Sunday, January 6, 2008

CHILDHOOD DAYS - Essential Skills (Part 7)

As agreed by most people, childhood days were the most memorable days of our life. I gained most of the survival skills when I was at the age of 6 – 12 years old and surprisingly those skills constitutes the bigger part of my circle of influence. As I’ve mentioned earlier, my life story is the most extreme case where our family living standard was just at the lowest level of Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. For those of us who are not quite familiar with Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, let me refresh you what it is all about.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (Click to enlarge)

Physiological Needs

These are biological needs. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person's search for satisfaction.

Safety Needs

When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviours, the needs for security can become active. Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.

Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness

When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging.

Needs for Esteem

When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

Needs for Self-Actualization

When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that which the person was "born to do." "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write." These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.

As you can see, when I mentioned that our living condition was at the lowest level of Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, that was it, just food, clothing, water and shelter. When you are in that condition, it is suffice to mention here that survival is the key factor. In order for the kids of my generation to survive, we were compelled to acquire skills to live in a harsh and challenging environment. The most important skill of all is to sustain the food supply chain i.e. planting hill paddy and cash crops. Any disruption to the food supply chain would result in famine and diseases caused by malnutrition and poor healthcare.

Malnutrition was notable amongst the kids of my generation including myself, where we did not have enough supply of protein, vitamins and minerals. Our staple food is rice, which is very rich in carbohydrate but our daily diet lacked in much needed protein for our healthy growth. We did not have the luxury of consuming meat (beef, venison, chicken) regularly, may be once or twice a year during wedding ceremonies or annual feast. Our main supply of protein came from the river and occasionally the sea. Fresh water fish, prawns and crabs were caught by fishing lines, traps, nets and fish poison (extract from "tuba" plant)which will be discussed in detail later. We never caught fresh water fish in large quantity due to the storage problem. The only way to preserve the fish was by salting and drying them, thus we have salted fish which can be stored for longer duration.

Pulihan fish in captivity

If we ever caught large quantity of fish such as through fish poisoning (tuba), the other method of preservation engaged by the village folks was by smoking, thus we have smoked “tuyan” or smoked “pulihan” NOT smoked salmon. We do not have salmon in tropical rivers. "Tuyan" and "pulihan" are much sought fresh water fish even to this days. The fish tastes good, very fatty with plenty of tiny bones which makes it difficult to consume. Kindly note that fish poisoning by using tuba plant extract is not practice anymore by Kadayan people in our village. It has been abandoned since the seventies due to the fact that the tuba plant extract is quite lethal where small fish were poisoned and killed which eventually reduces the fish population in the rivers. Fresh water fish now are caught by using fishing lines, nets and fish traps.

Kids of my generation were compelled to acquire various skills, not by our parents but by the environment we lived in. Some of the skills are as follows: -

Climbing trees

Climbing tress was a must have skill. Some girls of my generation were better climbers than boys. Our “boyhood” was challenged severely by the predicament, where those boys who did not know how to climb would be teased day in day out by other boys and the girls too. What a shame!

The skill of climbing is widely used to pluck fruits such as “rambutans, pulasan (maitam), mangoes, mangosteen, sour fruits (asam kandis and asam aur), betel nuts, coconuts and of course not to forget for trapping of birds known as “mundul taipas”. Taipas is a beautiful, small, green tropical bird of parrot family with red patch under its neck.

As I have mentioned in my earlier articles, the Kadayan village or settlements were mostly located near rivers. As usual, small rivers (may be streams) were covered by strong jutting tree branches which we used as a jumping platform into the river. Kids who were unable to climb would definitely miss all the funs and excitements of jumping from tree branches into the river. It was a great fun actually.

Small knowledge of herbs with medicinal value

Amongst the indigenous people of Borneo, Kadayan people are well known for their knowledge on medicinal herbs. The trade has been passed from generation to generation by their elders and kids of my generation were taught basic knowledge of medicinal herbs but on a smaller scale. As mentioned earlier in my other article you can ask any Kadayan / Kedayan kids then, “What’s the cure for diarrhoea (bagah)?” or “How do you stop blood flowing out from small cuts?” I can bet you; every kids of my time know the answer. The herb used to treat the former is guava leave (daun biabas) or “timbaan” shoots (pucuk timbaan). The later is effectively treated by “kuduk-kuduk” leaves.

Besides knowing various medicinal herbs we were also taught basic spells to use together with the medicinal herbs.

Self-defence (silat)

Martial arts were taught by elders as early as the age of 7, where we learned basic steps of self-defence. It is typical to see martial arts courts in Kadayan villages in the 50s and 60s. The main purpose of self-defence was to train ourselves in observing strict self-discipline and creating sense of alertness for any unsuspected trouble coming to our village.

Bailey Bridge or Jambatan Basi as called by the Kadayan people

The worst security threat to the Kadayan community particularly in the forties and fifties was the HEAD HUNTERS (Panggait). The stories of head hunters were told by Kadayan elders from generation to generation but kids of my time only heard the rumours that head hunters were terrorising our village. As far as I can remember, rumours about head hunters were rife when new bridges (Bailey bridge) were to be built by the British. We were told that two decapitated human heads (kalambigi commonly known in Kadayan dialect) were required to be buried at both ends of the bridge to strengthen and resist the raging force of nature i.e. flood. This belief was so strong amongst the Kadayan community and whenever such rumours persisted the village would be put under full alert (code RED). All the children, women and elderly people were either confined at home or if there were necessities to move around they must be in group accompanied by elders.

Such security threat compelled the Kadayan community to defend themselves by several methods where one of them was to equip the community with martial arts as self-defence. The other method commonly practiced by the Kadayan people was to use some form of spiritual powers known as “guis” to prevent strangers from entering the village. Guis is the invincible fence to deter intruders from tress-passing. It is the first line of defence under the direct Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I)of the village head. Usually the village head would communicate with the "spiritual master" to prepare the necessery arrangements after obtaining sufficient intelligence information from the village folks or from other sources with regards to the security threats affecting the village. The security protection in a Kadayan village is a smaller scale of C3I or C4I in the military and law enforcement agencies.

In the Olden Days Kadayan environment the first line of defence should be formidable. If there was any breach of security in which intruders managed to penetrate the defence system, the "spritual master" would be replaced or asked to sharpen his power by going for isolation / seclusion for a period of 40 days in a "wasai" to undergo a process known as "bataak" in Kadayan dialect. This process is necessery to maintain and safeguarding the dignity of the affected village. When the news reached other Kadayan villages about the flaws in the village defence system, the village head and folks would suffer tremndous pressure particularly when they were being offered assistance from other villages. Accepting help meant conceding defeat, which was a taboo in Olden Days Kadayan culture.

Such security protection was of vital importance in a life or death environment. The Kadayan people would gave their lives to protect their families & their community and should the intruders successfully penetrated the defence system, they will fight with all their might until to the last drop of their blood. The readers would be able to read more on this subject matter at Reaping the Benefits ( entitled Olden Days Kadayan.

I was able to witness the effectiveness of "guis" power where two strangers / intruders were caught red handed, unable to move (temporarily paralysed / disabled) in the vicinity of our village. I did not know for sure if the strangers / intruders were the head hunters but rumours were spreading like wild fire that they were head hunters looking for two victims to be used in bridge building. The two persons caught were from a well known indigenous people of Borneo famous for their head hunting practices. This incident happened in the late fifties.

To be continued…….

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