Damn dirty Dayaks

By June Rubis | June 02, 2011
The Malaysian Insider

I once asked my father, “Tell me something interesting about our family.”

Obligingly, he told a tale of our great-great-great-great grandfather and uncles who decided one day that they would stop paying hefty taxes to the Sultan of Brunei.

The burden of the increasing taxes was taking its toll and the villagers were left wondering whether the next harvest would be enough to feed their families, and pay off a faraway Sultan whom none of them had ever met.

And so, they cunningly invited the tax collectors to the village on the pretence of making payment. They ushered the tax collectors, all 21 of them, into the baruk, a wooden circular hut of ceremonies, precariously perched on slim logs, and where warriors and delinquent husbands hung out.

Ambushed, the leading tax collector had his head cut off, and his colleagues thrown off the cliff.

“We had enough of the oppression,” my father said.

Unfortunately, the oppression didn’t stop there. Revenge on behalf of the 21 dead tax collectors came when their colleagues kidnapped a couple of women from the village for ransom. The village was furious.

They sent off some of their best warriors to get the women back, and during their search, the warriors came across a white man. No one from the village had ever seen a white man before.

“What was he doing there?”

“He was a … what? What do you call them? Scientists who study rocks. A geologist.”

Fascinated with this white man, the warriors asked him to help them overthrow this greedy Sultan, and become their King. Their White Rajah.

“Why? Just because he’s white? Sounds kinda racist.”

“Do you want to hear this story or not?”

The man listened with compassion and regretfully told the warriors that while he sympathised, he didn’t feel that he was the right person to unite all the warring tribes and usurp the Sultan. But he could return to Singapore, and see if anyone might be interested in becoming the White Rajah of Sarawak.

“And that is how James Brooke ended up here. That geologist went around Singapore asking for help on our behalf, and James Brooke accepted. You know the rest of the story lah.”

“But what happened to the missing women?”

“Oh they eventually found them, killed the kidnappers and everyone returned back to the village. Happy ending!”

“But it’s not very empowering that we asked a foreigner to save us. Why not one of us to become the Rajah instead?”

“Haiyah, this is the story as told to me by your great-granduncle. How would I know? I wasn’t there. You are always asking too many questions.”

Truth be told, I am very proud of my murdering, civil-disobedient ancestors. They took charge, and did the best they could under the circumstances.

On June 1, 2011, two very important events occurred. One, the Sarawak government-sanctioned holiday of Gawai, a thanksgiving day marking good harvest. Two, power rates and gas prices have been marked up by the Najib administration which will lead to higher food prices in Malaysia.

‘Tis a good day to give thanks indeed.

I wonder what my great-great-great-great grandparents would have felt about the situation the rural Dayaks find themselves in today. Viable land to plant and harvest food is rapidly shrinking, and native land tenure itself remains a contentious issue between the people and the government. Today’s conveniences of electricity, paved roads and treated water remain but a dream for most of the rural population throughout Sarawak.

To top it all, rural Dayaks are damned by many “liberal” Malaysians for supposedly voting for Barisan Nasional in the last state election. They’re stupid for not knowing the value of their vote, they’re dirty for taking the much-needed cash, and they should all be shamed and damned.

And yet, they still celebrate as they do each year, for a good harvest. They give thanks for yet another year survived.

Each day is a struggle, and they keep an eye on how to survive the next day.

Me, I struggled with the part of the story where a white man was asked to save Sarawak and then I finally realised that the colour of the skin didn’t matter.

The point of the story was that the community did all they could, the only way they knew how, to save themselves from an unfortunate circumstance: by throwing their enemies off the cliff. And when that didn’t work, they turned to someone else who could offer a different solution.

Today, there are many proposals on how we can save the rural Dayaks. Yet, we ought to ask them before we rush in as potential saviours; what exactly do they need from us?

Perhaps the answer might surprise and humble us.

And perhaps by listening to their needs and acting appropriately to help save Sarawak, one day we will have a tale worthy to pass on to our future generations.

Damn dirty Dayaks, we won’t be.

* June Rubis is very excited about the “Planet of the Apes” movie remake coming out this year, and would like to wish everyone Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai, Slamat Ondu Gawea Sowa.

June Rubis has spent the better years of her adult life with the primates in the Borneo rainforests. She has no regrets. She now spends most of her time working with humankind. There are some regrets.

  1. #1 by k1980 on Thursday, 2 June 2011 - 10:25 am

    //the warriors asked the white man to help them overthrow this greedy Sultan, and become their King. Their White Rajah.//

    Well, you have might had got rid of your greedy Sultan, but now you have someone even worse—your White-haired Rajah.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 2 June 2011 - 10:46 am

    Hmm.. Very dissapointing piece. Started with a good story, ended with very flippant conclusion..”the answer might surprise you”..

    Serious work by serious people is not about ‘might’ or ‘perhaps’. Its simple arrogance and juvenile to put the issues at hand on ‘might’ and ‘perhaps’. Great things and its really about great things that Sarawakians and Sabahan want and deserve, do not get achieved by ‘might’ and ‘perhaps’. Its done with a plan, executable, workable. You take calculated risks, NOT wishful thinking..

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