In the early days of the Indian Territory, there were no such things as birth certificates. You being there was certificate enough.

– Will Rogers, American stage and film actor, humorist and newspaper columnist

Funerals in longhouses are usually solemn events. This is especially so during the funerary wake on burial eve where guests are gathered at the open gallery of the bereaved family for the official eulogy and stating of the related “social obligations and observation rules (including fines).

But during such event to honour the passing of one Gisang Lansam of Bajong in Sebuyau about two decades ago the guests could not help but erupt in raucous laughter when the eulogist stated that Gisang was over 190 years old, according to a very reliable source.

This source even called another friend to ascertain that his memory of Gisang’s funerary eulogy did not betray him. The guy at the other end of the line said in the positive, he pointed out, adding that he himself (my source) was certainly older than 73 years old as stated in his documents and IC.

Thanks to being illiterate and ignorant, when the clerk did the registration of citizens for the first identification cards in 1950, Gisang allegedly told him that he was 150 years old. So naturally when he passed on circa 1990 or a year later, he was officially 190 or 191 years, making him the oldest living person at that time. This was the cause of the raucous disrespect to the solemnity during the eulogy.

Gisang case falls into an extreme blunder and the poor guy should not be the sole culprit in the mistake. I am sure the clerk was of a mind with sense. He or she should know that even by the 1950 standard, no living person would live till such age of 150 years. It was due to this “couldn’t be bothered” attitude that resulted in such blunder. Unless of course the clerk was as ignorant as the subject (Gisang).  

There are of course other blunders by the National Registration clerks. In one of my earlier columns I listed some misspelled names that resulted in the subjects having such names in their identity cards. For examples Ranggie became Hangih; Kerukik became Krakkakkak; Kejuang became Juan and many more.

In terms of age, there are other cases apart from Gisang’s but perhaps the clerks on these are not to be blamed. One of such hilarious examples involved my late uncle Ngauh Narang and his mom, my maternal grandma Kejuang Meling.

In 1950 Ngauh was a medical assistant in Shell Berhad, Lutong, Miri. His mom Kejuang (whose name appeared as Juan in her IC) was in Saratok. When they compared their ages (in ICs) years later, my uncle Ngauh was 10 years older than his mom.

This could be because there was no birth certificate or useful document to refer to. Most of the longhouse and city folk reportedly stayed with round figures pertaining to their ages during the first registration exercise in 1950.

Two brothers who are my first cousins from our Kedap longhouse in Saratok were respectively born in 1954 and 1956 but only the elder of the two has the correct date written in his IC, namely October 10, 1954.

His younger brother has an IC that states he was born on August 24, 1954 thereby making him about six weeks older than his brother. On this, one cannot point the blunder to anybody.

Once during a routine check on an airport for domestic flight the personnel doing the checking asked whether they were twins. Both answered in the positive. So this would be the first case of twins being born six weeks apart.

There are other known cases of these mistakes, including some brought to my attention in our area. In 1979, my distant cousin Bu and her husband Ang (not their real names) asked for my help to sort out the documents of their children, including one who is my senior.

It really gave me a headache as the documents (birth registrations and other records) of the eight siblings were not in order. Some were partly destroyed by termites. They were disorderly as some names were misspelt and birth dates giving confusions.

Some of their offspring then were without proper documents. I am a bit privy as to why the one who is my peer changed his name and birthdate to enable him to continue schooling.

For that matter, when I was in my First Year in USM, Penang in 1975 he wrote me a letter from one secondary school in the state’s Second Division where he attended Form Five then, stating that he was sitting for his School Certificate/Senior Cambridge examination that year.

This would mean he was aged about 21 in Form 5 which was not uncommon in those days.

Perhaps these blunders on names and ages are things of the past. In the hope that they have become history, I do advise parents who are mostly able to read to do a proper check of dates and names of their children entered in their documents.

It is better to make sure correct entries prior to leaving the registration premises for safety. It might serve as deterrent to raucous disrespect during whatever event in the future, especially during a solemn ceremony. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.