Hornbill Unleashed

June 4, 2014

Taking a dig at arrogant corporations for insulting the Penans…


Yes minister, no problem!

Governments and corporations must exercise greater responsibility when engaging with those most affected by their developments.

BY the time you even get to the first sentence, I would be halfway to my wife’s longhouse in Betong, near Sri Aman, for a two-day trip before heading straight to London to finish the remaining Gawai Dayak celebrations with a well-deserved holiday.

Driving makes me think so I found my mind shifting itself to a Gawai Dayak message this week.

Just like the “true meaning of Christmas” sermons we hear every year end at churches nationwide, Gawai Dayak also holds many positive messages that all of us can learn from.

I first heard some of these messages from my late father-in-law, Lemambang Bidin Sango (Lemambang is akin to the Shakespearean title “Bard”) who was quite an accomplished writer and storyteller.

I first saw his books in the Universiti Sains Malaysia library during my undergraduate days (published by the then Borneo Literature Bureau) two decades ago.

He was also a regular feature in Iban radio and well-known for performing pengap and renung (a form of traditional singing and chanting) as well as an authority in tusut (genealogy).

Many people would seek him to discuss their family origins and discover their ancestral lineage.

Just like other Dayak tribes, the Ibans possess a rich oral tradition and renowned for their literary work in the form of poetry and recitals of various historical epics.

They forge a strong connection to their lands, stemming from a deep-rooted respect for the forested environment and governed by a mutually-beneficial symbiosis between man and nature.

Prudence in their daily activities is guided by caution, particularly with respect to traditional beliefs and omens.

I recall one tale about a particular longhouse community which witnessed several good omens when clearing the hand for hill paddy cultivation.

To commemorate the event, the longhouse folk performed the mudas, essentially a miring ceremony where offerings are presented to a prominent land deity, Simpulang Gana.

The ceremony was largely successful, until a black dog suddenly appeared and ate some food presented on the offering plate.

Offended, the landowner and several villagers started to beat the dog. That same night, Simpulang Gana visited the landowner in a dream and reprimanded him for beating the dog.

The deity further warned that he would curse the lands with poor harvests to punish the villagers for their cruelty.

The moral of the story is simple — treat everything with respect.

Another tale goes like this. Once upon a time, a longhouse celebrated a major Gawai festival with guests from far and wide.

Every guest turned up dressed in their best with the exception of a poor couple who dressed in very simple clothing.

Typical of human nature, the affluent longhouse folk looked down on the poor couple and refused to welcome them.

An elderly widow however took pity on the couple and took them in, sharing the little that she had with them.

After dinner, the couple suddenly introduced themselves as the deities Keling and Kumang from Panggau Libau (Heavenly Abode) and blessed the widow, while cursing the rest of the snooty longhouse folk for their lack of humanity.

Moral: Treat everyone with respect!

The Ibans have no shortage of stories which centres on this same theme i.e. to treat everyone well with respect and dignity. Regardless of one’s status, education and wealth, every person is entitled to be treated exactly as how a person would expect to be treated himself.

These two examples of Iban folklore should be retold, not so much to longhouse celebrants but rather, to affluent politicians and arrogant corporations who seem to think their wealth and status gives them the right to look down on the common folk.

Last week, we had a politician who took one native community to task, just because they complained that their welfare had been neglected.

He bluntly told them to give thanks instead and be “grateful” for all the wondrous blessings he claimed they had been getting all this while.

Then they had to put up with the laughable antics of an electricity corporation official, rebuking native folk when they made police reports after getting short-changed out of their promised allowances.

He claimed the Penans were “barking up the wrong tree”.

Apparently, the natives are supposed to be legal experts, and should understand jurisdiction issues by automatically knowing who they should approach, when and where whenever their promised allowances did not materialise.

Just like the politician, he insisted that natives should instead be “grateful” for the great work the electricity corporation had been doing for them all this while.

Yes indeed, the corporation did so much for them that Mother Theresa would have been proud herself.

At least the politician was gracious enough to admit that the government had to improve delivery of its aid in order to assist people in the interiors more effectively.

But here’s the deal.

If any government wants the small people to be grateful and realise that it’s doing such a great job, then it must learn to differentiate between its intention to help and the results that come from it.

In short, the government cannot say: “It’s the thought that counts”, when the Penans complain that they didn’t get anything.

Or expect the Penans to say: “Ah yes Minister, we understand you approved a billion dollars for us but it didn’t come because the truck broke down.

“No problem.”

This “intention versus delivery” issue reminds me of the failed UN World Food Programme in Somalia once upon a time, when tons of food were left to rot at the docks in Mogadishu.

Despite a multinational effort to help famine victims, everything — quite literally — just went down the drain.


Just because some local warlords and their militias were organising armed seizures of the UN food supplies and using them as bargaining chips!

The bottomline is this — any aid that is not delivered is not aid in the first place!

Likewise, an allowance promised that falls short (whether in cash or kind) is a promise unfulfilled.

If it happens, then the onus remains on the government official or company CEO to rectify it since it was them who promised it in the first place.

It’s both condescending and highly irresponsible to give people the run- around when they complain, telling them to be “grateful” and harping on the same phantom NGOs when people complain their kids are skipping their breakfast due to undelivered aid.

Government officials and corporations must therefore exercise greater responsibility in the manner they engage with those who are affected most by their development policies.

Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak, Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai!

1 Comment »

  1. Like in all traditions it symbolize meaning to the celebration. Christmas is a European tradition incorporated into the celebration. Gawai dayak tradition steeply ingrained from our traditionally practices inherited from time in immemorial. No one has the right to criticize or to insult any tradition. Insulting our traditions reflected the arrogant of the companies shareholders or directors. To them profits is all that matters. Destroying indigenous way of life or our spirituality of the gawai festival is demeaning and reflected the type of cultures of these companies shareholders and workers. These arrogant companies men have lost their humanity.

    Comment by otak bodoh — June 6, 2014 @ 3:32 PM | Reply

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