Thursday, December 6, 2007


Pre-school Era

This is a very interesting topic to venture. In late 50s and early 60s the word “pre-school” did not exist in my vocabulary. Nowadays our children have the taste of pre-school education as early as 2 years of age where they are being sent to TASKA (Taman Asuhan Kanak-Kanak) and / or TABIKA (Taman Bimbingan Kanak-Kanak). TASKA is designed to cater children at the age of 2 – 4 years old whereas TABIKA is to cater children at the age of 4 – 6 years old. The parents have several options which TASKA or TABIKA to send their children to. There are English, Bahasa Malaysia and Islamic pre-school centres.

My pre-school education was simple and straight forward, no TASKA neither TABIKA, just a RELATIONSHIP WITH NATURE. This may sound awkward to some people, but that’s the reality of life which forms part of my life story. Living in a remote Kadayan village surrounded by forest and jungle with no modern facilities such as piped water, electricity, telephone, road, etc; what more do you expect? The closest thing in my life was nature i.e. the forest, jungle and rivers. Nature taught me the meaning of life, to be matured earlier than expected in order to survive the harsh and challenging environment.

I acquired the skill of swimming at the age of 5 – 6 years old. I can still remember very well, the first time I learnt how to swim. Some of the readers may or may not believe that I used “kutin gatah” as a buoy to support me afloat at the early days of my self-taught swimming lesson. I am sure the readers of my generation who were hailed from Mesapol understand very well what “kutin gatah” is. “Kutin gatah” is made from large cooking oil or kerosene container. Biscuit containers are not suitable for making “kutin gatah” because they have large round openings at the top centre, whereas the cooking oil or kerosene containers have small opening at the top corner which makes it very suitable for making “kutin gatah”. The containers were either obtained for free from shopkeepers or bought at a nominal price. To make “kutin gatah”, the container has to be cut into half, where the sharp edges are evenly folded outward for safety reason. One container can make two “kutin gatah”.

Why do we call them “kutin gatah”? Well that is a good question. For the benefit of those who are not familiar of what I am talking about, it is called “kutin gatah” because it is used to place filtered latex ready for coagulation. “Kutin gatah” with its rectangular shape, plays a very important role in the process of turning fresh latex into rubber sheets.

For the benefit of the readers who are not familiar with the process, let me take you through the passage of time, way back into the late 50s, my pre-school era when I was taught how to tap rubber and all the work processes related to it. The work processes are as follows: -

1. Fresh latex is collected from individual rubber tree by a process called “mbangkit”. “Mbangkit” simply means collecting the cups from individual tree which contains latex and pour the content into a large bucket or other suitable container;

2. The latex is then taken to a place called “inggin gatah”. “Inggin gatah” is derived from English words “rubber engine”, which is self-explanatory.

3. At “inggin gatah” the fresh latex is filtered by using “tapisan gatah” and subsequently poured into “kutin gatah” normally at half-full;

4. A right proportion of diluted HCL (Hydrochloric acid) is added into the fresh latex inside the “kutin gatah”. HCL is used to coagulate the latex;

5. The latex must be well stirred to ensure the HCL is evenly mixed with the latex. The stirring device is made from wood which looks similar to a wooden spatula used in our kitchen, only slightly larger. In Kadayan we called it “pahuaa gatah”;

6. It takes only a little while before the latex coagulates normally about 10 – 15 minutes or may be less. The coagulated latex must not be left any longer; otherwise the process of flattening it would be difficult. Flattening the coagulated latex is done by hands which is known as “pieek” in Kadayan dialect. This process is important to facilitate the next process i.e. turning it into rubber sheets by machining using “inggin gatah”;

7. There are two types of “inggin gatah” commonly known as “inggin alus” and inggin kasaa” or sometimes called “inggin bunga”. The functions of the two machines are mainly to smoothen and further flatten the harden latex into nicely shaped rectangular sheets, whereas “inggin bunga” is used to create patterns, thus making the rubber sheets more thinner for easy drying;

8. The rubber sheets are hung on a wooden pole or bamboo pole known as “panjamuan gatah” in an open space for drying. The raw rubber sheets, which are white in colour, contain a lot of acidic (HCL) water and that is why the drying process is so important to drain the water out from the raw rubber sheets;

9. The drying process would take a couple of days during shinny day, otherwise it will require a longer time during rainy season;

Where was I? Too much digress aaa…(purposely done), anywhere actually I was talking about using “kutin gatah” as a floatation device used in self-taught swimming lesson. Believe it or not, that was how I acquired the skill of swimming, crude yet effective. I did not have the luxury of a swimming tutor to teach me how to swim in a nice swimming pool with fancy life jacket and what not; I learnt to swim in a deep and fast flowing river. It took less than a fortnight for an average kampong boy like me, to learn how to swim. Prior to that every kampong boys at the age of 6 – 7 years old must know how to remain under water for a couple of minutes or so by holding on to something like a wooden pole for example.

The art of diving and remaining under water for some time is crucial before anyone can learn how to swim. I do not know if this is the right technique or otherwise in a proper swimming lesson, at less it worked for me and other kampong boys just fine. The logic is simple, if you learn how to swim without knowing the skill to remain under water, the risk is that you will get drown easily while swimming. We were taught by the elders to recite verses from Al-Quran while remaining under water to exercise our lungs. The other reason for the elders asking us to recite verses from Al-Quran while under water is to improve our vocal and vocal control while reciting Al-Quran.

Acquiring swimming and diving skills are of paramount important to all the kampong boys then. It is common to see young boys at the age of 6 – 7 years old are able to swim and dive freely. We were so grateful to Allah SWT, that as far as I could remember we did not have any death cases caused by drowning in our village, even during flood season. The other factor contributing to such a good safety record was that we always abide to what our parents told us to do and not to do. We never dispute and disobey the words of our parents and elders.

to be continued.....

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