Makan Tahun a window to Kedayan life

Awang Tengah (centre) and guests given a warm welcome.

LIMBANG: The Kedayans have their own unique and distinctive culture, language and costumes. They are also famed for their knowledge of medicinal plants, which they grow to treat a wide range of ailments or to make tonics.

But all these traits are increasingly eroded by the onslaught of the ever-changing world of modernisation and globalisation. Their durians and ‘terap’ are among the best.

Bahasa Kedayan is spoken by more than 130,000 people in Brunei, 46,500 in Sabah and 37,000 in Sarawak.

In Sabah, the Kedayans mainly live in Sipitang, Beaufort, Kuala Penyu and Papar while those in Sarawak mostly reside in Lawas, Limbang, Miri and Sibuti areas.

Their premier celebration – Pesta Makan Tahun- has been given a revival and is a much-awaited thanksgiving occasion for the community in Bekenu, Limbang, Lawas, Brunei and Sabah. It is similar to the Tadau Keamatan of Sabah or Gawai Dayak of Sarawak.

Awang Tengah (third right) and Asfia (third left) sampling Kedayan cuisine at one of the ‘Junjung’.

This year, Limbang Kedayan Association held its third edition of the Makan Tahun from Aug 4 to 6 at Kampung Pahlawan here. Joining the locals in the celebration were their brethren from Sipitang, Labuan, Brunei and Miri to partake in the food, cultural and traditional sports extravaganza.

The earlier editions of the carnival were held in Kampung Limpaki (2015) and Kampung Batu Bakarang (2016).

The aim of the carnival was to revive the diminishing traditional customs, expose the younger generation to the annual thanksgiving event and foster rapport among the community while introducing traditional cakes and food such as ‘wajid’, ‘penyeram’ and ‘suabai’, traditional games and costumes apart from highlighting their cultural heritage. There are 22 Kedayan villages in Limbang.

What is unique about the Kedayan Makan Tahun is that every villager is involved and given tasks and responsibilities by the village chief in the spirit of ‘gotong-royong’.

This carnival is a peek into the past of the agrarian Kedayan community where the smell, atmosphere and setting is recreated as a walk down memory lane for many of the elders and a platform for the younger generation to be acquainted with their ancestral roots and customs.

Visitors visiting the ‘Junjung’.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan represented Limbang-born Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg in officiating at the opening ceremony.

Kampung Pahlawan is the largest Kedayan village in Limbang Division, with over 2,000 villagers and is divided into five zones – Tatal, Bukit, Tamiang, Masjid and Batu Lapan. It was a scene to behold as the villagers went all out to prepare for this celebration.

The main function was centred at the newly completed RM1.7 million multipurpose hall which can seat 1,000 people, where silat, folk songs, cultural performances, beauty contest and many events were lined up.

The ‘Junjung’ or farm huts competition saw many villagers from the respective zones erecting from scratch outstanding structures made from wood, bamboo and nipah leaves which reflected their identity, cultural roots and cuisine.

There were also toys and decorations, food and many other items provided by nature while old bronze pots, kerosene lamps and other antique items were on display at the carnival.

Children’s toys – gegagi, ular ular and burong-burong – were made from nipah leaves, while food such as prawns or fish with rice wrapped in ‘pinang’ leaves were among the novelty at the ‘Junjung’ – a flashback to a past lifestyle untouched by modernity.

Saadiah Amin of Zone Temiang said children had a lot of fun playing with the toys made from leaves which are folded into forms resembling snakes, birds or saws akin to origami.

The array of food presented at these ‘Junjung’ included buffalo meat, ‘pais ikan’, ‘sambal tahai’, local fruits, ‘umbut kelapa’ and other traditional food of the Kedayans.

Zone Kampung Sembiling took the top prize of RM1,000 cash for the finest ‘Junjung’, followed by Nuaran and Tatal in second and third places taking home RM700 and RM500 respectively. Awang Tengah presented prizes to the winners.

Also present were State Legislative Assembly speaker Datuk Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nassar, Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Datuk Henry Sum Agong, Limbang MP Hasbi Habibolah, Batu Danau assemblyman Paulus Palu Gumbang, Lambir assemblyman Ripin Lamat, Umno Labuan deputy chief Senator Datuk Bashir Alias, Limbang Resident Datu Maria Hasman, Limbang District Council chairman Sufian Mohat, Deputy Limbang district officer Hamidah Halpi, Umno Labuan Women chief Datuk Aini Safar, organising chairman Penghulu Abu Tinggal and village chief Bungsu Tambah.