Bawang Assan

The Week That Was

This week has been quite taxing - physically, mentally and emotionally. After venting my frustrations on Air Asia's pricing structure for the Kuching - Sibu Sector, there was a lot of anxiety when the blogging community came under a lot of pressure from the print media which reported on the need to control the blog contents. Similiarly there were numerous protests against Israel's relentless attacks on Lebanon. To top that up more news on people picking on Khairy and also Prime Minister Pak Lah. Sometimes just these few things takes your breath away. Someone has to argue with someone or quarrel with someone. Our present Prime Minsiter and his son-in-law came under siege and they both responded in the most natural way using the media - all these can be attributed to the Zinadine Zidane's headbutt phenomenom. The message is simple - "Do Not Push Me Too Far". You argue, then comes the rebuttal, then there is a rebuttal to your rebuttal - in the end it ends up both parties headbutting one another.

Visitors to Sarawak

I needed the break from these headbutts out there. I was quite glad that I was assigned to go to Sibu for an official assignments. Nothing beats the relaxing and slow momentum of Sibu Town - a place where I grew up and where my younger day memories soothes the soul.

Click on the image above to get a view of the airplane

My travelling assignment to Sibu brought me to deliver Sarawak's Development briefing to the foreign Military Attache Corps in Sibu, at Tanahmas Hotel. They arrived in a giant aircraft (in the picture above - I believe its a Hercules transport plane). This would be my first International audience so I was pretty nervous at first. Furthermore it involved senior military officers and also their families (including children) so I had to take a different approach - more pictures rather than economic figures.

A section of the audience

Another section of the audience

Giving the briefing: (wishful thinking) "Ermmm... though Sarawak was under the rule of Rajah James Brooke, it would have been good if the Rajah had introduced the Premier League in Sarawak at that time, or Sarawak would have invented soccer and would have been a force to reckon with in the soccer world."

Bawang Assan Here I Come

Click on the above picture for a larger image. The one on the right is my late paternal granparents' house while on the left (green house) is my Uncle Antonio Jawi's house. That's where my cousin Mag of (Semampai Sayau Blog) grew up too.

The road to Bawang Assan, Sibu which is my Dad's 'kampung' or village is a 25 minutes drive from Sibu Town. I can't say its a longhouse because we do not stay in the longhouse. Unlike my Mum's longhouse in Nanga Beguang Song, which is not accessible by road, Bawang Assan has a tarred and decent two lane road which was constructed a few years ago. Before that it was only accessible via river transport also (about an hour's boat ride). The Foreign Military Attache Corps were scheduled to visit Rumah Austin Ngelai, a longhouse in Bawang Assan which is about 100 years old. Going back here was like entering a time capsule as it took me to my childhood years when my dad always brought me back during the holidays.

The Bawang Assan River - since the road was built, it has turned into a calm silent river

The Boat Stop (as in The Bus Stop): The express or river vessels would pick up and unload their passengers and goods here last time. Its a bit rundown now.

Rumah Austin - as it is now (walkway where I used to play and had fun with my cousins, uncles and aunties)

Rumah Austin from another angle

Posing with Uncle Ancho (in black t-shirt) and relatives

Meeting relatives - my late grandma and grandad's cousins preparing for the Foreign Military Attache Corp's visit

Handicrafts and pua kumbu baju burung clothes for display and for sale

Another display view of the items for sale

The Methodist Church as viewed from my grandparent's house

Gerija Methodist Bawang Assan: 1954

The church is still standing

View of my grandparent's house and also Uncle Antonio's house

The wooden walkways are accessible for Motorbikes

The wooden walkway between Uncle Antonio's house and ours

Grandad's masterpiece: Why I say that is because my late grandad built this house single handedly from iron wood (belian). That is what makes this grand house a sentimental piece. If anyone asks me to build a house like this now, its beyond me.

Uncle Antonio's house - the last time I was here which is a long time ago, it was not green

The small orange (limau) tree - when I was a small kid my late grandparents would always bring the limau fruits for me and my sister in Sibu when they visit us.

The old jars which once stored tuaks and rice

Inside the living room of the old house - I would be sitting there listening to my late grandparents telling me short stories

The large water jar that was once used to store rainwater where I would take my bath. Though I would usually go to the river some times and the lemonade bottles (cream soda taste) which was my favourite is still there till now

The dining room: The dining table where we would have our meals is still intact

The fireplace (kitchen) where my late grandparents would prepare our meals when we visit them is still in its original setting

Melat Padi

While walking along the walkway back to the car i noticed the food ration at the edge of the walkway and was wondering whom it belonged to

At a distance I saw a small figure of a boy rolling a large drum barrel. I asked my dad what he was doing and I was told he was preparing the padi field for padi planting whereby the rolling of the drum to flatted the tall grasses (which would become natural fertilisers). usually the alternative way would be to burn the grasses

I went over to the boy with my shoes in the mud and started interviewing him. His name was Igai and he was helping his parents prepare the padi field for replanting. He was 14 years old. I asked him if it was hard job 9a rather silly question I know) and I was surprised at the reply "Enda lama aku nembu kerja tu, lima jam tau tembu" (translated: it means "No sweat, the field will be ready in 5 hours). In the hot Sun! Ask me to roll that and I will probably collapse of heatsroke in 30 minutes.

See how Igai does it: No Sweat - but look at the size of the field in the picture

The Sibu trip has a therapeutic effect in some ways. My interaction with the Foriegn Military Attache Corps, the short moments of slipping into a time machine when I was at Bawang Assan and talking to that boy named Igai came together like a vortex sucked into my head. I reflected on the briefings I gave regarding the success story of Sarawak in trying to achieve a Developed State. I had shown pictures of modern Sarawak and its modern infrastructures, discussed on our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), available business opportunities and many more. And here comes the picture of a young boy named Igai, helping out his family n the fields, when he should be in school, getting the education needed to give him a better life. I asked myself, how many Igais are there now in Sarawak? There is another 15 years to Sarawak becoming a Developed State and how will that change Igai's life when we reach there? These are questions for our people to answer - maybe for the Dayaks themselves to answer. Why I say this - let me share some excerpts (based on the official Dewan Hansards) of debate between YB Voon Lee Shan (Batu Lintang) with an Iban YB in the recently concluded Dewan Undangan Negeri Meeting.

Y.B. Encik Voon Lee Shan: ....there is a need to address persistent socio-economic inequalities constructively and productively or achieving growth with distribution ... the growing intra-ethnic income and inequality which validates that the NEP benefits the few who are rich at the expense of the majority who remain poor (edit).....look at our Dayak friends in the state, peda bansa Iban, especially in the rural areas. The answer that poverty is abundant in Sarawak is obvious. The NEP does not address sufficiently their poverty...... May please Dayak leaders stand up, help the Dayak people.

YB Iban response: Tuan Speaker, point of clarification. Could you just substantiate that the Dayaks in rural areas are poor.

Y.B. Encik Voon Lee Shan: I think you may know the answer yourself. The 2004 … (Interruption).

YB Iban response: I think you are making an allegation for that.

Y.B. Encik Voon Lee Shan: I am not … (Interruption)

YB Iban response: You are not a Dayak.

That remark by a YB whose name I choose not to reveal just shows what kind of attitude we have. I do not blame him or anyone else and I also thank all YBs who brought up the issue related to uplifting every Sarawakians standard of living. And since our wise Iban YB has put it that way, I would be hoping that he would be able to come up with some concrete plan for helping our people. "Its as if the Iban YB is implying only a Dayak have the right to talk about our Dayaks' poverty plight. Let's check out the facts given and dispel any untruths if any. If the facts are wrong, let us proudly show that we are right. If its true, lets work together to eradicate poverty then. Then, let's do something together with the other Dayak YBs and preferably the non dayak YBs. I appeal to all - do not use poverty issues as a weapon for arguments. No need for rebuttals and headbutts please when it comes to poverty issues. For Igai's sake, and the many Igai's out there - we will try our best to give our people their share in enjoying the fruits of a Developed State". I have to reiterate, I am neither against nor am I for any one on the poverty issue. Poverty is a common enemy and it knows no race, color or ethnicity. All the people's representatives - irregardless of political alignments or inclinations, let's not rebutt or headbutt our way to emptiness - let's unite when it comes to trying to ensure that no single human should be victims of poverty.


SIB KingFisher said…
your post is very nostalgic... seeing the kampung house.. feel so close to home... I still remember my late granpa house... like the photo also...

cheers mate said…
hmmmm ... macam pernah tengok rumah panjang tu, tapi dimana ya? hehe ... yup gawai 2005 ... by the way, you ask about how many Igai's are out there? I can tell you this, alot! The Igai's on my school's area is alot too. upon completion of Year 6, they will quit school and help their parents by doing any work they can do. When asked on why they didn't went on with their studies, they will answer this, "Nadai duit kena sekula, apai indai aku miskin". Apa macam mau bikin?
Apai Salleh said…
Well. I can't comment on your third party account, on what was said at the Kunsil Negri (Iban accent hehe).

However, in all fairness, anyone, regardless of race, colour, creed or religion, especially within the confines of the DUN, can talk freely about Dayak poverty, or any kind of current issues in the public sphere. The Iban YB made a mistake (I was about to say, erred in judgement)in telling off the other YB, and point in fact, embarrassed himself further, not too mention me (for I am Iban as well), and others who may feel likewise.

What he should have done was debate the point raised till conclusion, rather than, as you say, adopt the "headbutt" tactic.

I hope our Iban and Dayak Parlamentarians in Kuala Lumpur are of a better calibre.
Apai Salleh said…
Anyway, this Fear of Destitution is what is being discussed.
Thanks Fredy and Dunstan - Rumah Austin was one of the longhouses featured in Explorace last month when they were in Sibu. I also feel bewildered that currently we have 3 Iban magazines 'Terbilang, Pegari & Senawah' and most of the pages are 'famous artises related'. At least some pages need to be dedicated to people like Igai and his family. Its like in India when people are so overwhelmed by poverty they resort to Bollywoodism - a form of escapism from the real world. Ours have not reached that stage, thankfully, but let us not slide down there.
Apai Salleh: Understood :) hope you can talk with Mr. Valentine Tawie on the Terbilang issue :)just a page or two would be sufficient :)
Apai Salleh said…
Out of curiosity, Desmond, why would Foreign Military Attaches be interested in visiting Sarawak ? Presumably you briefed them in RASCOM ?

And when you tie in the word "Development" , you give rise to different interpretations. heheehee Development as a Weapon of Mass Distraction hehehe
Apai Salleh said…
Moi ??? hehehe

I need to update my blog. I want to write something about the current climate in KL. Perhaps I will e-mail Raja Petra and ask him a few questions.
Apai Salleh: I briefed them in Tanahmas as there was a cultural show after that :) it is a holiday the MACs usually arrange with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) every year and they come to Sarawak almost once in two years (with new officers) for familiarization :) They put away thier military hat and uniforms while they were here... in other words they let there hair down and had a good time (escorted by the military police of course).
Apai Salleh: We hope their WMD approach will help - Weapons of Mass Development :)
Apai Salleh said…
Destitution off course has it's advantages and disadvantages. If we take China for example, and assume, that out of a population of 1 billion, 10%-15% are middle class and employed earning a living. That is about 150 million Chinese. Effectively means the other rump of the population is concentrating in one aspect of their means of production. And to do so, large families is necessary. A larger population, difficult to sustain, will also mean mean a larger say in politics, international or otherwise.

Poverty is indirectly linked to Population growth. So if Igai had 5 more brothers, his father would be reaping in larger returns on padi production.

On the one hand, poverty is a evil and on the other it creates untapped human effort. Anyway, this is far too much and I can hear you yawning already hahahaha
Apai Salleh said…
Condonlences to you on your late grandma's passing.
Apai Salleh: You can blog about it :) all views are welcome. No such thing as boring when it comes to flow of ideas.... thanks also for the condolences. It sad to remind myself also that the tomb robbers raided my late grandparents resting place as in my past posting at
Pemancha said…
I ve been to Bawang Assan in year 2000, enggau orang melah pinang. Using boat that time. Nice place.. and nice posting too by DJ.
Anonymous said…
APOOOOO.......our house is so green. Omigosh..i didnt remember it being so green. It seems that the balcony(tanju) has been replaced. Used to be keping tebelian kelia. The rambutan tree infront of the house has been cut down also. Maya agi mit aku slalu bemain ba tanju rumah aki nuan(curi2) Im so looking forward to go to Bawang Assan this year end for the Gawai Antu and meeting all my family. Thks for putting up my dad's house picture bro, I really appreciate it
I would think that an Iban YB would be open to the fact that there is widespread poverty in the rural areas.
His attitude is like someone who is ashamed of the fact, and prefers to bury his head in the sand.

It is about time the state government comes up with a comprehensive and sustainable plan to eradicate poverty among the rural dwellers of Sarawak. If there is already such a plan in place, then I suggest the plan be reviewed because it doesn't seem effective.
Chris Anakapai said…
Hmm.Looks familiar.. have i been there? maybe lah, enda ingat agi. suba aja kala merau enggau ini ngagai rumah di nanga. Rumah kami pengambis ulu ai Bawang Assan...

In my long house, there's also a lot of 'Igai's there. enti nanya kebuah enggai sekula, saut sigi " kami anak rumah panjai, enda pandai ukai baka kita anak org kereja perintah, kami nadai duit..etc." but jenguk ke dalam, bisi home theatre set WOW, kalah orang diau mengeri...susah hati ngenang tu.

p?s: sama rumah panjai enggau sida Indai Kemantan???
Wilson Chin said…
Igai is realy a hardworking boy, hope he will study hard and become a sucessfull man in the future.
by reading ur post, it help me understand and know more about ur culture, is great.
thanks pangyao :)
Excellent post, esp the part of the YB exchanging arguments. Fancy that, an Iban YB asking for proof that Ibans in rural areas are poor.... Maybe this Iban haas lived in the city so long that he's already used to hot-water showers and buying food from the supermarket, rather than growing it with his own hands.
bawang assan the new for other people but after you desmon put this blog everyone know much about the bawang assan longhouse....i so pround because I am from this village........
I stiil remember that long house....but i not from that long house I am from sg melanggan....not far from bawang everyone know where is location of bawang assan.........tq for you Desmond........
Donny said…
Dear Desmond,
I just discover your post on Bawang Assan as It was where I spent my childhood days. My late father is a former Methodist missionary pastor there in the 50's, I remember that we used to live at the parsonage beside the Chruch connected with stilt bridge to the Church and the longhouse, but I just cannot see the parsonage anymore. I would appreciate it very much if you can share with me pictures of Bawang Assan as a memory of my past. Please contact me at yb6ld.don at gmail dot com.
Donny Sirait