Fascinating gift of longevity


So aging is really just the way we deteriorate over time. Lifespan on the other hand is how long we live. We typically refer to that as longevity.

– David Andrew Sinclair, Australian biologist

It is interesting to note that Seliman Bandang, 111, of Tenggalat in Saratok has been endorsed by the Malaysian Book of Records (MBOR) as the oldest man in the country recently. 

In fact, I did come across this guy some years ago in Saratok town and noted that he did appear old but I didn’t realise he was born in the same year as my late dad and just older by a mere 31 days as he was born on March 21, 1910 as compared to dad’s birthday on April 10. My father was called home 19 years ago aged 92, outliving poor mom for 14 years.

Seliman’s longhouse takes its name from the famed Tenggalat hills, known as the abode of Telaga Kumang (Kumang’s Pool) that is only visible and accessible to just a few individuals, who have met in their dreams the epitome of beauty in Iban folklore of the Panggau Libau (Raised World) and its neighbour Gelung.

The secret of his longevity according to his grandson Michael Bandang Tinggai is sleeping early (around 9pm) and waking up around 7.30am daily.

“After waking up grandpa would drink tea, and at times milk, plus one or two slices of bread or biscuit for breakfast,” said Michael when speaking to an SV reporter recently. He added that the old man loves ikan pansuh (fish cooked in bamboo) as well as vegetables. 

If I were to meet the centenarian, I would ask him whether he had been to the nearby Tenggalat hills or whether he had ever dreamt of being gifted such a long life by those from the Raised World including their leader Keling Gerasi Nading Bujang Berani Kempang (Keling the gallant warrior, a giant among men). Or perhaps he might be one of those who has access to Telaga Kumang — in our folklore Kumang is Keling’s spouse — and has been accorded longevity by her.

Many might be thinking this gift of longevity is crap or even nonsense, but there have been many who said they dreamt of meeting the folklore heroes and heroines and were rewarded with something, longevity included. My late dad Salok (1910-2002) was promised longevity when he met Keling in his dream circa 1926 after seeing a flash of the dragon over a pool when tapping rubber alone during the day prior to the dream. He did live for 92 years.

Dad’s maternal grandma Edek (I remember her well as she died when I was in my adolescence) was also a centenarian but having serious dementia to the extent she went missing a few times because she was still able to wander around the longhouse, including hiding underneath the thirty-door community dwelling on stilts. Her daughter Ensingan, my paternal grandma and grandpa Jembu both lived a long life. Ini Ensingan died in 1978 aged 98 while Aki Jembu died while being seated on an easy chair in 1972. He was 90. 

On my mom’s side, I still have my youngest uncle, a Sarawak Shell Berhad retiree who is now 87 years old. Their eldest brother, Uncle Ngauh (nicknamed Swallow which strikes at eight) died aged 59 whereas mom was called home aged 72 but their youngest sister lived till the age of 86. Their mom, (my maternal grandma Kejuang) had a long life as she departed this world aged 97 in 1988, just seven months earlier than my mom, her eldest daughter. 

Ini Kejuang had no dream of Keling or Kumang but she did hear a comment from an unseen subject which referred to her as a hen. It said: “The hen will live a long life but when she stops eating that will mark the end.” Granny survived two weeks without food and we were all ready for any eventuality. On the morning prior to breathing her last, she asked for pinang and sirih (betel nut and the piperaceous climbing plant). That was her last rite. She outlived grandpa Narang (who died in 1949) for 39 years and was 24/7 attired in black.

Both my parents and grandparents — I was still not born when Aki Narang died — were very fond of taking ferns, bamboo shoots and leafy vegetables, fish and prawns. Their dishes were simple and stayed away from fried items most of the times. Both grandparents rarely drank tea or coffee as well as sweetened drink, thus giving prolonged existence a boost.

During my childhood when reading the Penyanggup Lama (Iban version of Old Testament), I used to compare the ages of the sages of old, many of whom lived more than 800 years. Those were incomparable days.

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