27 July 2011


I am finally back to work, after the long medical leave. Yesterday was the first day and it began with a workshop on writing and editing that lasted till today. I have to say the workshop had been very enlightening, thanks to the facilatator, Dr Jeniri Amir, a prominent scholar and a prolific writer at UNIMAS Sarawak.

I like many things he said, but I especially like his simple approach of celebrating a completed job- self-reward. I've never really thought about this before, but I supposed the Dusun people actually have been practising this concept without calling it a name. The most common reward (at least practiced earlier) is/was moginum. After a hard day's work at the farm, the Dusun like to get together over a tajau of tapai. Men, women, there used to be no distinction, although women slowly stopped participating in the activity. It's a reward after all! I can see the change of the pattern in my own family: my late grandmothers (both sides) drank with their men. Some of my elderly aunties (in their 70s and 80s now), still do that sometimes. But my mother and her younger sisters (in their 40s to 60s) do not drink with the men much anymore. In fact, I can surely say that Mom doesn't do social-drinking at all, except with girl-friends, and even that is seldom.

Anyway, Dr. Jeniri says self-reward is very important to keep one's motivation going. Something as simple as a cup of tea after achieving a job-target such as writing an abstract for an academic paper. I bet you can see that I am self-rewarding now. As an academic, I have to adhere to the principle 'publish or perish', and I've not been a prolific writer at all. (You can hardly call one publication a year prolific!) Since I am about to change that, I'll have to cut-down my self-satisfaction internet activities like blogging and blog-hopping. But hey, I get to blog as a self-reward! (and I am cheating a little bit, I still browse through your blogs every day because in a way, it is my motivation to live :))

19 July 2011

Local Wisdom Again- "Don't touch other people's children"

In the Dusun culture, beating a child as a form of disciplining is allowed, but only as a last resort. But even when beating is done, there is a rule as to who can beat the child and who can't. Most people would expect it to be the parents' responsibility, although I've also seen other family members who are 'higher in rank' (older brothers, uncles, aunties) who did that. But NEVER an outsider.

So was it a wonder that there is always a mixed-reaction when a teacher in school resorts to beating in order to discipline a pupil? On one hand, it is okay to some parents as perhaps to them the rank of the teacher is equal to 'family members'. On the other hand, this is a no-no to some parents, because touching others' children is unheard of in the community.

In fact I was reading Tuaran Adat and Dusun Custom of Putatan District the other day, and discovered that somebody who beats somebody else's child has to pay sogit in the form of animal to the child's parents. Something that requires a sogit is indeed a serious thing in the community. Upon reflection, I think it is a very wise thing indeed. Let each family discipline theirs.

15 July 2011

Ongkor and Anakanak revisited

(source: finaltouchproofreadingandediting.com)

As I write materials for the KD level 2 course, I suddenly think of the KD infamous folktale character, Ongkor aka Bongkoron, and his opposite all-perfect hero Anakanak. Indeed, it is typical in any culture (at least the ones I've heard of) that there must be some black and white characters, and I wonder, could it be because underlying the society is the moral belief that virtue will be rewarded while vice punished?

In the Dusun stories I've heard, Ongkor is always painted as:

1. the lazy one
2. the liar
3. the gluttonous one
4. the envious one
5. the one who couldn't bear difficulties
and the long list of vices goes on. (A Christian can easily identify Ongkor's vices with the seven deadly sins)

Anakanak on the other hand is the angelic one. He is:

1. the hardworking one
2. the honest one
3. the one who respects his mother [parents](often, in the stories I heard, the mother is mentioned as a poor single mother)
4. the one who's grateful
5. the one who bears any difficulties with a grin
and of course, everything that is good.

But unfortunately in real life I don't think there is a single person that is really 100% Anakanak. Nor is there one that is 100% Ongkor (please tell me no one is totally bad). It must have been the people's desire for perfection that painted these two opposite characters the way they are. Maybe deep in every man's heart is that desire.

Anyway, I am using quite a few folktales in my teaching materials this time around. I am having fun doing them, although it is so time-consuming and quite taxing.

07 July 2011

Birthday Celebration is an innovation

The Dusun people didn't used to celebrate birthdays in the olden days. They only celebrated fullmoon (baby's one month event) or whatever it was called then. By the time I was old enough to be dragged around to attend such a celebration (during school holidays, with my grandmother mostly), I remember people calling it ganap bulan (literally 'full moon'). (I wonder if ganap here is from the Malay word genap (complete) or the Dusun word gonop (also complete). Most probably it's the Malay word, as Dusun words are seldom used without affixation.) Anyway, my late grandmother told me that during her child-bearing time, people contributed goods like rice and chicken for the baby's family- to use in the celebration. By the time it was my fullmoon, people started giving little gifts like baby clothes, talcum powder or even a small amount of money. In my mother in law's village, giving money is called mongumpau (giving ang pau), a word which is uniquely based on the Chinese word ang pau.

Back to birthdays, modern day Dusun celebrate birthdays. We just did on July 6. Hubby turned another year wiser on 5 July 2011. But the family celebration could only be done the next evening, as he had to attend a formal dinner of his office on the 5th. I prepared a simple dinner of sushi, baked vegetables, and roast chicken (Aussie style- and I told myself I could have just run to Coles or IGA or Woolsworth to get a perfectly roasted chicken if we were in Australia :)). But since we are now here in KK, I had to roast the chicken on my own. Maybe it's a good thing because I got to learn a few things about roasting. Turned out to be quite simple. Just brine the chicken for an hour (soak it in salt water mixed with a wedged lemon, orange, thymes, bay leaves, garlic and black pepper), rinse it off and rub it with a mixture of rosemary, thymes and pepper, leave for an hour, then roast for about 70 minutes. The result was quite ok for a first attempt. And we had a platter of mixed-fruits for dessert, along with the yummy yam cake from Strawberry cake house.

Since a birthday is not complete without some gifts, the kids and I picked a turqoise paperweight for him, since it is supposed to be a July birthstone. Actually now that I think about the gift buying episode, it was quite hilarious. The Chinese lady who attended to me in the gemstone shop confidently told me that the thing she was showing me was a ruby paperweight, perfect for a July birthday gift. It would promote good health, wisdom, good relationship, and economic stability to the wearer, she told me further. Later on I found out that it is actually turqouise, but somebody told me that turqoise is still counted as a July birthstone. It doesn't really matter, it's the thought that counts :).

So another year wiser was celebrated, as it is commonly practiced among the modern Dusun. Since it is a good innovation, why not?

05 July 2011

Because they are such dedicated teachers

I've now had the chance to look at something I have wanted to do since a few weeks back. That's the Kadazandusun teachers' responses to the questionnaire I distributed through a kind, recently met neighbour (Thanks C :)). This is part of a small scale project I've been working on this year. To evaluate the teaching and learning of KD in Sabah schools after over a decade.

It is not easy to offer a minority language, any minority language as a formal subject in school. And I think the KD community has done well with that. From a mere trial phase in 1997, the language was officially offered in schools in 2000. With very little resources and a lot of obstacles. Salute to the pioneers.

One of the biggest obstacles was that KD is a so-called standard language that no one speaks, and there was no reference grammar to help the teachers taught then. So the teachers who speak real dialects got so confused, some of them even stopped teaching. Who could blame them anyway?

But the resilient ones hung on. They went to workshops, courses, brainstorming sessions and textbook meetings, and produced teaching and learning materials. Maybe the materials were not perfect, but it's the efforts that count. I'd say to anyone who criticize them without thinking, to go produce better ones. (I, myself ended up trying to figure out the grammar of my dialect because...somebody has to? Nah, because I want to).

Anyway, more than a decade later, KD is still there in schools. Yes, there definitely is room for improvement, but I believe in acknowledging and appreciating sincere efforts. If anything, sincere efforts that might be not so perfect are worth a thousand times more than pompousness.

And so I am so happy to discover in the questionnaire that all of the teachers who responded say that they are happy teaching KD, that they would deepen their knowledge on KD, and that they would continue to teach the language in years to come. Teachers, I am in awe of your dedication. It's a journey, of which, no one knows where it will end.

Note: No, I have not been involved in the preparation of KD teaching in schools, nor have I ever had the pleasure of teaching KD in schools. But I have been an accidental KD instructor (material developer mostly) in UMS since a few years back, and now even an occasional teacher when we have enough students to distribute among us three teachers (two of them are language teachers employed to teach KD). Despite having another set of job description teaching something else (my tugas hakiki real job), I always welcome the opportunity to conduct a KD class. We adopt a slightly different approach than the one in schools, and I'd like to think that we are improving gradually in UMS :)