Category Archives: First Peoples

Life and Legacy

In each of our lifetimes, we would be fortunate to have met more than just a handful of truly inspirational people;  people who set, with their lives, the standard  for the most of us to aspire towards.  They are lights that shine the way for the rest.

But even amongst such luminaries, there are some that excel.  My friend, DM, is one of those.  Think of all the virtues of a great man and DM had most of them.   It was therefore a shock to learn that DM had suffered a heart attack last Saturday at 1.30 in the early hours of the morning and had passed on at the age of  53.

Over the week, we held a nightly wake until his two daughters were able to return from their studies overseas and finally had a funeral service last last Thursday.  During this time, I had a lot of time to reflect on my friend and his life and I also had the opportunity to hear others share their memories of him.

So how will DM be remembered?  I am having trouble writing this as I don’t know where to start in recalling all his virtues.  Perhaps, it is best to start at the beginning.

DM was the youngest of 8 siblings.  He grew up in a family beset with many problems.  He married but his wife’s family was also full of problems and dysfunctional.  DM became the sure rock that anchored both families, giving them a stability to build on and giving them the leadership, encouragement and love to get their lives sorted out.  His sister shared that though DM was their youngest brother, he would become the father figure to both his and his wife’s families.  As a result, both families are prospering.

He got a job at a local supermarket and through recognition of his honesty, hard work ethic and leadership qualities was promoted to a supervisor’s position which was well above his qualification level.  As a supervisor, he was in charge of many migrant workers from East Malaysia.  These East Malaysians have left their homes on the island of Borneo in search of jobs in the more developed cities of West Malaysia.  Miles from home and often exploited by employers, they are at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

However, more than one of them shared how they found DM to be different from most West Malaysians they encountered.  Despite being part of management, he made no distinction between himself and those he managed and treated each of them with great respect.  He demonstrated a love for them that they could visibly feel and see.  Driven by his love for them and his faith in Christ, he helped organise a weekly bible study and fellowship meeting for the East Malaysians at 10.30 pm on Wednesdays.  The meeting was held late in the evening but it was suitable for the East Malaysian workers as their daily toil ends at 10 pm.  His own modest home was open for all who needed a refuge.  This work of love by DM and his wife has led to the establishment of a church for East Malaysians with a regular congregation of 80 pax and which has given fellowship to many other East Malaysian workers through the years.

DM and wife then felt led to attend a bible seminary and missionary school.  In faith, they went to the U.S. for the training and God provided for all their family’s needs.  Testimonies shared reflected how DM and his wife touched countless of lives in the U.S. as well.

On their return to Malaysia, they forsook a more comfortable life and found a humble place in what can be described as a frontier town near the jungles which are home to the Orang Asli or indigenous peoples of West Malaysia.  It is from here that as a couple, they have served the Orang Asli in that region.  This  was a life of considerable hardship involving traveling long distances and sharing in the deprivations of the simple life of the Orang Asli in the jungle.  At the wake and funeral, several of the Orang Asli shared how DM became to them many things.  He was as father to some, counselor to others, financial advisor, teacher, medical assistant, nutritionist, micro-financier and friend.  Like the East Malaysians before, the Orang Asli said that DM was one of them.  In just a few short years, a number of churches have emerged with at least 100 lives won over for Christ.

My memory of him will always be that of a gentle man but with a core of steel; a leader – firm when he needs to be but always compassionate; soft-spoken and quiet; slow to anger; loving father and husband; a serious man but with a winning smile and a sense of humor.  Power and grace.

I suppose, no man is perfect but DM does very well in almost every regard I can think of.   DM was called back to be with God at a relatively young age but there is no doubt that he has left a strong legacy that will endure amongst all the lives that he has enriched.

Our thoughts are now with his wife and two daughters who have been left behind but DM has never neglected them either.  His headship of the family and his constant unflinching love has made them all strong women and with God’s grace, they too will continue to prosper.  Truly a life and legacy to be celebrated.

A Fallen Light

Taman Negara (LGS)

Oh Ancient Mother, who watches over our very heart beats,
See, O see your children’s desperate plight
Our forest had grown dark, the light fails and retreats,
It seems like life itself had taken flight.
The land was bleeding earth into brown choked rivulets,

Oh Ancinet Guardian, protector of all living things
Hear, o hear your people’s despairing cries,
The land ails and fails to provide as once it did,
The water, the air poisoned with lies
Our bellys are empty and our children beyond comforting.

Oh Ancient of Ancients, who dwells in all we know,
Feel, O feel your spirits dire impotence,
As spirits of steel and smoke surround and grow
And care not for keeping the natural balance
Our familiars, our guides are silent and cold.

Oh Ancient One, our hope as in the rising morn,
From amongst us you arose a special son,
Your child, my child and our hope and light reborn
Born to stand in the gap of dreams and reason
To lead our people back from past beyond

Oh Ancient One, joy again brightened our face,
Aha! Aha! Aha! The sweet melody rings,
No longer do we sell the future of our race
To fill bellys and for forgetfulness drinks
With heads held high facing newly bright days

O Mother of Mothers, who comforts and dries tears,
Know that our hearts, briefly warmed have grown cold.
For the light flickered and fell before his years,
He bore his people’s hopes, the boy who was old,
O Mother of Mothers, comfort him and dry his tears.

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 12: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Back in 2005, I had exactly half a day during the week and two days over the weekend to sightsee in Washington D.C. I had imagined myself spending one and a half days trying to cram in all the Smithsonian Museums and the final day touring the numerous monuments and memorials. Of the museums, I was targeting the Air and Space Museum and Natural History museum. However, on that first free half day, I stumbled upon the Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of the American Indian (opened in 2004). I liked it so much, I returned the next day and spent another half day there; severely curtailing my visit to the Air and Space Museum to just a couple of hours and causing me to miss the Natural History Museum altogether.

I am not idolising the Native Peoples. They are human as are all of us and because of that, they have their short-comings and flaws. However, also because of that, there is also greatness and as it is in all cultures, there is both common and unique wisdoms and perspectives of life. These are jewels worth preserving and worth knowing and internalising. I am glad that the U.S. finally is promoting and showcasing the cultures of their First Peoples.

The museum is good and has room for improvement. Amongst the first things to try is their cafeteria which gives you an opportunity to try the traditional staples and meats of native peoples throughout the American continent. I could spend a few lunches there.

There were of course many interesting exhibits of the different tribes and peoples. One of my favorite places was this dark chamber where you can sit and listen to different stories and fables. I could fall a sleep and find myself in those stories when I dream.

Of course, the museum has also to deal with the dark truth of the decimation of the native peoples with the coming of the Europeans. There is a wall with all the names of all the tribes and native peoples in the Americas. All have been decimated and many have even ceased to be but their names still live on in the stories told and on the wall was these words, “We are the Evidence.” And now, there is this fantastic museum to help keep their names from fading into the mists of time.

The beautiful curves of the Museum
The stylised harmonious first meeting of Whites and Natives (on left is a Chinese U.N. Observer)
The faces of a people….the Yakima.
It is claimed that the U.S. constitution was based on the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy which included the Mohawk.
My Mohawk Pin-up Girl. (I mean it with the greatest respect. I believe she represents the strength of grace and form, the power of a resilient people.)
The Craftmanship of the Native Peoples
The Superior Killing Technology of the Whites
The Names that call out to be remembered.

All photos by LGS.


Win the Peace

Claudiahas a wonderful post about winning the peace. It was a very honest post and I was compelled to respond. The truth is that the human race has generally sucked at being at peace and there has been hardly any period of time when there has not been war on this planet. So is the idea of winning the peace an illusive dream?

I think Canada’s history while not perfect, has a few gems to teach us about winning peace. There was Lester Pearson who won the Nobel Peace Prize for envisioning the use of soldiers to establish and keep the peace – the birth of the U.N. Peacekeepers. Canada also led the way in the campaign to ban landmines.

The one which always grabs my imagination involved Sitting Bull and the Sioux nation. After massacring Custer andthe US 7th Calvary, the Sioux fled to Canada and who do the Canadians
send to meet him?. Certainly not a regimentof well-armed soldiers. Instead, an unarmed detachment of five North West Mounted Police (fore-runner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) bravely rode into the midst of more than 1,000 Sioux and they told Sitting Bull to respect the land of the Blackfeet and Crow. Sitting Bull was so impressed by the sense of
justice that he agreed to peace.

At the root of being able to fight for peace must be the pursuit of justice. We will fail if our agenda is tainted by anything else such as political influence or economic gain. May we indeed find a way to fight for peace in our modern but divided world. Shalom.

Below is the detailed story of Sitting Bull and the NWMP (taken from “Sitting Bull and the Mounties” by Ian Anderson) :-

On May 7, 1877, some 11 months after Custer’s bloody disaster, 34-year-old NWMP Major James M. Walsh, a sergeant and three troopers followed an Indian trail to the dun-colored hills and ravines of Pinto Horse Butte, some 280 miles north of the Little Bighorn. Around noonh, Walsh’s scouts spotted mounted Indians sitting motionless on hilltops, watching them–a sign
that an Indian camp was nearby. As they rode on, they saw more and more Indians on the hills, until the small patrol was surrounded. None of the Indians, however, made any attempt to stop the scouts.

Moments later, Walsh and his men rounded a hill to find a large camp spread before them. Reining in, they sat in their saddles while a group of Indians rode toward them. Spotted Eagle, war chief of the Sans Arc Sioux, told them they were the first white men to dare approach Sitting Bull’s camp so unconcernedly. Walsh asked to meet Sitting Bull. Shortly, the Hunkpapa chief, at the head of a retinue of lesser chiefs, approached.

Sitting Bull must have been just as curious about Walsh and his Mounties. Walsh, almost as tall as Sitting Bull, held himself straight as a lance. Wiry as a mountain lion, he had intense brown eyes set in a weathered face, a full mustache, whiskers below his bottom lip and wavy brown hair beneath a blue and gold cap.

Walsh and Sitting Bull shook hands. At first Sitting Bull treated the redcoats with cautious reserve, but he gradually warmed up to them. They all retired to the camp and sat down for a conference that lasted the remainder of the day. Walsh asked them why they had come to the White Mother’s (Queen Victoria’s) country. To find peace, they replied. The Sioux claimed they had suffered greatly at the hands of the blue-clad Long Knives, that they had been fighting on the defensive for years. They hoped the White Mother, or Grandmother(the term preferred by the Sioux), would give them sanctuary in her land. Spotted Eagle said they had been forced to cross the medicine line (the border–the Sioux also called it “the big road”) to protecttheir women and children from the Long Knives.

John Peter Turner, historian for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (that name didn’t come until 1920), wrote in Volume 1 of The North-West Mounted Police 1873­1893: “Sitting Bull said, in effect, ‘Yesterday I was fleeing from white men, cursing them as I went. Today they erect their lodges by the side of mine and defy me. The White Forehead Chief (Walsh) walks to my lodge alone and unarmed. He gives me the hand of peace. Have I fallen? Am I at the end?'”

Walsh explained that the purpose of his visit was to find out their intentions and to tell the Sioux about the White Mother’s laws, which everyone, white men and red men alike, must obey.

They must not make war against other tribes and must not steal horses or anything else. They must not kill or injure any other person. They must not use the White Mother’s country as a refuge from which to strike back across the border at the American soldiers. They could not
remain in her country if they would not obey her laws, Walsh told them. Sitting Bull said he and his people would obey the laws, adding that he had “buried” his weapons before crossing into the White Mother’s land.

Sitting Bull liked what Walsh told him about the White Mother’s laws, especially the principle of justice for all, regardless of race. He showed Walsh medals King George III had given his grandfather for service to the British Crown during the War of 1812. His grandfather had fought alongside the red-coated soldiers of the Shaganosh (British) king. They were good men, Sitting Bull’s grandfather had said, adding, “If you should ever wish to find peace, go north to the land of redcoats.”

Sitting Bull asked for ammunition for his people to hunt buffalo. He said they had used up all their bullets fighting off the Long Knives. Walsh agreed to allow them enough bullets to hunt meat, but he warned that no bullets were to be used for warfare across the border. Walsh and his men spent the night in the Sioux camp.

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Theory of Relativity …… Explained

If you are expecting me to explain to you Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, you are in need of medical treatment. Please seek the help of a health care professional or refer to Wikipedia for an explanation of THAT theory. Suffice to say that there is something about how time slows down in relation to speed and gravity.

I will instead be explaining the LGS’s Theory of Relativity. This theory similarly predicts that certain physical parameters such as quantity, distance and time may change in relation to one’s cultural upbringing. Don’t understand? I am not surprised. Pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is often more confusing than the real thing. However, do not despair. All will be clear after you read the following examples of the phenomena.

A story is told about a missionary who was befriending a native tribe in the rainforests of Papua at the beginning of the 20th Century. This tribe live in very small family groups in a very remote part of the forests and have had little contact with other tribes. As the missionary began to earn the trust of the leader of one of the family groups, he also learned much about their culture and their beliefs.

One interesting thing was their counting system. They had words for the quantity or numbers 1 to 5. The word for “5” was “liman”. “Liman liman” was the expression if the number was more than 5 and “liman liman liman” when they wanted to express a very large number.

Another pecularity was the way the different family groups often fought each other over small disputes. The fighting was ritualistic with small group of warriors facing each other at a predetermined location. They would fight with great ferocity but as soon as someone was killed, the fighting would end and one side would accept defeat and pay compensation in form of fruits and livestock. Some others though may later die of their wounds. Usually not more than “liman” were killed. It was a rare fight where “liman liman” were killed.

Nevertheless, the missionary worked amongst the family groups and eventually managed to get them to stop these petty wars and to resolve their differences over a peace table. The family group leaders generally were happy with this change and the missionary became their good friend.

Then there was the outbreak of the First World War. News of the war reached even into this jungle interior. The missionary met with one of the family groups in the jungle and the leader of the group could see that the missionary was sad. He asked the missionary what the problem was and the missionary said that he was sad because men were dying in a great war.

The leader asked if “liman” had been killed. The missionary shook his head. More. The leader kindly said to him, “It is sad that liman liman have died. Too many have died. It is time to offer fruits and pigs and make peace.” The missionary wept. He knew that the old man would never comprehend that millions had died in the war. Even “liman liman liman” was never meant to mean millions.

An American Woman was traveling on her own in Ireland, driving through the countryside just following her whims and fancies. As she drove past some beautiful pastoral country with rolling hills and sheep farms, she came to a fork in the road. The road sign was most peculiar as there was an arrow in each of the two directions but each arrow had the name of the town Donnegal and both said 30 kilometers. She stopped the car and pondered about it. Seeing a farmer nearby in the field, she got out of the car and called out to the farmer.

The farmer came over to the farm wall next to the road and asked how he could be of assistance. She asked if the road sign was correct and that both roads led to Donnegal. The farmer said that was right. She then asked if it was true that it was 30 km to Donnegal on either road. The farmer replied pensively, “Aye, that would be right.”

“Then what is the difference?” she asked curiously.

“Well now, the road on the left would be the longer way.” the farmer replied.

“But both roads are 30 km from Donnegal” she protested.

“Now there, young lady, if you take the left road you will find it is longer than if you took the right road.” the farmer persisted.

The woman did not understand but she thanked him and said goodbye. She then drove on taking the left road. She was very happy to have taken the left road as it went along the coast and there were spectacular views of cliffs and beaches. She stopped in many places along the way to walk and take pictures. As a result, she got into Donnegal after dark and had a little trouble looking for a place to stay.

Eventually, though she found a place and as she was registering she explained to the clerk at the B&B that she was late because she had seen so many wonderful sights along that road. The clerk nodded knowingly and said,” Yes well, you took the long way here, that’s why you were late. If you had taken the other road, it would be much shorter as there is nothing to see.”

Suddenly she understood what the farmer meant.

The American couple had hired a local guide from among the Orang Asli or Aboriginals in the Malaysian jungle to guide them to the Buaya Sangkut waterfall. The couple who had been hiking in the area were told by other travelers about this spectacular waterfall in the jungle but they were also warned that it would be a difficult and long trek.

When they got to the staging point, they could not find anyone who could speak English well but managed to get the guide through a mixture of pointing at maps, gesticulting and a few English words. Nevertheless, they were in high spirits as they followed their guide into the jungle.

At the start of the journey, there were lots of animals and plants to distract them and they did not notice the time passing but after they had been walking for about two hours, the guide allowed them to take a short break along the trail. They asked him how much further and he replied, “Not far now.”

However, another hour passed and they were still on the trail. “How far now?” they asked and the reply was “Not far now”. But the trail seemed to be endless and endlessly going upwards. So they stopped the guide, pointed at their watches and said “How far? How many minutes? Don’t say not far now.”

Now Orang Asli have no use for watches and they measure time by the sun. They do not have the concept of minutes. But as the American couple kept pestering him about how much longer the journey would take, he took out some tobacco and rolled himself a cigarette. He lit the cigarette and said to the couple, “Not far. One smoke away.”

The American couple were relieved. They estimated that it meant that their destination was only about another 15-20 minutes away. They sat there for about five minutes taking a break and when it was finally time to move on, the guide put out the cigarrete with his fingers and put it in his pocket. They would walk for another hour before he took the cigarette out again during a break and smoked it. Again he put it out and kept it in his pocket when it was time to move on. In the end they did reach their waterfall but that “one smoke” turned out to be 3 hours.

All Blacks are Winning and the Sun is Shining

The Ottawa Senators may have failed to bring home the Stanley Cup this year but the All Blacks did not disappoint. On the 21st of July in Auckland, the All Blacks beat the Wallabies 26 -12 and won the Tri-Nations title for the third straight year and the Bledisloe Cup for the sixth year in the row. For me, that is an omen that all is right in the world.

I am talking rugby. The one sport that competes with ice hockey for my attention. This year in September will be the Rugby World Cup to be held in France. You can be sure of a few more posts then. This post isn’t intended to explain rugby (I’ll do that in a later post). It is just a celebration of the All Blacks triumph in these competitions just ahead of the world cup.

For the “rugby uneducated”, the Tri-Nations is a three way competition between the top national teams of the southern hemisphere which are Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Most fans will agree that these three are probably the best teams in the world. So it is really a competition amongst the elite. Each team plays two games against each of their opponents and the team with the most points from the games wins. The Bledisloe Cup is basically a grudge match between Australia and New Zealand.

Australia’s team is called the Wallabies and South Africa’s team is the Springboks. New Zealand’s team are the All Blacks ……well, because they wear an all black jersey. Anyway, the All Blacks are an amazing and exciting team to watch when they are firing on all cylinders. There were periods in rugby history when they almost seemed undefeatable. It is rumored that the New Zealanders or Kiwis develop and hone their rugby skills by practicing tackling on the plentiful sheep in their country.

The All Blacks also entertain in other ways. One tradition which is a big hit with all the fans is the performance of the “haka” by the team before the games start. The haka is a type of traditional Maori dance and the haka that is performed, “Ka Mate”, is a war dance that celebrates the use of cunning to defeat the enemy’s purpose. The story behind this haka dates back to 1810 when chief Te Rauparaha hid in a pit to escape his enemies. When he finally emerged from the pit, he saw a man standing at the top but it turned out to be an ally rather than the enemy and so he successfully escaped the enemy’s trap. He was then said to perform this haka in celebration.

In English, the words mean; “It is death, it is death: it is life, it is life; this is the man who enabled me to live as I climb up step by step toward sunlight.”

The haka is performed with a lot of aggressive posturing, face grimaces, showing the whites of the eyes, sticking out the tongue and slapping of hands on the body. It is intended to send a challenge to the opposing side and to intimidate them.

Here are the words and meaning to the Ka Mate (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Leader: Ringa pakia! Slap the hands against the thighs!
Uma tiraha! Puff out the chest!
Turi whatia! Bend the knees!
Hope whai ake! Let the hip follow!
Waewae takahia kia kino! Stamp the feet as hard as you can!

Leader: Ka mate, ka mate ’Tis death, ‘tis death
Team: Ka ora, ka ora ’Tis life, ‘tis life
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate ’Tis death, ‘tis death
Team: Ka ora, ka ora ’Tis life, ‘tis life
All: Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru This the hairy man that stands here…
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā who brought the sun and caused it to shine
Ā upane, ka upane A step upward, another step upward
Ā upane, ka upane A step upward, another step upward
Whiti te rā, hī! The sun shines!

So, the All Blacks are winning and they are favorites going into the world cup. Somehow that reassures me that all is right in the world. Gravity still works and the sun is still shining.

I’ll end this post with this wonderful picture to savour. This is the captain of the All Blacks Richie McCaw with the Bledisloe Cup safely in his paws for another year.

Last Post From Borneo

This will be the last post on my recent trip to Sabah on the island of Borneo. For me personally, the highlight of my trip was the visit that the conference delegates paid to a remote interior village located within the Crocker Range Park.

It was the village of Ulu Senagang Keningau. The name approximately means the settlement in the upper reaches of the river named after the odd shaped rock which is inhabited by the Keningau clan of the Murut tribe. This village is about 4 hours from the city of Kota Kinabalu by car and maybe an hour from the nearest neighbouring settlement. It is not the most remote village by far as some villages require a few days walking to get to. The village though is however located within a community use zone of Crocker Range Park.

The Park was formed to protect a very important watershed area. However, the villagers were already there before the formation of the park and part of their farms and fruit orchards now lie within the Park boundary. Rather than forcing them to abandon their homes, the Park authorities are trying to develop a community management of the affected area that allows certain activities to continue as long as the Park’s objectives of conservation are not compromised.

Part of the welcome line. (LGS)

The villagers were told that a bunch of visitors from all over ASEAN were going to visit and they went out of their way to prepare for the visit. When we arrived, we could see a long line of villagers, from the old to the young, patiently waiting to greet us and shake our hands. It took quite a while for the 40 odd visitors to shake the over 100 waiting hands. This hand-shaking ceremony was delayed also because for many of the 40 visitors, arrival at the village meant the first chance of a toilet break in 3 hours.

Milling around outside the toilets (LGS)

Wewere then ushered into their school building and regaled with speeches and a dance. After that we were treated to tea and coffee and a selection of staples such as tapioca, sweet potato and sago that had been steamed in banana leaves. Very nice though starchy in consistancy. Later, we had an opportunity to look at and purchase some of their traditional handicrafts.

The people were wonderfully warm. They were not shy or self-conscious which is the experience I have had with the First Peoples in Peninsular Malaysia. Instead, they were very self assured and openly friendly. We had a good time interacting with the young to the old. The children were very happy to see themselves on the playback screen of digital cameras.

Spirits of the Dance (LGS)
The handicraft were in stunning colours with black, red and yellow predominating. On display were baskets, food covers, fish traps and also photo frames custom made for tourists.

I had one very interesting experience. At the entrance to the village was an old hand pump. It was part of a Canadian-University of Malaya project to install and test handpumps which could be easily repaired by local villagers. This project took place in the 1980’s and was in fact part of my very first job. I never came to Sabah to install any handpump but this was clearly part of the same project. The handpump has now been motorised but clearly the well shaft was still in use. It was interesting to see something from the start of my working career.

Handicrafts (LGS)

Blast from the Past (LGS)


Keeping Ahead in Borneo


“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
……….You’ll be a man, my son.”
(adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s “If”)
Murut Women Dancing to Clapping Bamboo (LGS)
The equatorial island of Borneo is an exotic place – the third largest island in the world. There are over 100 ethnic groups on the island including the famous headhunter tribes. The largest of these are the Ibans of Sarawak. In Sabah, the most feared are the Muruts or the Hill People. In the 19th Century, the strange rule of the White Rajah’s had settled over much of Sarawak and the western part of Borneo. The central region was dominated by the Brunei Sultanate and the northern region was under the influence of the Sulu Sultanate located in what is now the southern Philippines. The state of Sabah was thus divided between the Brunei and the Sulu Sultanates. In reality though, the sultans’ influences and rivalries were mostly concentrated along the coast and the interior tribes were never directly under their rule. Later, Sabah came under the control of the British North Borneo Charted Company from 1881-1941. The Muruts were one of the last tribes to submit to British authority and probably the last to stop the practice of headhunting. Official history states that headhunting was outlawed in the 1920’s. However, there are tales of Japanese soldiers and Indonesian soldiers suffering from that fate during the Second World War and in the Confrontation of 1962-1966 respectively.
Fierce Murut Warriors Can Dance Too (LGS)

The Ibans believe when they take the head of an enemy, they absorb the life essence of that person. As such the head of a proven warrior is highly prized. The Muruts have a different belief. For them, it was simply necessary to have heads and it did not matter whether it was the head of a brave warrior or that of a frail grandmother. A Murut man would be required to give a head to the family of his chosen bride as proof of his manhood. If the crops fail, it would be necessary to bury a head in the field so that it would be fertile the following year. All the wise men would tell you that if you build a bridge across a river, you need to bury at least one head to ensure the bridge will last. So for the Murut, it was a daily necessity to have some heads handy!

Today, they smile and tell you that they almost never hear of this type of behavior anymore. They’d rather do some dances for the visiting tourist and scalp their wallets. The Murut dances are also exciting stuff but let me digress to tell you a bit about the traditional costumes. The men wear a red loincloth as well as a jacket and headdress made of tree bark from the tree Artocarpus tamaran. The headdress is decorated with the beautiful and long feathers of the argus pheasant.
The women are attired in a short, black, sleeveless blouse and long black skirt decorated with colorful beads. They may also wear bracelets made from the giant clam.
And so, the unwary tourist may find himself lulled into the belief that the Murut are now peace-loving and that he is safe in their company as they regale him with stories of the old days and entertain him with exciting tribal dances. Beware, invariably all the dances lead to the “clapping bamboo” dance. The Murut will bring long bamboo poles. In pairs, they will take two of these poles and lying them side by side will rhythmically knock the poles against the ground and then against each other. The Murut warriors and their maidens will then do intricate dances which involve sticking their feet between the clapping bamboo. Needless to say, this involves exquisite timing to avoid having squashed feet.
Tourists will see the dancers appear to do the impossible as the bamboo clapping goes faster and faster. So pacified, the tourist will think nothing of it when the dancers innocently invite the tourists to join them, assuring the tourists that they will guide them all the way. The dance starts almost in slow motion and the tourists are lulled into thinking that this is easy. However, the pace picks up and the tourists are still having fun. Finally though the rhythm reaches a crescendo when the bamboo clap like lightning. Invariably, there are many squashed feet, cries of pain and hobbled tourists…….. not a pretty sight! Alas, the pitiful end was obvious.
I wonder how many squashed tourist feet are needed for the young Murut warrior to earn the right to date the girl of his dreams.
Headhunters are known to bamboo chop tourist feet! (LGS)
Heads are intact but Feet are sore (LGS)


Time Ball

Time Ball at Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
(Photo by LGS)

Vivian Harrison “Stu Yat
A lot of cultures depend on a strong oral tradition to pass their stories, their wisdom and their history from generations to generations. I came across a very interesting tradition called the “time ball” which is practiced by the Yakama (pronounced YACK-uh-maw) tribe of Washington State, USA.

In the past much of the tribe’s history was passed down from generation to generation by the women of the tribe using an oral tradition known as the time ball. New brides used hemp twine to record their life history starting with courtship. They tied different knots into the twine for days and weeks and added special beads for significant events.

They then rolled the twine into a ball known as the “ititamat,” which means “counting the days” or “counting calendar.” The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred. The women would sometimes divide the twine into 25-year lengths to make it more manageable. When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred. They could easily recount when their children were born, when they moved away, and other major experiences. When a woman died, her “ititamat” or time ball was buried with her. (Source:Bonnie M. Fountain)

I found this to be a fascinating way of recording and recalling one’s life history. I can imagine the privilege and the wonder of sitting by a camp fire and having someone untwine their time ball and share orally the story of their life; what every bead, stone or knot represented and meant to them.

The Time Ball which is shown in the picture is a replica was done by Vivian Harrison who is a well known tribal historian, storyteller and artist of the Yakama peoples. Here is another time ball by Delsie Selam and it represents two years of her life from 1995 to 1997.

I am trying to imagine what my ititamat would look like. What events of my life would I chose to record on it and what choice of bead or stone would I use and why? At a birth of a child, would I use a seed instead? Would my ititamat be full of colorful memories or will it just mark the passing of time? What would your time ball look like and what memories would it record?

*The Yakama’s time ball brings to mind, the Incas. They had no alphabet but apparently ran their empire, recording history, issueing directives and laws and maintaining records of crops and supplies by a complex system of knots on string. A more modern connection may lie in the current theory of physicists that the universe consists of “strings”. It is a concept that I find hard to understand but which seems to fit so nicely with the tradition of the time ball – a lifetime measured and recorded on a string.