An inspirational view.

Nature’s best is manifested in the green forests where one can enjoy peace and relaxation away from the hassle and bustle of city life.

A treasure of extravagance

Nature’s best scenery is manifested by the greenery of ulu (remote) hinterland, namely the soothing images and smell of trees, vegetation and the foliage around one’s vicinity. That is if you are living at the jungle’s edge, like we did in the early sixties or as far as my memory is able to travel backward.

Our constant night and day companions during bad weather were the croaks of frogs, the whinnings of mosquitoes, the clap of thunder heralding an imminent downpour and not to mention the complaining sounds of our fowls and hogs.

However, on an evening of fine weather one would be presented with a marvellous spectacle of radiant sunset that promises a wonderful night and slumber full of sweet dreams. I always yearned for such a night where I would meet a young maiden of unparalleled beauty, a treasure of extravagance in the ulu. At another time this would end in a dreamless slumber. About two decades later the dream became a reality and ended up in a matrimonial union of nearly twenty years.

Now after more than six decades and still attached to the longhouse environment for being part of an extended family with an apartment shared with my brother at Kedap, I am a man more inclined towards jungle and ulu environment as compared to the hassle and bustle of the city.

And when I am at the longhouse at the jungle edge, I always yearned for a repeat of that beautiful dream, the beauty that pouts yet loving but those dreams never came. However, dreams of “four” numbers became regular phenomena but these resulted in bigger bets which never gave reasonable returns.

Many would say that they are scared of the jungle, especially the animals and antu (ghosts) as well as darkness. These things do not intimidate me but city’s traffic and snatch thieves as well as apek bayat (thugs) scare me. In the jungle I am free to bring spears and machete as every jungle trip is a hunting trip and one needs these for protection as well as for game kill. But if one is caught in possession of these items in the city or town one could be charged with possession of dangerous weapons in a public place under Section 6(1) of the Corrosive, Explosive and Dangerous Weapons Act 1953 which is usually read together with Section 34 of the Penal Code.

The indictment provides for a maximum jail term of two years and whipping upon conviction.
My late father (Apai) used to remind me that without bringing knife when going to the jungle is just like going to a battle without a weapon. I realised very early in my jungle life that a knife was a compulsory part of any jungle journey’s gear.

The author with his friend and lecturer from USM, Penang Prof. Dr Clifford Sather (later Chair of Unimas’ Asian Studies) on the way to Gawai Antu in Ulu Bayor, Debak in 1988.

Hunting, fishing and other jungle excursions necessitate one to carry a knife, possibly one that can perform heavy duties, including felling a small tree. For example during a bad weather and when deep among the trees, there is a need to build a quick shelter. This means felling small trees and cutting branches for timber and leaves to make the shelter and even possibly spending a night under such circumstances. One needs the knife to do a lot of things for an overnight jungle stay such as cooking using bamboo or leaves.

“Don’t ever forget to bring salt too while going on hunting or fishing trip,” Apai would bark at the start of such trip.

“Equip yourself with match sticks or lighter too. These are important when you need to start a fire in the jungle,” Apai advised. He would never forget to bring a matchbox or lighter, thanks to his smoking habit, that he kept to a minimum while on hunting trip for fear that wild animals could detect the smell of cheap cigarettes — Apai’s favourite brand was Rough Rider — from a distance.

In 1962 while attending Primary One class at newly opened Nanga Assam Primary School about 40 minutes on foot from our Kedap longhouse, Apai built a jungle hut that was surrounded by fully grown rubber trees along a jungle path leading to three longhouses in upper Melupa River about 25 minutes on foot from Nanga Assam School, crossing through the main river twice at knee-deep water and few streams bridged by logs. But as one went through the main river, there was nothing to be scared of as the water was crystal clear and free of any river monster.

In fact every time we crossed during good weather we — my brother Jon, aged 14 in 1962 and I, then aged 8 — would stop to pick stones of interesting shapes and colours which were priceless treasures. Kids nowadays are scared of the water which is no longer as crystal clear as 58 years ago, despite a good number of stone treasures are still hidden below.

Iban maidens are great attractions at longhouse events.

Farming season’s best scenery comes in the evening of mantun or weeding season. This is where the farm is blanketed by hues of greens depicting a scene from one of Post Impressionism’s famous painters Claude Monet’s masterpieces — typical of his Impression Sunrise — if it is in the morning with the grassy paddy field in lieu of the sea; or Impression Sunset to match the beauty of the sunset at the hill paddy field. These were insatiable moments of between 30 minutes and an hour. I always enjoyed them making a mental note that one day I would paint. A number of repeats of these moments came later while we were in the varsity and feeling lonely. Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Penang Chancellory popularly “canselori” facing the Malacca Straits was a spot that offered such opportunities in the evenings and manifestating Monet’s Sunset. If it were in the morning, it would manifest his Sunrise.

My favourite catches from the streams of our hinterland.

My favourite fishing ground Sungai Tapang a stream near to our hut was another wonder of nature, especially with its crystal clear water and pools where various species of fish were abundantly found.

In the jungle I once encountered a big number of pheasants of the sengayan type. There were dozens of them gathered at a plain about ten minutes’ walk from our humble wooden hut with nipah palm leaves roofing. At least that was what we called a home full of love.

Very similar to ‘sengayan’, a type of pheasant that will die when it sees fire or flame.

One evening we noticed that dozens of the sengayan pheasants slept at the branches of rubber trees next to our hut. This gave Apai the opportunity to catch them using a special net. About a score or so were caught. Some ended immediately in my mom’s cooking pot whereas some were kept inside a bamboo cage meant to keep our chickens. Apai put the cage within view of the kitchen’s fire. This was a careless option as all the birds inside that very cage died. Apai actually forgot that this type of pheasant will die if they see fire, according to Iban belief. And truly they died as our kitchen fire was within their view. But those in two other cages were not affected. So this proved the Iban adage that says “Sengayan mati enti meda api” (Sengayan bird will die if it sees fire or flame).

People said the act of the birds coming to join our chickens and later on getting caught was a kind of laba (good omen). This could be true but only manifested late in our parents’ life — in many ways. Some came after their demises (Twelve of their grandkids/great-grandkids are university graduates/undergraduates).