I did promise to write something upon my return from a short break away from Kuala Lumpur. The place that I had gone to was Kuching, Sarawak, a place that I have not visited for more than a decade. While I was in the military, I never had the opportunity to be stationed in Kuching, and Sarawak in the 70’s was a communist terrorist hot-bed. The closet that I had served in Sarawak was Bekalalan in the 60’s, and Song, east of Kanowit along the Batang Rajang in the 70’s, and Kuching was never near these two places.
I had gone to Kuching to be part of my family party to visit the family of my grandson’s future in-laws. Despite the distance and the South China Sea that divides peninsular and Sarawak, this grandson of mine could manage to win the heart of a Sarawak lass of Bidayu ethnicity named Elize, and Christian by birth, and to force us to act as the ‘negotiator’ to woo the in-laws to be, to accept him as their future son in-law.
Being an elder in the family, I accepted to lead the negotiating party and the bidding. I know that the various ethnic groups in Sarawak are steep in tradition when it comes to wooing their daughters hand in marriage, and not knowing the Bidayu tradition, really scares me. I was particularly concern of the ‘ngirup’ session that can be torturous, and I was pleased that the family understood that the ‘ngirup’ session is ‘taboo’ to me, not at this age, and they too have Muslims among their family members.
The home of Elize is in Serian, a two hour drive SE of Kuching. Traveling further SE is the town of Balai Ringin that was the home of the army during the troubled period of the 70’s. I am told that Balai Ringin still retains a base for the army. The Serian-Balai Ringin road used to be a security road once, and there have been several incidences of terrorist ambushes along the road. Today, the road is a highway and it took us about an hour to get to Serian.
But Serian town wasn’t our final destination. The home of Elize is further inland and another 50 minutes drive along a narrow one lane path before we could reach our destination i.e. a Bidayu longhouse in Kg. Prangkan Mawang.
Our arrival at Kg. Prangkan Mawang was well received by the villagers, and in particular the village head who happens to be a retired soldier, the parents of Elize and the entire family members. It was quite a reception with several shots fired from the shot gun upon seeing our arrival, and the sound of gongs permeated the air. Upon getting into the longhouse, there was an announcement made over the loud speaker welcoming us, and I was so pleased to see that among the crowd gathered in the longhouse were several ex-soldiers, and some claimed to have met me before and even served me. Their presence gave me the added confidence that the villagers can accept me and my entourage, and surely they must have said some good things about me to the parents Elize; hence the elaborate and official-like welcoming party.
The session started with a short welcome speech given by a representative of our host. He too was an ex-soldier who had served in the Service Corps. Then I was invited to give a speech and I began by saying that getting into a longhouse is not a strange thing for me. I have visited many longhouses before and even lived in some of them. I expressed my appreciation and thanks to them for receiving us with such an elaborate welcoming ceremony and proceeded to announce our intention and purpose of this visit. I told them that we are here to seek the hand in marriage of Elize, the daughter of Kassim for my grandson Hanif. There were smiles and nod of approval when I made the announcement, especially from the parents of Elize and the village head. Sensing that they had approved of my request, I became even more confident and relax and started to hand over some gifts to the parents of Elize, her other siblings, the village head and the representative of the parents. We also gave away sweets and chocolates to the children.
With the end of the formalities, the representative announced that lunch is served and we were ushered by the parents into a room for lunch. We were told that the food was prepared by an ex-soldier who was a cook from the Service Corps, and with samplings of Bidayu cuisines.
After lunch, we thought that the ceremony was over and we could take leave from our host, but that wasn’t to be. We were once again invited to be seated in the hallway to be entertained with dances, games and songs, and for which we were expected to participate as well. Except for me, the rest of my entourage has never been into a longhouse and has never been treated to their dances and games. I therefore had to take the lead in joining the hosts to their dances, to give members of my entourage and including their spouses the encouragement to join in the dances as well. Wasn’t I pleased that every member of my entourage willingly joined in the dances to the joy of our hosts and the entire occupants of the longhouse. The entire entertainment lasted for about two hours and when it ended, we were all drench in sweat and exhausted. Had there been the ‘ngirup’ session, I think the whole entertainment session would have extended into the night.
The hosts must have sensed that we have had enough of the entertainment and announced our impending departure. The entire occupants of the longhouse were called to lineup along the hallway to shake our hands and to wish us goodbye. It was quite an emotional farewell and before we could leave, the parents of Elize presented our spouses with gifts, and even some food and a large bag of rice that they had harvested.
We left Kg. Prangkan Mawang in the Serian district with both a sense of joy and sadness; joy at having to be accepted to be part of the Bidayu family, and sad at having to know that life for them in the years ahead is a life of continued subsistence, of being deprived of the basic amenities, such as electricity and piped water, in this age and period of the 20th century. Unthinkable I should say.
Elize, my granddaughter is now officially named Nur Nazia Elizabeth, a Muslim convert and hopefully she be married to my grandson Hanif Alwi in a few weeks from now.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION