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Monday, 5 August 2013

Tuak - A dying Art

"Tuak" is the what the Iban community name their alcoholic beverage made of fermented rice, yeast and sugar basically it is also referred to as rice wine. The beverage is a popular drink among the Ibans and other Dayaks of Sarawak during the Gawai festivals, weddings, hosting of guests and other special occasions. ‘Tuak’, ‘ Burak’, ‘ Montaku’, ‘ Sake’, ‘ Berem’ or rice wine is actually drank by most community in Borneo and the world generally but having different names and base ingredients.

Tuak is a dying art. Why?

There is no proper exposure as to really promote Tuak to the world. The only commercial tuak that I know is the “Royalist”.

Thank you for a proactive initiative done by Mr. Agustus Sapen under the Persatuan Warisan Sarawak Kuala Lumpur for organising the Tuak Education and Appreciation Session recently at Leonardo’s , Jalan Bangkung, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Truly it was and event to be commended because it managed to bring people particularly from the Peninsular Malaysia to know more about the dying art of making Tuak.

The crowd was reasonably large considering the size of the cosy event venue and I can see that Agustus managed to educate the crowd on how Tuak is made, including myself (perhaps I should be making a batch too!). Participants had a great time by sampling myriad range of Tuak from different Tuak makers from Sarawak and also rice wine from other parts of the world.

Tuak making should be revived because it is an art; an art which requires immense skill to make a great Tuak. One of a community’s value is known through its skill in certain art, so why not make Iban community be known as the Tuak Master, master in making it that is. Make a name for yourself, and this is a wake up call for other Borneo community as well because you too have your special brew and distinct characteristics of your rice wine.

                                      Going to the venue

At the venue, Leonardo's
With Mr. Agustus Sapen
One happy face, Mr Francis Kanyan
More happy faces
Yes I agree that Tuak making process is a tedious one but with proper education and hygiene guidelines I am sure that Tuak will make its way like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Rose of the foreign land.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

And the Winner for this Year's Borneo Hornbill Festival Iban Category is.........

And the winner is Ms. Shirley Jimeli of Samarahan wearing an Ulu Rajang Ngepan....

Now that Borneo Hornbill Festival has come up with 5 winners, wonder what costume to be featured next year...

If you were to see here 3 out of 5 ngepan Iban are those which are from different tribes. This shows how unique the event is. Like what I said in my previous post that Borneo Hornbill Festival has a different objective which is to showcase the myriads of ngepan Iban that can be found in Sarawak and NOT to find what Kumang should wearMy related post

Can't wait to see what's next and ofcourse the drama for next year if you get what I mean...

See you Next BHF 2014...start your research now :)

What Should a Kumang Wear?

Oooohhhaaaa.......If only I have the guidance from Goddess Kumang to tell me how should a Kumang dress, then there will be no quarrels or misinterpretation or misconception on how the winner or Kumang should dress. However, I believe that things happen for one reason or another. The debate on what a winner should wear has been in this Pekit Kumang (Kumang competition) arena for many years perhaps ever since it has ever started. No one will ever be happy, sore losers are the worse particularly those can’t really admit their weaknesses.

The word or title “Kumang” is so synonym to name a winner in all Pekit Kumang held in Sarawak throughout the Gawai season and that includes the recent Borneo Hornbill Festival (BHF) 2013. We have been using the term Kumang eversince BHF began in 2009. It’s not like we simply want to use the word Kumang it is because we want the younger generation to remember that Kumang was the Goddess that the Iban community look high upon; as being the perfect Iban woman, perfect in every sense that she is the master weaver, intelligent, caring, loving to her Keling and also possess the utmost beauty. 

Relating to the BHF context, this Kumang might not be able to possess the weaving skill, but she is talented in her own way. She must be an all-rounder character; honest, kind, has the passion in showcasing her culture, good in her communication skills, has the knowledge in nature conservation, beautiful (though this one is quite subjective) apart from being able to carry her costume well, which is original.

Well in this post I would like to focus more on to how a Kumang costume should look like? Any answer from readers out there? 

Eversince Pekit Kumang being doctrined with a standard set of guidelines for ngepan Kumang, it has been a rule that only such ngepan Iban will be eligible to enter a competition, atleast those “complete” ngepan will have the chance to win the title Kumang apart from other qualities in place. In the normal context of Pekit Kumang, she must be wearing Kain tenun/kebat/karap, selampai, Marik Empang/Tangu, Gelang Kaki, Rawai, Buah Pauh, Sugu Tinggi, Sementing buchai, Simpai, Tumpa and Tali Ujan in bright colour or mansau ofcourse.

The most recent BHF really created a controversy particularly when a black ngepan from the Ulu Rajang area won the title Kumang. This is also known as ngepan buri where the base of the material is black adorned with tiny cowrie shells that were abundant during those days.  It was so controversial because in Iban, black is a symbol of mourning, therefore a Kumang should not be wearing black. 

However, one has forgotten that the black material is known as Kain Buri, adorned with cowrie shells so that it will look beautiful. Generally, people who mourn will be wearing clothes which are solemn and dark mainly to show respect to the deceased and the bereaved family. However, this is not the case for ngepan kain Buri, it is pretty, brightly adorned with shells to beautify it and I do not think it shows any element of solemn there. Nothing solemn here where the ngepan is further beautified with strands of marik pelaga (fire agate beads) lampit pirak, tumpa rangki, sugu tinggi, selampai buri, and other accessories to complete the look.

A ngepan Iban is worn in occasions particularly to show the grandeur of a community, so how about ngepan Baju Kuas from Sri Aman then? Is it a mourning costume? Ofcourse not.

Next is Ngepan Saribas, worn by myself and eventually won in BHF 2011 and that created a havoc I must say. Well to some Pekit Kumang enthusiasts ngepan Saribas is incomplete, therefore should not even qualify to enter any Pekit Kumang. Some even said that it was too sexy? Well didn’t our ancestors wear that way i.e. high up to the bosom or in some cases it doesn’t really cover the bosom that much. To say that ngepan Saribas is incomplete is totally wrong just because it does not have marek empang.

Bringing back to the context of Borneo Hornbill Festival, it is not our objective to only show the common ngepan, we hope to feature as many Iban costumes that can be found in Sarawak. The variety of costumes are due to differences in geographical areas e.g. abundance of cowrie shells by the riverbanks hence ngepan buri is created, assimilation of different ethnics found in Sarawak and even parts of Kalimantan which explains the influence of beads, silver wear near Skrang as there were Memaloh community who were master silversmiths and ofcourse the daily activities such as barter trade which shows in the some accessories like buah pauh having the influence from the Chinese traders, lampit pirak if you can see the motifs of the buckles depicts goldfish, flowers and even monks. 

Borneo Hornbill Festival did their job well in upholding to their objective and therefore many different costumes from different tribes of Iban came to this platform from 2009 until now. However, there are risks that come with it, the term ORIGINALITY. 

In my opinion, if there is proof in documentation e.g. books and the accessories do hold their authenticity (by the physical look of the accessories, old / antique) or even such accessory is not old and authentic but presents the original look, I think it should be given credit as its maker has the effort to revive the old costume. 

This is because these old costumes can be so fragile until it can’t be worn but since the maker managed to achieve the original look i.e. how it looked in the olden days, then it should be showcased in BHF. 

I am not saying that the standard rule is wrong, yes it is correct, however, the "pro ngepan standard" people should not deny the fact that other types of ngepan Iban also exist by belittling those other ngepans by giving names and mocking them too. Not all of these ngepan Iban would qualify in the common Pekit Kumang arena so BHF is the platform to show it all. With all due respect, please refrain from comparing Borneo Hornbill Festival with the common Pekit Kumang in Sarawak, our objective is different.

Below are ngepan Iban that were featured in BHF throughout the years since 2009 to show how open we are embracing differences in the Iban tribes. 

Ngepan Ulu Rajang- Ms. Shirly Jimeli (BHF 2013)
Ngepan Skrang- Ms. Margareta Remang (BHF 2013)

Ngepan Marik of Kapit - Ms. Elyvenner Melaya Mau

Ngepan Kuas Sri Aman - Ms. Angel (BHF 2012)

Ngepan Batang Ai- Ms. Vanessa (BHF 2011)

Ngepan Saribas - Myself BHF 2011

Now let me rouse your minds...would you prefer to only know the common ngepan Iban like we always see nowadays you prefer to expand your Iban culture horizon by getting to know somewhat almost extinct in the face of this earth? I'll let you ponder on that...

In this case ignorance is not bliss..infact it would be a loss to our own community by ignoring ngepan from other Iban tribes. Please don't let these ngepan be chucked in the attic or sadau of your it to the world that Iban is indeed rich in culture...

Monday, 1 July 2013

Borneo Hornbill Festival 2013 - Ms. Sarawak Ethnic Pageant Iban (Kumang)

I bet most of you have already selected your favourites....Well it's the season again for Borneo Hornbill Festival 2013!
It has bigger and better format now...different titles, more titles (BHF 2013 included our neighbouring sister Sabah into this ethnic pageant), more subsidiary titles to be won thanks to the generous sponsorship...and not forgetting to mention that the contestants are judged based on other factors including their knowledge on conservation of Hornbills and culture...
So who will win the next Ms. Sarawak Ethnic Pageant Iban title? I guess you have to come and watch for yourself...I had my fair share in 2011 and managed to introduce the Ngepan Indu Iban Saribas that supposedly to be extinct, but this costume made its comeback after ages being somewhat buried and unremembered. Thank you Borneo Hornbill Festival for giving me the chance to showcase this ancient costume.
Subsequently, at the 2012 Borneo Hornbill Festival, many maidens came with even more never been seen costumes and I am glad to be part to see this magnificent showcase of unique ngepan Iban.
So come one come all, I know I will be there...why not you?
Early birds will get their tickets at RM30.....

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Beauties from The Land Below the Wind, Sabah.

On 11 May 2013 thanks to my friend Stevie Sebol we had the opportunity to watch the selection for Unduk Ngadau Klang Valley organised by Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA). This was the first time that we attended such event so I was very excited that I borrowed my best friend Debra Jane Sator's traditional kadazan costume.

I was informed by Stevie that this event is organised annually so to choose the Klang Valley representative for Unduk Ngadau and Sugandoi. As I observed the event, it began with Sugandoi whereby, it was a singing competition in native language. The winner will represent Klang Valley to the official Pesta Kaamatan in Sabah. Same goes to Unduk Ngadau whereby the crowned winner to represent Klang Valley at the Hongkod Koisaan building in Penampang this 31 May 2013. The state-level pageant is the highlight and ending point of the month long Kaamatan celebrations.

What is Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan?

It began with the legend of the sacrifice of Ponompuan, the daughter of Kinoingan dan Sumundu who then sacrificed is called Huminodun or the “transformed sacrifice”.

As there was no food left for the people of Kinoingan, Huminodun decided to sacrifice herself and be the offering to the great earth so that there will be seeds for planting therefore providing food to the people. It is said that her flesh will be turned to rice, the head into coconut, her bones turned to tapioca, her toes as ginger, her teeth as maize, her knees as yam and other parts of her body be turned to edible plants.

Photographs are by Stevie SebolStevie's FB

 However, in order to have a bountiful harvest she gave instructions as to the harvest to Kinoingan and he followed the instructions carefully. One of the instructions was not to give away the first harvest but to keep it in a big jar or “kakanan” and only to give away harvest on the second year. Eventually, on the seventh day a beautiful maiden came out from the kakanan and she is referred to Unduk Ngadau or the spirit of Huminodun. From that moment onwards, the Kadazandusun people included Unduk Ngadau in the Pesta Kaamatan in order to remember Hominodun’s sacrifice. Hence, Unduk Ngadau is the depiction of the perfect personality of Huminodun.

This year's winner is Ms. Ledesma Ampilah wearing a Dusun Lotud costume
With last year's Klang Valley Unduk Ngadau, Ms. Joanne Bernadette John

It was a great pleasure to have watched this event, wishing all my Sabahan friends Kotobian Tadau Tagazo Do Kaamatan..

With this experience it made me believed even stronger that togetherness can be established eventhough how different you might be, afterall, we are serumpun...ARAMAITE!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Sleeping Dictionary

Have you ever watched the film “Sleeping Dictionary”? I believe most of us have watched it especially when Jessica Alba is the star of the film. Before I continue let me refresh your mind with the synopsis of the story (taken from

John Truscott goes to Borneo to work with the Iban. He reports to Henry Bullard, who gives him a "sleeping dictionary"--one of the locals who teaches him the local language and culture. And who he gives John is Selima. And while teaching him, John finds himself attracted to her. And we says it's not allowed, both the locals and Bullard forbid him to be in a relationship with Selima. But he defies them which has dire consequences. Written by
An eager young Englishman is dispatched to Sarawak to become part of the British colonial government, encounters some unorthodox local traditions, and finds himself faced with tough decisions of the heart involving the beautiful young Selima, the unwitting object of his affections. Written by Anonymous
In 1936, the expatriated young and naive just-graduated British John Truscott arrives to the Sarawak, a British colony, to work in the Iban society. The beautiful Selima is assigned to be his "sleeping dictionary", to live and sleep with him and teach him the language and habits of the locals. The reluctant John and Selima fall in love for each other in a forbidden romance. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A rousing question has been occupying my mind for quite a while after watching the film Sleeping Dictionary. Did we (Iban community) ever practice or even have the idea of a sleeping dictionary? It really boggles me.

In a way, “Sleeping Dictionary” is a beautiful love story or forbidden romance of an Englishman and Iban woman during that period of time, but I doubt that it would be to such extent that you ‘sleep’ with an woman just to learn the language and go about your mission to doctrine the Iban community of English ways. As I was watching this movie there were also some Iban words that I never came across with (the scene where Selima (Jessica Alba) teaching Truscott the body parts in Iban language).


I had a love and hate relationship with this movie.
I loved the way the idea of a forbidden love story depicted in an Iban community as the setting. Lush and mysterious jungle, traditional longhouse not forget to mention the macho Belansai and the beautiful Iban regalia displayed throughout the film.
However, what I do not like  was the way an Iban woman depicted as a sleeping dictionary to an Englishman as it looks as though it downgrades the dignity of the Iban women.

I hope the elderly can answer my doubt whether it a Sleeping Dictionary does exist in the Iban community or it is just as a means of selling this film.
I do not want to be denial, I just want to know the truth....

Friday, 18 January 2013

Borneo Fingers...Borneo inspired products made with loving Borneo fingers....

What happens when you put two creative besties with loads of ideas in their heads? 
You'll get Borneo Fingers products ofcourse...

This time round for Borneo Hornbill Festival 2012 me and my bff Susan Leo will be selling accessories hand-stitched (no machines involved ya) lovingly with Borneo inspiration..each product has separate characters on its own...

Enough talk..let's have a look at our products:

Key pouch to keep your keys away so that it won't scratch your phone..

Borneo inspired headbands...handmade too.....


Clip scrunchies....

We're selling each of our products at RM 10 huh for fully handmade  accessories.....:)

Do come to our booth...BORNEO FINGERS....
Borneo Inspired products made with LOVE by Susan & Veeky...the Borneo fingers....

Hope to see you at MATIC, AMPANG on Friday, 6 July 2012 & Saturday, 7 July 2012....

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Iban Confinement Practices

"We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

A loss creates another hope in life, hope in life is what sustains a man’s heartbeat..- Kumang Saribas

Well this post is written due to a loss we experienced recently....This loss inspired me to read more on what my older generation practiced for confinement.

Anyway, the Iban confinement practices have one similar element compared with other cultures which is the element of heat for the new mother. 

The traditional confinement practice may no longer be practiced in the modern world but there is a slight possibility that it is practiced in the rural areas.

The Iban Confinement Practices

At birth the mother and infant are confined to the bilik and following delivery, the mother is subject to a period of heating called 'bekindu’ (literally ‘to heat’ or ‘warm by a fire’) which traditionally lasted from a month to forty-one days. During this period, her abdomen is wrapped with a ground ginger mixture and is to be changed daily or twice a daily and the heating process is done by sitting beside a fire. Throughout the forty days, the mother heats herself by an open fire kept continuously burning inside the bilik and is treated with ginger and other heating agents so that her ‘body is made warm’ (ngangat ka tuboh). The type of firewood used to warm her will depend on where she lives. If she lives upriver, she is asked to use firewood from the malam, lensat, or manding trees.

On bekindu, there is another material that I read which is slightly more elaborate and also different  in “Pregnancy and Childbirth-Restrictions” written by Rev, William Howell, where:

..."As the mother sits on her back to the fire in the room holding in her hands the handle of a native adze (bliong) she presses it to her abdomen to assist the course of nature. For twenty-four hours she is not allowed to drink water, but if she does, it must be very little and first warmed lest fever should set in. Her food is light and simple. The husband goes out to get certain kinds of fish which is first smoked (salai) before it is eaten. The mother is not allowed to sleep for twenty-four hours after giving birth to a child, nor is she allowed to lie down. ...The period of confinement is doubtful. It depends entirely on the strength of the woman. I have known several cases of women going out three days after their confinement to the paddy fields.”

What I think "bekindu" practice is.

The Iban confinement diet is simple and ginger plays a very large role. Based on the materials I read, the mother is given three mouthful of rice just after she has taken her seat (none of the materials further explained whether she will eat more rice after that or not). As I mentioned earlier that ginger plays a large part in confinement diet therefore, the mother will eat the rice with smoked fish, ferns (paku kubuk), breadfruit (buah pulur) mixed with ginger juice. She also takes a lot of ginger juice or cooked slices of ginger to keep her body warm.

For forty days the members of the bilik-family observe a series of ritual restrictions (penti) and the number of days of confinement is marked by using a lime (kapu) for each day she completed on a pole. These have a disjunctive effect, temporarily setting the family apart from the rest of the rumah panjai community whose members are not subject to the same restrictions. Similarly, heating itself places the mother and infant in a ritual status antithetical to other longhouse members.

My Facebook friend, Aunty Jacqueline Selaka Mawar (link to her blog) shared of of her experience that she observed after the delivery of her first child:

This was an extract from the the comment link in Facebook on 17/1/2013:

  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar ok for food...aku nitih ke cara ari Indai aku ke ngibun aku maia aku ke beranak ke 1st baby..she would ask me to take chicken soup with a lot of ginger..for a start within 3 days after beranak..after 3 days ..i was ask to take kacang ma tang more with ginger rather than arak..+ winekanis..I also take fresh ginger juice...also paku kubuk with gingers... 
    Here she says that for the first 3 days after delivery she was given chicken soup with ginger then after another 3 days she then ate "kacangma" (link to kacangma recipe) cooked with more ginger instead of alcohol. She drank fresh ginger juice and also paku kubuk cooked with ginger.
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar anything with good for confinement
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar also aku di unsut enggai lia ke udah di tutuk ari pala sampai ke kaki tiap lemai
    She practiced smearing her whole body with ground ginger every evening.
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar am also using traditional way of massaging...with hot ointment..bepaut ko kitai iban.
    She practices traditional Iban massage using hot oitment called "bepaut".
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar beside all those..i don't take vegetables like sawi..rambai laban ko sida ke tuai..sayur bakanya celap lalu tau nganu tulang maia umur kitai udah meningkat dudi ari
    She doesn't take vegetables like sawi, rambai as they are considered as cold an can cause rheumatism in future.
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar also no upa..tubu..
    No eating upa and tubu (bamboo shoots or any other types of shoots).
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar i wash my hair after 44 days...mandi with daun mambong..also i do a lot of english steam bath..tang cara ia jauh bebeza ari cara moden..this is to avoid flu & any sickness dudi ari
    She only washed her hair AFTER 44 DAYS, bathed with "daun mambong" and did a lot of "betangas" or steam bath to avoid flu or sickness in future. 
  • Jacqueline Selaka Mawar petua perut mit..during confinement anang sekali kali ngena capak/plate maia makai..use small round ball laban enti kitai makai ngena capak..asi ke diempa kitai ka maioh which can make our tummy dudi ari ka besai

         To keep the tummy small she ate using a small bowl instead of using a plate as the more rice you eat the bigger your tummy will be.

There you go, some experience I think most or some Iban women practice.  Would you practice this method?

In conclusion, the importance of observing the confinement period is mainly to maintain the mother's well-being in the future. Even though some of the "pemali" or restrictions may seem to be obsolete due to existence of religion and science, I believe most of the Iban still observe the restrictions closely