30 August 2009

Downplaying emotion/events

The Dusuns are really good at downplaying emotions/events. It is not considered good to say something as it really is. It's even worst if someone makes a mountain out of a molehill. There is a word, 'ronob' that means exaggerate, that connotes something negative in the society. A person who is 'koronob' or 'momuronob' (exaggerating) is scowled upon by the people.

I didn't really appreciate the value of downplaying emotions until the day my grandfather died. Being far away, my family members had to break the news over the phone. They did it as emotionless as they could using the standard idiom to explain death: "aa no nakatahan do toruol dau" (he couldn't bear his pain any longer), (except that my dad said it in Malay, the language we use to communicate to each other).

Giving the news in such a way, I realized later, is very considerate. The person hearing it has the time to slowly digest the information, before the big boulder that is grief hits. At least one is given the time to delay one's reaction. I didn't get into shock (perhaps partly because I knew he had been really ill for a few months), and at least I managed to get myself to a private place before the waves of emotions crushed me.

And so I really do appreciate their knack of downplaying emotions. It does make me wonder though, whether something is worst than it is made to sound each time I hear the news that a family member or a person I know is not well...

27 August 2009

Happy Ramadan- a Dusun's (that's me) fond memory

This morning my daughter excitedly told me that two people in her class are fasting because it is Ramadhan. "And at the end of the fasting month, one of them is going to receive $500 from their parents!" Her excited remarks brought me smile and fond Ramadhan memories. My daughter doesn't understand yet the concept of fasting, but I'm so glad to know that all her teachers are concerned enough to educate themselves and their students about it. I tried to explain that Ramadhan is somewhat like our Lent, the month that Christians have to fast. Accusingly she said to me "but you never made us fast!". Oops, caught me there...anyway, I told her that come next Lent, I'll make her fast. (Now I have to remember that).

Anyway, being Dusun, one of the most enriching experiences is to have family members of various religions. One gets to understand about each other's religions and to be tolerant. I have to say that Dusun muslims have a very high level of tolerance (this is again, a generalization, but I believe it is true). Even though they can't consume alcohol, for example, they don't mind other people consuming it in front of them. That is just one of the long list of examples I can think of...

I'm glad to say that because of this background, I can happily admit having a very high level of religious tolerance too. When I was in the boarding school, I used to fast with my Muslim friends (even though being the lazy person that I am, I have never been able to wake up at dawn to have the morning meal!). It was really one of the best moments of my life. And being away from home now, guess what I miss most of all at the end of Ramadhan? Yup, the 'solat takbir', the melodious prayer they recite on the early morning of Raya (Eid-al-mubarak). This is me, a Dusun girl of rich heritage and tradition and proud to be so. I hope I will be able to raise my children to appreciate the same thing...

26 August 2009

Egalitarian Society?

Seems like it. (Except for certain areas of life like marriage. Women don't go pursue men. Although I see nothing wrong with that actually!)

Men and women cultivate their farms side by side. That's the most telling sign of Dusun being an egalitarian society, I supposed. This entails doing the same amount of work, carrying the same kind of burden- for instance if a man carries a 50kg sack of rice on his back, the woman does the same too. (They really do have a strong back!- not me though. In the olden days I would have been considered one of the weakest ones, for I could never ever carry a 50kg sack of rice on my back.)

But men are left to do 'heavy' stuffs like build a house, while most often women are the ones doing the houseworks and looking after the kids. Cooking might be a shared task but cleaning up and laundry are normally left to the women. Some men like my father are really good with children and they don't mind the task of looking after their kids. Though I know of some who would never touch their babies because of this preconceived ideas that little ones are the women's domain. And waking up at night to feed and change the babies is again considered as the woman's domain. (Come to think of it, this really should change in this modern time, especially when the woman is also working. It seems unfair to let only the mother endure the hardship day and night! After all both parents are the breadwinners eh?)

So what's my point again? Oh, Dusun seems to be an egalitarian society. But in reality the women do so much more than the men. I wonder if this would be changing soon...

23 August 2009

Referring to one by one's ethnic group

It is commonplace among the Dusun to refer to a person based on the person's ethnic group. Referring to one as 'i Dusun' (the Dusun one) is akin to referring to them by physical characteristic such as 'i tagahui' (the thin one) and so on.

No, it's not supposed to be rude. But I do think that somebody from an ethnic group that has a different system of identifying a person might feel quite insulted by this. Myself a Dusun, it still took me a long time to finally made sense of this. In school you are thought to be 'polite', and one of the politeness aspect you learn is never to refer to a person by their physical characteristics or ethnic groups. Even now, whenever I mingle and listen to my fellow Dusuns refer to others as 'i Sina' (the Chinese) or 'i Bajau' (the Bajau), I wince a little, especially when people of different ethnic groups are present.

Perhaps in Sabah, most ethnic groups have the same reference system. I've heard a Chinese person do the same. I assumed he was not being rude but simply doing what he was used to doing, just like a Dusun.

Innocent though it is, this kind of reference system is potentially harmful, at least to intercultural relation. But the Dusuns do that and it would be wrong to impose my personal belief that such thing is rude by trying to change them...

18 August 2009

The 'panau' (wedding) ceremony-my aunt's recollection

My aunt was 13 when she had her real 'being drunk' experience :-) and it was during a 'panau' ceremony. (Before, I blog about panau being part 1 of the Dusun wedding ceremonies ) It must have been some time in the 70s because aunt M was born in 1963.

Anyway, the panau ceremony is the first part of the Dusun traditional wedding. On the night that the two families had agreed upon, a group representing the groom would go to the bride's house (the 'mooi panau' group), bearing the bridal dowry, that was a type of gong called 'sanang'. The groom himself was not allowed to come along. Upon their arrival, the bride's family would close all doors and windows, and while they were doing that, the 'mooi panau' group leader must try to get the 'tutuntung' (i.e the thing used for beating the 'sanang') inside the house. Their succeed to get the 'tutuntung inside' would ensure that they could come in and claim the bride. Otherwise, they would have to use their wits- find a hole or anything that would get the 'tutuntung' through. (My imagination sketches another scenario- they would have to beg, sing or something like that till they were let in:-))

That was the first test. The second test awaited inside the house:

"They will be served with all sorts of delicacies. It might be a whole chicken, a leg of pork or the whole ribs but without any knife to cut it with. The group must not succumb. The leader will have to use his bare hands or teeth to cut it into pieces to distribute among his group members. There might be a lot of 'tapai' (rice-wine) too and if the bride's representative said that all that must be finished before they are allowed to take the bride, then finish it they will. That's why in those days the 'mooi panau' (groom's group) representatives must consist of those who can hold their alcohol and quite daring too. 'Mooi panau' is not for the tender hearted or shy person." (quoting aunty M here)

All the 'mooi panau' people MUST go back to their place in the same night no matter how drunk they became. It was the duty of the group members to ensure that they all returned in one piece, and those who were too drunk to walk would be carried by the others :-). (Cars were not used then I supposed, even if in the 70s there would have been one or two families who owned cars).

That was part one really. Next, the bride would be taken to the groom's place- 'the atod (sending over)ceremony'.

Talking about world view- Men are 'dynamic', women are 'non-dynamic'?

At least that's how it is based on marriage language. In Bundu Dusun there are two prefixes (among others) that indicate ability/accidental action:

1. ko - that refers to the ability/accidental action of the person DOING the action
2. o- that refers to the ability/accidental action of a person to whom the action is BEING DONE

When you refer to the action in the past tense they are:
1. noko- 2. no-

(depending on the words, can realize as ka-, a-, naka-, na-)

Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a language lesson but a thought of something I encountered while listening to my recorded conversation with an elderly lady. She kept refering to the women she talked about as 'nasao' (no + sao) = having been weded by...', and the men as 'nakasao' (noko + sao) , "having had married ...".

It shows that men who do the marrying are 'dynamic', while women who are being married off to are 'non-dynamic' :-) It is interesting how the language really reflects the culture.

15 August 2009

Traditional Dusun Wedding (part 1)

I notice lately that in my hometown, traditional wedding ceremony is making a comeback. It is something I silently applaud. For years, the Dusuns were so engrossed in embracing modernisation that most aspects of the culture were let slip away slowly.

Anyway, I really enjoyed looking at my cousin's traditional wedding pictures. Of whether it was 'traditional' in every sense of the word, it doesn't matter. At least there were the food: linopot (wrapped rice), sup polod (soup made of some kind of root plant), tuhau (pickled 'tuhau' plant with chillies) and sup nangko (young jackfruit soup) served in coconut shells:

and there was the 'panau' ceremony even though it was done in broad daylight.

In my grandmother's time, there were no such things as fancy engagement ceremonies. The bride wouldn't even be told that she was getting married, for every marriage was arranged by their parents/elder relatives. By the time a girl turned about 9 or 10 years of age, somebody's parents would secretly 'book' her to be their future daughter in-law. Wedding date would be agreed upon between the parents, and preparation would soon be underway without any of the non-married members of the family knowing. They would definitely suspect that one of them was going to be married off, but no one would ever tell them till the day of the wedding.

On the big day, the girl would be woken up in the middle of the night, and taken to the bridegroom's place. (known as panau = journey) It was then that she would be told that she was being married off! And grandmother told me "Of course there would be tears! Who in their right mind would want to be married to a stranger!" But no one escaped anyway.

They would then be married off. The people would come help them celebrate in the morning with all the merry makings, eating and drinking. But that was only part one...the bride wouldn't be united with the bridegroom yet, until part two was done...

(Above: my cousin's 'panau' picture. I wish I was there to witness this beautiful tradition)

13 August 2009

Once upon a time- Mogitatabang

I miss the good old days when 'mogitatabang' was still a strong tradition among the people. 'Mogitatabang' derives from the word 'tabang' that means 'to help one another'. It works this way- let's say next week I'm building a shack. I'll send words to my neighbours and they will come to help me on that day. Them helping me out will count as a 'debt' that I'll have to repay in the future.

The best thing about it is that whoever is available will come out to help. It is not so much because of the expectation of being helped in return, but more because of the understanding that 'my neighbour is in need of help, therefore it is my duty to help them'.

I supposed it worked all the time before because the people were all farmers. There was no such thing as clash of duty. As means of living become more varied, mogitatabang begins to lose its significance. New needs arise and various ways are created to cater to those needs.

But, oh, those beautiful days of mogitatabang. Any job, big or small was done together. I remember one of the best time was 'mangasok' (hill-rice sowing) during school holidays. If I wasn't one of those assigned the task of cooking for the workers, I got to participate in the 'mogitatabang' sometimes. Being among those cheerful people who sang, joked and laughed all through the task was something I have never forgotten. Not to mention all the eating and drinking after. It was a party. Now it is but a sweet memory...

12 August 2009

Taboo words

There must be several Dusun taboo words that I don't know of. But at least I know two of them. One is crocodile- for the Dusuns who live by the river, saying the real word for it is a 'no, no'. I used to be fascinated when my river friends told me they call 'it' anything but 'buayo' (=crocodile). The reason behind that- it is believed that something threatening shouldn't be mentioned at all or else it becomes more powerful. Hmm...reminds me of 'you-know-who' in Harry Potter!

The other group of taboo words that I know of is in-law related. Yes, a Dusun should never ever say his/her parents-in-law/uncles-in-law/aunts-in-law names. In some villages, saying your in-laws' names is considered very disrespectful. I've been told that if you say your in law's name out loud, the in-law will go blind! There must be an underlying assumption that a Dusun really cares for other people that the thought of causing harm to others is intolerable. Of course no one really believes the reasoning but everyone respects the tabooing rule anyway. I, for one, will never address my mother-in-law with her name...that is just unthinkable. But if someone asks me her name, I'll say it, not SPELL it like some people I know who are super duper loyal to the tradition!

I wonder what other taboo words are there...

10 August 2009

of thank you and gratitude

A very good friend of mine, an Iban from a neighbouring state once mentioned to me that her people don't say thank you. They just don't have the word for it. Instead, they express gratitude in multiple ways like gifting the ones to whom they are thankful. I thought they were very different from us Dusuns because of course we have 'pounsikou' or 'kotoluadan'/('kotohuadan' in some Kadazandusun dialects), meaning 'thank you'.

But I think I might have been wrong! Maybe the Dusuns learnt their 'thank yous' from other cultures. Maybe like the Ibans, we prefer to show gratitude in other ways rather than through words. For one thing, 'thank you' wasn't something said naturally at home among older family members when I was growing up. We children were asked to say thank you, especially to people who were non-family. But come to think of it, there was no hard and fast rule that you should say 'thank you' at home...

However expressions of gratitude are natural. If your neighbour gives you a basket of fruits, you give them something else in return the next day, or a few days later. If somebody helps fix your plumbing system, you invite them for lunch or dinner. The least you could do is invite the person you are thankful to for a drink. Of course you don't say 'let me invite you for a drink because I'm thankful to you...'. You don't have to. The person is expected to understand, because they will do the same thing in your shoes.

It doesn't matter how you express it, gratitude is a must. Corrupt modern day people like me simply say thank you because that's the easiest way to show one's gratitude...

05 August 2009

Parenting style

Now that I myself am a parent, evaluation on my parents and their "cohorts' "parenting style is inevitable. Sitting with some friends who come from the same cultural background who are parents themselves the other day, we started comparing notes and had a good laugh about the way we were 'parented'.

It seems that the popular style of our parents' generation is 'yell and threat'. We coined a hybrid English-Malay phrase for it- "Parenting Teriak-teriak" (Yelling style parenting).

In the Dusun society a child is expected to respect their elders (I guess it goes the same in any traditional society). This entails obeying every order given to you, no question asked. A stubborn child risks getting yelled at. If the yelling doesn't work, they resort to threat. I remember hearing "the police will come and get you" all the time from parents who got really frustrated with their children.

One of the favourite pasttimes of children in the villages was roaming about searching for rubber seed or something like that for games. As a child, I remember having so much fun outside that we tended not to notice the time, forgot all about going home before it got dark. Something that annoyed the parents so much because they have this thing about darkness-it is believed that spirits appear when it gets dark and may cause harm to people. Many such occasions triggered yellings from the parents. Oh such a cacophony! And the famous "ghosts will come get you" threat never failed to be used! How far they worked, I have no idea. But I was definitely scared when I was a little child.

Canings naturally followed yellings. The very last resort. If the yellings and verbal threats didn't work, one of the parents would produce the most dreaded one-meter long cane. That, I'd say, worked all the time. No child wanted to go through the pain of being caned, not to mention the humiliation. Failing the cane threat, a real caning session would be conducted. It didn't matter that all your siblings or whoever was in the house watched, you get caned when the parents deemed it necessary. Thank god in my household it wasn't often. (one such occasion was when one of my siblings played truant- now that is a serious crime in my household).

With the changing time, parenting style changes. At times I am tempted to keep a one-meter long cane in the house and use it to threat my kids when they try to kill each other. But I doubt that will ever work. I might even get reported for child abuse...One thing was passed on to me unconsciously though. I yell when the kids are being difficult. I hate to admit that but I do yell. Worse, it comes naturally. Changing this reluctantly-inherited-parenting-style is a hard work. I'm still trying.

03 August 2009

Mourning ritual

The last traditional Dusun funeral I went to was in the 80s. It was my granduncle's, a person who had never converted to any religion to the day he died. I was quite young then, and only went because of grandmother's command. Nothing much registered in my mind about the atmosphere. But I really was upset with the mourning ritual.

Well, it was supposed to be a sad occasion, I thought. The coffin was put in the middle of the living room for people to see, and those who wanted to pay their last respect could do so in turn. It was jealously guarded. Animals, especially cats were not allowed near it at all. I am not sure how far true this is but a friend of mine told me later that it was believed that if a cat jumped over a coffin, the corpse would become a bad spirit. Hmm...everyone that I asked about it later dismissed the question to be irrelevant. After all, everybody has a religion now, they are not supposed to believe in such nonsense, do they?

Anyway, a group of elderly mourners took turn to weep aloud near the coffin. While other family members genuinely cried (from sadness), I seriously doubt that the mourners did. I paid close attention to grandmother, being one of the mourners. It was the first time I saw her 'cry'. (I remember feeling really 'weird' about it. Grandmother didn't cry...the only emotion she had was anger!) One moment she would weep bitterly near the coffin, wailing out loud of the unfairness of it all. That he, her younger brother had to die earlier when she should have...why? why? etc. The next moment, she was out with the other mourners outside, drinking rice-wine over a fire (no doubt to warm up because it was quite cold in that place). And worst, they were all laughing and joking! I was really upset then, feeling that the whole mourning thing was just a facade.

I carried it with me for a long time, until I finally grew up and understood a little bit about societies, and finally realized that it was actually not an act, but a real cultural practice. That was how it was supposed to be. That was what they were taught, and practiced.

My grandmother's generation is almost all gone now. There won't be any irritating mourning rituals left in the near future. The younger generations prefer religion- based funerals or rather are taught to conduct funerals according to their religions. Some aspects of the traditional funerals continue on though. People mourn for 7 days, during which they are not allowed to have any music. In some villages, they don't even eat green vegies because green signifies life and the living. Throughout the 7-day period, it is preferable that a few people keep vigil the whole night long. The 7th day is the conclusion. A prayer is conducted and lights will be put out (called 'momisok' = "putting out lights"). If the religion of the deceased and his family allows for inculturation, the spirit of the deceased is called up to give some kind of signs that he/she is well on the other side. The sign is normally in the form of some scratches on a plate of ash prepared for that purpose. Or it could simply be a 'presence', felt by some 'sensitive' (in clairvoyant sense) members of the community.

After that, having received their proper farewell, the deceased is well on their way, in their journey to the next life...

02 August 2009

of courage

I've always wondered why it is considered such a horrible thing for a Dusun to do something halfway. If you start a job, you are expected to achieve a certain level (of security or status) before calling it quit. If you quit before that expectation has materialized, you can be certain that you have raised ruckus within the community. You have now earned the reputation of a being coward, one that brings shame to yourself and the family.

Now that, according to another Dusun commandment, is not being courageous. It is very very bad. A Dusun must have courage as big as the Kinabalu mountain. You have to live up to the expectation, no less.

This is not easy to do. Me for example- many a time I feel like quitting whatever I am doing because of all kinds of pressure. But I suppose I am still very much a Dusun as I haven't yet had the courage to ever quit anything halfway. I have to keep reminding myself that my grandparents, the closest examples to me, to their last breaths, had lived very courageously.

My grandfather, especially, is my main role-model. When he was bed-ridden, I had the chance to be by his side on and off for two weeks (three days after I left he passed away). He was in so much pain from a colon tumor but he fought bravely till the very end. He continued to enjoy life, asking for his favourite foods (in small amount) when he felt like it, tapping his feet to the sound of music even though he was completely bed-ridden by then.

I remember the last day I visited him, I cried because somehow I knew that was the last for us. He grabbed my fingers and told me someone in a long robe with a book came before to give him a blessing and that everyone of us would be blessed and he would be made whole again. Looking back, it was obvious that he was ending his journey because of the many 'people in robes' he saw visiting him. Even then he continued to be positive, to feel that he would be freed from all his pain and be made whole again. (I believe he is, rest in peace 'ama').

Everytime I think of quitting, I focus on him and how brave he was. That keeps me going. Got to keep this Dusun courage going.

01 August 2009

This is 'laziness'

Years and years ago (gosh, could it really be like 20-30 years back?) whenever we spent time at Grandmother's (rest in peace, 'ina'), we could expect to be asked to bed latest by 9pm and be woken up before sun-up. No one in the household was spared. As soon as the rooster crowed it was time to get up and do the house-chores, depending on your age. Those between 6-9 years old could expect to wash the dishes after breakfast in the creek near grandmother's house because there's no tap water then. Those above 9 years were considered old enough to do more complicated chores like cooking for the whole extended family and babysitting the younger ones (siblings, cousins, whoever in the house), and washing clothes in the creek, while the adult family members go farming.

It was very cold in the morning then but that was no excuse not to get up. Grandmother wouldn't tolerate 'laziness'- the 'lazy' ones would face rude awakening. Grandmother was known to strip blankets of sleeping grandchildren if they were too difficult to be asked to wake up...Those were the days. No, grandmother wasn't a bad person. She just ruled the family the way she knew- discipline, discipline, discipline.

No one does that anymore nowadays. I'm sure many Dusuns still wake up very early but members of my family pretty much can sleep and wake up any time they want. (Of course, the younger members of the family love doing this especially on weekends and during the holidays- computer games/work the whole night long, then up only at noon the next day). I mean who wouldn't, given the chance huh? Grandmother would have called that 'laziness'.