In this series of my life story, I would like to share a few more must-have skills of Kadayan kids of my time.
As mentioned several times in the previous series of this article, river is the food supply chain particularly for fish, prawns, crabs, etc. which is the main source of protein for everyone in my village especially growing up kids of my time. There were several ways as taught by our elders how to catch fresh water fish, prawns and crabs from nearby rivers. The most common and simple methods are as follows:-
We did not have the luxury of expensive fishing rods to use during our childhood days. Our fishing rods were made of dried palm tree known as “sungsum”. “Sungsum” is a species of palm tree with lots of thorns covering its trunk. “Sungsum” fruits are edible and very sour in taste.
Our fishing lines were simple just by tying nylon fishing line at the end of the “sungsum” rod about 8 – 10 feet in length. At the other end of the line is the fishing hook, a small lead and a float. That is it; we are ready to go fishing.
Earth worms were our favourite bait. Beside that we used “dadak” as bait as well to catch smaller fish like bantang, putihan, and limbungau. “Dadak” is made from rice flour mixed with a little bit of prawn paste (balacan) and water. The smell from the prawn paste attracts the fish to the bait.
Cat fish (keli & haruan), putingkang, daun buluh, kaok and prawns (udang galah, cancudik and bangkutut) were attracted to earth worms rather than “dadak”. Other baits used were crickets, maggots (hambataa), and sometimes little grasshoppers. Fishing fresh water fish was usually done in late afternoon and it constituted as part of our daily routine except for during pigeons’ season where we spent most of our time trapping the birds in the nearby forest.
In most cases we did not catch much fish but the catch was enough for our dinner and the next day lunch.
Bubu is a fish trap made of bamboo and rattan where once the fish and prawns were inside the “bubu” they would not be able to escape. The fish, prawns and crabs were lured into the “bubu” by special baits. The favourite baits for prawns and crabs were medium burnt tapioca and rubber seeds. The baits also attracted some fish like bantang, putihan, limbungau, putingkang and daun buluh.
Cat fish (kali) were caught by special bait known as “pangalaban” fruits. “Pangalaban” tree is native to Borneo Island and can not be found in Peninsular Malaysia.
There are two types of “pangalaban” fruits. The ripe fruits are being distinguished by their pink and green colours. The green ripe “pangalaban” fruits are known as “tamuda” and the pink ones are simply called “pangalaban.” Both fruits are edible, succulent and very tasty. “Pangalaban” fruits must be “cooked” prior to consuming them. The fruits contain some kind of toxin commonly known as “pahang” in Kadayan dialect. Never consume “pangalaban” fruits direct from trees; no doubt they are very tempting due to their attractive colours. The toxin could be very lethal that caused numbness in the tongue and mouth area and later attacks the nervous system. The “tamuda” is known to be containing less toxin.
“Pangalaban” fruits are prepared for consumption by pouring boiling water into the fruits inside a container (normally a small basin) and the hot water needed to be drained out after about 5 minutes. Common salt is then added and mixed with the fruits. To ensure that the salts are properly mixed with the fruits, the fruits are turned and tossed by the action known as “tampi”.
“Pangalaban” fruits taste very much like avocado. The “pangalaban” seeds are very much similar to that of avocado as well in terms of colour (brownish) and shape except “pangalaban” seeds are smaller in size. Caution: Never consume “pangalaban” seeds, the toxin concentration in the seeds are extremely high. Even birds, squirrels and monkeys refrain themselves from consuming the seeds.
Only ripe “pangalaban” fruits are used as baits inside the “bubu”. The fruits are effective as baits for cat fish where within a few minutes the “bubu” is put inside the water, the cat fish start to enter the trap to consume the bait. The fruits are considered “magical” as far as its usage to catch cat fish is concerned. Personally, I used to catch full load of cat fish inside the trap. More often than not, eels are also attracted to the “pangalaban” fruits where I used to catch a few eels together with the cat fish. The Kadayan community in my village, I would say, seldom / do not consume the eels although it is permissible to do so in Islam. The reason, I think is its shape which resembles the snake. Most of the eels caught by the trap were let go into the river only to be caught again next time. In Japan eels are considered as delicacy. There are several eel’s farms in Malaysia, particularly in the State of Pahang where matured eels are exported to Japan as well as for local consumption.
In Kadayan tradition, eels are used as “salusuh” to facilitate easy child birth. Eels are kept inside a container called “tajau” and the water from the container is drunk by the expecting mother on daily basis particularly upon reaching the ninth month of pregnancy. The Kadayan people believe that the water from the “slippery” eels would make child birth easier.
“Pasoo” is the most practical way of catching larger fish such as “tuyan” and “pulihan”. There is a drawback of “pasoo”, which is, it catches only a single fish at one time. It is made of the thorny part of a rattan plant. The thorns of the rattan plant are curvy (upwards) in shape. The thorny plant is cut into pieces to be made into “pasoo”. The idea is to position the curvy thorns inwards the “pasoo” to facilitate the fish to go inside but are hindered by the thorns for backwards movement.
Tuba Plant (Derris elliptica)
“Tuba” is a poison vine and is commonly grown by village folks around their houses. It is the roots of the “tuba” plant that are useful to the Kadayan people. The juice from the “tuba” roots is whitish in colour and very lethal, especially to the fish. The juice of the “tuba” roots contains some kind of toxin known as rotenone which is used by the Kadayan people to “weaken” the fish both for fresh and sea water fish.
The “tuba” roots are cut into pieces about a foot in length and its juice is extracted by pounding the roots with a wooden bat. The pounding action would soften the roots to facilitate the juice extraction by squeezing them.
In a Kadayan community, “manuba” (verb) can be a big affair and in most cases it turned out to be a “festival” involving all the village folks, men, women and children. “Manuba” is an annual affair involving rituals and some form of spiritual powers. The village head would nominate an experienced and spiritually competent person to lead the “manuba” ritual.
The spiritual leader with a few companions would conduct a site visit to the part of the river where the “manuba” is going to be performed. The basic requirement for “manuba” is to have at least one “limbauh” along the river to be included in the flow-path of the “tuba” juice. “Limbauh” is a Kadayan word for a deep section of the river where bigger fish reside. If there are other “limbauh” within the vicinity, then the spiritual leader would include them as well.
There were cases that I have known at least three “limbauh” were included by the spiritual leader in the “manuba” festival.
The “manuba” festival was held in the morning. The village folks would congregate at the site determined by the spiritual leader bringing with them the fishing gears such as “siut, pukat, baangai, sangkap and not to forget cooked rice wrapped in “upih” for their lunch.
Before the “manuba” ritual is performed by the spiritual leader, several layers of fish net were installed across the river near to the last “limbauh” (down stream). The fish net with larger space size would be installed nearer to the last “limbauh” followed by smaller space size net one after another. The idea is to catch the biggest fish first and letting the smaller ones to pass through only to be netted by the next net so on and so forth.
The spiritual leader would call and instruct everybody to congregate behind him and under no circumstances anyone should be in the river or at river banks in front of the spiritual leader (down stream) when the ritual is about to begin. When the spiritual leader is satisfied that everyone are behind him, then the “manuba” ritual begins. The spiritual leader would chant some spells / incantations and begins to squeeze the “tuba” roots. He would not require much “tuba” roots to cover a river distance of 1 – 2 kilometres. By the way, I forget to mention that “tuba” roots are counted by “bingkas”. One “bingkas” consisted about 3 – 5 pieces of cut “tuba” roots tied together depending on their sizes. In most cases the spiritual leader would require one or two “bingkas” for the initiation rituals.
River Wave or Benak in Sarawak River
The moment the spiritual leader completed the initiation ritual, everyone were asked to be quiet and there we saw the true power of the Kadayan spiritual leader. The water start to produce bubbles as if the river is boiling stretching across the river banks slowly moving down stream and to everyone’s astonishment the fish, large and small were jumping up and down from the water. What a spectacular sight! The spiritual leader would wash his hands to indicate that the initiation ritual is complete and then the frenzy of catching the semi-conscious fish began.
The men were given the task to look after the fish nets down river and the women and children were enjoying catching fish at shallow water with their “siut” and “sangkap”. The fish were kept inside a “baangai” tied onto their backs.
The irony of the “manuba” ritual is that, logically speaking there is no way that a small amount of “tuba” juice would be effective to cover huge volume of water for a river distance of about 1 KM. The dilution process would take place almost immediately in a fast flowing river and not to mention the distance it has to cover! The dynamics behind the whole ritual is not the toxin from the “tuba” roots, but what is more important is the power of the spiritual leader.
Traditionally, the idea of “manuba” festival was not to poison and kill the fish. The idea is to “weaken” the fish to a semi-conscious state to facilitate easy catching. Very seldom we see dead and floating fish during “manuba” festival, but what we could see were fish reaching the surface grasping for oxygen in their semi-conscious state. The term used by the Kadayan people to describe the semi-conscious state is “hayong”. The fish in “hayong” state would resume consciousness after a few hours and would swim normally again, that is if they are lucky enough to escape the “siut” of the hungry village folks.
The memories of attending “manuba” festival with my parents would last forever. The “manuba” festival is A LOST TRADITION of the Kadayan people and the today generations of Kadayan people would not be able to experience such festival anymore due to the fact that the authority had banned the festival to safeguard the fish population and the prevention of several species of fresh water fish from extinction.
To be continued…….