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.