Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rare Iban ritual to celebrate good fortune

OBSERVING a rare traditional Iban ritual to seek or celebrate good fortune called Gawai Kelingkang dan Tuah was an opportunity too good to pass up when it  presented itself about two weeks ago.

I needed little convincing when my colleague, whose relatives would be hosting this age-old  ritual at his longhouse in the interior of Kanowit, invited me to tag along. All he said was “it’s a special Gawai which will also commemorate our new longhouse – a sort of adding Gawai Pangkung Tiang in the mix. There is a special ritual where they bathe pigs in the river.”

The thought of witnessing this ritual (bathing of the pigs) got me curious. So without hesitation, I decided to make the seven-hour drive from Kuching to Kanowit – plus a boat ride across the mighty Rejang, and another hour’s drive along a mix of tar-sealed and off-road tracks to the nearest pick-up point before taking a longboat ride along Sungai Poi to our destination – Nanga Ulin.

The Gawai Kelingkang dan Tuah was to be celebrated at the newly-built 21-door longhouse called New Ulin (New Orleans inevitably came to mind). This modern structure replaces the old Nanga Ulin traditional longhouse, situated further upriver, which was gutted in 2009. Work on New Ulin (also known as Rumah Sangga) started that same year and the first family moved in two years ago (2011).

The Gawai hosts were Jackson Uding Upak, 54, a senior commissioning engineer with a multi-national company in the oil and gas industry and his brother 39-year-old Rimau Tengoling, a sub-sea engineer with a multi-national drilling company also in oil and gas. The three other individuals involved were the duo’s children and a brother-in-law. In all, there were five hosts.

“In the old days, Gawai Kelingkang was celebrated to prepare or mark the success of the notorious Ngayau (headhunting) tradition, but today, the Ibans celebrate this ritual as a symbol of good fortune and success in their Bejalai (sojourn) undertakings, mainly in search of jobs and higher education.

“In this Gawai Kelingkang today, we celebrate our new home and the successes of some of our fellow longhouse residents,” Uding told thesundaypost at the celebration.

Rimau chipped in: “The celebration is observed in accordance with the ripih (process) of Gawai Kelingkang in the Batang Rajang area. There are seven stages, starting with Nguak, Nyingka, Ngabas Amuk, Nyulap, Ngerara Belayan, Ngitang Tali Buru and Besimpan.”

He noted that the ripih could be different in other areas. For instance, at New Ulin, the Gawai, which took place on Dec 11, was celebrated in the Nyingka stage.

Ari Nimang Pantar

Preparations for Gawai Kelingkang dan Tuah started on a Tuesday evening as village elders and the Gawai hosts took part in Nyambut Orang Nasak, a ceremony to herald the arrival of the Pugu Berani (the most important and wisest person) to the celebration.

Gotong-royong-style, the women prepared “offering plates,” each containing glutinous rice, hard-boiled eggs and fried popped rice, among other foods.

During the Nasak, the Gawai hosts acted symbolically as the Pugu Berani. On arrival at the foot of the longhouse, each was presented with rice wine to “drown any bad omens” that they might have caught on their way to the celebration.

As chief host, Uding was required to symbolically chant an invocation.

The Lemambang (bard), represented by the chief host, and his assistants, represented by the other hosts, took on the roles of Berbiau (performing prayers), Biau/Miau ke piring (holding a rooster and blessing the offering plates) and Biau/Miau orang Nasak.

At the end of the ceremony, the men proceeded to build an offering hut for the sacrificial boars, and a shrine at the gallery for the Bilik (household unit) of the hosts. A flag pole was also planted where offering baskets for the spirits were placed on top.

At 9pm, the bard started the Nimang Pantar (chanting ritual) ceremony by performing invocations of his guardian spirits. He began with the Ngerayong Pandong ritual (covering the shrine with Pua Kumbu) before the chanting ritual with his two bala (assistants) who acted as Penyaut Lemambang or Nyagu (answering poetry-like chants sung by the bard).

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Rare Iban ritual to celebrate good fortune

Thursday, December 26, 2013

AirAsia Zest flight to boost tourism in Kota Kinabalu

THE Sabah State Government wants to tap into the strengths of the Philippine tourism industry to draw more tourists to visit the coastal city of Kota Kinabalu and help boost its position as the state’s “nature resort” capital.

Y.B. Datuk Teo Chee Kang, speaking on behalf of Chief Minister Datuk Deri Panglima Musa Haji Aman, said seeing the two governments work together could be beneficial to their respective tourism industries.

“I wish to call on everyone involved in the tourism and service industry to work together in promoting Sabah not only as a tourist destination but also as a hub for meetings and trade shows, further boosting the economy,” Kang said during the press conference following the inaugural flight of AirAsia Zest from Cebu to Kota Kinabalu last Dec. 19.

Tourism is one of the State’s three thrusts of development agenda and is constantly being pushed in federal-led plans, such as the Economic Transformation Programme. Kota Kinabalu gets over two million visitors every year, with Chinese, Korean and Japanese nationals as its top three markets, respectively.

Kota Kinabalu is known for its most famous landmark, the Mount Kinabalu, and usually attracts tourists who are into outdoor adventure. The city itself, however, boasts of cultural and architectural scenes.

Kang said that having more flights to Kota Kinabalu from other Asian destinations and even Australia helps promote more travel and open more business opportunities in the state.

“It would be almost impossible for tourism in Sabah to flourish without direct connectivity to regional destinations,” he said, adding that AirAsia Zest’s direct flight from Cebu to Kota Kinabalu is seen to create more opportunities specifically in the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines – East Asean Growth Area.

“It (promoting tourism to Kota Kinabalu) is just a matter of packaging it,” Kang said during the press conference following the launch at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sarawak has great tourism potential

KUCHING: China and Sarawak must continue to enhance their bilateral relationship to encourage more collaboration in various areas for the benefits of both parties.

China’s consul-general in Kuching Liu Quan, who was appointed to the state in early November, said yesterday there was great potential for tourism and trade cooperation between the Sarawak and China.

“Therefore, it is important to have more exchanges and communications to open up more opportunities between our countries for further collaboration,” he said when receiving a courtesy call from See Hua Group at the General Consulate of the People’s Republic of China in Jalan Ong Tiang Swee here.

The entourage comprising members of See Hua Group Marketing and Editorial teams was led by See Hua Group Kuching Area manager Wong Sing Seng.

“The strategic location and natural wealth of Borneo, despite its smaller population, has a lot to offer, not only in trade and business but also tourism,” he added.

Liu pointed out that the state’s strength in the tourism was its great diversity of culture, flora and fauna backed by good facilities.

“Kuching or Sarawak as a whole has such advantages but the attractions are scattered and as such accessibility to these destinations is important,” he said.

“Also, more needed to be done to provide better facilities such as five-star hotels that offers convenience, accessibility and comfort,” he elaborated.

He pointed out that Sarawak was still unknown to most Chinese in Mainland China.

“We need to have more networking exchanges and invite more Chinese visitors here, including creating joint tour packages and products, to attract Chinese tourists,” he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak has great tourism potential

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The sculpturing of Mount Kinabalu

ADMIRING the sheer size of this mountain from several vantage points in Sabah, it was only in Kundasang that my eyes focused on the crenulated notches on the bare granite skyline and on the mounds of small forest clad hills on the lower slopes.

How does one explain the rugged peaks of Mount Kinabalu, symbolised by such wonderful names as Donkeys Ears, The Rabbit, The Ugly Sisters and the peaks of St John, Victoria, King George, Tunku Abdul Raman and the South and North Peaks? Yet, what of Low’s Peak and Low’s Gully?

From their extensive research on the mountain’s superficial deposits, Koopmans and Stauffer, at the University of Malaya, in 1966, estimated that during the Eurasian Ice Ages (the Pleistocene period in geological time) 1.4 million to 10,000 years BP (Before the Present), Mount Kinabalu was covered by an ice cap, 5km square in area.

From the edges of the ice cap ice lobes in the form of glaciers flowed down slope exploiting fault lines in the underlying granite-type rock. Slowly but surely the loose rocks embedded and frozen into the base of these glaciers abraded the granite surfaces over which they rode.

Evidence of glacial erosion may be seen today in the striations (chisel-like scratches) in the granite surface zigzagging across the upper plateau surface.

Through the pressure of the overlying ice, the rocks embedded in the base of these glaciers frictionally sanded and eroded the bedrock.

Interestingly these striations bisect each other at distinctive angles suggesting that at different stages of the Pleistocene era the glaciers on Mount Kinabalu came from different directions.

The deeper scratches are relics of more recent glacial advances and the shallower striations from earlier ice advances. It is likely that ice exploited a major fault in the granite that led to a huge icefall in the form of a glacial spillway from the ice cap, thus creating the 1,500 metre sheer drop of Low’s Gully, best observed from Low’s Peak.

The smoothness of the upper mountain, in the area of the fixed ropes, and the glacial shutes where the ice spilled downwards add further evidence of glacial erosion.

In stark contrast, the jagged skyline, best observed on a clear day from Kundasang or Ranau, poses yet a separate explanation. At the peak periods of the Pleistocene glaciations the rock protuberances of Low’s Peak, Donkey’s Ears and The Rabbit were all above the uppermost level of the ice cap.

Such upstanding features are known as nunataks (an Inuit term for bare rocks extending beyond the upper limit of the Greenland ice cap). These peaks experienced freeze-thaw action by night and day, when in daytime, the ice in the cracks in the granite melted only to allow the water to trickle deeper into a crack.

At night-time the water refroze with the new ice expanding by 9 per cent of the water’s volume thus widening the crack. Repeated freeze-thaw cycles shattered the granite into angular shaped fragments.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The sculpturing of Mount Kinabalu

Friday, December 20, 2013

AirAsia Group marks 10th international route into Sabah with new Cebu flight

KUCHING: AirAsia Group marks its 10th international route into ‘Nature Resort City’ of Sabah with the arrival of AirAsia Zest’s inaugural flight into Kota Kinabalu International Airport Terminal 2 from Cebu, Philippines.

AirAsia Bhd (AirAsia) chief executive officer (CEO) Aireen Omar said, “This is another marvelous achievement and a great development for East Malaysia, following the recent celebration of the inaugural flight from Manila to Miri on December 7, the first ever route operated by any airline in the region.

“We are proud with AirAsia Zest – our sister airline – for narrowing the gap between Malaysia and the Philippines, enhancing bilateral ties between the two nations and establishing a closer relationship between both communities.”

Maan Hontiveros, CEO of Philippines’ AirAsia said, “With our new Cebu to Kota Kinabalu flights, air transport connectivity between the Queen City of the South (Philippines) and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and other parts of the region where many Filipinos are experiencing poor connectivity and high fares will greatly improve.”


Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Imperiled Forests of Borneo, A Rich Tropical Eden Endures

In Borneo's Danum Valley — one of the last, untouched forest reserves in a region ravaged by logging and oil palm cultivation — a team of international and Malaysian scientists is fighting to preserve an area of stunning biodiversity.

After three decades of studying the world’s great rainforests, including the Amazon and Congo Basin, I thought I’d seen the best nature has to offer. But that was before I visited a small pocket of forest in northern Borneo known as the Danum Valley. There, I found a dedicated band of international and Malaysian scientists fighting to save a true biological Eden.

In just three days at Danum, I saw a stunning assortment of creatures. Dense rainforests are notoriously difficult places to spot wildlife, but not at Danum — animals are practically dripping from the trees. Bornean gibbons howl from treetops, while giant squirrels and macaques leap spectacularly among branches. Pygmy elephants abound, along with sambar deer and bearded pigs. Orangutans are spotted regularly, while my nighttime hikes revealed palm civets, leopard cats, and giant flying foxes.

Even while taking breakfast on the deck of the research lodge, I was enthralled by a kaleidoscope of butterflies and birds, including magnificent rhinoceros hornbills. And soon after that I had a jolting encounter on a forest track with a spitting cobra, which reared up with hood extended just six feet in front of me.

By any measure, Danum ranks among the world’s most biologically rich and imperiled real estate. My host at Danum, Glen Reynolds, who oversees the British Royal Society’s research in the area, explained how the forests of Borneo have suffered hugely in recent decades from rampant logging, slash-and-burn farming, and cutting for oil palm and rubber plantations.

The island’s rich lowland forests have nearly vanished, with rates of forest loss still among the highest on Earth. For this reason, Borneo is a global epicenter for endangered wildlife, with conservation prognoses for many species becoming ever more perilous.

But Danum has survived, thanks in part to the prestige of the Royal Society and its three decades of collaborative research in Sabah, the Malaysian state in which the conservation area is located. The Royal Society has forged close ties with several influential partners, including the Sabah Forestry Department, the nearby Universiti Malaysia Sabah, and the Sabah Foundation, which administers Danum Valley and its surrounding forests.

It also has trained scores of Malaysian scientists and policy makers, including a number who now hold key research or government positions in Sabah and elsewhere in the region.

Danum is not big by nature-reserve standards — it spans just 438 square kilometers (169 square miles) — but it has impressive attributes and occupies a pivotal position in a rainforest region under siege. In Borneo, half a square kilometer of forest can sustain well over a thousand tree species — more than occur in the entire Northern Hemisphere.

In addition, while the forests surrounding Danum have suffered considerably, the reserve itself has never been hunted or logged. That means that wildlife abounds in rainforests dominated by ancient, towering trees, some reaching up to 80 meters (262 feet) in height.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mount Kinabalu - In the realms of Pluto

MOUNT Kinabalu, rising majestically to its summit of 4,011 metres at Low’s Peak, dominates the Sabahan landscape.

What are the origins of this mountain and how did this distinctive landscape evolve?

Even today this mountain is continuing to rise at the rate of five centimetres each year. In the Millennium Year, I climbed to Low’s Peak and subsequently it has reached another half metre higher, give or take more recent natural weathering and erosion processes. This mountain still rises!

Only if we think in geological time can we begin to understand how the beauty of this mountain has slowly evolved.

It is difficult to think back one million years let alone 35 million BP (Before Present), when in Eocene times, most of Sabah was below sea level with sandstone, siltstone and other deposits flushed from the land and dumped onto the sea bed.

Through plate tectonic (mountain building) movements these deep sea sediments were squashed together and heaved up, out of the sea bed, to create the Crocker Range, which runs through Sabah in a northeast to southwest alignment at an average height of 610 to 910 metres.

About 15 million years BP, during the Pliocene period, as one plate slid under another, the heat generated by the friction of one plate diving against another in the subduction zone melted deep seated rock.

This molten rock, of less density than the surrounding rocks rose upwards as a huge bulb-like formation to create a pluton. (The very word pluton is derived from the mythological Greek God of the Underworld – Pluto.)

This injection or intrusion of molten magma into the base of the Crocker Range pushed up the overlying rock to create the mountain.

Subsequently, erosion of the overlying rocks has exposed the cooled granite-type surfaces as we see today.

The pluton is still rising and injecting magma into the mountain’s base, hence the gradual increase in the height of Low’s Peak. Rest assured, the upward movement is imperceptible and at no risk to climbers.

In the gradual intrusion process of the granite-type rock into the Crocker Range sedimentary rocks, the latter changed in composition through the great heat of the magma into metamorphic rocks such as quartzites and slates especially on the edge of the granite-type intrusion.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Mount Kinabalu - In the realms of Pluto

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Tourist arrivals to Sarawak on the rise

KUCHING: Sarawak’s tourism industry grew in the past few years due to the government’s continuous focus on this sector, said Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

The Chief Minister said tourist arrivals in the first nine months of this year alone had increased by six per cent when compared to the corresponding period last year.

From January to September this year, the number of tourists received was 3,118,049 visitors, out of which 1,885,182 were foreigners.

He said this at the ground-breaking launch of UCSI Hotel Kuching at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) on Thursday. His text-of-speech was read out by Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg.

Taib said he believed the availability of the hotel would have a major impact on the state’s tourism sector.

“With the state government continuously seeking new ways to boost tourism, the coming of the hotel will certainly have a positive impact on the tourism industry, which has already shown positive growth in the last few years.”

On hotel accommodation, Taib said the number of rooms had grown by almost 50 per cent since 2009.

Taib said overall 2013 had been quite an eventful and vibrant year for the state’s tourism sector, adding that the state won international recognition, especially in the area of promotion, marketing and meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibition.

The Orang Utan project at Matang Wildlife Centre, for instance, was considered the best in terms of “responsible wildlife experience” at the World Travel Market in London last Nov 8, he said.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Tourist arrivals to Sarawak on the rise

Monday, December 02, 2013

Labuan targets one million tourists next year

LABUAN: Labuan has set a target of one million tourists or visitor arrivals to this duty-free island by the end of next year in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

Director of Labuan Arts and Tourism Ministry Office, Faruzrahidzah Kassim, said yesterday that they have planned several events to be held next year to attract the visitors here.

“We support Labuan member of parliament Rozman Isli’s aspiration to organise quality events to make this island as a well-known sporting hub. One of the challenges we will face is how to attract visitors to come here during the holiday season, as many of the people here will go out from this island. We need visitors from outside Labuan to come here,” she said.

Faruzrahidzah also said that the Third Tourism Sport Carnival that ended yesterday had been adjusted for better participation. She explained that the sport carnival last year was more on recreational sports and confined mostly to local participation only, while, this year it was more extensive and was open to outsiders.

“Three additional new events held this year were the Strongest Man, Dodgeball and the under-14 football tournament. Another event organised this year was hand-wrestling that was also included last year. For this year, there are only four events organised compared to six last year. Why we have opened participation in the games to outsiders this year is because many were eager to join in the games last year,” she said.