21 February 2011


My little boy lost another milk-tooth last night. As he was brushing his teeth before bedtime, he realized that it was wobbly. He panicked a bit, because his Dad was not around to pull out the tooth for him. I offered to do it for him even though playing dentist is one of the tasks I dread the most. (After all these years, I still shiver at the sight of blood!) He refused at first, determined to do it on his own, and because "Dad has always been the one who did it" (reads: I don't trust mom to do it).

After trying a few techniques for about 20 minutes, he gave up and asked me to try. I asked him to lie on his bed, open his mouth wide and think tooth-fairy. He lightened up a bit...but because he kept asking questions like "what colour is the tooth-fairy?" ("colourful", I said) and "what's its name?" (and I said "Casey" because that was the first thing that came to mind). I sang to him a bit. A silly made-up song about a boy who was losing his tooth and how he was rewarded by the tooth-fairy because he was so brave. Then two tugs, and off came the tooth. He cried a bit, but soon was cheered up with the thought that the tooth-fairy would come that night and gave him some money.

"Did the tooth-fairy come when you were little?", his question caught me off-guard. "Well,...yeah". He still wasn't happy with my answer. "Did you put your teeth under the pillow?". "No, no...back then we had to put our teeth at the ropuhan", I quickly said. "Huh, what's that?"...and I went on explaining the ritual of losing a tooth when I was little. True enough, my siblings and I were asked to bury our teeth on the ropuhan, the hearth that was made of soil. Later when we didn't have one available anymore, we were asked to just bury them on the ground,...or else, the new teeth would not grow, supposedly.

Hmm...I wonder how did the tooth-fairy culture get into our household? I can't quite remember anymore but it must have started with the eldest child's insistence (and she is one very strong character), having gotten her input from books and friends. Not that I mind at all. It is actually quite fun, and motivational. After all, we live in a world of cultural-fusion here in Sabah. I guess I'll just have to twist it a bit, in order to preserve the Dusun culture. Maybe get the kids to bury their teeth on the ground instead of put them under the pillows. Who knows, the tooth-fairy might actually reward them extra?

07 February 2011

here I am, befriending mother earth

"A Dusun, at one point of his/her life, will certainly long to cultivate his/her land", says me who has observed relatives and friends going through the process for years. I guess I'm finally at that stage. How else would I explain the surge of interest I've been having on growing fruit trees on our land? A few years ago, I'd have been contented to see hubby handles that end. After all, he's the one with the green thumb. It was enough for me to take pleasure in the plants he grew at the backyard.

Not anymore. I found myself following hubby to pick seedlings from the agricultural department in Tuaran, enjoying the whole process of deciding what fruit seedlings to get, and selecting the right ones. Those seedlings, we later took to Ranau to be grown at the plot of land that my parents gave us, some 40-minute hike up the hills from their house. On fine weather days, a four wheel drive can reach the place, but since it had been raining for the past few weeks, we could only drive halfway and hiked the remaining 20 minutes. It felt good to carry my seedlings on my wakid, heavy though the wakid was on my untrained back. (It was hilarious the way my 60-year old mom kept asking me anxiously whether I could carry the load when I am way younger than her!)

Together with my mom, dad, a cousin and three hired helpers, we got our seedlings safely to their destination. Hubby and I had the joy of planting a few of them. Forgetting all about my insecurity about not being a green-thumb person, I felt that I could go on doing it if not for our time constraint of having to go back to KK. We had to let the hired helpers under the supervision of my father do the rest for us.

At least, I could brag about finally being there- the stage at which mother earth is becoming more and more significant...

01 February 2011

sumakit and the euphemisms

They say the hardest level of competence to attain in any language is pragmatic competence, i.e. the ability to use words according to appropriate meanings in specific contexts. That proved true for me recently. For as long as I could remember, I had used the Dusun word sumakit to mean 'sick' in general. From minor ailment like viral infection to serious problem like cancer, I had always called them sakit "sickness". Little did I realize that I was using the word based on the way I used it in Malay, my dominant language, since the same word sakit is used in Malay to refer to those things.

Until a fortnight ago...at a cousin's house. My cousin, his wife and their eldest daughter's birthdays are all in the same week, so they made it a point to celebrate together this year. I had to come with only my eldest girl and youngest son, as hubby and second girl were not feeling well. One of my cousins, one who had had the advantage of growing up speaking 'pure' Dusun asked me where my hubby was. I, of course, answered "sumakit". She looked at me with a funny expression, burst out laughing and humorously explained to me that one only says sumakit when the person being referred to is gravely ill. Having the advantage of being a medical doctor on top of being a pure speaker, she explained the types of illnesses that one may call 'sakit', and those ailments that should be referred to as longoh-longohon "having a cold", amu osonong kopio "not feeling very well" and a few other euphemisms. I was genuinely surprised. No one had ever corrected me for my use of the word sumakit before. "Well", I said, "one never stops learning".

For the rest of the party I had to endure the cousins' teasing about that every time somebody asked me where's the hubby. At least I know that the phrase ouruan do sumakit (literally "very sick") is a euphemism for "pass away". Otherwise it would have had become another joke among the cousins.