Rendezvouses with elders of old


The glory of the elderly is their insight to life.

Lailah Gifty Akita, Ghanaian inspirational writer

One item sticks to mind from my earliest memory, namely a happening circa 1958 or thereabout.

Aged three years plus then, I can recall being carried by Saban Imong, better known as Apai Badey along the gallery (ruai) of our longhouse now discarded and known as Tembawai Libas. Our family occupied the first unit at the main entrance. I remember the rather steep ladder out of a tree trunk.

While being carried by Saban, a non-relative, on his shoulders I felt giddy and cried but only for a short while as he started to do a renung, a sing-song chant with his melodious voice.

During my adult days, Saban became a good ‘drinking’ companion and was a well-versed renung bard who used to entertain the longhouse folk while being seated on a moving swinger. He also recorded with RTM in the 70s together with my uncle Jelemin Jantan.

Apai Badey passed on while I was serving in Julau in the early 90s but due to certain constraints I had to miss the funeral of the man who featured strongly in my earliest memory apart from my parents.

In between 1962 and 1971, I used to meet another granduncle, a second cousin of grandma Kejuang. Kasap, better known as Aki Anjang of Lubok Bundong longhouse stayed at a hovel next to ours at Bukit Tinggi at middle Melupa.

I was a regular visitor at their hovel being attracted to their fish pond just to see the tilapia fish fighting for thrown dried rice and other items. He and other family members even encouraged me to do angling there too but I was reluctant because river fishing was more interesting and challenging.

Aki Anjang interestingly put on a wrist watch 24/7. Many a time I would ask him what the time was to which he would respond by looking up at the sun or sky (day time) and replied 4pm or at times 5pm though it was an early afternoon, probably about 2pm.

My asking was just to kacau (disturb) the old man (whose sight was slightly impaired), knowing very well that he could not read and that his watch was not working at all but just for decoration. This very fact made him a memory worth sharing.

I was very fond of my maternal granduncle Saran Elon, step-brother of my grandfather Narang. We called him Aki Paku because he resided in Senunuk longhouse in Paku, now reachable by road but in 1965 it took us (my parents and I) 13 hours on foot from our hovel in Melupa.

Despite the distance, he used to visit us too and circa 1967 stayed no less than two months at our Bukit Tinggi abode. That was when we really mixed and shared unforgettable memories, one of which was when we jointly placed fishing hooks along a river stretch and caught a very big brownish catfish keli paat after leaving the nets overnight.

Slightly visually impaired, Aki Paku was a picture of kindness, determination and hilarity.

Out of these, one elder stood out from the rest as he left a long-term influence on me. From my early childhood till my teens, my granduncle Ngelambai Rembuyan featured strongly.

Also known as Aki Sendai, he was my maternal grandma Kejuang Meling’s first cousin and was residential in the same longhouse Kedap.

He was known for his enthusiasm in cockfighting and owned special power (awarded to him by Kumang, the epitome of beauty in Iban folklore) to neutralise bad omens and dreams by way of makai mimpi/makai burung. He did these by drinking a special liquid out of special mixtures.

But most of all, Aki Sendai was my initial mentor in poker games, starting from stakes of jagung (corns) and rubber bands — these were trainings for my high stakes in cash during my adult days. I consider his legacy on me as my enthusiasm (now mellowed) in the gambling world.

His enthusiasm in cockfighting was amazing. On the eve of cockfighting, he would massage the legs of his chosen gamecock with charms to render the bird impenetrable by spurs but not all trips were successful as shown by his non-appearance at the ruai after the nyabung session.

To us children then he was known as an accomplished story-telling elder, pertaining to Iban folklores. We would sit silently waiting for him to chew his betel nuts prior to starting his tales and were not bothered at all by his smelly sarong.

He died while I was an undergraduate in USM, Penang.  

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