Knowledge — the elixir of life

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.

—  Confucius, Chinese philosopher

Reading and writing can be a recreation and a source of inspiration.

Last year alone, I kept myself busy by writing 40 feature articles and another 56 more stories as a columnist.

After 50 years as a journalist, I believe I have covered as much as I could write about Sarawak’s people, rich history and cultures.

Even so, I continue to write to upgrade my knowledge, vocabulary and writing skills even though my brain is slowing down.

To make things worse, no thanks to the Covid-19 virus, I have been unable to interact with old friends and foe.

If you have been following my writings, you will find that I am a Jack of all trades; but trying to cover the whole of Sarawak on your own is no mean feat.However, thanks to a habit I picked up 30 years ago, I started buying old books and publications and discovered the Sarawak Museum Journal (SMJ) which is a treasure trove of information.

SMJ covers various perspectives of “Sarawakeana” — or material on Sarawak — and it’s a book of knowledge contributed by academicians, archaeologists, agrarians, economists, geographers, historians and scientists.

You name the subject, and it is there.In seeking to further my knowledge on Borneo, I have travelled beyond the 1,000km Sarawak-Kalimantan border — from Teluk Melano to Tebedu, Lubuk Antu to Putussibau, Long Singut to Long Banga and Long Nawang to Long Bawan.

But I never would have been able to explore Kalimantan without an Indonesian friend, the venerable pastor “Pendita” Yohanis Sakai.

In 1991, Pak Yohanis called from Samarinda where he established an evangelical church in the midst of a Javanese community, and told me: “Let’s go and visit the cave dwellers of Teluk Sumbang!”

My ears pricked up when I heard him say “cave dwellers”, so I agreed to go.

We flew from Tawau to Tarakan, an island on the east coast of Borneo, and then by American Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) four-seater Cessna across the Straits of Sulawesi (Celebes), and landing by the Batu Putih beach.

My association with Pak Yohanis goes back to 35 years and soon after I contributed to establishing his bible college “Yayasan Pintu” (Yapintu).

Since then, his bible college has grown and he has built a church on a hill opposite his small wooden family home.

Interestingly, during Christmas and Hari Raya, both the Javanese community and church members visit each other.

In fact, during Christmas day service, tudung-clad Javanese women would attend church in a time of sharing and exchanging gifts.

Similarly, during “Lebaran” or the “Eid”, the Christians would visit their Muslim neighbours.

Indeed, under President Jokowi, Indonesia with its 230 million people, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, is a country that practises silaturahim or brotherly relationship with fellow citizens.

Having travelled through North, East and West Kalimantan, I can only reflect on the goodwill of the Indonesians.

Never at any time did I feel I was a stranger while travelling pillion on an Indonesian “Ojek” (motor-cycle taxi) with two passengers without hand brakes or passenger foot rests.

Ask Lubuk Antu’s Nicholas Bawin, a former deputy chairman of Majlis Adat Istiadat, and he can confirm this!

Even the poor Bugis transmigrasi migrants from Sulawesi (Celebes) across the straits has this “orang putih celup” (that’s me lah) who could speak their language.

Three years ago, I went on another Kalimantan adventure with Yohanis and another great traveler — RMAF Brigadier General LC Soon of Keluang, Johor.

This time into the 5,000ft-high Apo Kayan complex in the “Heart of Borneo”.

A Johorean, the retired general officer commanding (GOC) of air force in East Malaysia, was among the first RMAF pilots who patrolled the Kalimantan border during Confrontation.

LC has climbed all the seven highest mountains in Malaysia, five in Sabah and Sarawak, and has even ventured as far as the Himalayas, Pyrenees and Machu Pichu.

Even though I knew nothing about Apo Kayan or the people of Central Borneo, I came armed with Jerome Rousseau’s article in the SMJ.It was through the SMJ I learnt that Sara

wak’s original inhabitants are the “Kajang” of Belaga.

And who are the Kajang?

In Charles Brooke’s book “Ten Years in Sarawak”, he says the Kajang a Melanaus from Mattu, Rejang and Mukah!

In fact, the Governor of Sarawak is a Melanau “Kajang” or a “Kayan Lalu” — a descendant of the Orang Ulu pagans who fled from Belaga to the coast after Charles Brooke’s infamous Great Kayan Expedition of 1863.

And for Malaysians with little or no knowledge of Sarawak, or those with a katak di-bawah tempurung (toad under a coconut shell) mentality, read the SMJ.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.