Monday, August 2, 2021

Celebration of Fathers: Wishing all fathers’ a Happy Father’s Day

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A traditional saying as given below says a lot about Mother’s love and Father’s love:

“Kasih ibu membawa ke syurga, kasih ayah sepanjang masa.” – A traditional saying

I think not many would object to the point behind the saying, but in the spirit of the celebration of the father’s role, I would like to share a personal story involving my dad on this Father’s Day 2021.

The Most Preferred Seat In Paradise*

Generally, by comparison to mothers, some dads are less demonstrative of how they feel towards their children, and don’t really say or show how much they love them. But often it’s in their actions that we can see that they do. My “Tama” (Kelabit for Father) was one such dad.

As long as I can recall, his actions and words demonstrated that his love was deep and abiding.

As a small boy, one of my first recollections was being on my father’s back in the rainforest in Pa’ Mein, our village deep in the interior of Central Borneo. You see, even at the tender age when I was not yet able to walk properly or far, say about 3 years, he was already taking me with him on his hunting and fishing forays deep into the rainforest.

Perched on his back, I had the most preferred seat in paradise* – paradise means the pristine, natural paradise that surrounded our home.  I can still see those images in my mind right now – of the sunlight streaming down the jungle canopy and falling onto the forest floor, which was colourful and teeming with life.

Of the beautiful butterflies flitting around in the mist, the bees hovering over the flowers, and the humming bird flying by or the occasional yellow bird perched on a branch nearby.  And there was the sound of the jungle, that only true nature lovers will appreciate.

People used to remark to   my dad, “why do you take your son like that on your back to the jungle

with you?  Others also do love their kids but they don’t do that!”   His reply was telling, “I don’t have many children like you. This is my one son and I want to take him with me wherever I go!”

In fact, there are two of us, my elder brother Samuel (Sam) and me. But Sam was then already a big boy so definitely he won’t be carried on the father’s back! And my dad was right, he didn’t have many children like many others do.

My father introduced me to the beauty and the bounty of the rainforest, something that I am forever grateful for. Till today, my love for nature and the rainforest has not waned a degree.

I can still recall the hunting trips we did, some after I was able to walk long distances with him, where we climbed many hills and a few high mountains, forging fast flowing streams just to get to the preferred hunting ground.

I can also recall the first time we went hunting for the barking deer. He could make the sound of the deer using just two pieces of jungle leaves and the deer would come running out of the jungle towards us!

But that first trip, I was too excited and as a result I spooked the deer. You see, when I saw it running and jumping towards us, I exclaimed excitedly “dad! whose dog is that?”  From a distance, the running barking deer did not look big enough and being reddish in color I mistook it for a dog! Of course, there were no dogs in the middle of the wild, unless it’s the huge ones belonging to ‘Pun Tumid’ a ‘yeti-like’ being that only jungle folks talk about in hushed tones.  But that’s another story.

Of course, the deer heard the excited boy’s voice and abruptly changed course, and promptly escaped!  My dad was not able to shoot it down in time with his old shotgun.  He turned ever so gently to me and whispered, “the next time, don’t speak! If you see the deer you just touch me slightly and gesture or point to where the deer is. Then it won’t be spooked with your voice!”

We moved on from there to another spot just over the hill and he made the imitation sound of the deer again. Sure enough, another one came. But this time, it didn’t come jumping and running all over the place like the first one. It was quieter and was in fact already there, almost on top of us, on the hill, when I saw it.

And it was also on my side, and so I saw it first.  This time I did as my dad instructed, touching his hand slightly and gesturing with my mouth and eyes to indicate where the deer was. Needless to say, finally we had our venison that day!

Then there was the time we went on a fishing trip to Pa’ Berang, a medium size stream known for plentiful of ‘semah’, an ’empurau’ like fish, and other delicious river fishes. That’s where he taught me how to build a ‘mering’, a bamboo fish trap which operates like a sluice gate over a makeshift dam ( “patun” )built across the river.

 

Fishes that were going down river would encounter the patun made of river boulders, stones and wood branches, that we had built across the stream, and as they swam over it, they would be trapped in the mering. We stayed and camped at the location for a week or so, and caught plenty of fishes, which we smoked under the leafy hut (“lepo”) we built on the riverbank.

There were many incidents and events that I have had the privilege to share with him, where he introduced me to his world. For example, he taught me the traditional way of salt making at the community’s salt spring.

I have to say salt making is one of the toughest jobs I have ever done, since the whole process was not only time consuming but physically demanding. It starts with collecting a lot of wood, yes lots and lots of hard and heavy-to-carry woods, to serve as a fuel source to feed the fire that will boil the briny water from the salt spring.

The collecting and carrying of firewood from the surrounding jungle would go on for many days, up to two weeks even, depending on how much salt you intended to produce. From the surrounding jungle these were brought to the camp where the salt spring is located. Once enough has been collected, the next activity commences.

This is the collecting of the salt water and constantly replenishing the giant containers where the briny milk coloured water is being constantly boiled. Yes, the boiling process is next.  This is no ordinary boiling process. The fire had to be attended to 24 hours a day for salt making to happen, and everyone is therefore left awake the whole day and night everyday in order to ensure that the boiling process is complete.

After the water is completely boiled and evaporated, the salt crystals is left at the bottom of the containers. Imagine the heat that one has to bear with and the attendant lack of sleep that becomes part and parcel of the whole process!

Eventually, after enough water has been thus ‘distilled’ from the nearby spring, the salt crystals/powders had to processed further, namely being collected and put in bamboo containers which had to dried by the fireside, ala the making of lemang, and then the bamboo containers would eventually be burnt in the fire, to ensure that no water or moisture was left in the salt.

After the complete burning of the bamboo containers, only the salt blocks (from the burnt out bamboo containers) remained. These had to be collected and cooled down, before they are wrapped up in special jungle leaves.

When all the wrapping process is done, and as if to seal the ‘train of tasks of agony’ everyone had to carry as much as they could on their already sore shoulders and aching backs – to haul the newly aquired bounty all the way home!

The whole process is a bruising, tiring, and a mentally and physically demanding trial. No, it’s more like a tribulation. It’s the Kelabit man’s rite of passage!  My dad guided me through this rite of passage.

No wonder salt was used as a form of currency in the past. It’s so difficult to make!

It’s definitely more valuable than the printing some papers with some distant looking faces on it.

I could write many more stories, but all will serve to show how a dad cared and wanted what’s best for his son.

Recalling and reflecting on all these, I now realise that I am slightly more demonstrative of my feelings towards my children, than my dad – telling them I love them and physically hugging them, even when they are now adults.  My dad had his own way, which was as equally meaningful and ever so lasting.

So on this day that people called ‘Father’s Day’ I pen this note in fond remembrance of you, dad. I miss and love you. Thank you for whom are – a guide and friend sent from up there somewhere.

* With all the wholesale massacre and cutting of the pristine primary jungle, it’s now more a case of ‘Paradise Lost’!

Photo: I don’t even have a proper photo of you dad, all of them were lost in the tragedy of a fire that razed our longhouse to the ground. But really, it’s not necessary, for you are firmly etched in my memory and rests solid in my heart.

A Family Photo in front of the Pa’ Main village church in the early ‘60s.  My dad is on the extreme right, proudly wearing his WW2 medals earned as part to the Semut Operations. I am in the bottom, second from the right seated in front of my mum. I didn’t like being photographed, hence the grudging look.

Datuk Mohammad Medan Abdullah

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