‘Ada padi ada beras’ – Nancy has been sowing empathy

Sungai Bulu in Batang Sadong is Sungai Buluh today. I have not been there to see how different it is from the days when I knew it to be Sungai Bulu, which was very long ago.

But I have been told it has transformed so much, with lots of progress – good roads, electricity round the clock, oil palm land as far as the eyes can see, a modern longhouse and folk driving in and out in four-wheel drive vehicles and what not.

It certainly sounds like Sungai Buluh isn’t the Sungai Bulu that I knew when my parents moved to live there for a year way back in the 60s.

I only have hazy memories of our brief sojourn in Sungai Bulu. I think I was five years old when my second eldest sister Hanti died of smallpox. She was a beautiful girl and was probably 11 or 12, and quite understandably her untimely passing broke my late father’s heart. He told my mother to pack whatever she could into a boat and together we set sail for Sungai Bulu. My father needed to leave Segenam to heal his heart, and that was how we ended up in Sungai Bulu.

Yes, we stayed there through one padi year – we, meaning our parents and us children, our eldest sister Siti, brother Peter Pani, yours truly and the youngest that time, Meggi. Roseni, the fourth child, didn’t join us because she was already living with an aunt in Kuching then.

In Sungai Bulu we were housed in a hut at the end of a “tanju” (drying platform) belonging to my father’s relative Bunsi who in later years was made Temenggong.

Bunsi tried hard to persuade my father to remain in Sungai Bulu, offering him huge tract of land to try to make him stay but after a year my father said he was healed enough to return to Segenam.

The death of Hanti affected my mother as much as it affected my father although she did not say it out loud. The thing about my mom was until the demise of my sister she belonged to a group of “bangsawan” and was an off-and-on performing artiste.

My mother was the youngest in a family of one boy and four girls, and when her older siblings took up “bangsawan” she just followed.

Their only brother played the violin like he was born with it. In the “orkes” (band or orchestra) he was their violinist while the two older girls sang and beat the drums. And he was an accomplished silat master, too, which helped make him a flawless dancer as well.

My mom played the accordion and the last time she played it was at the death bed of my sister Hanti. The day they buried her; my mom decided to bury the accordion along with her.

During their performing years, the white men loved their shows, and that was how Datuk Nancy Shukri actually got the western part of her.

One of my aunts did not get to marry a white man, but she came quite close. She married the chef of a white man’s family, a Melanau, not without the encouragement of the Shukri’s family.  She was the aunt who went on to adopt my sister Roseni.

When their music and songs’ days were over, my mom’s brother went to Kampung Sageng and raised a family there and died as a highly respected Lebai Haji Udin.

Despite being a Muslim, a learned and pious one at that, Lebai Haji Udin was the one who kept family relationships alive and healthy among relatives in the lower Sadong. Until his last breath he was regularly visiting our relatives in villages such as Sungai Buluh, Sungai Lingkau, Keniong, Sebangan and Sekendu, where he and his siblings were born.

I am telling all these because I want to show why I don’t believe Datuk Nancy Shukri put pressure on Sungai Buluh headman to refuse to “begawai” with those Malayans who seem to think being the power in Putrajaya makes them masters over everything and everyone, including the village folk in Batang Sadong.

Anyway, let me get back to my old story. The day my mom parted with her accordion was when she said goodbye to her “bangsawan” days and “bangsawan” friends. Among these friends were some of Kuching’s foremost entertainment personalities of that time – Siput Sarawak, the Busrah family and the Shukri family.

The Shukri family was special because they were Scottish, Iban, Chinese and Melanau all in one. My mom and her sibling were regularly going in and out of their home, even spending nights there.

And all the aforementioned villages are in Batang Sadong area, for which Nancy is Member of Parliament.

Into her third term now, Nancy has made Batang Sadong her own, highly regarded there.

Nancy Shukri

She never missed celebrating Gawai with the Ibans, many of whom know her like my mom and her siblings knew her parents and great grand-parents way back in history. Therefore, it is only natural that they cannot think of holding a grand Gawai without her. After all, she has been very much a part of the lives of many Ibans there.

“When I learned that the minister (Gobind Singh) and others from Peninsular Malaysia were going to visit us for Gawai Dayak celebration, I did not reply yes or no right away.

“After they left, I gave it a very long thought. And I had a meeting with the locals. When I informed them about the potential visit, we all thought that Sarawakian leaders ought to be invited as well.”

I can well understand how Tuai Rumah Sili felt when he said the above. I would have said the same thing if I were him.