Thursday, January 17, 2008

CHILDHOOD DAYS – Essential Skills (Part 8)

ِبِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

"And eat of the things which Allâh has provided for you, lawful and good, and fear Allâh in Whom you believe". – Surah Al-Maeda Ayat 88

[Makanlah daripada apa yang Allah merezekikan kamu, yang halal dan baik; dan takutilah Allah, yang kepada-Nya kamu orang-orang mukmin.] – Surah Al-Maeda Ayat 88

In this series of my life story, I would like to share a few more must-have skills of Kadayan kids of my time.

Trapping birds and small animals

There were many types of birds and small animals in the nearby forest / secondary jungle of our village. We were taught by our elders which birds and small animals are edible and inedible according to our religion, Islam. The most common bird and small animal we used to catch were wild pigeon (buung punai) and mouse deer (palanduk). There were other edible birds such as “puagam” and wild chicken (hayam hutan) but they were too difficult to catch by small kids. Normally “puagam” and wild chickens were caught by elders and similarly larger animals like deer (payau) and antelope (kijang} were caught only by elders using sophisticated traps.

There were three methods commonly used by Kadayan people to catch wild pigeons (buung punai) namely jaat, malagau and pukat (fishing net). Before I go any further to describe each of the methods, I just would like to give a general overview of the bird called wild pigeon. Wild pigeon is native bird of Borneo Island and are found in Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan. As kids we were told that there were two types of pigeons namely “punai tanah” (ground pigeon) and “punai dahan” (literally translated as branch pigeon). Unlike “punai tanah”, “punai dahan” does not go to the ground to look for seeds and fruits but remains on tree tops most of the time.

The unique characteristic of the “punai tanah” is that despite the abundance of other fruits and nuts in the jungle, their favourite picks are still the sadaman fruits / seeds and interestingly the birds do not pick the fruits from trees but they come down to the ground looking for fruits and seeds.

The Kadayan people must have observed such unique habits of the wild pigeons and eventually devised methods to catch them by using “jaat” and “malagau”. Both methods are ground-based whereas the other method using the fishing net is air-borne.

Sadaman tree is found almost every where in the forest and secondary jungle. The trees do not grow very tall where the average height is around 20 – 30 feet at the most and the fruiting season is one or twice a year. The wild pigeons were in abundance during the fruiting seasons of the sadaman trees. The sadaman fruits are small, yellowish green in colour, covered with sticky resin like substance. Beside durian tree, sadaman tree is considered as an iconic tree amongst the Kadayan community due to its contribution to the food supply chain i.e. the much needed protein source from the wild pigeons.. The song entitled “daun sadaman” by Ibrahim Hj Diman is a tribute to the iconic tree and the readers can listen to the song provided in this blog.

Wild pigeon (buung punai)


Jaat is a simple, yet effective trap to catch wild pigeons. The “jaat’ is constructed by using a strong thread, a stick / stem of a young tree (the size of adult male middle finger) of hard wood type as “bingkasan” and tiny tree branches as a holder of the thread tied from the “bingkasan”. The stick / stem of the young tree is pinned to the earth perpendicular to the ground level. The thread is tied at the top end of the stick / stem in which the other end of the thread is the adjustable knot or technically known as Adjustable Grip Hitch adjusted to about 2 feet in circumference. A tiny straight stem / branch of about one and a half inches in length is tied before the simple knot that would be fixed to the trap mechanism where the pigeon is expected to step onto it. When the pigeon steps on the trap, the “bingkasan” would be released immediately at high speed and snap the pigeon’s leg via the adjustable knot. Eureka!!! I just caught a pigeon.

Before “jaat” is installed, the ground under the sadaman tree is cleared of dried leaves, rotten tree trunks and small tree branches. The sadaman fruits are collected to be spread onto the cleared ground later as baits for the pigeons. Of course it is not sufficient to install only one “jaat”. On average we installed about 50 – 60 jaat that would guarantee good catch. Usually we came back to visit the jaat twice a day to harvest the catch and to do maintenance jobs like putting back the jaat to its normal position, clearing leaves and small branches and collecting sadaman fruits as baits.

The pigeon caught by the jaat is carefully untied from the trap to avoid dismembering its feathers from the body. Pigeon’s feathers unlike chickens are very soft and can be easily dismembered from its body. The pigeons are then carefully put inside a porous gunny sack for safe keeping. The gunny sack needs to be porous to prevent the pigeons from suffocation. The darkness inside the gunny sack keeps the pigeons calm. During the peak season, the average caught per day is around 20 – 30 birds. These birds are kept inside a special cage or rather a bird’s house and are fed with maize and sometime rice to be fattened before they are being slaughtered for consumption. When I was a small kid, I used to keep about 200 – 300 birds in a single bird’s cage. Such amount would be able to supply my family with enough protein for at least 3 – 4 months.

The birds are slaughtered according to Islamic rite, prepared and cooked. The pigeon’s can be cooked in variety of ways for example cook in curry, soup, deep fried, grilled and any way you like to suit your taste. The pigeon meat is very sweet and tasty.


Literally speaking “malagau” means calling. It is derived from the word “lagau” (verb) and when applied to wild pigeons it means calling the birds. “Lagau” in Kadayan dialect is normally directed to human beings and a few “tame / domesticated” animals such as cats and chickens but seldom used to call wild birds and animals. So there is a catch here, malagau is not just imitating the chirping and singing of the wild pigeons to make them come to the caller, but it involves spiritual element here. Under normal circumstances, no matter how hard you try to imitate the chirping and singing of the wild pigeons, the birds would never come to you. I have tried this myself, where at the end of the day, not single birds came close to my location, not even a sign of them around me. As I have mentioned in the spiritual and supernatural power are manifested in almost every aspect of Kadayan livelihood.

When I was a small kid, there were not many people in our village having the skill of malagau, may be just three or four people but there were elderly persons and all of them had passed away already. I used to follow and watch an elderly Kadayan man performing malagau when I was 10 or 11 years old. This is how it was done. A small hut is built or not even a hut, just a shack made of tree branches and leaves as hiding place for the caller. In Kadayan dialect we call the shack as “baumbun”. The most important device in performing malagau is a device called “suling” (flute). “Suling” is a musical instrument made from bamboo and strictly speaking, the sound of “suling” does not really mimic the chirping and singing of the wild pigeon. The other device used in "malagau" is a long stick attached with a simple knot thread at its end to catch the pigeon on its neck. The bird’s “landing area” is called “galanggang”, a small space in front of the shack cleared of dried leaves, tree branches and other objects that would hamper the process of catching the birds.

Fresh wild pigeon meat

An initiation ritual is done by the caller before the calling process is done. The ritual involves chanting of magical spells coupled with other physical things that last for a few minutes. When that is done the caller sits back inside the shack and starts to play his “suling”. It is hard to believe that all of a sudden the wild pigeons start to arrive, first the birds are perching on the tree branches and later they come down to the “galanggang” surrendering their necks to the caller to be caught and later ended up in a cooking pot.

Not every time the caller is lucky, there were occasions as told by the village elders where the sound of the caller’s “suling” attracted supernatural beings instead of the wild pigeons. We were told that the supernatural beings came in an impressive style by creating vortex of whirlwind / small scale twister around the vicinity where small trees were being uprooted and tree branches fell down due to the power of the whirlwind. The Kadayan elders who were skilful in performing “malagau” expected such predicament and their counter-measures were so effective that the whirlwind would stop immediately and within seconds everything would come back to normalcy.

“Malagau” is considered by Kadayan people as the most effective way of catching wild pigeons in large quantity. On a lucky day, a caller may catch a couple of hundreds birds and when they reach the figure, they’ll call it a day.

Fishing net

Kadayan people are very innovative in devising methods to catch birds, fish and wild animals. Fishing net, as the name suggests is used to catch fish in the river or at sea, but the Kadayan people used them to catch wild pigeons as well. The principle is the same, where in rivers and sea the target are fish whereas on air the target are birds such as wild pigeons.

The modus operandi (MO) of catching wild pigeons using this method is simple. The requirements are two very long wooden or bamboo poles and a stretch of fishing net of the right net space size attached to the poles. The net space size can be half an inch, one inch, so on and so forth. If the net space size is larger than the bird’s size, then the birds would be able to pass through.

In the evening, as darkness approaches, so are the wild pigeons rushing for home to their favourite trees. It is not difficult to exactly pin point the flight path taken by the birds because being birds they always follow the same route everyday. When the flight paths are identified, what is left is to erect the fishing net across the path and just wait.

The fishing net is made of clear, colourless nylon called “tangsi”. As darkness approaches, the birds’ eyesight would be very poor where the fishing nets are virtually invisible to the birds. Upon the arrival at the fishing nets, that would be the end of their flying session. Next would be the cooking pots.

Buung Taipas in the wild

Mundul Taipas

“Taipas” is a beautiful, small, green tropical bird of parrot family with red and blue patch under its neck and on its head respectively. “Taipas” is inedible, but they are caught as pets due to its natural beauty. In the 50s and 60s, almost every Kadayan households kept the birds as pet. “Taipas” are easy to maintain where their favourite food are ripe banana, papaya, sugar cane and surprisingly you wouldn’t like to hear this, its rice “mouth-digested” soften with lots and lots of saliva. The “taipas” loves it. Never feed the ‘taipas” with anything that contains salt. The birds will die in a matter of hours if they are being fed with salty food.

“Mundul taipas” is synonym to the Kadayan community in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei Darussalam. My definition of “Mundul Taipas” is to catch birds called “taipas” by using similar bird placed inside a cage as the calling bird to attract the wild “taipas”, coupled with sticky glue like substance spread over a long stick placed on tree branches where the oncoming wild “taipas” would likely to perch.

There are a few rules to be observed when performing “mundul taipas”. Firstly, the knowledge of climbing trees. The wild “taipas” would never come to the ground or any height near to it. We have to climb until the tree tops to place the cage of the calling “taipas” and of course a stick with the glue spread all over it. Secondly the calling bird must possess special ability to chirp and sing that would attract other wild “taipas”. If you don’t have the climbing skill, don’t even think about “mundul taipas’.

Buung Taipas in a Cage

The glue like substance is actually derived from resin / latex of a “timbaan” tree. Timbaan tree can easily be found in the forest / secondary jungle of the Borneo Island. The resin / latex are collected and exposed to open air to coagulate. No hydrochloric acid (HCL) is required for coagulation. The glue is stored inside a small can (sardine or condensed milk can) and taken out as and when its usage is required.

When wild “taipas” is caught in a sticky situation, they are unable to escape until they are being taken out from their misery by someone. As cruel as it sounds but the birds actually are very safe and quite comfortable after the feathers and legs are massaged with coconut oil. It only takes one or two hours before the birds could fly normally again after they are being caught. The birds are kept inside a special cage ready to be sold or given as gift.

To be continued…….

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