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An Idyllic Life on the Verandah

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John anak Jangen and Bili anak Tapo, village elders

Kampung Mongkos, Serian, Sarawak

I heard John anak Jangen and Bili anak Tapo chatting and laughing on the verandah as I climbed the narrow steps carved out of a single wooden log to the longhouse. I was worried that I would be intruding but the two elderly Bidayuh gentleman immediately made me feel welcome.

Unlike city folk, the indigenous people of Sarawak are not suspicious of visitors. John and Bili were very friendly. I just asked them about what they used to do and we spent the next two hours chatting about our lives.

John used to be the village headman. He recalled how when the village elected him as their headman, he ran away and hid in the forest because he was overwhelmed by the responsibility. However, once he got a grip on himself, he went back and did his duty.

Neither John nor Bili knows exactly how old he is. But it is obvious that they have earned their places as village elders. John, in particular, can remember the Japanese Occupation during the Second World War as well as Konfrontasi (the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, 1962–1966), when he the Malaysian army served as a tracker.

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