A Lun Bawang wedding in Lawas 3/4

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During the week spent in Sarawak, I had the privilege of attending a marriage between two Lun Bawang people in Trusan, Lawas. Debbie and Sylvestser are related to Francis, my host for the trip and Stanley who had become our impromptu tour guide. The wedding ceremony was held at the Gereja Bem (SIB) Lintang Baru in Trusan, Sarawak. I thought it would be a wedding like any other. Little did I know the wedding would be conducted in two parts. The latter part was when it got really interesting.

In the first ceremony conducted at the church, I pretty much knew what to expect. However, after the church ceremony, everyone walked over to the house of the groom’s father. This was the first time I had ever witnessed a Lun Bawang wedding. The traditional wedding ceremony was held at the groom’s family home a short distance away.

Everyone had lunch together. Food was in abundance which is customary for weddings in Asia. After all, when some Chinese and some other races meet, we will ask if you have eaten yet rather than how you are. The focus was on two traditional dishes. The first was a pork dish shaped like a crocodile but it is not a dish served on plates. Crocodiles are synonymous with Sarawak and the dish was assembled on a large table measuring close to 4 meters long. Parts of the pig were placed expertly around mounds of Bario rice I presume and it did look like a big crocodile except for the head which was retained with ears and stout intact!

The second dish was a dish of rice and meat served on a large round platter.  The art of preparing and displaying these dishes is handed down through the generations, and I wonder if the next generation would know how to prepare it. This dish, if not shaped like any animal that I know of.

While in Long Semadoh, I had witnessed how every meeting was followed by a firm handshake. People always take the time to greet each other properly and to exchange a few words. I guess it’s only natural that this would extend to the wedding ceremony.

After lunch, Debbie and her family along with her relatives and friends stood in a line stretching from the car park area into the area where the celebrations would take place. Sylvester then walked into the compound with his entourage bearing gifts. Along the way, everyone from Debbie’s family and friends shook hands with Sylvester’s family. What tickled me was the sight of one of the guests with a gas cylinder (for cooking) strapped to his back. I was told that in the old days, they would come bearing firewood for cooking and warmth, and I guess this is progress.

Part of the wedding festivities included a traditional ritual of shooting a paper plane off a tree. In times past, it may have been a wooden airplane. Men being men, everyone lined up for a go with the shotgun. I was told that if the plane is not shot down by the groom’s family, the marriage will not proceed. Anyway, the paper aeroplane which measured about 60cm was tied by a string to the branch of a tree some distance away. The men then took turns to shoot at the plane with a shotgun. Francis, my friend and host for this trip, had an evil glint in his eye as he took the shotgun and fired away at the plane. Rather unfairly, he had two opportunities to shoot at the airplane and the recoil was powerful enough to almost knock him to the ground. After numerous attempts by a variety of gentleman, the plane was still attached to the string and swaying in the wind; almost like it was mocking the men. Simple physics could be the answer here as the plane was attached to a string and the bullet just passed through the thin paper. Eventually, after having expended some serious metal on the hapless airplane, the wedding was allowed to proceed.

After the men had their fun with the shotgun, it was time for Debbie to make her way into the compound with her entourage in tow. Sylvester, his family and friends lined up by the side of the road to greet and shake the hand of each and every member of Debbie’s entourage.

With both Debbie and Sylvester seated at the podium, a traditional dance was performed. No wedding in Sarawak or Sabah is complete with a traditional dance and I was mesmerised by the beautiful costumes and gracefulness of the dancers.

The traditional dance performance was followed by a gift giving ceremony. This was a mixture of gifts brought in by Sylvester’s entourage and those prepared earlier for specific members of both families.

A ceremony was held for the gifts to be given to senior members of both sides of the family. Instead of being monotonous, the gift giving ceremony became more interesting as it progressed. The reason for this being each gift recipient had to do a little dance after. What was surprising was both men and women knew the basic gestures. Come to think of it, if I were ever asked to perform a little Chinese dance, I would not be able to but as the Lun Bawang have shown, they still have the moves and the awareness of their culture. One important aspect of the gift giving ceremony is the introduction of each recipient by name and position in the family. I think this is something we can learn from the indigenous people of Borneo. Getting to know one’s new relatives from marriage is very important thus the introduction of all the senior members of the families by name and relationship.

In many ways, Sabah and Sarawak reminds me of a time when the races lived harmoniously with each other without being overly sensitive to things one shouldn’t be sensitive to. There are bigger issues out there. However, judging from recent political rhetoric, our multicultural society is expendable. But it’s during these events where we have a people of so many races getting together to celebrate a wedding that I’m reassured our multi-racial society is alive and well.

Throughout the trip, I was looking forward to the obligatory ‘tuak’ (rice wine) but as I found out later, most of the Lun Bawang are Christians and do not partake in ‘tuak’ anymore. Yes, I had an alcohol free week in Sarawak.

Next post Jonathan Labo, Headmaster – Part 4 of 4


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