"Regardless of your race, we need to respect each other. Regardless if you are a Sarawakian, regardless which state you are from, Johor, Terengganu, KL, Pahang, wherever you are, I think mutual respect is important.” - Patricia Lering Daniel
Our very first interview was with Patricia Lering Daniel, a Kayan hailing from Sarawak. She started off the interview by introducing herself as a Christian, and explaining how the majority of the Kayan ethnicity no longer practise the customary beliefs and old traditions. Most Kayans have converted to Christianity or other religions. Because of that, pantang-larang were no longer observed and shared within the community. Even so, rituals were still carried out within the village. The ketua kampung, or head of the village, would be the lead during those ceremonies.
As part of the orang Ulu ethnicity, the Kayan, Kenyah, and Kelabit shared a similar culture where all three ethnicities are famously known for crafting “manik” or beads. These beads are commonly made into accessories to be worn. Patricia enlightened us on how the Kayan community had their own language, different from the other languages in Sarawak.
Diving deeper into the interview, we were able to find out more about Patricia’s thoughts as a Kayan, and as a fellow Malaysian.
What are some of the traditional foods in your community?
We have the itun uve’. It is a tapioca leaf which we would normally eat with a veggie dish and rice. We also have keluhing which is crispy pork skin that we would normally eat together with rice or sometimes as a snack. Third, sup terung Iban, which is a soup made from small-sized eggplant that we normally cook with fish or chicken or pork.
What traditional attire like? When do you usually wear them?
There is a hat named lavung inu, Inu means beads and lavung means the hat. Inu could also be made as necklaces. Bah is normally made of a velvet type of cloth which comes in the form of a jacket or a singlet for girls and there is a skirt made of a lot of beads that are very colourful. We also have our selendang (scarf) which we wear together with it.
We don’t wear these attires everyday because it's hot and heavy. It is only during weddings, special functions in our hometown, and any events for celebrating.
What are some of the festivals celebrated in your community?
Previously we celebrated Gawai, but we don't call it Gawai, it is more like a marking of the end of the Harvest Festival which falls on the same day as Gawai. Our community now no longer celebrate Gawai because most of us either has converted to Christianity or Islam. The celebrations today are according to our religion.
Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments, or dance that is practiced in your community?
Sape actually originates from the Kayan and Kenyah community. Our traditional dance is quite similar across the orang Ulu community, which comprises the Kenyah, Kayan and Kelabit ethnicities. In my language it's called Nyivan Joh.
What are some of the traditional games you played when you were young?
In my memories, we don't really have any specific traditional game. As a child, I remember playing games like Batu Seremban (throwing/ balancing stones) and zero points.
How are weddings organised in your community?
If it’s a kampung (village) wedding, normally it’s just a ceremony according to the religion, followed by our customary traditions. I think one special thing about our culture is there’s this house. It’s like a little toy house, or a decorative house made of tobacco leaves. They roll leaves into little cigarettes and shape it into a house. The house will be hung on the wall or on the ceiling as a decoration for the wedding.
Once the wedding ceremony is done, normally the tobacco leaves will be passed around to the adults and then they will smoke it together, but this is not compulsory. The main purpose of the cigarettes is to halau nyamuk (get rid of mosquitoes), because they stay near the hutan (forest) in the olden days, so there’s a lot of nyamuk.
Today, it pretty much depends on your religion - whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, etc. But we will still invite the villagers to come and eat together, and sometimes there will be dancers. Like people dance in a train, in a very long train pusing (around) the house.
Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?
If I think about my own community, there is no special ceremony. It depends on which religion you are, so whenever there is a newborn baby, there’s prayers, welcoming parties, and then sometimes the full moon party.
When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?
Basically the one whole kampung will know about if there is a death in the family. So for the next three nights, the house of the family member of the dead will be open and anyone who wants to come and pay their respect is welcomed to come. Regardless if it’s 2am, 3am, or 4am in the morning also, they are welcomed to come. People will linger around the house as a way for our people to spend the last moments with the dead before they are buried in the ground. After that, the funeral happens as per the religious proceedings.
What are the common stereotype(s) about your community?
I think, generally people would see us as... non-educated? Left behind? Maybe like, still living in older ways but that is not actually true. So, I think the common stereotype that people would say is that we are still living on trees.
How does it make you feel to be classified as a 'lain-lain'?
I feel like our community is not being recognised because there are certain ethnicities being focused on. Why do we only have Malay, Chinese, Indian, why can’t we have the rest too? It’s either we are all Malaysians or we specify everyone.
What are the current challenges faces by your community?
I think, maybe not being heard enough? In Malaysia as a whole, our community is considered quite small and I’m not sure if you have met any Kayan before, so I think it’s more of not being heard.
What are your hopes for your community?
I just want the community to be recognised, that we are Malaysians, we are together, we are in one country and we are no different from the rest of the Malaysians. We are IC (identity card) holders, we also have the same opportunity to access whatever the country is providing for everyone. I want us to be equally treated as Malaysians.
What is your wish for Sarawak?
Not just for Sarawak, but for Malaysia as a whole, maybe mutual respect? Regardless of what race, we need to respect each other. Regardless if you are a Sarawakian, regardless which state you are from, Johor, Terengganu, KL, Pahang, wherever you are, I think mutual respect is important. I am proud of who I am, I am proud of my culture, but it doesn’t mean that I need to force you to feel the same way as I am because maybe you, yourself you are proud of your own culture. I hope fellow Sarawakians will be able to respect other cultures as well, regardless if it’s within Sarawak or outside of Sarawak if we would also like other people to respect us the same way.
How can Malaysians get to know each other better?
To be open to other people. To accept that there are people who are different. To accept that there are other communities outside of the three main races. To learn about other ethnics and other races. If you open your eyes towards others, I think respect comes naturally after that. Once you have respect for one another, you will learn to love other cultures as well, and basically learn to accept that it’s not just about one race or a certain particular race in Malaysia. After all, Malaysia is very berbilang kaum (multi-racial) right? So we need to be accepting of each other in order to live harmoniously.
How would you want us to remember you or your community?
I just want people to know that, other than Malay, Chinese, Indian, there is a Kayan as well.
The interview with Patricia really opened up our eyes about how Sabahans and Sarawakians may feel. Even though we are all Malaysians, it was rather surprising that the experience we have as fellow Malaysians were vastly different. It made us realise that we might still have a very long way to go in terms of achieving “Satu Malaysia” (1Malaysia) despite having achieved independence for almost 58 years.
The question of “how is it that we didn't even know about this?” kept coming to mind throughout the interview and there were many moments when we felt rather ashamed for not knowing that other fellow Malaysians felt a certain way. It made us realise that we should all play our part in terms of raising awareness about the different cultural backgrounds of ethnicities in Malaysia.
Through this experience, we feel that those who identify as minority ethnicities should have a means to voice out their opinions and let the whole nation know that “I am here, and this is my culture and traditions”. Together, we hope for trust, mutual respect, equality and that fellow Malaysians can celebrate prosperity in our diversity.
___ Interviewer: Evelyn Chen Siaw Yin & Gan Zhi Xuan, facilitated by Rica Hiew Written by: Evelyn Chen Siaw Yin & Gan Zhi Xuan Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza