The wedding at Entawau


IT was a fine Saturday morning before Christmas. They had come all the way from the Land Below The Wind, speeding up the longest river in Malaysia on the way to the furthest Iban longhouse in the Balleh in the middle of Borneo.

HAPPY COUPLE: Daphne and Kenneth flanked by scores of bridesmaids.

They had escorted a newly married couple, the husband to introduce his wife to her newly acquired in-laws at Entawau. Her retinue included her parents and brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins and other relatives, not forgetting the grandfather.

And for good measure, for spiritual guidance, a Franciscan nun, a close relative of the Ubu family, was in the entourage from Penampang near Kota Kinabalu.

In a convoy of a dozen vehicles from KK via Lawas and Miri, the contingent of 43 strong members of extended families were packed into an express boat specially chartered for them at Sibu.

The newlyweds, Kenneth Usang George and Daphne Ubu were in the VIP room; the rest were either on the roof or happily ensconced inside the boat.

Also on board were the relatives of the groom from Baram, Miri and Bintulu; most of the younger ones had not been to Entawau, where their forebears had come from. I was the lone ranger from Kuching, guest of George Lagong, buddy for many years, and father-in law of the bride from Sabah.

The journey from Sibu to Entawau took about six hours with a short stop at Kapit for lunch.

The afternoon rain had stopped just before we reached the settlement of half a dozen modern longhouses.

This was my third time to Entawau, the first in 1970 tagging along with Minister of Welfare Penghulu Abok Jalin. The present longhouses are roughly on the same spot where the old houses under Penghulu Jimbun had burnt down more than a decade ago. For me it was a return tinged with sadness and nostalgia.

In their festival finery, men and girls of the longhouse were lining up on the landing place to welcome the couple and their entourage with ngajat and the inevitable tuak (rice wine).

In a long procession on the bridge over the Selirik creek and up to a cluster of longhouses, we were ushered through the ruai of everyone of them, shaking hands and stopping from time to time to sip the local brew for which the young Sabahans were well prepared.

Suddenly, Daphne discovered more in-laws than she had bargained for: Aki’, Ini’, Made’ (cousins of all ages), uncles, and aunties; for Kenneth, an outpouring of felicitations from relatives and school friends. A handsome Entawau lad had brought a beautiful ‘foreign’ wife home!

The visitors were treated to a bedara, a traditional welcome ritual for important visitors.

The master of ceremonies with the gift of a stentorian voice was Richard Banter, a teacher of English at Sekolah Agama in Kuching, doing his banter in perfect Iban with the local twang.

A Bidayuh from Serian and dressed in an Iban warrior’s garb, he has apparently acquired a wife from that longhouse, Rumah Laso. No wonder.

The first evening was full of general merrymaking; the visitors were well entertained and they participated in the fun. But wait for the next day — Sunday. In the morning, for the Christians, Sister Cabrini Mobilik made sure all Catholics should pray together, it being the fourth Sunday in Advent.

They huddled at one corner of the longhouse and did their duty. Methodists, SIB and Anglican (me) joined them in prayers.

After the service, the carnival atmosphere assumed intensity – full of fun and laughter.

A five-piece musical band was being assembled and with the public address system in full blast, the boys were rehearsing with gusto amidst the heat of the afternoon.

An evening to remember

The ceremony in the evening was an impressive show: the blissful couple in traditional gear were seated on a huge brass gong, flanked by some 20 cute bridesmaids.

Over their heads Nabau, the chief doubling as the bard, gently waved a fighting cockerel, an act of blessing and benediction for the couple.

Earlier, Kenneth, Britishtrained electrical engineer, and Daphne, bank official in charge of ICT, had been married in the Sacred Heart Church at Kota Kinabalu and this event in the longhouse was being solemnised according to local tradition.

The couple had been friends while at school in England, I was told.

The ajar or fatherly advice from the penghulu of the area about the importance of matrimonial fidelity and challenges of a married life, for better or for worse, formed the central theme of the occasion, witnessed by a big crowd. Those outside enjoyed a brief display of fireworks.

Endlessly the food and drinks came, the spirits literally coming like a mini tsunami!

The current craze, Poco Poco dance, dominated the floor; then the Sumazau was introduced, then the ngajat in between — all and sundry participated in good clean fun.

From Cikgu Richard came a couple of Bidayuh numbers; endless Iban songs from ‘Bekikis Bulu Betis’ to ‘Tusah Belaki Nguai’ dominated the air as the whole house vibrated with the sounds of the heavy metal.

It was well after midnight when I decided to disappear for a while at the farthest end of the house; my thoughts went out to Sister Cabrini, wondering how well she was coping with the earthly din in the ungodly hours of the morning.

A game of skill

Not a wink could I get, so I might as well rejoin the fun, sitting next to Michael Ubu, KK lawyer/Daphne’s father still holding the fort like a true Kadazan.

We were unprepared for a game of sorts: splitting a coconut on a ceramic plate. One green coconut on a china plate was for Michael to split, and the other for me.

After a good 15 minutes of hard labour with determination to succeed, I managed to save a beautiful ceramic plate and cut open the blooming coconut in two. Then Michael did it too! And the locals heartily cheered; no mean feat, they said.

Little did they realise, however, that all is required in this game is patience. The uninitiated would whack the coconut with brute force as goaded by the onlookers and the poor plate would surely crack. These spectators would gleefully laugh at your failure.

Take your sweet time, ignore the noisy detractors, cut out the skin and crack the nut lengthwise, slowly, until it is wet with milk; then insert your knife where you have made small cuts all round; wiggle your little fingers through the small cracks and yank the fruit into two halves by hand.

The rule does not specify time limit, and the use of human hands is a grey area.

Then came the pantun ladies, praising sky high the virtues and achievements of their subjects, Michael deserving more than I did.

At the end of the pantun, the prize was a plateful of frothy beer and this you must drink, as your ego dictates.

In return for the good things said about you, someone nudged me to part with a gift to the artiste.

That I did: so my entire fund reserved for the AirAsia flight to Kuching changed hands for a song.

At 6am, the Kadazans had the band all to themselves with their favourite, you guess right, ‘Jambatan Tamparuli’, and more Sumazau, shaking the longhouse to its very foundation.

By 8am, like all good things the partying had to come to an end, time for bidding farewell and all round hugging and promises to return.

The happy couple came away with us downriver en route to North Borneo again, to continue with their honeymoon in peace and quiet, at last.

The occasion must be regarded as the Wedding of the Year on the Balleh, a tributary of the Rajang, which a couple of months before had had the misfortune of landslides and the logjam that killed two men and nice fish and other marine life, temporarily disrupting economic activities of the longhouse dwellers who depend on the river for their highway.

Over that great weekend, at least, we had brought some cheer to the people at Entawau, wishing them Gerai Nyamai Lantang Senang (health, happiness and prosperity) for 2011 and the years after this.