Octogenarian reminisces on the life and times of SDNU

KUCHING: Many may not know that before the birth of Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) in 1956, there was the first Dayak organisation called Sarawak Dayak Association (SDA) formed between 1944 and 1945.

SDA was dissolved several years later and then SDNU was registered on May 10, 1956 by a group of Dayak leaders in Kuching and the late Edward Jerah was chosen as its first president.

According to an SDNU founding member, Albert Dass Begri, 88, SDNU was formed following a request by the then Deputy State Secretary AR Snelus who wanted a Dayak association to represent the community during Remembrance Day and other government functions.

Remembrance Day, which originated from the First World War (1914-1918), commemorates the allied servicemen who gave their lives during the war.

Albert Dass Begri

“After the meeting with AR Snelus, Edward contacted several friends and told them about AR’s proposal.

“And one Sunday a group of us met in a coffee shop at Carpenter Street in Kuching to discuss the proposal. After that we sent out invitation letters calling for a meeting on the next Sunday,” Albert told the New Sarawak Tribune in an interview.

He said a group of Dayak leaders including some Bidayuhs attended the meeting at Kuching Municipal Council (KMC) meeting room where Edward was appointed the pro tem chairman. Also present at the meeting was Sidi Munan.

“During the meeting everyone was asked to suggest suitable names for the association and Charles Linang from Simanggang (now Sri Aman) suggested the name Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) which was soon agreed to by all those present at the meeting.

“After that we worked on the aim and objectives of the union and its constitution,” Albert recalled.

He said from the beginning SDNU was the umbrella for the Dayaks and that was why Ahguan Guga and Madam Ang, who were both Bidayuhs, were among the founding members.

After two years at the helm of the union, Edward stepped down and was replaced by Datuk Edward Brandah (now deceased).

“We have been using KMC meeting room for our meetings and at one of our meetings it was suggested that we have our own ‘rumah’ (building) and we all agreed to the idea.

“We started appealing for public donations. Some donated MY$1 or MY$2, while others gave hundreds and thousands of dollars.

“I also approached Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min and he donated MY$13,000 to us,” said Albert.

The total collection, he recalled, was almost MY$600,000, adding that Rumah Dayak (demolished in 1996) at Jalan Satok did cost that much.

“The original idea of building Rumah Dayak was to open the eyes of the Dayak to what is possible if they put their minds to it. Rumah Dayak would stop the Dayak from being ashamed of themselves,” added Albert.

The original Rumah Dayak at Jalan Satok here was demolished more than 20 years ago to pave the way for a new building comprising a block of shophouses and a 12-storey tower.

However the project, which probably took the longest to complete, is still waiting for the issuance of its occupation permit (OP) by Kuching North City Commission (DBKU).

The other past presidents of SDNU are Datuk Michael Buma, Datuk Sri John Nichol Kassim, Datuk Daniel Tajem, Nicholas Bawin, Mengga Anak Mikui and now Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom.

SDNU, which is dominated by Ibans, has always welcomed the Bidayuhs and Orang Ulu to join it.

Mawan, during SDNU’s 63rd anniversary dinner recently, said the SDNU constitution has been amended to add more seats — from 17 to 49 — in its supreme executive council to accommodate members from the other native communities.

He said when SDNU was first established 63 years ago, it was an umbrella association for all the natives but later it was dominated by the Ibans.

This caused the Bidayuh and Orang Ulu to form their own associations — the Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) and Orang Ulu National Association (OUNA).

Mawan said SDNU was apolitical but stressed that it needed to work alongside the government and play an effective role to enhance mainstream development.

He said the union, which has about 25,000 members, needed to get into new frontiers and embrace the interests of the young generation, especially in business.

“We have a number of programmes but we need facilities and funding from the government to help us move forward,” he said.

SDNU women’s wing, Serakup Indu Dayak Sarawak (SIDS), was formed a year after the establishment of the parent body. It was headed by Barbara Mendu Bay.