Thursday, April 9

‘Heart of Borneo’ communities linked by traditional music


FOR LOVE OF MUSIC: Elyas (centre) shows Ipoi (right) how to play the keng.

KUCHING: When Elyas Yesaya from East Kalimantan started knocking on a ‘tubong’ to create a series of harmonies, the handful of music enthusiasts and historians at the Sarawak Museum broke into cheers as the bamboo instrument, not more than two feet long, is proof that the communities living in the ‘Heart of Borneo’ share common roots.

Geographically located in the middle of Borneo, the name ‘Heart of Borneo’ was given due to the several ecological wonders of the place among them, the huge network of rivers which brought and sustained lives in both Malaysia and Indonesia.

Even though separated by borders, the cultures and traditions of the communities living on the highlands have created a bond shared for generations.

In 2003, the late Datuk Dr Judson Sakai Tagal, former state assemblyman for Ba’ Kelalan, mooted the idea to form a forum to bring both countries under one roof as a stronghold to sustain cultures and traditions without borders.

It took a year to realise the dream, when the Borneo Highlands Community and Culture Forum (Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo, Formadat) was formed in October 2004 among the communities of Sarawak, Sabah and East Kalimantan.

For the Sarawak side, it was formed from the Lun Dayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa’ban from Bario, Ba Kelalan and Long Semadoh while East Kalimantan was made up of the Krayan Induk and Krayan Selatan communities.

Sabah completed the forum with her communities living in Long Pasia, Long Mio and Ulu Padas.

“This musical instrument is unique as it sounds quite similar to the gongs of the Orang Ulu in Sarawak,” said Elyas who handcrafted the musical instruments with skills he picked up at a young age.

Among the bamboo musical instruments Elyas handed to the Sarawak Museum director Ipoi Dantan were the agung bulu, kelinang, sanang, keng, telingut and ruding.

“These instruments are made from several types of bamboo,” said Elyas who explained that some of the musical instruments are actually everyday items in their community such as the keng which is used to pluck fruits.

“The handle of the keng is cut short and a hole is drilled into the sides to produce a louder sound,” said Elyas who can speak the Lun Bawang dialect.

Each instrument, Elyas explained, can be played either in a solo routine or in a group, especially during a full moon.

The telingut is usually accompanied by the sape in a dance which can be rather seductive.

Elyas hoped more NGOs or private companies from both countries would give their support to Formadat and create awareness of the forum.

“This is to ensure that the relationship among the communities live on for future generations with continuation of their cultures and traditions,” he enthused.

Among the initiatives taken by Formadat was the setting up of a cultural fused school in East Kalimantan where workshops for traditional music were slotted in as co-curricular subjects, said Elyas.

Also making their presentation yesterday were representatives from the Brunei Museum who discovered beads in Sungai Manis on March 2002.