Being Sarawakian: Arakki?!

I have been going to my parents’ farm in the hills. My mum is currently busy growing peppercorns and she is very excited about it. There are other fruits and vegetables too on the farm. The pineapples are growing like mushrooms. According to my mum, they have not been buying pineapples from the market for a few months now. Just yesterday, we had her mushrooms for dinner.

When my paternal grandparents were still very active, their source of income comes from their farm. In their remote hill farms, they used to grow hill rice, maize and sugarcane as staples, and pepper, cocoa, lemon, pomelo and rubber for cash. In fact, they used to earned thousands within a week just from the selling of their durians. Of course, it was not easy for them but they enjoyed and miss it dearly. Once in a while now, my parents would bring them to visit the farms.

Their other source of income used to also be the rice wine, also known as tuak. Bidayuhs are Borneo’s master tuak makers and my grandparents used to make and sell them, usually nearing the festive seasons. They also made tuak tebu (sugarcane wine) and I have once tasted tuak apple (apple cider).

Tuak is part of Borneo native’s culture and it is used in social and ritual events of the Dayak tribes. During Gawai, tuak is offered to the spirits as part of the items used in blessing ceremonies such as the Harvest Festival. The culture of making tuak however, is slowly dying out and most of the current generations are either not interested in learning or they feel it is impossible to get it right. Plus, tuak is becoming rare now due to the availability of many modern alcohol beverages. Beers, wines and liquors are also increasingly affordable.

Bidayuhs also use distilling methods to make arak tonok, a kind of moonshine. While both tuak and arak tonok is part of our culture, alcoholism and drunkenness have also become a serious social issue among the Dayaks today. Not only adult, the youngsters are also heavily engaged in the habit of drinking; especially the moonshine.

Today, evenings and weekends, no matter what the occasion, whether there is any or not, is the time to get high and drunk. I am a drinker myself, but I do find indulging excessively is absolutely unnecessary. From time wastage to the destroying of physical and mental health, alcoholism will eventually lead to death. More than 10 years ago, one of our relatives who was close to my dad passed away from the habitual over-drinking of alcohol across all ranges.

I personally prefer tuak tebu over everything else and find arak to be too strong. I can take tuak any time of the day, but no moonshine for me.

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