MIRI: The Kelabits, an ethnic minority group in Sarawak with a population of 6,000, are determined that their cultures and traditions are not forgotten over time.
For this to be possible, they have set up a Teripun, or Kelabit community museum and cultural centre, in Bario.
Costing RM1.2 million, the Teripun is Malaysia’s first community museum that the Kelabit community built.
Arts and Culture Assistant Minister Datuk John Sikie Tayai, representing Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari, officiated at its soft launch as part of the 11th Bario Nukenan (Food) Festival (Pesta Nukenan Bario) from July 28 – 30. The annual festival is on the Malaysian Tourism Calendar.
John Sikie praised Rurum Kelabit Sarawak (RKS) and Bario Youth for undertaking the project, which is a significant step towards preservation of their rich cultural heritage.
“This shows the initiative taken by the community to promote its food and culture. I can see that you are proud of your culture and want to show it to the world.
“I am proud that this festival has been community-run, and I hope to see it being fully financially-supported by the relevant agencies.
“Bario is an excellent destination for eco-tourism, and I believe a lot more can be done to encourage visitors. The Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture Sarawak will do its utmost and continue to support eco-tourism activities in the Kelabit Highlands,” he assured.
thesundaypost recently contacted RKS president Datuk Isaac Lugun to find out what else are in store for the Teripun and Bario, in general.
Isaac said the Teripun and Nukenan Festival were given financial boosts during the festival with a RM20,000 grant from the Ministry of Tourism; MRP grant of RM10,000 from State Legislative Assembly Deputy Speaker Datuk Gerawat Gala; John Sikie gave RM10,000; and Welfare, Women Community and Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah gave RM5,000.
“These are temporary. We need continuous financial support including annual grant from the government for community projects.
“So far, it is all funded and carried out by the community, albeit a small community. Thus it is all the more important to preserve our culture and traditions. If we don’t do it now, we might lose them because there are already too few of us,” he said.
Isaac acknowledged that increased contact with the outside world had resulted in the Kelabits losing some of their cultures and traditions. Thus the Teripun hopes to revive and revitalise some of these through preserving the Kelabit language and folklore and encouraging the learning of traditional songs and dances, and the appreciation of culture.
Teripun a unique cultural heritage hub
The two-storey building situated right in the main square of Bario town centre is built entirely of wood and reflects local traditions, relying on the designing skill and traditions of local builders and craftsmen.
The slanting slated roof reflects the elevated rice barns of the Kelabit Highlands. Originally, these were placed on high stilts to ward off pests.
“The two peaks of the buildings symbolise Batu Lawi – the gateway to the Kelabit Highlands.
It you fly to Bario, the first landmark is Batu Lawi, so the two peaks symbolise Batu Lawi, and we have the hornbill – our State’s bird,” said Isaac.
The Teripun has three main exhibition areas, a central hearth or tetel area and an administrative office as well as restrooms.
The interior resembles part of longhouse life with the ‘tetel’ or hearth on the ground floor and ‘luun tarah’, the attic (where they normally store valuables) a requirement in every longhouse.
In time, a permanent collection will be built, which will anchor the Teripun building and display exhibits portraying Kelabit history within their worldview, offering Kelabit and non-Kelabit visitors a chance to experience stories through art, literature and history.
The exhibit areas contain free-standing panels where texts and photographs can be displayed and, in future, secured cases where traditional art objects can be placed.
The Teripun is a significant addition to the wider Kelabit community. It is a heritage project that encourages the community to use the space for events like talks and art exhibitions.
Research will be an ongoing activity in the Teripun. Through well-researched exhibits, interpretation, publications and educational programming, the Teripun will continually add to the knowledge, self-discovery and enjoyment of the community.
Currently, extensive research is being conducted at the cultural sites, which contain megaliths, dolmens and menhirs, ancient ceremonial grounds, and carved stones and rocks that mark important sites for festivals as well as burial grounds. These were found dotted around the Kelabit Highlands.
The Teripun will, in future, act as a central reference point for current and future research of these cultural sites.
The Teripun aims to become a world-class community centre and will be managed by the community, very much like the award-winning Okains Bay Maori Museum in New Zealand and a similar one in Taiwan.
Isaac said it might take about three years to collect the exhibits and set them up at the museum, adding the public are encouraged to help in curating the museum.
To commemorate the soft launch of the Teripun, two main exhibitions were held.
‘The Cultured Rainforest Exhibition’ explores long-term and present-day interactions between people and rainforests in the Kelabit Highlands and nearby areas, encompassing both the Kelabit and Penan people.
It portrays past and present agricultural and hunter-gatherer lifestyles and landscapes; exploring cultural and ecological relationships with the natural environment in the present, recent past and deep past; explores settlement histories and genealogies in part of the Kelabit Highlands, the upper Kelapang valley through oral histories and legends, including that of Tuked Rini, a culture hero who journeyed the cosmos.
Another exhibition, situated on the second floor, is ‘Tuan Mayur (Tom Harrisson) – the Man Who Discovered The World Within’, designed and donated by Malaysia Architect Association (PAM) Sarawak Chapter. The exhibition traces Harrisson’s contributions to the Sarawak Museum and his first contact with the Kelabit during the Oxford Expedition of 1932 and subsequent mission during WW11, when he led the ‘Z’ Special Unit’s ‘Operation Semut’ into north-central Borneo.
Harrisson parachuted into Bario with seven other commandos in the early morning of March 25, 1945.
He had contributed immensely to the progress of the Kelabit community, including writing a book on the Kelabits entitled ‘The World Within’ and starting the first primary school in the Kelabit highlands.
Some 2,000 guests and tourists came for the three-day festival initiated to preserve the traditional processing methods of indigenous edible plants, and safeguard local plant and animal species.
Also present were John Sikie’s wife Datin Melia Gelen, Mulu assemblyman Datuk Gerawat Gala, RKS deputy president Dr Philip Raja and the festival organising chairperson Lilla Raja.
Besides the promotion of food and handicrafts, cultural performances and exhibitions were held too.