KUCHING: Sarawak is described as a land of many ethnic groups – something that has been the strength of its people.
So when an event such as ‘Makan Makan Sarawak’ added an Orang Ulu Festival to its long-running series of cultural cuisine experiences, you would know that you would be in for a treat.
While past events focused on the food culture at dinner, this year’s edition broadened its scope into the day time, with cultural exhibitions, an art showcase, workshops and a vendor market featuring crafts, and of course, food from the Orang Ulu communities – a collective term for the various ethnic sub-groups from northern Sarawak.
They gathered at Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) premises for the event, with many others flowing in to learn, buy and sample traditional cuisines – some of which were specially flown in from other parts of Sarawak.
One such example was the ‘ampasu’ fruit from Limbang, sliced thinly and made into a ‘sambal’ with anchovies. The first taste of salty-sourness hits the back of the throat, before dissolving into a bliss-point flavour that makes for something addictive.
Dorothy Kulai from Sarawak Bisaya Association said she had to put her foot down when stall patrons wanted to buy out her limited stock.
“We have to go out into the jungle to find these fruits. There is also a limit to how much you can bring from Limbang. They’re heavy,” she told reporters.
Over at the Penan stall, the participants were serving fragrant smoked pork and ‘linut’ — a sticky concoction made from starch that is popularly associated with the Melanaus.
It is indeed a traditional staple of the Penans, confirmed one of the stall-keepers, underlining Yayasan Perpaduan Sarawak (YPS) chief executive Dato Aloysius Dris’ comment that Sarawakians have more in common than in contrast.
“We find the commonalities that we can share, whether they’re food, handicrafts, or the things we do culturally or traditionally. Some of the food do seem similar, but taste a bit different. This makes it interesting and something they can explain to visitors,” he told reporters after touring the food and handicraft stalls.
While the Makan Makan Sarawak series might appear to be all about food, Dris said finding a common ground is what they are aiming for.
Makan Makan Sarawak began in 2015 with Deepavali, and has since covered Chinese New Year, Gawai Dayak, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and Pesta Melanau. The Pesta Orang Ulu is the sixth and final ethnic grouping in the series.
“We are very happy with it. We are learning a lot in terms of the synergy and the common areas where there are similar menus, and products that are closely similar. This is what we want to highlight and share with people of Sarawak, Malaysia and beyond.”
Over at another part of DBNA’s compound, Ngo Hawing was teaching visitors how to make ‘kelebu’ – the decorative sticks that featured curls carved out of a stick of wood. Visitors learned how to handle the blade mounted to a foot-long stick and how to use their body movements to smoothly carve a continuous strip of wood that would curl naturally.
“These are used to start fire, originally, because it’s easier to burn,” explained Ngo, who makes ‘kelebu’ as decorative elements these days.
Visitors to his workstation might have also learned that Ngo is a Lahanan – an ethnic group from Belaga, one that many might not have heard of before, along with the very practical origins of a now-common Sarawakian decoration.
The Makan Makan Sarawak was organised, hosted and sponsored by YPS. The co-organisers were The Champions, in collaboration with Majlis Adat Istiadat, Sarawak Development Institute, Federation of Orang Ulu Association of Malaysia (Forum) and Sarawak Cultural Village.