What’s your ROOTS man???

The generation of today is living in a world where they are offered a vast array of choices, whether in music, pop culture or dance. With that, comes the decline of interest in traditional arts, culture and music. It’s inevitable, as things are everchanging.


The custodians of traditional culture are gradually declining, as fewer and fewer young people take it up. The great teachers are slowly dying away, bringing their technique with them to the grave. The traditional is often perceived as boring, old and sometimes embarassing. We have begun to be ashamed of our culture, yet we condemn and ridicule others not of our kind who make an effort to learn it.

Unlike our counterparts in Kalimantan who excel and have carried Dayak culture far ahead and established it as a dynamic art form, over here, we are lagging behind, stuck to the old ways, doing the same thing, unappealling to the masses of younger generation.

From my personal experience, I’ve always found traditional dance to be somewhat outdated and reserved for the experts. So I never bothered to learn (and too embarassed to take lessons). My excuses were shame, two left feet and fear. But once I started, I got hooked. It was an incredibly liberating experince for me, even with all the mistakes I made. There’s a whole new world out there that we, as the modern generation, can carry on, make tweaks and still maintain it’s authenticity. What I mean is that on the one hand we have the traditional, slow ones, on the other, the faster, upbeat yet still derived from the orginal steps but improved (purists would not agree, however). Same goes for music.

There’s something about doing something that has been done for generations, slowly refined with the times. With the advent of Malayanizing everything (since it’s Malay-sia), the Dayak culture has slowly been eroded of it’s authenticity (Islamization). We can take a leaf from our incredibly pro-Dayak neigbours, who has stood by their identity with pride.

For example, in most dance competitions held in Sarawak, Malay elements has to be incorporated (to win) which is not only so homogenized, it clashes with the more spontaneous art of Dayak dance. Some competitions require that you do a Malay dance! While in the rampaian kreatif (Creative Dance Medley), the costumes are of the bright, shiny Malayic type, incorporated with many Malay moves. (Imagine someone wearing a chawat doing the joget, urgghh!) If you have the time and opportunity to watch a Kalimantan creative traditional dance, you’d be blown away by how Dayak (and beautiful) it looks.

I’m not just talking about boasting how powerful your ancestors are going mengayau (headhunting), or how good they are at drinking. That is a thing of the past. It’s no longer relevant today. Instead, think of how you can do your part by learning something about the history of your culture and it’s traditions. Part of the reason why our Dayak identity is eroding is because we have forgotten what makes us Dayak. Our language, dance, music, rotting by the wayside while we pursue the modern lifestyle (which is not wrong, not saying you have to hunt for food and wear a chawat). How can you be proud of your identity when you have nothing to show for it but the race stated in your birth cert?

It’s time we remember who we are and be proud of our own Dayak identity.


The humble vegetable

Daun ubi, tapioca leaves or better known in Bidayuh as dawu’ bandung, is a plant that grow in the wild, but has been cultivated as widely eaten by the Bidayuhs. They say if you want to know if a Bidayuh lives in a particular house, look at the backyard. If there are tapioca leaves planted, it means there are!

It’s been a staple for a long time, hearkening back to the days when meat was a luxury and vegetables aplenty. But even now, when meat has become the norm, the humble dawu’ bandung can never be replaced.

Among the more popular dishes are stir fried, or stewed with dahang pangan (rice fermented pork), manok pansoh, or made into a soup with canned stew pork.So if you’re ever a visitor to the state, ask around and try some!

I hate talking about food. It makes me hungry. Now wouldn’t it be nice to have a cafe for non-halal Dayak food?

Penan or Punan: The Western Understanding

(Sourced from Global Voices)

There has been confusion about the terms Penan and Punan in ethnographic literature. In Sarawak, these two groups tend to be collectively grouped with various other tribal peoples.

According to Needham (2007), investigations confirm that there are a number of nomadic peoples in Borneo and the Penan form one group. The affected groups themselves however, are aware of their cultural and their profound linguistic differences. The confusion is perhaps due to early documentations.

Langub (1989, p.169) states that early Western writers like Hose and McDougall, Harisson and others used the two terms indiscriminately.

Sercombe and Sellato (2007, p7) note that the term ‘Punan’ which may also be articulated as ‘Penan’ have long been widely used by the settled tribes to refer to the various nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers. They state that in Kalimantan, the nomads are generally known as Punan while in Sarawak and Brunei, Penan became the default term.

Harisson (1949 in Hoffman, 1984, p128) stated in his writing that Punan is synonymous with the Malay word hulu or “upriver”. Other people define the term as “people who live at the source of the river”, “people who live deep within the forest”, “people always moving from place to place” and “people who do not plant gardens and swiddens and must hunt for their food”. The Kenyah look at this term as “to assemble, pile up or gather things together”.

In other words, the term Punan, is more of “a description of the geographical location and behavioral characteristics of the peoples”(Hoffman, 1984, 128).

Urquhart states that the term ‘Penan’ is used by the Kenyah and the term ‘Punan’ is used by the Kayan to refer to the nomadic people (Langub, 1989, p169).

Hoffman (1984, p128), states the term Punan has been an exonym – a name by which a group is referred to by other peoples or the outsiders. He notes the different usage of the terms as dialectal variant.

Needham (1953 in Langub 1989, p169) affirms that there are actually three distinct groups: ‘Penan’, ‘Punan’ and ‘Punan Bah’. Penan are divided into ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Penan. The Eastern Penan occupy largely the Baram and Limbang watersheds namely east of Baram River -Tutoh, Patah, Apoh, Upper Akah, Selaan, Selungo, upper Limbang and Upper Baram River. The Western Penan occupy the Balui watersheds, Silat and tributary of Baram namely Belaga district and the Silat River- watershed of Long Belina, Long Tikan, Lo Bo Pumu, Long Jekitan and Long Beku (Brosius, 1992).

(sourced from Pustaka Sarawak)

There has been many theories regarding the Penan/Punan issue. Some dispute the existence of the Punan, some say they are distinct from each other. I don’t claim to know much about the difference, and the information above are merely written records by Western ethnographers.

Based on my understanding, the Penan are nomads (Penan Busang among the earliest settled), the Punan never nomads, and the Punan Bah considering themselves Kajang. Of course, this might be simplifying things. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Sometimes, the problem stems from the Westerners themselves for trying to quantify something that is abstract to their organized, neat minds. Being newcomers to this side of the world (back then), they get confused by local dialects, and lump together groups that don’t even relate. They spell certain words differently when sometimes they mean the same thing (back then Dayaks have no written history), or use the same words for different groups which also leads to confusion among modern researchers as they try to put into context what and whom they were writing about.

The Red Rally

Movement for Change Sarawak will be organising a Red Rally, Walk for Democracy and Refrom at the Museum Gardens tomorrow, together with a wreath laying ceremony at fallen heroes memorial in Waterfront and the Gardens. Police permit has not been granted due to Ramadhan, while the ex-servicemen association are furious about the wreath laying (they say this will be politicised).

An excerpt from MoCS website,

On the aims and objectives of MoCS, Siah said its priority was to strive for a new political culture in Sarawak – free from money politics, corruption, nepotism, despotism and free from politics of patronage and economic banditry.

Secondly, it aims to strengthen democratic values and principles. Sarawakians must be made more aware of their rights in all spheres as citizens of a democratic, sovereign state and nation.

MoCS will also provide a platform for Sarawakians who are apolitical to be involved in a mass movement which they can believe in – a movement which struggles for their religious, cultural and economic rights.

And finally, MoCS will strive to educate the citizens of Sarawak of their duties and responsibilities in the governance of their state – that they have a stake in the state’s directions and future and to ensure that Sarawak is always managed and governed by leaders of integrity, foresight and high moral values.

It remains to be seen how the turnout will be. Kuchingites seem fairly unperturbed by it.