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?

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Slamat Andu Gawai!

Lambe’ ichuk yuh, sorry. XD

Gawai is born when Sarawak Day was created on June 1st during the British era. They didn’t want to acknowledge Gawai Dayak, but after Dato’ Stephen Kalong Ningkan became the Chief Minister, in 1965 Sarawak Day became Gawai Dayak on June 1st every year.

Gawai is the time for prayers of thanksgiving to the spirits and gods of old after a bountiful harvest, to celebrate the end of the paddy season, time to enjoy and relax with friends and family, medicating with tonnes of pork and gallons of alcohol. Harvest time varies according to region, and some, like the Bidayuh, celebrate ‘ baru’ ba’uh’, or new rice before the formal date of June 1st. It’s a time when the community gathers to eat together the new rice that has been harvested.

So to make it easy, the official date for the festivities start on June 1st. If you live in Kuching, and want to have lots of friends to visit during Gawai, make more Bidayuh friends. The Bidayuh kampung’s are nearer and somewhat less rowdy than the Ibans (unless you happen to end up in Mantung or Rasau. Just kidding!)

A ceremony is held, with a high priest chanting and sacrificing chickens/pigs to the spirits. But with the advent of Christianity, it is dying out as the old people who knows how to conduct it are getting less and less every year. And most villages that have turn full Christian with no pagans (like mine) don’t even hold it anymore.

Before some Christian radical jumps down my throat for advocating spirit worship and idolatry, it’s about preserving culture. No one truly prays to the spirits. Why not dedicate it to the new God? Now this is a minefield.

Gawai, for me holds a new meaning for the modern generation. General fun and drinking aside, it’s about renewal. It’s the end of the cycle, where time is marked by when it is time to start farming and planting paddy (our main sustenance, life itself), ending with the harvest, the conclusion. It’s like the new year, to throw the old away and start with the new. I don’t think many realize that.

Gawai this year has been a somewhat subdued affair. Inflation, coupled with the significant loss of BN has made things less happening. But otherwise, no one can stop the ball rolling!

This year haven’t been out ‘ngabang’ (visiting) much. To Baru’, Jenan, Krian and Benuk only. The hot weather has been killing us.

I’m back in Kuching now, since I’ll be working tomorrow. T.T

I do miss the days when everyone came back for Gawai eve. Now everyone is living their own lives, busy with new families and jobs. We try to meet, but it’ll never be the same. I mean, watching a pig getting slaughtered for Gawai and having it all to ourselves is really something.

Anyway, to all Dayaks (actually, if you’re Bornean, regardless of race, Gawai is a part of our lives), Selamat Hari Gawai, drive safe, and most importantly, ENJOY!

It’s okay, it’s alright, it’s enough

What is a modern Dayak?

In the minds of many, it’s a contradicting phrase. The word Dayak tend to conjure up images of preliterate people, living in the hinterlands, practicing shifting agriculture, living off the land. The Dayak philosophy of being in harmony with nature, body, mind and spirit.

The word modern denotes higher standard of living, in concrete houses, with cars, in suits and dresses, Starbucks and McDs.

I guess the modern Dayak is straddling the line between it’s rich heritage and the pull of the capitalistic modern lifestyle. Some straddle the line well, incorporating what can be and preserving it. Some get folded into the seductive pull of a more ‘civilised’ lifestyle, away from their ‘barbaric’ past.

There are many Dayaks who are ashamed of their roots. They don’t want to be associated with the primitives, so they abandon their origins and adopt a new culture, the culture of materialism. I don’t judge those who do so. It is their right to do what they want with their life. I am but a young man who still ponder at the relevance of an increasingly obsolete way of life and mindset. To some, abandoning their culture is like opening up to new possibilities. To some purists culture must be maintained at all cost, hence the prehistoric mindset as well.

I believe that the arts can be preserved and maintained, but the mindset must be left behind. The complacent, it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s enough mindset. Why do you think there are so many Dayaks who are still poor and left behind?

Their sense of entitlement, perception of being victims of higher powers and change, their over-glorification of the irrelevant past makes them both proud and scared. Scared of change, of failure, of shame. The cycle goes on, from one generation to the next.

Then generation Y comes in. Gen-Yers are the new breed of Dayaks, usually of mixed parentage, who accept modern norms easily, born into relative comfort, distanced from their original cultures. Theirs is the culture of contemporary music, art, selfish materialistic individualism trumping all else. Community is ones’ friends.

Of course not everyone is the same. There are those brought up in households that expose their children to their original culture (and I’m not just talking about Dayaks only). But with modernity some parts of the past has to be sacrificed.

I listen to some people speaking in their native tongues, and it has lost it’s purity. The modern version has been contaminated by foreign words that never existed before. It’s okay if there is no substitute for a particular word, but some words which already exist and then get replaced by a foreign word because everyone uses it seem pointless. Like the Malay word alamat (address), there’s a substitute for it, spelled ‘addres’, and pencuci mulut with ‘desert’.

So there now exists multiple mindsets. The old who live in their comfortable bubble of complacency, the baby boomers who feel entitled and victimised, and the Gen X’s and Y’s, who dive headfirst into the modern lifestyle.

So what is a modern Dayak?

It’s in the pork

What makes most Dayaks (non-Muslim ones) swoon in ecstasy?

Pork.

(Anyone finding this offensive and stop reading here.)

I think Dayaks love pork even more than the Chinese, elevating it to some sort of Holy Grail of food. Seriously I kid you not.

And the best-est way to cook it?

Barbeque. No frills, in soy sauce and garlic marinade, later to be eaten with soy sauce and garlic with chilli and sugar.

Sometimes I think this obssesion is probably why so many Dayaks are overweight and unhealthy. The alcohol helps too. Our ancestors can’t afford meat all the time, a luxury for festivals and large celebrations. Now everyone can buy meat all the time. So I’m guessing they’re making up for lost time. Instead of hunting for it and actually burning off some calories in the process, all they need is to drive up to the nearest market and pick at the preferred cut, displayed on boxes, sellers swatting flies away with their bare hands, usually dressed in white singlets and short pants.

Undeniably it tastes great, but this unhealthy obsession can be a bit disgusting. How much can you eat pork before looking like one?

On normal days is fine. The occasional pork rice or kueh chap.

Until Gawai or Christmas arrives. Then its an entire month worth of pork gorging all you can eat galore. Usually that leaves me abstaining from it for about a month at least.

Gawai isn’t a month, just that some kampungs celebrate it later than others, giving people excuses for MCs, hangovers, outrageous behaviours and weight gain. “Gawai made me do this! *points at bulging waist”.

And Christmas, coinciding with the year end and New Year is another perfect excuse to throw a barbeque every week (it’s on rotation basis), more bingeing and stinky drains clogged with vomit. If in the West Christmas is being replaced by Santa Claus, over here it’s food and alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong, I love enjoying pork and alcohol, especially during Gawai and year end festivities. A great way to wind down and just enjoy that buzz, with friends in the comfort of your home. Just that certain fringes tend to overdo it.

But… it’s tradition, a very Dayak thing to do.

So anyone wanna visit Sarawak for lotsa free food and booze? Come during Gawai, or Christmas. Don’t worry, we wait until after church before we start the fire and unscrew (yes, we don’t always use corks, no D.O.C appellation) the bottles.

And once you’re here, no one escapes. We feed you and then we eat you.

Okay, just kidding.

But we enjoy feeding though.

Note: Malays native to Borneo are also actually Dayaks, animists who converted to Islam when it spread to Borneo. Although many Dayaks nowadays believe they are separate and distinct from the Malays, we share the same roots. It’s more of a religion thing. Many Malays won’t like being called Dayak, and most Dayaks feel the same way too. I couldn’t care less. We share the same island what.