Towards keeping Kelabit customs, heritage alive

Kedung poses with her two grandmothers, who are now deceased.
BY NURSYAHIDA BOLHASSAN

SARAWAK’S ethnic diversity makes it a unique state in Malaysia.

For example, the Kelabit, who mostly live in the upland areas such as in Bario, Miri, is one of the main ethnic groups in the state. They are part of the Orang Ulu community.

Currently, it is estimated that only 1,000 Kelabit still live in Bario as many have migrated to the urban areas to work, study or get married.

Despite already enjoying modern amenities and living in the city or town, the Kelabit people still retain their heritage, culture and traditions.

Kedung Ballang Kapong attired in her traditional headgear and costume.

Among them is Kedung Ballang Kapong, a beautiful lady from Bario, who has settled down in Kuching for over 10 years.

According to the 29-year-old, it is vital that one must maintain your own tradition and heritage.

“A Kelabit does not necessarily have to fully practise their customs because most of the customs and practices of their ancestors are contrary to their current religion.

“However, we must at least know and remember our own culture, customs, traditions, language, and origins so that they do not become extinct with time,” she stressed.

Therefore, to ensure that the Kelabit ethnicity remains known to the public, Kedung, who works as a digital content producer for a private advertising company, said she introduced her ethnicity to the outside community through visual drawing, storytelling (tweets on Tweeter) and also through her work.

“I once participated in the Miss Cultural Harvest Festival organised by the Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) in 2016.

“Coincidentally, at that time, the theme of the competition was the Orang Ulu ethnicity. So, I put on the Kelabit traditional attire during the evening of the finale,” she said.

When asked on how other communities treat her ethnic, Kedung replied: “I only knew that I was of ethnic minority when I entered school.

“I only call myself Orang Ulu to my friends because not everyone knows about the Kelabit ethnicity.

“Personally, I don’t consider us special. In fact, if given special treatment, I will speak out as I am not comfortable given different treatment from other people.”

She added there are those who want to know more about her cultures, which for outsiders, there are seen as something interesting.

“Usually, they will ask where my village is, and I will state that to get to my village is not easy as one has to go through an extraordinary journey.

“There is a road to my village but it is dangerous for those who are not familiar. Therefore, outsiders are advised to use airplanes to get there.

“Flights to Bario are always scheduled in the morning because flights at noon and beyond are considered dangerous due to windy weather,” she explained, adding that the outside community is now more familiar with the Kelabit, thanks to renowned sapek player and artiste Alena Murang.

“She has brought our culture to the international stage through her arts and music,” she said.

In the meantime, Kedung said since she was used to living under one roof with other races, she did not have any problem with them.

According to her, she herself is engaged to a Bidayuh man and other members of her family are also married to other races.

Touching on festivals, Kedung said there are only two main celebrations celebrated by the Kelabit community, namely the Irau Mekaa’ Ngadan (changing name), the celebration for the first child or first grandchild in a family.

“The second festival is the Nukenen Bario Festival, which was first introduced in 2006 to promote tourism in Bario,” she explained, adding that among the popular food items of the Kelabit ethnic are ‘nuba laya’ (rice wrapped in ‘daun isip’), ‘abang’ (chopped fish meat) and ‘labo senutuk’ (pounded wild boar meat).

In this regard, Kedung suggests members of the public who want to sample Kelabit food to go to Mummy and Mama’s Homecook located at Ah Liong Cafe, BDC as well as Pondok Bario (located under Maximus Gym at E-Mart Batu Kawah).

“If you want to fully experience the Kelabit culture, I recommend you go to Bario yourself.

“The best time to go is during the festive season such as Christmas or New Year,” she added.