My Journey

Midweek Reflections 

"Midweek Reflections" is a space for team members and cultural practitioners of The Tuyang Initiative to share their thoughts, fears and dreams.

I am not one to write my thoughts and share it publicly but I will brave this instance as an exception. 

A bit of flashback before the MCO was imposed. 

I made my way back to my longhouse by hitching a ride with new acquaintances I met through work.  The trip was just to see how things were going in my community and to stay with my aunty at her place on our family land, which was about five minutes away from the longhouse (as the mobile connection at my longhouse is still rather unreliable). 

Four days later we all heard the official announcement made by our Chief Minister and then our Prime Minister then I made my way back to Bintulu into self quarantine. 

Fast forward to now, I’ve lost count of days and just living on coffee time or cocktail time (haha!). Since the beginning of the semi lockdown, being constricted at home, my mind automatically went into contemplation mode. What you are about to carry on reading below are just a few of the non triggering main points of my full contemplation. 

It has been almost 10 years (great scott, I am old) now since I had shyly sung my first parap in public, having been dragged on stage by my grandaunty at my uncle’s wedding. Since then, I have devoted myself to carry on the legacy of my late grandfather, Nyagu’ Gong, a renowned Tukang Parap, through various means and efforts of preservation and practicing it on several platforms. 

Having been a part of The Tuyang Initiative for a few years now, it has been quite an adventurous journey. From singing amongst our elders of the community, to contemporary collaborative stages, honestly I would never thought I would be doing so, as the oral traditions that I practice, like several others, in a manner of saying - art to us is not art, but a way of living. So, I have set myself to this way of living, an outlier amongst many other options that I could have gone with. 

I would joke to my friends and others about this choice by saying, “My oldest brother is an aspiring chef, second is studying to be an engineer, after me is in hospitality and then there’s me, the disappointment” (haha!). 

Jokes aside, this almost mono way of life that I have chosen, is being challenged with quite an extraordinary unforeseen force. As I went through this journey, I have somehow calculated the obstacles that I would confront, and somehow be able to overcome with the help of others. 

But this pandemic has been the best one so far, and at some points - had almost bested me. 

I had so eagerly looked forward to plans this year with our elders, and with Tuyang and other communities that I had started work with. The effort to learn, as I know I have much more to know still, and to share the beauty of our indigenous cultural traditions - had of course, like many other work in various fields around the world, have suffered a setback. 

Being separated from my own kudoh (grandmother) and huku-huku (community elders), because of the vital need to keep a safe distance due to the pandemic, is a challenge. They are the ones who have taught me, yet ample amounts of knowledge since then, the separation has struck me down so well, with these slowly slumbering cultural traditions now more than ever, need an urgent attending to. 

I feel like the cane bridge that my ancestors used to crossover the mighty Batang Kayan has been cut off indefinitely. That was what I gloomily thought initially. 

However, I know the only thing that is holding me back are my thoughts and myself. There are of course and always will be different means to keep all of these efforts going. Glad as I am, working with a diverse set of minds has brought many new opportunities rather than to sit and simmer in a defeatist state. 

Coping with this pandemic as an individual who has just dived into several new things quite recently, on top of recovering from a non stop mental and emotional roller coaster late last year, I must admit, it has been tedious. But as Frank Sinatra sang, “That’s life!”. 

I have taught myself that since I knew how to cook or process rice of different kinds, there is always another way and there is always hope and help. 

Cook it in the bamboo your uncle brought back from the farm, pound it into flour (or make your life easy just buy the glutinous rice flour at the supermarket unless you are as extra as I am), mix it with gula apong and water, shape it and mold it into the shape of small pancakes as you sit and gossip with your aunties then continue to talk about how you are still single and ready to mingle as you ask from your cousins their cute friends’ number as you fry it to dinu, ask your kudoh how she made that batch of burak (yes, I am going to be elaborate on this part, because it is the essence of the spirits. Pun very much intended) that did not last till Ledoh (harvest festival) and Christmas because prior to that they already had visitors swarming to listen to her husband nekna’ (singing poetic tales), then go through the process with her and do the same as your ke’ (grandfather) did. 

Point is - these circumstances that we are facing together right now, does not imply the end to what I am sure are tremendous feats in what we have done, in whatever we do, or had looked forward to doing. But instead cling to hope that binds us all together in carrying out any efforts, and oftentimes efforts are never done alone and monotonously. Thus, I end my long and elaborative thoughts with a saying: 

“A dian (durian) does not simply fall to the ground without a thud. It grows up on the branches with patience and constant nurturing from the nature around it.” - says the forever durian craving and loving individual, me. 

Stay safe and don’t climb a durian tree like Ditut

Nyidah asi dahin sayu kenep men kelo’ (I offer you my wholehearted compassion and gratitude).

Adrian Jo

Tuesday Tales #1 : Long Ditut  

(This is the beginning of our Tuesday Tales, where we highlight folklores from indigenous communities from all across Borneo. These are stories personally shared with us. We strive to translate and edit it to the best of our capabilities for your enjoyment)

Origin: Kayan (Tubau) 
As told by : Hureng Emang 
Transcribed & Translated by : Adrian Jo Milang 
Sketch/Drawing by: Loretta Livan Milang 

One day, Ditut, an orphan child who lived with his mother in a farm hut, went to look for durians together, for it was the fruit season. So they made their way to the farm, and saw many durians had fallen on the ground and started eating as they collected the fruits. His mother only had three while he ate the most. But he was not satisfied yet. 

He looked up a durian tree and saw more ripe fruits and started to climb the tree. When he reached the top, he started to peel the fruits open and ate them all, throwing down the skins and shells for his mother below. Having his uncontrolled hunger satisfied, he was then full up to his neck. 

He cried out to his mother below, “Mother, I am too full, I do not know how to get down from here!” 

His mother replied “Look at the ants and imitate how they climb down”. 

He looked for ants on the tree and imitated them, he climbed down head first, and fell down hitting the ground. 

He said to his mother again,  “Mother I am too full and I can’t move!” 

His mother then dragged him with a rattan and pushed him into the river nearby to ease his full stomach. When he felt better, his mother picked him up out of the river and carried him in her ingen (back-basket). 

Before they made their way home, he told his mother “When we pass by the young girl’s hut later, if they ask you what you’re carrying, tell them you’re carrying nothing but vegetables for breakfast in the morning, and for dinner later in the evening”. 

And then he continued “When we pass the elder women’s hut tell them – it’s Ditut the glutinous, who ate durians as far as a walking distance, it’s Ditut the ever hungry who ate every durian on the trees!” 

So they made their way home as he hid in his mother’s ingen, passing by the young girl’s hut first. They called out to Ditut’s mother and say “What are you carrying, dear mother?” 

She replied, “It’s Ditut the glutinous who ate durians as far as a walking distance, it’s Ditut the ever hungry who ate every durian on the trees!” 

The young girls giggled and laughed to Ditut’s dismay. He scratched his mother’s back in anger and annoyance. Then as they continued their journey, they passed by the elder women’s hut, and they called out to his mother “What are you carrying, my dear lady?” 

She replied, “Oh nothing but vegetables for breakfast in the morning, and for dinner later in the evening”. 

Annoyed once more, he scratched his mother’s back in fury. 

Finally they reached home, and the poor lady’s back scarred from Ditut’s scratching. Ditut expressed in frustration “That was not how and what I told you to say to whom!” 

His mother smiled at him cheekily. 

The moral to this story as shared by our elders: 
Live life modestly and in humility, or one shall suffer the embarrassment or loss. 

Edited to suit younger audience, without changing the context of the original version.

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