War hero out of scoffed mongrel

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.

Charles M. Schulz, American cartoonist

Dog shows in the got talent series such as Britain Got Talent (BGT) and America Got Talent (AGT) are enthralling events. They are always responded with overwhelming praises by lead judge Simon Cowell, a dog lover himself. I enjoy most of the talent entries involving dogs.

Honestly, I like dogs but used to stay away and be cautious after getting bitten by them on three occasions. My right hand still bears the scar from the second bite that occurred when I was an adolescent. Hitherto, my family never keeps them as pet.

For that matter, our Kedap longhouse in Saratok now is free of the canine as it was agreed mutually that those owning mongrels can only keep them at their farm house or hovel as rubber gardens. This rule is meant to keep the modern longhouse free of any dog, thereby making it safe for kids to roam freely at the ruai (common gallery).

However, in Tanjung Sikup longhouse up the Melupa basin, one would be able to see their hunting dogs numbering more than a score.  In 2019, I was there and spoke to my dad’s first cousin Guang in his eighties, known for sharing his hunting food with his dogs during their jungle trips. Uncle Guang said he would not be angry if others scold his children but would be enraged if his dogs got scolded or ridiculed. Throughout his life, dogs have become his best friends.

He even shared a story about an incident about a dog that was able to transform itself into human form. This occurred many generations ago, during the warring days between our Iban tribe and the Kantu ethnic of West Kalimantan (Kalibar) on the other side of Borneo. Formerly known as a flea-infested black mongrel and one that was always derided, it not only turned into a man but also as a handsome and brave one.  This occurred at a longhouse near the Kelingkang range that borders Sarawak with Kalibar.

Only one boy, in his adolescence, named Igul used to provide food for the canine.  Igul was the son of longhouse head Mawa. His father then was mourning the loss of his mother (Igul’s grandma), whose head was then kept by their enemies, the Kantu in Kalibar. Before going on the war trip to Kalimantan, Mawa made a promise to all his warriors.

“Whoever succeeds in securing my mother’s head from our enemies will marry my daughter Angan,” he declared, thus giving greater impetus for the unmarried warriors. Angan was said to be the most beautiful damsel around then.

It was about three days after the war party left the longhouse that the dog transformed itself into a handsome and strong young man. He called Igul and asked him to join his father Mawa on the war trip. Initially Igul was reluctant but he took a liking to the young man and agreed to join.  After walking for some 100 metres, the man asked Igul to close his eyes. When he opened his eyes again, they were within hearing distance of his father’s party. When they appeared, his father was annoyed that Igul came to join, but the young stranger promised Mawa he would ensure his son’s safety.

At dusk, Mawa asked someone to go and check on the enemies’ longhouse just a short distance from their camping site. The young man was the first to volunteer to the relief of the other warriors. When he was within sight of the Kantu longhouse, he changed into a black puppy and went inside the longhouse. It found out that the head of Mawa’s mother was kept at the ruai in the middle of the longhouse. After noting that, the puppy left and before reaching camp, it changed back into a young man again. He kept to himself the exact location of the smoked skull of Mawa’s mother but told the war party he saw it somewhere.

Before the break of dawn, Mawa and his men made a surprised raid on the Kantu dwelling. It was the young stranger that led the charge. He went straight to the location and took the skull, killing many enemies and getting their heads as trophies. They left the longhouse totally in flames after knowing that the handsome stranger had secured Mawa mother’s skull.

Upon arrival at their Kelingkang longhouse, the young man handed over the skull to Mawa. He was given Angan’s hand in marriage as promised. They were happily married and begot one child, a boy. However, Angan’s husband (who was formerly the much derided black mongrel) told he needed to leave as he wasn’t from this world and left with a message that humans must be kind to their dogs.

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