Sunday, February 08, 2015

The longhouse bidan of Niah

IN the 1950s, it would take a strong hunter more than three days’ walk from Niah to Miri on a rainy day along a small jungle path.

The then normal way to reach Miri from Niah was by a coastal boat sailing down the Niah River out to the sea and then to Miri.

Three coastal boats plied between Bintulu, Niah, Bekenu and Miri weekly. A boat would call at Niah, then proceed to Bekenu and from there, to Miri.

That too might take a day or more, depending on the waiting period.

If you were heavily pregnant and your time was near, would you walk that far and for that long, or would you take a boat, which might cost half a year’s income from selling rice?

Many sick people would go to Miri for treatment in the government hospital in the peninsula or what people referred to as the Old Miri Hospital in the 50s through to the 80s.

People who died while seeking treatment would be buried at Pendam Tekalong, below the present SIB church on Canada Hill. That cemetery was excavated not long ago to make way for a proposed hotel — which is still pending.

In those early years, many people perhaps had no choice but to consider seeing a traditional bidan, a godsend.

Rangayan Ayong became a ‘bidan’ or ‘birth assistant’ at Rumah Ranggong in Niah soon after marrying Tuai Rumah Ranggong Jenau in 1955.

For more 20 years, she helped deliver babies, never asking for a fee or a token packet of rice. It was out of her good heart or a dedicated mission in today’s language.

“She collected and kept all the small urns her patients gave her, they would line the road from the Iban longhouse to Batu Niah,” recalled Chula, her eldest daughter.

Knowledge from dreams

Rangayan married Ranggong when she was barely 16. She said she was given the knowledge to help deliver babies in a series of dreams.

Her hands were ‘touched’ by a spirit and that was how she started helping in deliveries at her longhouse and those nearby. From then on, she was the one to call to assist with births.

Amazingly, there were no reports of deaths at birth or deaths of mothers from Rumah Ranggong.

“Each delivery was amazing and I could feel the baby in the womb with my hands,” recalled Rangayan, also known as Indai Inggol.

Today, her memories are failing her as she has not been that well since her husband passed away.

According to her son Inggol, Rangayan has always been a very quiet woman.

She gets along with everyone in the longhouse because she is very patient, respectful of others, well versed in Iban adat and was the wife of a longhouse chieftain.

Besides, she is very confident in whatever she does. Now almost 75, she still has that hearty laugh which is very much part of her cheerful character.

Besides being a village bidan, Rangayan has always been a very good cook, and she has passed her culinary skills to her children.

Good pua weaver

Special dreams which visited her when she was younger also helped her to be a good pua weaver. Her fame has travelled far and wide.

The Ibans traditionally believe such dreams which visit Iban women help them to become the best pua weavers in Sarawak. These dreams would also teach them what patterns to weave.

From young, Rangayan has also been a good farmer, planting padi, maize and vegetables to help sustain her family.

Continue reading (incl. Pics) at: The longhouse bidan of Niah