Seminars, workshops and lectures …


LAST month, I really had enough of seminars, workshops and lectures. First, at the International Conference on Beads, then on Crocodiles, and on Forestry organised by Transparency International. That on Rice, I did not have the privilege to attend, but I had earlier written something about rice in relation to food security, so I did not miss the rice terribly much.

For the next couple of weeks, I will be disappearing Down Under hoping to shed some of the extra fat and minimise the bad cholesterol accumulated over the past few months.

Having attended more conferences than I can ever remember, I’m now wondering how many of the resolutions have been implemented and how many have ended up on the shelves to gather dust, useful only to the students of History or someone doing a thesis for a doctorate. A lot of time and energy must have been wasted, not forgetting the reams of paper and piles of compact discs stored somewhere. Some resolutions have found their way to government authorities to be acted upon; others were relegated to the side tray called KIV – Keep In View.

However, that conference on beads was quite different: it is a specialised meeting run alongside a bazaar of beads of all descriptions. That sale was of immense benefit to the participants. They did brisk business of the stuff and the local hospitality industry got some foreign dollars as well – a win-win situation. Participants from South Africa, Australia, Ghana, Canada, Egypt, the UK, the US and other places mingled with the local artists and exchanged the latest information on the trends of the trade.

CREATIVE INDUSTRIES: At the fashion parade held in conjunction with the conference, dresses laced, or even covered, with beads from Kalimantan and other countries was most enjoyable.

At the fashion parade held in conjunction with the conference, dresses laced, or even covered, with beads from Kalimantan and other countries was most enjoyable. The creativity of our people in the fashion industry is admirable. Was there something made of crocodile skin like shoes? I couldn’t tell.


On beads


Assistant Minister of Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip, who officiated at the opening ceremony of the conference, had a sensible suggestion. Instead of a fountain pen for a souvenir, a guest of the state government should ideally get something made of beads. A finely worked bauble of red beads at the front of a necklace of antique-type beads, such as those worn by Kayan chiefs, would be suitable for a VIP. Many years ago, I was given one necklace of this kind by the late Temenggong Oyong Lawai Jau. Of course, the long sash made of beads has been in vogue lately, but the necktie has not caught on. The only time I put one on was under duress, and then only for five minutes while Auntie Di took a photo.

I sneaked into the beads conference disguised as the driver of one of the organisers and as I had to wait for, and at times on, her, I listened to most of the talks. The one advantage, compared to other seminars I have attended, is that I wasn’t expected to come up with resolutions and recommendations at the end!

The Australian lady was talking about how the Aborigines of Northern Australia collected sea shells to string into beads. I heard about how the Chinese brought beads to this part of the world as items of trade or as a form of currency in exchange for birds nests or Rhinoceros horns or the gall bladder of the bear.

Some enterprising people in Java even manufactured blue beads out of broken glass, most likely from the wine and gin bottles thrown away by the Dutch colonial officers after they’d finished with the contents. A smart cookie with a bit of business sense would have collected the glass scraps and sold them to the nearest bead-maker.

In Lawas, there is a factory making beads. Good for those enterprising girls! The women in East Kalimantan buy their beads from Sarawak, so there you are – cross-border barter trade in beads is alive and well, as it has been for centuries.

I hope that these hard-working women in Lawas have been assisted by the Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM), a micro-credit organisation started by the federal government; the body that has been entrusted with a lot of money under Budget 2012.

If anyone remembers Professor Muhammad Yunnus of Bangladesh and the Grameen Bank he started, one would remember that the rate of repayment of loans given to women in Bangladesh under the micro-credit scheme was very high. Not so among male borrowers. It was a successful tool for the reduction of the incidence of poverty among a few million women in that country, until the system was abused recently by some greedy moneylenders from the cities. For his work in this field, Professor Muhammad Yunnus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Economics.


On crocodiles


This conference was more meaningful in the sense that it was something important to society at large: the management of crocodile-human conflict happening in all the major rivers of the state, and the potential of a lucrative industry based on crocodile skins (fashion) and meat (food). Resolutions have been passed and are on the way to the desk of the people who are in a position to make final decisions.

However, a lot of work is still required to move the Crocodylus porosus from Appendix I to Appendix II of Cites. All the rest of us hope for is that the sooner this is done the better, before another precious human life is lost; Sibuti folk almost lost a life just recently.

What have crocodiles and beads got to do with the price of fish?

If in doubt, read this:


Kabon Tiri Tiri, Kabon Tiri Tiri –

all of you young men –

Kabon Kujan Kujan, Kabon Kujan Kujan –

All the young girls are likely to be caught,

Scooped up like a bunch of beads cut from their string.

Lawai, the crocodile, wears a tough garment,

a garment made entirely of beads.

Do not play senselessly.”


– a Kenyah’s trance song of spirit medium sung by Balu Asong Gau of Long San, Upper Baram, taken from the ‘Sarawak Museum Journal – Special Monograph No.2’; project by Carol Rubenstein with Sarawak Museum in 1973.