to pursue her Phd in zoology specializing bats and phylogeography (i.e. study of genetic distribution of any studied organisms). However, fate led her to change her direction and she made the right decision to stick with her job now.

“Dency, I’m behind of you now. Follow me from behind. Ok.” she called me to let me know her plan to bring me to Mawao Estate. I followed her order and before I know, we already reached the estate. It was so dark and the only sight that I could see was six brick houses and oil palm trees planted at the edge of the housing area. Imelda parked her big car next to one of the big houses on the top of a hill while she asked me to park my car in front of a big houe. I figured out that the big house is belonged to Imelda.

“Welcome to my not so beautiful house. Actually it was an old office before we moved to our current office at the foot of this hill. Did you see a big white building at the side of road just now?” asked Imelda.

“Yes. Is that the Mawao Estate office?” She nodded her head agreeing with my reply.

We transferred my things to her house and I proceeded to have a bath before taking my supper. After settling everything, Imelda and I talked about my helpers. One of my helpers would be her staff’s son who has just finished his form 5 last year. She also mentioned that she released one of her worker to assist me. The conversation between two old good friends ended at 11.00pm and we drifted to sleep in cold raining night.

Membakut boys

A sunny morning embraced the day. Imelda and I went to her office. There we met Michael, Imelda’s research assistant. Michael is a funny stout man. When he saw me, he was astounded to find out that I am a woman. “Boss Imel, saya pikir kawan ko lelaki. Ba perempuan ya. Tadi saya kasi tau sama budak-budak dua orang tu yang kawan bos ni laki. Ala salah lagi saya.” said Michael to Imelda. Both of us just laughed at what he said. I could understand him for saying like that as there are still few Malaysian women involve themselves in this wildlife field that has been dominated by men. We went to her office room. It is a big room equipped with a big table, a sofa set and a long closet. A white board was hanged on the right wall. I could see Imelda’s handwriting written on the board. There were numbers and words that I could not understand. By only guessing, the numbers could be estimation of oil palm fruits in tonne.

“Boss, boleh masuk.” Two young men entered into Imelda’s room.

“Duduk kamu dua. Safwan kamu tau kan ko dilepaskan dari kerja kamu di blok mulai hari ini sampai Sabtu.” Imelda informed to a young man with a dark complexion. I immediately knew his name is Safwan. The other man has a white complexion and pair of eyes that are exactly similar to Michael. I could say he must be Michael’s son.

“Safwan, Mac, saya kenalkan kawan saya, Miss Dency. Mengenai kerja tu Miss Dency akan jelaskan kat kamu nanti. Bayaran satu ari lapan jam ialah RM35 skali dengan lunch RM5 lah. Yang RM5 tu Miss Dency akan bayar esok sampai hari terakhir. Waktu mula kerja bergantung kepada arahan Miss Dency lah. Ada apa-apa soalan dari kamu dua?” Imelda asked from both of them.

“Tiada Boss.”

“OK. Dency both of them under you now. Safwan boleh ko tolong bawa Miss Dency ke estate kita di Klias tu. Ko tau kan tempat tu?”

“Yang kat ujung tu ka Boss?.”

“Ya. Jadi ko kasi tunjuk tempat tu sama Miss Dency nanti. Jangan kasi sesat tau.”

Mac and Safwan..the Membakut Boys

I looked at both of them and made an assumption that they are between 19 and 22 years old. They are very young and have kind of childish looks. Without further ado, I asked both of them to follow me to my car that was parked behind of Imelda’s Hilux. Before proceeding to the intended place, I went to Pekan Membakut to buy two packs of nasi putih with fried fishes for their lunch. By 9am, I drove my car out of Membakut area and entered to Klias-Pelijau area. Safwan became my guide. He showed me the way to go to the estate. We went through villages and small estates belonged to small holders. At 10.30am, we arrived at the Pelinjau Estate. What I could see was a big land planted with 2 years old palm trees. The other side of the Pelijau Estate is belonged to small holders planted with 10 years old trees. I parked my car and did survey looking for magpie-robins. Suddenly, I saw a pair of black birds flew among fruit trees next to the 10 years old oil palm trees. I told my helpers to look for 20 bamboo poles and set up 10 mist-nets at the selected locations. Once done, we took rest near to our mist-nets. The day was so hot and I was sweating a lot. I lay on ground next to an old palm tree and dozed off. The two of them did the same thing while waiting for any birds entered into our traps. Three of us stayed at the estate until dark clouds covered the Pelinjau, Klias sky. We quickly put down all mist-nets. Rain started to pour down when we pulled down the last mist net. Once all done, everybody got wet and we left the area without catching any magpie-robins.

One Borneo

On the second day of sampling, we moved to Selinsing, Klias. The destination would be an oil palm plantation belonged to a joint venture company in Sabah. There, I saw a pair of magpie-robins roamed among palm trees of 5 years old and rubber trees. We surveyed the plantation and found a good place for us to put up mist-nets. By afternoon, we managed to catch one magpie-robin. Hoping to get two more birds, we waited again until thick dark clouds blocked the sun. It was a sign of rain and we pulled down all mist-nets before we got drenched.

On the way back to Membakut, I tried to get to know my two helpers. We chat as follows.

“Safwan, what is your race?”

“I’m mix. My father is a Bisaya and my mum is a Kadazan.”

“Mac, how about you? I guess you are Dusun. Am I right?”

“Nope Miss, I’m Kadazan.”

“Kadazan Catholic.”

“No. Kadazan Buddish.”

“What? Am I deaf?”

“Miss, yes I’m kadazan Buddhish.”

“Ok. This is the first time I met a Kadazan Buddhish. All this while I thought that all Kadazans are Christian and majority of them are Roman Catholic.”

“Now you know Miss. Ba 1 Malaysia ba.”

I just smiled at Mac for his comical answer.

“Ah we almost arrive now. Tomorrow I picked both of you at 5.00 in the morning.”

“Yes Boss.”

Once I stopped my car, they jumped out and walked to their own vehicles. I sat down in my car for a while to relax my feet. It was a heavy rain in the evening. I was hoping tomorrow will be a perfect day. A perfect day for everything.

Jokes from two Membakut boys

For the next two days, we did not catch any magpie-robins. I tried not to let my spirit down and hoping to get at least two more magpie-robins on the next day. Being a researcher, I needed to figure out a way to solve this problem. I asked Mac to follow me while Safwan would look after the mist-nets. We surveyed an area covered with one to two years oil palm trees. There, we noticed a pair of magpie-robins perched on branches of a dead tree and roamed among oil palm leaves. The observation led me to make a decision to change the location of mist-nets to the new area. I also heard knocking sounds made by a woodpecker. The sounds would be like repeated knocks on a hard wood.


Oil palm trees at Selinsing

During break, all of us sat down together behind of my car. When Mac and Safwan saw my gloomy face, they knew, how stressed I was with my works. Both of them would like to speak Malay language the way British officers spoke during colonial time.

“Mac, boleh kasi itu air sama saya. Saya dahaga. Kamu tahu dahaga.”

“Tuan, saya tahu. Ini ayer untuk Tuan.”

“Trima kasih. Kamu memang bagus. Tahu apa Tuan kamu mahu.”

I just laughed at them and followed their acts.

New discoveries

Language barrier was not a problem to me. Mac and Safwan thought me a few Sabah Malay words. For example, “keling” is for Indian people, “Om” for Timor Leste workers while “bangas” is spoiled food. When works were over, we would venture to other places beside Selinsing. We went to Bisaya villagers, the Bornea Golf Club, Safwan’s village and other oil palm plantations within the Klias area. Mac and Safwan would be my tourist guides explaining many things about the places. Along the way back to Membakut, we saw the mighty Padas River. The yellow river is famous with its Grade 3 and 4 rapids. Given that I was near to the mouth of the Padas River, I could not see those swelling current rapids. Decorated Bisaya houses attracted me so much. Through Safwan, I already knew that there would be many wedding ceremonies within the Klias area. Coincidently, the week was a school holidays in Malaysia. Newly engaged couple especially those who work as teachers like to tie the knot during school holidays and greeting seasons. My adventure never concentrated at Membakut. I did go to Pekan Beufort together with Imelda. When I arrived there, I saw many government buildings and a row of wooden shops surrounded by concrete shops. It is matched with Imelda description that Beufort is the centre of administration and businesses for Sipitang and Beufort people.

Bisaya house at Selinsing

Padas River

Me at the Borneo Resort

Beufort Town in the evening

End of the trip

On the last day, we put up ten mist-nests along the road near to the new area. That day, Safwan did not join us. He was replaced by Mac’s cousin, Jason. Through Mac, I knew that he is a Kadazan Catholic. His appearance looked like a punk kid and he is not a chatty person like Mac. By 10.30 in the morning, we managed to catch four magpie-robins. It was the biggest catch for a day in Klias-Membakut. At 11.00 p.m., we put down the ten mist-nets and sent those two boys back in Membakut. Finally, it was the end of my works in Klias. But, there is still a long way to go for me to achieve my research objectives.

Mac and Jason

Oil palm fruits

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Colors of Gaya

June 6, 2010:

Sunday Morning,
A busy morning at the Gaya Street,
Noises are everywhere,
Blind singers sing a merrily song,
Traders are shouting, trying to lure many customers,
Some of them just sit down waiting patiently,
Expecting their products will attract customers.

Gaya Street on Sunday morning

Blind couple play guitar and sing

A visitor is walking along the aisle,
Looking at little vases displayed on the wooden tables,
Pick touch and admiring,
Many choices hard to decide,
Once decided it is time to bargain,
The cheapest the better,
Satisfy hell presto the cute Sabah vase is sold.

A cute nice vase from Sabah

Smells of local fruits fill in the air,
“Tarap”, banana and other local fruits are gathered on pavement,
An old lady guards the fruits,
Smoking her “sigup” while cracking a beetle nut,
For her to chew with “Sireh”,
At a coner street, a painter is painting,
Painting the scared Mount Kinabalu.

Local fruits

Beautiful painted pictures of Mount Kinabalu

Bracelets, necklaces and pearls,
Women favorite jewelries,
Ray of sunlight shines on a bracelet,
Showing its beautiful sparkling colors, that mesmerizing many onlookers,
Antique brasses, gongs, plates, old vases and pets,
Cheap Sabah T-shirt, hand watches, souvenirs,
All can be found here.

Fishes and lady in green

Black, blue, red and purple pendant

Sabah magnets

Big blue fan

Pearl necklaces

Wind chimes

A colorful batik beg

Antique brass bells

Tagung gong

Beautiful butterfly

Want to have a cute rabbit???

Colorful pants

Seashells seashore

It’s almost noon,
Some of the traders start to pack their things,
Numbers of tourist and visitors are receding,
The colors of Gaya is fading,
Noises begin to diminish,
It is the end of a Tamu,
But, it will emerge again on next Sunday,
Emerge as the Tamu Gaya of Kota Kinabalu City.

Empty Gaya Street after noon

Kopiruba waguu.......


Aku cuba mok berkarya kejap..Malaz mok mengarang ku polah lah dalam bentuk puisi. Cubaan pertama dari aku. Nang susah mok membayangkan macam ni rupa Tamu Gaya. Aku engkah lah gambar-gambar menarik yang ku ambik ari Ahad time Tamu ya di buka…

Prelude: Wodit Quest in the Land Below the Wind

5 months ago at Professor F’s house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.

Prof F: Hei D. Don’t you have any idea for your Phd project?

Dency : about genetic population of yellow-vented bulbul? (Making a blur face & silent for a moment)

Prof F : You know what D, why don’t you study the “Biogeography of Magpie-Robins and Shamas in Borneo”. Don’t you know what are the Magpie-robins and Shamas?

Dency : No idea Sir.

Prof F : I tell you what D, we will have a very very serious discussion in my office next week. I’m gonna showing you pictures of the two birds & give some papers for you to read.

Dency : Ok...It’s a new project for me. Can I finish my phd project within three years. (My heart said “Oh my gosh, don’t give the hardest project for me to do. I want to go back to Sarawak as soon as possible....huhuhuhu”)

Prof F : I bet you can my dear Dency. Plan your works very well, sure you can make it less than 3 years.

August 4, 2010 in Inanam, Sabah.

It has been two months I’m in Sabah. Two months looking for magpie-robins and white-crowned shama. Dusun people call the Magpie-robins as “wodit kampong” while white-crowned shama as “wodit hutan”. Those two birds fascinated me so much. Both birds can sing very well and have attracted many people to keep them as their bird pets. Shama sings extraordinarily rich, melodious song with bubbly quality while Magpie-robins has powerful voice and sings varied song with series of plaintive whistles on different pitches. The Shama lives in secondary forests. It is not an easy job to keep the Shama. It must be captured when it still young (juvenile stage). During the growing process, the rarer will feed it with foods that are easy to find such as seeds and grains and teach it to sing very well. In some places in Malaysia, the shama owners will join a bird sing competition to show their skills in rearing their birds. As for the Magpie-robin, it can be found in coastal woodlands, mangroves, cultivated areas, villages, gardens and plantation. It is not considered as a favourite pet bird, but some of villagers in Borneo like to have them as their pets.

Magpie-robin in Sabah (Source: Joe Pan, 2005)

White-Crowned Shama (Source: Doug Wechsler/VIREO)

Why are these two different birds selected for my Phd project? The reasons are those two birds are categorized into many sub-species based on their morphologies (i.e. feather color). The Shama (Copsychus malabricus or abbreviation is C. m.) can be divided into two subspecies, the White-crowned Shama (C. m. stricklandii) and White-rumped Shama (C. m. suavis). A significant difference between both subspecies is the White-crowned Shama has white stripe over crown from upper forehead to nape while the White-rumped Shama lacks white on crown. As for distribution, the White-crowned Shama is a common resident Sabah while the White-rumped Shama can be found in Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan. However, ranges of both subspecies overlap in south West Sabah and far East Sarawak.

The Magpie-robins (Copyschus saularis) can be divided into three subspecies, C. s. musicus, C. s. adamsi, and C. s. pluto. The musicus has white belly and dark breast while the other two subspecies have breast and belly black. However, the difference between pluto and adamsi is adamsi has white tail but pluto has all tail black. The main objectives of my Phd project are to determine whether all subspecies of both birds are genetically different and whether the Magpie-robins in overlap areas are hybridized. Hence, I need to visit many places in Sabah and some of the areas that are not well known to outsiders. I went to Beufort-Klias, Pulau Tiga, Sipitang, Donggongon-Penampang, Kota Belud, Kota Marudu-Kudat, Pulau Banggi, Sandakan and Tawau. Each place has its own beauty and stories that I would like to share with you all in the next posts. Feel free to check new posts......

All sampling sites for the Sabah Trip 2010

Pst pst pst........

Rajin-rajin kitak semua ngecheck blog aku auk...yelah tek 2 bulan ku sik update. Dua bulan aku berjalan mencarik burung ngan makan, alu sik terkabe ku mok nulis crita-crita menarik. Tapi ku madah awal lok, post aku mengenai Sandakan akan polah kita beraik mata guguk luruh kedak ujan turun dari langit....Sabar ja kitak nunggu special post tok yang ku tujukan khas untuk kawan ku di Sandakan nun.....