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Culture (Lun Bawang): Rabika Tuah

“If possible I want to bring you all to my kampung (village). How to live with only resources that you find by yourself where it's all jungle. Everything in front at the fingertips. How to feel that kind of life. Different you know? The joy and peace are also different.” -Ms. Rabika Tuah

We had an amazing opportunity to interview Ms. Rabika Tuah, a Lun Bawang from Sarawak, Malaysia. During the interview, she wore her traditional attire: “pata” or beaded headgear, beaded bracelets, necklaces and waist gear. She is a Christian, speaks the Lun Bawang language, and eats traditional food such as ‘Nuba Laya’, ‘Pinupis’, and ‘Pinaram’. It was insightful to learn about her cultural background, interesting taboos, customs, and folklores in her community.

What are the traditional foods in your community?

The famous ones will be ‘Nuba Laya’, this is a compact rice and we will fold it with a leaf called daun kukuk. It's not just any type of leaf. The other traditional food is called ‘bitter’ which is a type of vegetable which we will pound, we will use original tools to pound it. The best of course would also be sinamu’, that is the appetiser among the Lun Bawang community.


The dessert we call it ‘pinupis’ and ‘pinaram’, both are also made of rice but different ways of cooking it.


What traditional craft is your community most known for?


The most famous is what I am wearing, the traditional costume for the ladies. The traditional craft is called Bau Lai and Bau Tulung. ‘Pata’ is a traditional headgear of Lun Bawang people. And the belt is called ‘beret’ or ‘barit’ which has its own meaning, how we wear it also has its meaning. And also for the guys, we have ‘kuyu talun’ which is made of tree bark. For their seluar (pants), it’s called ‘tepar’.


What traditional attire like? When do you usually wear them?

The guys wear ‘kuyu talun’ made from tree bark. And the pants are called ‘tepar’, they fold the tree skin to become similar to ‘seluar’ (pants) but a bit longer.


Ladies wear a ‘beret’ on the waist. We wear ‘bau lai’ (bead necklaces); this yellow one is called ‘bau lai’, and the brown one is called ‘bau tulang’. And then the beaded cap is called ‘pata’. When you get married or attend any ceremony we wear like this


We wear them on birthdays also, and then any festival like after paddy harvest, Christmas, and also a big ceremony where we go to church, which we call ‘irau’. We wear this as a sign of respect. If any menteri–menteri (ministers) or YB visit we also wear like this.


What are some of the traditional games you played when you were young?


We played singing games, or games we call ‘labak’, which is storytelling. Hide and seek also we played, but in a different way as we played in the jungle.


What are some of the festivals celebrated in your community?


Before Christianity came, my grandmother did celebrations at the end of the year whereby they would drink ‘burak’, which is an alcoholic drink. They celebrated after harvesting and thanked their gods. But when Christianity came, we celebrated a different way to thank God for how He blesses us in our lives. It’s called ‘Irau Aco Lun Bawang’ which we celebrate in June every year until today.


Speaking of festivals, what are some of the activities or traditions that you do during this festival?


During harvest festivals, we have beauty pageants. They wear a full costume when competing. But now the contestants’ minds must also be clever and they must be fluent in Lun Bawang. The female beauty pageant winners are called ‘Ruran Ulung’, that is their title. The male winner is called ‘Padan Liu Burung’. They’re judged on what they’re wearing and the oldest costume, not the ones you can buy now anywhere.


What are the name of your traditional song and dances? And what is the name of the traditional instruments you have in your community?


Our traditional song and dance is called ‘busak pakui’. We have instruments like ‘seruling’ (flute) made from bamboo. Ladies play ‘suling’ which is smaller while men play ‘Ba’ which is longer and bigger.


What pantang-larang are still observed in your community and are they shared through the community?


You have to do a 'bajarang' first so that the marriage and the house will be bahagia (prosperous). Also if you go to the jungle you cannot laugh and ask the animals how to do the work. Otherwise there will be a change, like my place, one longhouse became a big batu (rock). I saw it, and it is still there now. All Lun Bawang practises it.


Who usually leads the rituals or ceremonies in your community, is it the men or women?

The head of the house are the men who usually lead the rituals and ceremonies.

What are the common stereotype(s) said about your community?


There is actually a lot. They always say that we are Orang Ulu (mountain people). Yes, it is right we stay in the mountains, but they also say we stay on trees. Maybe last time yes, now it’s different. All concrete houses. When they told me, even though I stay in KL, they say we don’t wear Coach handbags, we don’t wear LV handbags.


When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?

For funerals, my father told me, when he went into the jungle, there would be a kubur (grave) and they put the corpse in a 'terpangku' (mummified) position and put it in a very nice vase. That’s why when we see a nice vase in the jungle, don’t touch it. Secondly, if the body is very fat, they would hang the body and put fire at the bottom so the body becomes nipis (thin) and then put it in the vase.

How are the weddings organised in your community and what are the activities involved?


The guy goes to the ladies house, which is common and similar with others. We wear traditional attire, and the guy also wears kuyuk talun and also we invite people from different kampung (villages). The weddings are very big and very grand with the potong kerbau (killing of buffalo). At my place mas kahwin (dowry) is also kerbau (buffalo). Different kampung also will be helping because we’re giving makan (food) to people from our village and other villages.


Could you share with us a well-known folklore in your community?

Sangok is a very brave man. So he fought with one guy and then suddenly, he was killed by people. He's a very big man, I think he is like a goliath. And then this kampung (village) people chopped his head and then only the chin ah flew to another kampung. Very far you know? I saw it jatuh (fall) at the river there. It's a segi-empat (rectangle) like that. Now we always go there for picnics. That is called ‘dasangok’, which means his chin. Then the body terpelanting (flew) the other side, as they call it Batu Sangok. Now we still can see also. It's very famous, the story is still very famous until today.


How does it make you feel to be classified as a 'lain-lain'?


To be honest, because I'm Bumiputera, for many, many years when I’m alive, they put us as lain-lain (others), so I feel unhappy about it. Why do they put us as lain-lain (others)? And in fact, we are the first people to live in Borneo. In fact, this belongs to us. Yang diaorang tu pendatang (the rest are immigrants). So, yeah, I don't have a choice because the government does that. During Brooke’s time, they didn't like Lun Bawang also, because Lun Bawang is pemabuk (drunkards), pengotor (dirty). Actually they want to kill us, so that there will be no more generations.


What are the current challenges faces by your community?


Telephone coverage, water and also not a nice road. That's why I came here to KL. Even after many, many years, we still don't have the facility like what KL can enjoy. I always emphasise education because, even though we have everything such as land, education is very important to manage and to upgrade things on our land. And also, I hope to see all the facilities at the clinic and hospital, because my place is very far and when people are sick, tak sempat (not enough time) to go to Miri by flight. No medical checkup. Sakit (sick), almost dead, only then want to see a doctor. Awareness needs to be shared in our community.


What is your vision and wish for Sarawak? And what are your hopes for Malaysia?


Health is very important and to decide on the booster, decide on the vaccine, trying to make ourselves fit, like eating clean, exercising regularly and also praying. Praying for each other and helping each other and wishing everyone go to heaven. I wish Malaysia, we live in harmony together and then know our cultures and respect other people's cultures and also to be good to each other. That is the most important. You know how I'm here in KL, right? I have a Malay family. Their religion is nothing to us already, you know. We automatically are very good like we are real blood, real family blood. Yeah, I prefer everyone to be like that.

How can Malaysians get to know each other better?


Through this awareness, especially the young people, so they know each other and if possible, if things are back to normal, I can probably bring them to visit the places. Example what I said just now like Batu Sangok. You just listen to my Laba' (folklores) only but you don’t really know how the places are, then you can bring to the world and show that this is the culture even though Malaysia has many-many tribes and many races, we are in harmony.


How would you want us to remember you or your community?


If possible I want to bring you all to my kampung (village), so you can feel how we live our life, no telephone, no Whatsapp, and then go to Batu Sangok. Going to the waterfalls there, and also how to live with only resources that you find by yourself where it's all jungle. Veggie there, meat there, protein like fish that we find by yourself, not like here, we now go buy it from the supermarket. Everything is at the fingertip. That's why if there's a chance, I said I will definitely bring Faye to go there. How to feel that kind of life. Different you know? The joy and peace are also different.


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We had more curious youth wanting to learn more about the Lun Bawang culture.

It was a great experience learning about Lun Bawang culture from Ms. Rabika. We resonated with her sentiments on how Malaysians need to be more open minded, curious and accepting of other cultures. We were moved when Ms. Rabika offered to take us to her “kampung” (hometown) in Sarawak and experience life in her community. To us, this captured the true essence of Malaysian warmth and kindness. Although she has faced hardship, Ms. Rabika displayed perseverance and strength to build a better life for herself. However, it saddened us all to learn that the Lun Bawang community still has inadequate access to proper infrastructure, healthcare facilities, education, and career opportunities. We believe that all Malaysians should have equal opportunities to lead a good quality of life regardless of who or where they are.


___ Interviewer: Sarah Aishah binti Sa’aid Hazley & Karen Lee Myn Hui, facilitated by Faye Lim

Written by: Karen Lee Myn Hui & Sarah Aishah binti Sa’aid Hazley

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