That big bird HORNBILL is its name.


PerChed on a stainless steel structure by the side of the flyover at the junction of Tun Jugah Road/New Airport Road, what kind of a hornbill is it? There are some eight species found in Borneo alone and a score more in Sumatra and West Malaysia. Other species are also known in Africa.

QUITE A CONTRAST: The statue at the flyover and a Buceros rhinoceros.

Which one is sitting on its steel pipe nest at the entrance to Kuching?

Could it be the Kenyalang (Buceros rhinoceros), the icon whose image is incorporated in the state crest?

To me, no expert, it doesn’t look like one.

A rhinoceros hornbill is described by the local wood carvers as one with a protuberant red and yellow ‘horn’. Its tail is white with a black bar across it, thus distinguishing it from other hornbills.

Orang Ulu dancers used to wear its feathers. The casque or ‘ivory’ of another species was an important item of trade between Borneo and China in days gone by. Now that it is a protected bird, the hornbill dancers use carton or plastic feathers instead.

For the above reason and a couple more to follow, I wish to propose to the authorities that a new hornbill be erected at the existing site. Not that I have anything against the present piece of ironmongery, but let’s rethink the use and form of landscape decorations a little.

Hornbills have an interesting habit of nesting. The females protect their eggs and chicks by ‘imprisoning’ themselves inside a hole in a tree while the male guards the family by staying outside it and providing food through a small hole in the nest.

Hornbills feed on fruits of the jungle. They could feed on other birds – big fish feed on smaller fish and crocodiles gobble up shrimps – but they do not take advantage of their size and abuse their power. They are not greedy.

There is some interesting myth associated with the Kenyalang. Many native peoples of Borneo regard this bird as a harbinger of power. Those Iban who still believe in omen birds (though a hornbill is not one of them, like for instance the Ketupong or Beragai or Papau), the Kenyalang is a representative of the god of war. In its honour and for success in battle or achievement of great wealth and fortune, the achiever would organise a big festival, Gawai Kenyalang, to show off to everybody how successful or how brave the celebrant is.

Whatever you call it, this particular bird squeezed amongst the flyover above the Tun Jugah Road has been welcoming visitors to the state’s capital for almost a decade now. It has done its duty.

From any angle, no one could miss noticing the rather stiff image, its chiselled grey body gleaming in the sun during the day; at night it ‘flaps’ wings of faint neon lights of different colours. The wings, incidentally, are shaped like a beetle’s shards; a real hornbill about to fly extends an awesome wing span!

The present model or image of a bird, made of metal, is supposed to be that of the rhinoceros hornbill. It was first erected on a roundabout on the spot now under the flyover.

However, when the roundabout was demolished to make way for the construction of the project to ease the traffic flow to and from the airport, the bird had no place there. As it cost a bit of money to construct and it would be a waste to throw away, the contractors of the project recycled the bird by the side of the present overhead bridges.

A proposal

I suggest we replace the present model with another, that of an anatomically correct Kenyalang, which looks more spectacular than any other species of hornbill. The Buceros rhinoceros exudes more exuberance and life.

The state tourism authority should organise competitions open to local artists or carvers or architects to produce a new model which bears more semblance to the Kenyalang; it should also be bigger than the present to be prominent.

It would be a fine gesture for any local service club such as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, Jaycees International or any big firm with money for corporate responsibility projects to contribute funds for prizes, and for the construction of the bird.

These organisations will be remembered by the future generations of Sarawakians for their civic-mindedness every time they drive on the flyover or under it.

Their financial contribution towards the erection and maintenance of the Sarawak landmark would keep the bird alive for many years to come.

The artists or architects or carvers should be able to produce the replica of the Kenyalang complete with Sarawak colours, a symbol of the vibrancy of the state and its confidence to face challenges of the future in place of the existing bird that has served its purpose to welcome tourists to the city.

At night a big illuminated sign: ‘Welcome To Sarawak’ or ‘Selamat Datang Ke Sarawak’ would be fun to watch – something new that may attract the attention of the visitors on their way to the city centre.

A lesson from the bird

In our search for the soul of the city, we may get inspiration from the Kenyalang’s attributes – its habits in keeping to the tops of the forests from which the male gets his regular supply of food for his mate and chicks and how the female stays with the eggs and the chicks all the time – a reminder to the people of Sarawak of the importance of the parents f responsibility towards their children’s safety and well-being so that the species is perpetuated for as long as possible.

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