Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Tapping a rubber tree

General Overview of My Kampung and My Family Background

I just would like to begin my analysis of the above subject matter by walking down memory lane of my childhood days in a typical Kadayan village. I was born in a small village known as Kampung Babangkung in Mesapol. Mesapol in the 50s was a small town (now slightly better)with only 2 rows of shop houses, a wet market, a cinema, a small capacity Strowger step-by-step telephone exchange with a VHF / UHF radio transmitter/receiver (80- 100 foot mast), police station, a government primary school and a Chung Hwa Primary School, a surau (but our village folks called the surau as Masjid Mesapol)and a gravel road linking Pekan Mesapol with Pekan Sipitang. The old Masjid Mesapol is situated in a different location from the existing mosque. The road linking Kg Naluyan with Pekan Mesapol was not ready until 1963. Prior to 1963, Kg Naluyan was linked with Pekan Mesapol only by foot-path. I have to endure the agony of walking about 10 KM everyday to and from school along the foot-path covered high up with heavy foliage of secondary jungle and orchard trees, BARE-FOOTED! Just imagine that!

Kg Babangkung is about 2 kilometers from Pekan Mesapol. According to my late mother, our wooden house in Kg Babangkung was burnt down to ashes when I was merely a year old. The location of our house in Kg Babangkung was shown to me by my late mother when I was about 6 or 7 years of age. The burnt pillars and traces of burnt wooden structure were still visible when I visited the location in late 50s. There were several houses within the vicinity and one of them was quite a big typical Kadayan house owned by the late Nenek Tangkim and Nenek Piut. I have the opportunity to listen to both elderly couples telling me the story of how our house was burnt. It was indeed a sad, sad story. I still remember very well, my late mother shed her tears when visiting the site of our burnt house despite the passage of time exceeding 6 years. It was a tough life then, no Yang Berhormat to turn to, no Jabatan Kebajikan to provide the assistance needed, no TV3 to highlight the plight of my family then, alone and only alone. Only now I realised how my late mother was so hurt by the incident to the extent she was unable to hide the unbearable pain inside her heart. I was so touched and this is for you mom -“Mom, you were the best ever gift given to me by Allah SWT, may Allah bless your soul”

After the incident in Kg Babangkung, my family moved to another kampung known as Kg Naluyan which is about 5 - 6 kilometers from Pekan Mesapol. There, in kg Naluyan, my late father acquired 3 plots of agriculture land to be planted with rubber trees as instructed by the government then. The government provided the village folks, including my father with high grade rubber seedlings which is widely known as “gatah kawin”. “Gatah Kawin” is a hybrid species obtained by bud grafting a normal rubber plant with high grade rubber plant, thus producing “gatah kawin”. All these bud grafting processes were done by trained technicians at the Agriculture Department. The rubber seedlings or commonly known as “bibit gatah” amongst the village folks, were provided by the Agriculture Department to the land owners to be planted in their respective plots of land. Besides providing the rubber seedlings, the Agriculture Department also provided the rubber planters with fertilizer and technical advice.

The scientific name for natural rubber tree is Hevea Brasiliensis. For the younger generation of Kadayan who may or may not know the history of rubber trees, let me refresh your memory with a little bit of history: -

In 1876, Sir Henry Wickham, at the request of the India Office, collected and shipped from Brazil 70,000 seeds from the wild rubber tree. These were rushed to Kew Gardens in London and planted in specially prepared hot-houses. The small number, which survived, were taken in 1877 to Ceylon and later to Malaysia and other countries of South-east Asia.

As mentioned above, natural rubber trees were not native of this country but were brought to this part of the world from Brazil by the British, thus its scientific name bears the word brasil as in Hevea Brasiliensis.

“Gatah kawin” had two distinctive advantages over the normal “gatah kampung”. Firstly the time taken to reach maturity stage i.e. a point where village folks can start tapping the rubber is about 5 - 6 years and secondly it produces more latex. For my father and other rubber planters in our kampung then, that was a real breakthrough. The village folks could see the potential of “gatah kawin” and how it can improve their livelihood.

The Kadayan people in my kampung were associated with three major economic activities i.e. tapping rubber, planting hill paddy and planting cash and long term crops. Rubber trees are tapped to produce latex (gatah), processed into sheets, dried and sold for money. Planting hill paddy provided the village folks with uninterrupted supply of rice which is our staple food. The fertile land and rivers were the main source of food supply chain. The village folks planted cash and long term crops to supplement their daily needs of fruits, vegetables and grains and the river provided them with much needed protein source i.e. fish and fresh water prawns. The other source of protein in their diet was derived from kampung chicken. The Kedayan people were well known for their skills in rearing kampung chicken and fighting cocks. Overtime, the Kedayan people had mastered the ability to treat and prevent chicken diseases effectively with natural herbs.

The cash and long term crops provided the village folks with mean of sustaining their food supply chain. The cash crops comprising mainly of grains, roots and vegetables such as corn / maize, banana, groundnuts, chillies, green peas, tapioca, yams, long beans, brinjals, lady's fingers, cucumbers, angled loofah (petola), water melons, honey dew (batat), etc. are the most common ones. On the other hand, long term crops comprising mainly of seasonal fruit trees such as duyan, taap, tibadak, ambutan, mambangan, mampalam, manggis, maitam, tampoi, santul, langsat, ambai, kambayau are the most common fruit trees associated with the Kadayan community. These fruit trees guaranteed the village folks with good returns during the fruiting season especially the durians, langsat, kambayau and the rambutans. It is important to note that not every village folks owned their own orchard; only those with sufficient land area were able to plant fruit trees on a small and medium scale. On the other hand, it is a tradition for the Kadayan people to plant fruit trees around their houses such as rambutans, guava, jack fruit (nangka) and of course banana trees. The fruit trees, besides giving them food source, also provide good shelter for their house against the hot tropical climate.

The village folk’s economy was generated mainly from rubber and fresh fruits & vegetables. The proceeds they obtained from selling dried rubber sheets, fresh fruits and vegetables were used to buy basic necessities and provisions such as clothing, sugar, salt, coffee, tea, salted fish and occasionally fresh sea water fish. Most village folks did not buy rice, due to the fact that they have enough supply of rice all year round. The Kedayan people keep their paddy inside the “duong” and take the paddy out as per their requirement from time to time to be dried in the sun on “mangkuang” mats and subsequently pound the paddy using “halu & lasong” to separate the grains from its husks.

Life in the fifties and sixties were far from easy. My parents had to raise 6 children through unimaginable hard work of tapping rubber , planting hill paddy and at the same time maintaining the orchard and short term crops. Rubber prices were not stable then, it ranges between 20 cents to 30 cents per kati in early sixties. Just imagine to earn 10 ringgit per day then you have to have 30 – 50 kati of rubber sheets. To achieve 50 kati of rubber by one person per day was almost unachievable task. The average weight of rubber sheets a person can get per day was between 10 – 15 kati which is equivalent to an income of 2 ringgit and 4.50 ringgit per day. Average monthly income of an average Kadayan family was around 60 ringgit to 150 ringgit per month, that is if they were tapping rubber from their own rubber plantations. In most cases, the village folks did not have their own rubber trees to tap but depending on other people rubber trees through a system known as “pajak” or “napan”. Both systems were referring to a profit sharing concept and their only difference is the former refers to a long term contract whereas the later refers to a daily contract. In this case the monthly income would be very much less may be in the range of 50 ringgit to 100 ringgit.

The contract mentioned here is not a written contract but a verbal one. Kadayan community was and still is a closely knitted society where “trust” is the bonding force between them. So, whatever verbal agreement they have committed between themselves, both parties will abide that for a long, long time unless verbally terminated by either party.

My upbringing and childhood days were very much influenced by the environment in a typical Kadayan kampung, where rubber tapping, planting hill paddy, planting cash and long term crops and catching fresh water fish and prawns & occasionally “nyuluh di pasiee” were part of my circle of influence.

To be continued ....

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