Saturday, January 29, 2022

Christmas with the Bidayuh

The largely Christian minority live deep in the interior of Sarawak, passing on their traditions and culture from one generation to the next.

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At Kampung Tembawang Sauh in Bau, Agnes Rain Reynold wakes up early each morning to help her grandmother, the village seamstress.

She learns much from her grandmother, Pella anak Abui, who was once a traditional dancer and had won contests for the most beautiful traditional Bidayuh clothing.

It was Pella who taught Agnes how to sew, and now Agnes designs her own traditional clothing. For Bidayuh women, traditional outfits include a short-sleeved blouse and a knee-length black sarong decorated with tiny beads in white, yellow and red.

With school still disrupted by Covid-19 in Sarawak, Agnes spends most of her time with her cousins, making intricately designed accessories out of multicoloured beads.

These, they sell to the tourists who come to Bukit Bung Bratak, a major attraction in Tembawang Sauh.

From time to time, Agnes enjoys dressing up in the full traditional Bidayuh outfit.

Together, she and her cousins get ready before heading over to the longhouse at the top of the hill to practise their dancing.

On foot, it takes about 30 minutes to reach the longhouse through dense forest and over hilly ground.

The Bung Bratak longhouse, located 1,200 above sea level, is their ancestral home.

All decked out in her traditional outfit, Agnes smiles, radiant in the sunlight at the top of the hill.

At Kampung Tembawang Sauh, the younger generation are encouraged to involve themselves in traditional activities so that their culture will remain alive.

Agnes and her cousins help fasten each other’s accessories.

Then, they head out from the longhouse which is surrounded by lush mountain greenery.

Bedict Pullin (centre) is responsible for guiding the youth at Kampung Tembawang Sauh.

Agnes and her friends and cousins strike a pose before beginning their dance practice.

Their practice ground is a green field surrounded by trees with blue mountain peaks looming far in the distance.

Behind them is their longhouse, their ancestral home and part of their cultural inheritance.

Each move is carefully choreographed. Agnes often takes the lead in teaching the others.

Once practice is over, they sit and rest in the porch area of the longhouse.

Inside, some of the boys practise walking on long bamboo stilts.

A housewife pours a traditional drink known as tuak which the villagers keep in a clay jar.

Bedict pours some tuak into a bottle to prepare for his guests.

The tuak, which they serve to their guests, is a big part of the Bidayuh culture.

At the village, even the boys are taught to work in the kitchen, building up the fire.

They serve a traditional meal of chicken and fish cooked in bamboo, to be eaten with glutinous rice.

Christmas garlands hang along the wooden beams overhead as everyone settles down to eat.

With Christmas itself around the corner, Agnes puts the finishing touches on their tree which is hung about with red and gold baubles.

She and her cousins are eagerly awaiting this year’s Christmas gathering, their first in two years thanks to Covid-19.

Outside the village, padi fields cover the ground in green. Most of the Bidayuh are farmers who work the ground in order to make a living.

Agnes and her cousins meanwhile work hard at their studies.

Their ‘classroom’ is pleasant – a wooden platform out in the open under the blue sky.

Together, they laugh and joke as they study, hoping to succeed in their dreams and to continue keeping their culture alive.

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