Protective, decorative headgears – and hilarity

I use sunscreen every single day, even if I’m not going outside in the sun, because I’m near a window. I can always get those UV rays on my face, so I always apply sunscreen on my face and neck. It’s like brushing my teeth: I feel weird if I don’t apply sunscreen.

– Michelle Phan, founder and owner of cosmetics line, EM Cosmetics

Some colleagues in our office were in discussion regarding many of us Sarawakians being allegedly lacking vitamin D.

Despite being busy monitoring some events in the Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022 being featured via YouTube, I lent my ears – in the words of Mark Antony (Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare) – to part of their conversation.

And I do agree. This could be because, most city folk are bent on spending time in the comfort of their air-conditioned room or offices, thereby not utilising the best source of vitamin D that nature provides – sunlight.

Exposure to sunlight is an excellent source of vitamin D. Now technically there aren’t vitamins in the sun, but exposure to sunlight can help our bodies produce vitamin D, a critical nutrient for bone and immune health.

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur. Vitamin D has many roles in the body and is essential for optimal health.

Of course, one must understand the difference between the two types of UV rays that penetrate the earth’s ozone layer: UVB and UVA. One is a great source of vitamin D (UVB) and the other can be harmful (UVA), even deadly, according to Google.

Although you might see some sunshine every day, UVB may not necessarily be available. That’s right; there are times of the year when UVB from the sun simply cannot get through the earth’s atmosphere and onto our skin. This means you might actually be deceived by the sun, thinking you can get your vitamin D and possibly a nice tan.

Nevertheless, for rural folk who toil farm work under the hot sun, there are ignorant about vitamins and sunlight; they only care about getting less affected by the heat by putting on hats or cloth headgear labung in the Iban lingo which is almost equivalent to tudung as used by our Malay ladies.

There are also cases of Iban male farm workers using the labung too for the same purpose of protecting themselves from the heat. My late dad usually used an old towel as his headgear whereas mom used ordinary cloth piece for the same protective gear.

The classical clinical consequence of vitamin D deficiency is osteomalacia, presenting as rickets in children. However, osteomalacia is common in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent and unknown in Malaysia, especially Sarawak for that matter. Rickets are common but among children only. Rural farmers – including my late parents – should not be lacking in vitamin D. Perhaps their headgear plays great role in protecting them from UVA.

On headgear, it reminds me of a hilarious incident – told by an uncle – that occurred during a Gawai Antu held at Nanga Ulai longhouse of Rimbas, in Debak circa 1930. Rimbas is a Saribas tributary and one Nanga Ulas household then was headed by the legendary Iban inventor Dunging Gunggu (1904-1985).

During that Gawai Antu (festival to commemorate deceased family members), many male and female guests were putting on lelanjang (headgear adorned with pheasant and hornbill feathers) and sugu tinggi (traditional head gear/tiara of decorative flowery patterns for the ladies).

These were part of their traditional costume donned when making initial entry into the host longhouse. Both the guests and hosts really enjoyed the spectacle of the headgears and traditional costumes on parade along the common gallery ruai until they reached a part of the longhouse where a speedy wooden fan created havoc by blowing all the male and female headgears – they were looking for the culprit but knew it must be Dunging who was nowhere to be seen.

This project of using hydropower to man the fans was one of Dunging’s. It was considered a failure as there was no control on the fan’s speed.

When I met him in 1982 while vending his wares in Sarikei, I did ask about the fan incident but he refused detailed discussion on his projects. Most of my write-ups (numbering no less than five) about the Iban inventor of a strange kind were based on secondary information.

For the few of us who usually put on headgear (usually a hat) day and night, it has nothing to do with vitamins – it does help when one walks outside the building under the hot sun or a drizzle. For me it helps to cover both the grey hair and baldness – and that I don’t need to look at the mirror before going out.

Some celebrities are also known for habitually using hat/headwear. They include Boy George, Sir Reginald Kenneth Dwight (better known as Elton John), Roger Smith, JayZ and Malaysian actor Imuda.

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

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