Hornbill Unleashed

December 27, 2009

An Iban political fable

Filed under: Alternatives — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:01 AM
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Bunga Pakma

Many of us are now in “python mode,”  digesting our Christmas meals.  This is no time for anything except quality entertainment.  I’m giving you a story I translated into English from Iban a long time ago. The authour is Mr Andria Ejau, who wrote the first Iban novel.  Andria Ejau died in 1989.

This story was published in 1968 as a children’s book, with lots of illustrations, by the excellent Borneo Literature Bureau.  It’s a political fable.  I have learned that the Orang Asli also tell this story.  I believe this story will resonate as true among Urban folk as well as Forest folk.


Aji Bulan, The Moon Rat

The Meeting.

All the animals held a meeting to discuss making a boat. The council met in the secondary jungle. First of all they looked for someone who would be the chief. One by one the animals were asked, but each said he didn’t know how. From one to the next, each said he didn’t want to. Finally Aji Bulan, the moon rat, said that he would be the leader, and so he was. He stood on top of a stump, and waved his paw to order all the animals to be silent. He spoke.

“All of us will dig it out together. Don’t cheat your friend, work as hard as you can. Bring your own beliong, parang and food. If it isn’t done in one day, it’ll be done in two. If it isn’t done in two days, then in three. Don’t stop for nothing before we’re done. Enough talk. Tomorrow we all get down to it.”

The meeting ended, the animals went back home.

Aji Bulan Comes Late.

The other animals came early. Only Aji Bulan had not arrived.

“That Aji is really late,” said Mousedeer.

“I think he overslept,” said Rat. “I myself woke real early. I wrapped up a lump of belachan that I stole from a human being last night.  I brought it for lunch,” said he.

After a long time, Aji Bulan showed up. As soon as he arrived, he pointed at the tree he had chosen to be cut down and hollowed out into a perau. The tree trunk was so big that two human beings couldn’t hug it.

Starting Work.

They built a platform around the tree. Elephant raised the platform because he was the strongest. Bear climbed up and wanted to claw a hole in the tree, but Aji Bulan told him not to. Monkey then climbed up chopped at the tree.

“Don’t try too hard now, Sambi [“cousin”],” said Mousedeer. “Leave some for us!”

They continued felling. When one animal got tired, another took his place. At noon they stopped for lunch. With a lot of crackling and rustling Rat unfolded his package of belachan.

“That wrapped-up thing smells really strong,” said Monkey.

“Taste a bit, Sambi. We can share,” said Rat.

After lunch they began to work again. They worked at felling in relays. When day was getting late, the tree began to totter.

Starting to Hollow.

The ground shook from the thump of the tree as it crashed down. Aji Bulan jumped up in surprise hearing the boom of the falling tree. The poor chief had been sleeping while the animals were chopping.

“You were taking an awful long time felling that tree. My eyes must have shut while waiting for it to fall,” he explained.

As soon as the tree lay on the ground they cut the branches off and cut the trunk to size. When they finished that they began to hew it.

“Don’t split it! Leave it whole while you shape it!” directed Aji Bulan.

“Yes!” replied the rest.

Then they began to work on the trunk. Aji Bulan sat peacefully nearby keeping an eye on them. Whenever any of the animals stopped he scolded them. “Don’t rest!” he said. At evening they had barely begun their hollowing.  They had had time only to remove the tree bark. When it became dark, they went home.

Next day their group turned the log over to hew the other side. They trimmed the log on one side and when they finished trimming they rolled it over again.  They hollowed out the prau. At evening the group returned home.

Next morning they went down again. They went to their prau-to-be and threw themselves into their work. Aji Bulan stood with his hands on his hips keeping an eye on them. He didn’t want them to stop even a little. When day had become late, their prau was completely hollowed out.

With expectant eyes the animals turned towards Aji Bulan. They were not brave enough to say much, because Aji Bulan was their chief. When Bear was tired, Squirrel took over. When Squirrel rested, Mouse stepped in. When Mouse could do no more, Tarsier filled in for him. Orangutan worked alone away from the others.

Finishing the Hewing.

Next morning they came down again. As soon as Bear arrived he wanted to scrape the roughed-out log smooth.

Aji Bulan ordered him not to. “Not like that, Sambi! It hasn’t become a perau yet!” he said.

“The others really don’t have any strength, Sambi. That’s the reason I’m scraping the wood. I’m in a hurry to finish our perau quickly,” said Bear.

“Not yet. Hew it some more!” said Aji Bulan.

When they heard his voice they began hewing again. The prau was becoming smaller and smaller.

“What about that? Finished?” said Orangutan.

“Not yet. Still too big. Plane it some more!” said Aji Bulan.

They chopped at it again and it became even smaller. There was left only as much wood as a tray.

“What about that? Still not finished?” said Mongoose.

“That’s still too big. There’s no perau that big. Shave it off further,” said Aji Bulan.

Hearing his voice, Bear started up and trimmed pieces off the perau. There was left a piece of wood only as big as the spathe of a pinang palm.

“What about that? Still not done?” said Bear.

“Not yet! Too large! Trim it down smaller!” said Aji Bulan.

Hearing his voice, the animals got to work. Some trimmed, others planed, some split it with parangs, or sawed pieces off. There was left a piece of wood the size and shape of a spindle for a spinning wheel.

“There! It’s still not finished, eh?” said Mousedeer, highly annoyed.

“There! It’s just finished,” said Aji Bulan.

He reached down and picked up the wood, poked it into his ear and began to clean out the wax.

The Animals are Fed Up.

Seeing him like that, all of the animals together cursed and swore at Aji Bulan.

“We completely used up our strength shaping that tree for a perau, and when we got it done you use it to clean out your ear!” they said. “You’ve fooled us, cheated us, made fun of us, Aji Bulan!”

“There’s no use making a leader out of a rotten person like this one,” they said. “Let’s all fart at him!”

And so they all got up and stuck their burits out behind and farted at Aji Bulan. Tarsier’s fart sounded like a thunderstorm. Farts went right up the nose of Aji Bulan. Then they finished and all the animals ran off together.

And this is the reason why the moon rat smells so bad to this very day, because, for his wickedness, all the animals farted at him.

The End.


  1. […] read “An Iban political fable” by Bunga Pakma  and “The Pakatan Rakyat common policy platform got substance” by […]

    Pingback by What Difference Can a Year Make? « Hornbill Unleashed — January 4, 2010 @ 12:05 AM | Reply

  2. In sarawak we have a white termite instead of a moon rat.The white termite eats up all the trees in the jungle.

    Comment by H.G.Wells — December 28, 2009 @ 11:09 PM | Reply

  3. Its time for all sarawakians to FART at the BN. Enough is enough. The land belongs to the people, not the the RAJAHs.

    Comment by sang kancil — December 27, 2009 @ 10:20 PM | Reply

  4. […] and that is Sarawak Peoples Democratic Party. The delegates will need to be given the mandate to choose their leaders and if the leaders do not perform or has outlived their usage its time for them to make […]

    Pingback by “In 48 Hours Party Wins Nobody Loses” « Audie61’s Weblog — December 27, 2009 @ 1:31 PM | Reply

  5. We have been farting at that Sarawak dirty white rat for over 30 years and he still can’t smell anything. Sigh….

    Comment by apai jugah — December 27, 2009 @ 11:23 AM | Reply

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