Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mount Singai, Bau - Stairway up a sacred mountain

THE mountain has been a source of clean water for drinking, bathing and washing among villagers in the lowlands not just in the past but probably today as well.

The lofty area is also believed to be a habitat for at least 30 species of amphibians and 19 species of reptiles, of which 14 are endemic to Borneo. At least 20 species of birds, 22 species of mammals, 86 species of butterflies and 1,178 species of plants are said to belong to some 69 families in the vicinity.

Moreover, there are about 150 groups of under-storey plants found within the mountain which can be used for landscaping, medicinal purposes, timber and handicrafts.

Located between Bau and Matang, Mount Singai was the abode of the Bisingai for more than 400 years before the villagers moved down to the lowlands in the early 1970’s.

Legend has it that the Bidayuh Singai settlers at Mount Singai in the early 1800’s were from Kalimantan. They left because of frequent attacks by their enemies, and were looking for a place to start a new settlement. Their choice was Mount Singai where they established their villages about a quarter-way up the mountain for better protection. The steep slope provided an impregnable buffer against attacks.

In the early days, the villages — Daun, Moti, Puot, Sajong, Saga, Somu, Sudoh and Tuben — were situated close to each other, yet separately administered under a village chief. The overall leader was the Orang Kaya Pemanca, locally referred to as Raja, a ruler of great power and influence.

The people practised paganism where Gawai Adat was then the Bisingai’s religion. It was based on the worship of the ancestral spirit called Ieng Sumuk Ieng Babai. The people also believed in supreme beings and had some faint idea of God.

Along the pathways and in their farms, they were said to have planted fruit trees and cash crops, resulting in a mosaic of secondary forests and gardens while the forests higher up in the mountain were left untouched till now.

Mount Singai with its unique flat summit is, indeed, an iconic landmark gracing the skyline.

Today, the Bidayuhs from Mount Singai have moved down and resettled in villages called Sagah, Bobak Tengah, Browing, Daun, Sinibung, Tanjong Bowang, Tanjong Poting, Atas, Sudoh, Apar. There have been repeated calls by the Bisingai for the mountain to be protected in order to preserve the social system, cultures and traditions of the community.

A lot of folklore, arts and crafts — basket, mats, traps and the like — need to be conserved and only by safeguarding nature at Mount Singai can these cultural treasures of the Bidayuhs be perpetuated.

Climb up Mt Singai

Together with my family, I recently made a day trip to Bau to ascend Mount Singai and see for myself the surrounding natural habitants and the flora and fauna.

For me, the forests in the area truly present an excellent opportunity for biodiversity and forest succession studies.

Along the belian plankwalk and stairway on the way up, we could see lots of large bamboo plants, tapang trees, palm (Arenga Sp) or ‘njuok’ in Bidayuh, ferns, wild flowers and fruit trees, especially durian and langsat, among others.

While taking a short break at one of the stations, I imagined what could possibly be around the entire mountain far beyond the Singai area. Perhaps, the forests are still rich in resources like the numerous ancient tapang trees and other huge hardwoods, fruit trees, bamboo for home flooring and walls and rattan for baskets and mats.

I also believe there are many more ‘njuok’ palms which produce a juice call ‘tuak njuok,’ normally consumed by men while socialising.

Checking out the area undoubtedly gives one greater insight into the history of Mount Singai — the cultures, the original settlements and the places connected with rites and rituals practised by the Bisingai centuries ago.

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