A bit of culture


What can we say of culture?

Who are we today?

What have we achieved?

What can we learn from our ancestors?

Does the feet that walk this ancient earth today remember the feel of soil beneath it?

Can we still hear the rustle of leaves and call of jungle creatures up in the canopy?

Are we proud of who we are?

The mark you put on your skin, what does it mean?

Your eyes that see the blacks and reds and golds, what can you discern?

Can you tell me who… you are?




Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011: My Anak Borneo Story


I was missing for some time, busy with work, dance practices and my recent trip to KL with Anak Borneo. We participated in the Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011 in the dance category, doing a Memaloh Dance and a second Dance Medley, Borneo: The Land of Gawai Aramaiti.


Those who know me would be surprised as to why I’m even interested in dance, traditional some more. It was a coincidence I guess. I’ve always wanted to learn, but too embarassed to. Then I met some friends who wanted to go for the Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011 in KL, and willing to take on newbies (who has two left feet). Besides, it’s a dying culture. So why not? Thing is, once you’ve tried it, you kind of get addicted to it. There’s something about doing something that your ancestors did, different from the rest and in touch with nature. Sorry, I’m rambling again.

Anyway, the Anak Borneo group consists of ten people with members from Limbang, Miri, Kalimantan border, Betong and Kuching. It was fun meeting everyone, learning something new. It felt like the old days of secondary school when we went on trips for competitions to far off lands (back then it sure seemed so).

3Iban, Selakau, Kadazan, Kenyah, Kenyah, Bisayak, Memaloh, Tindal, Murut, Suluk

Of course, with any groups there’s bound to be problems but we got through it. We didn’t win anything, but I’m guessing most of us expected that. We didn’t perform as well as we expected, but all in all I had a great time. Made friends with some of the other teams too.


The dances were interesting, some a bit boring. The Kumang Keligit Keling was nice, some coming up with as much accessories as possible.

For the ethnic dance category, 1st place is Sanggar Budaya from Miri, 2nd ASWARA, 3rd Kampung Benuk (proud of you!). Whether or not they deserve to win is subjective since I’m not all that versed in dance.


My only solo part and I screwed it. Missed the ballon, the arrow hitting the shield so hard it took awhile to pry it off. There’s a hole now in the terabai. Plus the wound on my feet which I guess came from somebody’s sword who dropped it.


On another note, the Borneo Hornbill Festival, organised by Warisan Sarawak is a great concept, with great ambitions, but ultimately fell flat when it came to implementation. The tickets were expensive, low turnout due to lack of promotion (there wasn’t even a banner in front of the building except a small one when you actually walk in), draggy shows (the Kumang, Keligit, Keling dragged on till 2 A.M), unorganised, messy schedule (clashing rehearsals that wasted our time), ignorant MCs (this one pisses me off the most) with stuttering speech who don’t seem to know a thing about what they were talking about,  and odd showtimes (who’s going to come on a weekday to the centre of KL??)

But the festival is a laudable effort by the organisers. The stage, lighting and audio were awesome. The prizes were extremely awesome too (Grand prize 3.5k + trip to Melbourne).

Like a journalist who was asked how the festival fared this year compared to the last, he answered, “It’s improving.”


I’m not sure I’ll be joining next year (maybe Keling, if I ever get a bit more beefier lol), but I hope they learn from this and improve. It’s one thing to delegate, it’s another to delegate and monitor.

Find a cheaper venue, charge less for the tickets (RM 70 is a lot of money for two days), promote it aggresively not just through the internet, but through travel agencies, radio, physical banners or buntings, at the airport, invitations to various ethnic associations (maybe ask them to endorse). If possible invite our Kalimantan Dayak counterparts as guest performers. New categories like folk song and instrumental would be good. Stay punctual according to schedule so as to not waste our limited time.

Provide a basic, affordable package that includes transportation and accommodation to and from the venue for teams that come from far, like many international festivals.

Find knowledgeable MCs on Bornean culture preferably from Sarawak or Sabah who don’t stutter. Confine the festival to the weekends or at least start on Fridays to allow more people in central KL to come. Cut out unnecessary parts of the show. Ideally it should end latest by 11 AM (many use public transport).

Define in the rules what the dance must be (especially the rampaian etnik), while part of the jury (ideally 5 people) should be real experts on not just dance but the culture itself because dance evolves, and there are many dances that aren’t known which might be construed as too creative.

Great time, great friends, a memorable journey in something new, and an exciting way to learn about your own culture and those of others.

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!

Ohh Cap Apek

My family and I celebrated Gawai early this year. Yesterday to be exact. Together with my Mum’s birthday, we decided to do an informal Gawai gathering. Partly for my bro who couldn’t take leave for Gawai this year, and also missed Gawai last year. So we cooked Gawai food.

So on my off day, it felt like another working day. Started cooking from lunch all the way till night. The antidote? Booze at the end of the night. Which accounts for my lack of energy going to work today.

Instead of the usual family dinner this year, I secretly asked her secondary school friends to join as a surprise. Watching them talk and laugh was priceless.

Funniest thing? Almost half her presents were tuak/liquor. And when they drank, damn we kids couldn’t beat how loud and raucous they got. I was worried I’d have to mop up urine on the floor because they were laughing till they were crying.

You graduate, from school or university. You get married, have kids, and settle down into a routine. Your only friends will be your colleagues, your life revolves around your family. And reunions have to be planned way in advance because someone’s kids will always be needing something suddenly.

When we were young, we promised each other, friends forever. Somehow we only realize how far away we are from the best of them when we wake up one day and realize we’re 40. Where have they all gone? On with their lives, busy with family and work. Priorities change, people change, life changes.

It got me thinking. How will I react one day when I meet old friends after 20 years? I take it for granted that I am always in contact, we keep each other updated. But surely they will get married, have a family and move on. It’s sad, but it’s a fact of life.

Maybe one day my kids will plan a surprise party for me. Hah!

Feel the senses

Time flies like the wind passing through meandering rivers and green land. It’s there, and it’s gone. It’s already mid-May, Gawai barely 2 weeks away, Ramadhan a few months and Christmas just over the horizon.

That longing for a more idyllic existence sometimes appear when everything becomes hectic and blurred. Going back deep to our roots, by an open fire, watching the stars creating a grand tapestry of images, meat crackling, smoke floating upwards. The sound of frogs croaking, with that soft shrill crying of insects like a warm, fuzzy blanket.

What I always remember first about Gawai is the smell. Wood burns differently than gas, and this aroma of crackling wood and smoky tinder, that pop-pop of fresh bamboo burning as its sap bubbles out. The smoke stinging yet comforting. Then the sound of voices, people chattering, punctuated by shouts, and tiny running feet.

Then the sight of food laid out unceremoniously on a wooden table, hand picked, scooped piping hot. From far away the same sights and sounds echo amidst the thick folaige in the darkness.

Isolated, yet united in the traditions and habits we carry through the ages.