Lazy people tend not to take chances, but express themselves by tearing down other’s work.

– Ann Rule, American author of true crime books

It is a pity that there still exists a majority of Iban parents in the rural areas, especially those staying in longhouses or in individual kampung houses, who are not making full use of their resources to the fullest.

By this I mean they are not maximising the economic potential of their environment that possibly offers fertile and suitable land to farm, to indulge in livestock rearing and other pursuits that could give good economic returns.

My observation is that many parents in my area could do much better than they are at the present. I know many of them are struggling to cope up with their children’s educational needs but either due to laziness or ignorance, they are trapped into their present labyrinth of predicaments, especially ones that pertain to finance.

Two couples with at least three school-going children each are only depending on rubber tapping to provide for their children whereas I know they have ample land near the longhouse to start ventures such as livestock rearing and vegetable planting.

The latter will certainly give very speedy return if well looked after, and so does livestock rearing too, especially rearing of fowls for meat and for eggs. For that matter, the Agriculture Department is willing to help in terms of expertise and even subsidy.

There have been attempts on my part to open their minds into indulging in these ventures and the aforesaid four couples were present and seemed to be positive of the suggestions but after three years, they haven’t done anything. However, a handful of the not-so-poor parents have responded thus far and are harvesting their corns, beans, brinjals, cabbages, cucumbers and other vegetables and laughing all the way to the banks.

These are parents who think outside the box too. Many of them have children who are university and college graduates but instead of totally depending on their kids, they continue working and utilising their land and energy to the maximum despite being in their sixties.

I even told them to emulate what my late father (apai) Salok did when my brother Jon and I were still in primary school. This started in 1967 when apai took the imitative to sell the farm products such as corns, cucumber, cucumber leaves and other vegetables from our farm at Sungai Sibau Temudok Krian – now a mixed zone land – about four hours of paddling following the tide to Saratok town.

During one school break, I joined him using a small paddle. By the time we reached Saratok wharf, a Chinese towkay Ah Chu of Chop Hock Guan was waiting to buy in bulk all the items we brought. I didn’t see how much cash he received but it was certainly  substantial.

For the record, apai was arguably the Iban pioneer in selling farm products in Saratok. But after more than half a century, I recently noticed there were still many vacant stalls meant for Iban farmers/vendors at the Saratok wet market.

In those days, people were sceptical but apai was unperturbed and went on seriously with his agenda, resulting in better clothes, footwear and plenty of stationery for me and Jon, not to mention some extra pocket money. 

Buying from him in bulk was one way of paying back to apai who, together with my mom, kindly provided shelter for Ah Chu and his wife during the Japanese Occupation – this was when the Japanese demanded the Chinese to provide them a lot of items. The couple, then childless, stayed in the ulu with my parents for a few months.

There are so many ways to supplement one’s income given that one is healthy and willing to toil a bit with suitable land to work on. At least six families in my longhouse have already started rearing fish in fish ponds, especially those with land near the trunk road or feeder roads.

My family started ours more than 20 years ago and have many good harvests of red and black tilapia, chau hu, lampan jawa, patin and catfish (ikan keli) as well as udang galah (king prawns) and others.

For short- as well as long-term gains, some longhouse residents, in Saratok included, have turned to planting oranges, durian trees, rambutan, dabai, pakan (a variety of the durian family), guava, temedak (jack fruit), mangoes, mangosteen, mata kuching, papayas, banana and a few others in their own orchards or just around their individual farm houses.

We have an orchard just about 200 metres from our longhouse where the 33 rambutan trees are still standing well, a few langsat trees, about five pakan trees, a good number of jack fruit trees, pineapples, pumpkins and some vegetables are growing. Many years ago, during an over abundant rambutan season, our 33 rambutan trees were all bearing fruits.

Some longhouse residents also take advantage of their rural setting by going fishing and hunting as well as making trips to the jungle and picking some precious jungle products, including orchids for sale.

Areas such as the upper reaches of the main rivers still have exotic fish in abundance, fish that can fetch handsome prices.

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