Rice is also a favourite topic of conversation. Upon greeting our friends, the first thing we enquire is often “have you eaten rice yet?” And yet, we tend to take our rice for granted as we forget to pray for our sustenance before every meal. It remains a sobering fact in life that we must eat rice a few times a day.
In Malaysia, we seldom experience any shortage of supply of rice. The government has made sure there is plentiful supply of this daily necessity. We should not take our rice for granted though because we have no lack of experts warning us about food shortages in the world. In Africa and other parts of the world, there have been reports of the occasional famines and some human beings are actually dying from the lack of food.
The situation has reached a critical stage in Somalia.
Fortunately for us, Malaysia is also a rice producing country, and the government has implemented policies to ensure that there is plentiful supply of this staple diet. There has been fluctuations in the price of rice, but through prudent management of supply, the spectre of famine has vanished from the Land of the Hornbills.
In fact, the rice favoured by most consumers in the market place is a fragrant rice imported from Thailand. The Thais are expert rice growers, and they remain the major exporter of rice in the international market place.
But Sarawak is also a rice producing state and the growing and harvesting of rice is a major agricultural activity for our natives. I particularly like the rice harvested by the Ibans from the Miri Division. The rice there is purple in colour and when cooked into a porridge, it has a natural fragrance. I also like the Bario rice, harvested by the Orang Ulus in the Miri area. But it can be expensive when bought in Kuching city.
Rice is the essence of life in Sarawak. The planting and harvesting of rice is often accompanied by many religious rituals. Of the many festivals surrounding the crop, the harvesting of rice is officially celebrated during the Gawai Dayak.
Gawai celebrations are the most elaborate in the life of the Dayak people, and it is often accompanied by much drinking of tuak, the alcoholic sweet drink made from rice.
For older generations of Sarawakians like me, life in the 50s was not always easy. I went through a period when getting the daily supply of rice was part of the struggle for survival. In times of acute shortage, we had to borrow cigarette tins of rice from our kind-hearted neighbours.
To make the very limited amount of rice go a long way, we had to cook large pots of porridge made from whatever rice there was. We could then eat very thin versions of porridge, but the trouble was you would go hungry shortly after the meal.
Those bad old days are gone forever. But I still prefer the Teochew porridge which I cook for myself. All you need to make the rice go down is salty tit bits from the grocery stall. It is the most fulfilling of meals on a cold morning. It is also a constant reminder of my humble origins, when I had to survive on my thin porridge every day.
So, next time you sit down to a steaming bowl of rice at your dining table, do not forget to praise the good Lord for giving you the daily sustenance.
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