29 August 2010

Plans are not to be discussed

When I was in primary school, I'd follow my youngest aunt who was only 5 years older than me to attend Sunday school sometimes. It must have been during the school holidays because I was at grandmother's home. The aunt and I would always discuss excitedly the things we would do after the Sunday school, or what to spend our meagre Sunday allowance on.

Grandmother did not speak Malay but she gradually understood a few words after having listened to us a long time. I realized she has understood it when one Saturday (must have been a Saturday because we were talking about Sunday School), she suddenly bellowed to us to stop discussing our 'plans'. My aunty quickly said kadti kosoguluono'd koduo-duo! (may the soul doesn't precede me) which softened her anger.

Confused, I asked my aunt why she was so angry. It was then that I got the explaination that we are never to talk about something we think of doing for fear that the bad spirits would lead our souls to do it before our physical bodies actually manage to do it. That would mean HARM in various forms such as illness. Of course I didn't understand the explanation until years later. But I've acquired the expression kadti kosoguluono'd koduo-duo, and practised it as if I meant it.

If grandmother were to be in the present workforce, she would have had resented it very much- the neverending plans A, B, C etc wouldn't have gone well with her belief...

19 August 2010

sogit- it's actually forgiveness

Baby dumping cases in Malaysia are on the rise again...my friend just commented that the society contributes to the problem- for being judgemental. She has a point. Instead of helping the young, lost and scared mothers, the society at large scorns, chastises and labels them 'sinful'.

Anyway, the friend said, among the indigenous society in Sabah, for example Dusun, you hardly ever hear of this phenomenon. An animated discussion of this leads us to the conclusion that sogit must be playing a role in preventing baby dumpings.

In the Dusun society, having babies out of wedlocks is wrong, and in the olden days could get a severe punishment of the mother being sent to the jungle to give birth alone. But if the mother returned to the village safely, she would only be asked to pay a sogit (normally in the form of an animal to be slaughtered, cooked and eaten by the villagers) to the villagers to appease the spirits, and to 'cool' the surrounding, and she would be accepted as one of them again.

The sogit practice continues on even now. The mothers are not severely punished anymore though. The mother is the guilty party until the sogit has been paid. While she is 'guilty', the villagers won't have any qualms of gossiping about her bad conducts. Once she has paid the sogit, the talks would gradually subside. There seems to be an unspoken consensus among the villagers to 'forgive and forget' the past 'sin'. (And that could be because most people believe that if you talk about something that has been settled, the 'heat' will go to you and you'll be the one getting the bad consequences.) But whatever the real reason is, sogit works to prevent further crime like baby dumping to be committed. In a way, it is forgiveness...

14 August 2010

creating a sense of identity through family heritage

Once upon time during the headhunting time, there was a warrior in Kg. Toboh, Ranau who defeated many enemies. Back then, it was very important for a man to have headhunting skills, for enemies were all around, waiting to kill for food and things, in the name of survival. It was said that this headhunter was very strong and agile he could jump over a river (which must have been about 5m in width) when no one else could. He would go to great lengths to protect his family and friends, and he was much revered by those who have known him.

Well, that wasn't so long ago, for many elderly people who are still around today have had the chance to know him. Maybe he wasn't the once agile warrior anymore when they did see him, but his laurels remained. Even till now. His great grandchildren still talk about him with great respect, and they kept a sole picture of him somewhere in their family house in Kg.Toboh, which to date I haven't had the chance to see.

I happen to be married to one of his descendents, and am fortunate enough to pass on this tale to my son. It works well to help him identify with his root, his ethnic identity. The night we told him the story, he was so excited he tried to jump from his bed in his sleep. For days afterwards, he kept asking about his great grandparent- the food he ate, the clothes he wore, the name he had. And decided that he would like a Dusun name; a warrior's name to show that he is also as strong and brave as his ancestor. So I called him 'Anakanak' (of course that is my endearment to him, meaning 'little son', which coincidently is also a popular hero name in Dusun folktales). And I'm happy that he is happy to be himself, a Dusun, a minority ethnic in this big big world. It is indeed handy to have some kind of family heritage to help create a sense of identity among the young generation...

04 August 2010

The kind-hearted sellers

If you go to any tamu (open market), you'd see all kind of sellers selling their products, ranging from fresh produce like vegies and fruits, to clothes and plasticwares. In Sabah, the vendors at most tamus are generally the same ones. The just move around from town to town according to the days that the town has set for its tamu. In Telipok, for instance, the tamu is on Thursday. In Ranau, it is on the 1st of every month. If one is a regular tamu-goer, chances are, one will get to know the vendors well. I know my mom used to be one of those people.

You could bargain in tamu. It's almost like a game, bargaining the price of a product with the seller. Well I know my mom and her younger sister, my youngest aunt, love to do that, to the extent of making me feel uncomfortable when I'm with them!

Anyway, there are a group of sellers in tamus that to me, are overly kind-hearted. Since I grow up going to a tamu with many Dusun sellers, my experience is mostly with the Dusun kind-hearted sellers. These are normally the aki (grandfather) and odu (grandmother) from kampungs who come all the way to the tamu to sell their farm produce. They'd sell you their things at very low prices, often adding a few more extras on your buys. And they would look at you apologisingly when they say the price, as if they are causing you a lot of trouble by naming such price.

I make it a point to try to discourage them from reducing their prices when I'm buying from them. I know it might be fun to bargain, but these elderly folks are often those in need of money. But because they are too 'nice' to others, they would never try to take advantage by setting a high price on their products. Somehow, I have a soft spot for elderly sellers...