Highland tales from the heart of Borneo
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
In the beginning of time, there were six powerful people who left their mark on the landscape of the highlands.
They were Tin Brine, a woman of such extraordinary power who carved the landscape or ‘mipí’; Asai who carved the rivers (‘ngabang abpa’); Lawi and Apui who looked after the rivers; Puek the hunter (‘nakap puung’) and Upai the carver.
But as the population increased, there was no space left to farm. The people asked Upai to bore a hole into the ground to release some water from the lake as hunger became imminent.
With a mighty strike of his sword, he cut the northern range, creating a gorge known as Asai’s gorge (‘kuer Asai’), below the confluence of Rayeh and Lutut Rivers.
“As there was no more lake to look after, Upai Semaring left the hill, going to the Upper Padas river in Sabah and Upper Trusan river in Sarawak, leaving traces of his journey in the form of menhirs and carved stones (‘batu narit’). From the Upper Trusan he moved to Limbang, and onward to Brunei,” said FORMADAT advisor Jayl Langub during a story-telling session to launch the book ‘Highland Tales In The Heart of Borneo’.
With the aim to promote stories of the highlands in Sabah and Sarawak and introduce the hidden gems within the areas as go-to destinations, ‘Highland Tales In The Heart of Borneo’ features oral stories of the people living in Long Pa’ in Sabah as well as Ba Kelalan, Bario and Long Semadoh in Sarawak.
The book also features interesting places in these areas comprising megaliths, old burial grounds and settlements and old rainforests of Borneo.
Organised by FORMADAT or Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo and WWF-Malaysia, Jayl was among the four storytellers at the book launching held at Chinahouse, The Old Courthouse in Kuching.
FORMADAT is a transboundary, grassroots initiative that aims to increase the awareness and understanding of the communities of the Highlands, maintain cultural traditions, build local capacity and encourage sustainable development in the Heart of Borneo without risking the degradation of the quality of the social and natural environment.
Also present were Jennette Ulun from Bario who shared a short yet intriguing tale of ‘The Ancient Stone Table’ or ‘Batuh Nangan’, an ancient stone table built to honour the deceased.
According to Jennette, when she was a little girl, she remembered how her grandfather would tell her stories and folklore of her community as they sat by the fireplace.
“I think the book is important to our community since young people do not know the stories of ancient burial sites, because in school, they do not really teach them,” she added.
“It was an honour for me to be working in the highlands and be able to compile stories from the local communities themselves,” said WWF-Malaysia senior community engagement and education officer, Alicia Ng.
Initially planned to be published as a pocket book, Alicia said that among the challenges faced by nature guides in the present generation was that some of them were not very familiar with the folklore in some of the areas.
“In the olden days, they transferred oral history from father to sons and daughters and so on. So now, in this era, a lot of people are missing out on those and we thought that we should come op with a pocket guide book to be used by nature guides,” she said.
The idea for a pocket book eventually turned into a coffeetable book. Besides oral documentation purposes, members of the public can learn more about the highlands if they were to visit someday.
“Although I am the one who compiled the stories and helped them with authoring it, the stories actually belong to the communities themselves and the proceeds will go back to FORMADAT so in the future they can reprint and sustain this book as well as the association with all the other activities they wish to conduct,” said Alicia.
Besides promoting and documenting the cultural heritage sites, traditions and heritage of various highland communities in Sabah and Sarawak, the book initiative dovetails with WWF’s efforts in helping the community in these areas deliver sustainable farming and promote responsible eco-tourism to improve their livelihoods.
“The community has been an integral part of the ecosystem in Sarawak, so we can’t take them away from it. They have built into it and they got such rich history with cultural significant to it and a very close affection with nature,” said WWF programme leader Jason Hon.
“By having their stories properly recorded in the form of a book is actually giving recognition back to the community,” he said.
Published by FORMADAT with the support of Sarawak Forest Department, WWF-Malaysia and the Ministry of Tourism, the book is available in both soft and hard covers in both English and Malay.
Currently, the book is being sold in numerous places around Kuching such as the Ranee Boutique-suites; Singgahsana Lodge; Jit Collection, Kuching Waterfront Bazaar; Indah Cafe, Kuching Waterfront Bazaar; Chinahouse, Old Courthouse; Sarawak Museum Merchandise shop and cafe and Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA).