The Husband

Most men genuinely believe that they are a perfect husband to their wife. Or the king of some sort. Unfortunately, the husbands that I’ve been observing over the years including my next of kin are the complete opposite.

Most of the irresponsible pieces of shit often think they are superior and try in any way possible to make their wives feel inferior. And to me, this is a classic case of low self-esteem. It’s also a classic domestic abuse which so many men get away with. You don’t see the scar on the skin, but they are eating them slowly from inside.

The traditionalistic school of thought believe that husbands have authority over their wives. It is a highly ingrained belief. Today, I personally do not think so. It’s a practice that should stay in the past. I find it downright ridiculous to ask for a husband’s permission to pay your family a visit or shave your armpit. Even if he forbids it in the most gentle way, it does not make any sense. It’s just domineering.

In my opinion, it only makes sense to ask for permission to buy a new car knowing maybe the husband will have to pay for the monthly instalment. But if you are forking out your own money to pay for it, by all means, go ahead and there is no need to ask for permission. It’s fine to discuss before making the decision, however, and if there is a budget, stick to it.

But if you got a job offer and you want to work, and you happen to have a husband who constantly makes a condescending remark or acts as though he is the smartest person in the universe, fucking grab the opportunity by the balls before you both (and your kids) starve to death. We all know that some men have a very bad track record when it comes to monetary and family management. Not trying to be sexist here; just stating a fact.

You see, marriage is founded on the principle of mutuality. It’s a partnership, not a private fiefdom for dominant husbands. I do however understand that men need to feel respected by their wives. Especially around their friends and extended family. They need their ego stroked.

Newsflash dickheads, the keyword here is RESPECT. And women need to feel respected and loved by their husbands too. Not to boss them around, humiliate them and mute them. There is only to a certain extent that a wife can give in and show admiration. And while they can still and want to do so, a good husband should know not to cross the line.

While I disagree with how other religion views this matter, I would like to share a quote. Believe me, I don’t want to use a quote from the Bible as a reference because it will look like I’m biased but it’s so good, I can’t resist.

Proverbs 31:23-26

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

You see there will never be gender or marriage equality. But I do believe a change can be made if men (and women) just leave the old practice in the past. After all, behind every great man is a great woman. And in Proverbs 31, it’s stated that the support of the wife has helped to elevate her husband. He didn’t go up there by himself.

We have all heard jokes about “who wears the pants in the family.” Yet leadership in the home is no laughing matter. And one of the primary roles of a husband which I believe is to lead. That leadership simply means influence. A husband should not dictate or demands total obedience to his every wish and command.

But have I seen this leadership though? No, unfortunately, I haven’t. I’ve only seen pathetic submission and marriages on the verge of failing.

It’s Just An Old Soul Thing

I don’t really believe in having acquaintances. And fake people, half-hearted friendships and surface-level relationships are just not my cuppa tea. Let alone hookups and one night stands. I’m the kind of person who believes in developing real meaningful relationships that are long-lasting in all stages of my life.

And if a relationship doesn’t last, I believe I’m mature enough to understand that some things come with an expiry date. And that people just don’t click. At this stage though, I keep only a few people close to me. Likeminded ones. Old souls to be precise. After all, old souls are not easy to find. They are often in their own world.

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Being an old soul.

I’ve known this about me since I was a kid and I’m quite used to the fact that people think I’m strange and a little too quiet sometimes. My parents appreciate my silence because whenever I open my mouth, I tend to make everyone around me feel illiterate. My sisters enjoy it but I dare bet that my cousins and relatives are certain that I’m a weirdo.

See I’ve always felt like I’m 30 years older than my age. Most of the time, I prefer having conversations and debates with people my parents’ age. And as a kid, I’ve never really understood the motivations of the people my own age. I didn’t understand why 6-year-olds would throw tantrum at the mall and why my cousins want to have so many toys. As a teenager, I find their goals and priorities to be a little looney.

On top of that, I can never get my head around chasing style and following new trends and technology. Not knowing how to use Waze or Spotify or that there’s a new iPhone coming up doesn’t define me. And so far, I’m fine with that, to be honest. It’s cool. It means that there are fewer things to worry about. After all, you can’t really trust technology.

Back then though, I used to think that I didn’t have a choice and was forced to grow up due to circumstances and because I have four younger sisters. However, slowly I began to understand that I was born an old soul. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Because by the time I was an adult and left high school, and broke up with my boyfriend, I was comfortable being who I am. College was fine and when I started working, it got a lot easier for me to find like-minded souls – especially when they are older than me, even by a year.

When I was jobless for almost half a year, I spent my days at home hanging out with my mom and sisters. Sometimes I’d drag them to go on midnight drives with me. I didn’t go out and have drinks with my friends like most normal people would do. Here’s why – I SPEAK AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LANGUAGE. And I am aware of it.

I’ve always known this because I was a social outcast in school. I’m still figuring out how I made friends. But I realised this more the last time I had a gathering at home. I was the host but my friends were much comfortable with my parents and each other. We did talk, however. We did the whole catching up thing over a few bottles of drinks. But there were limitations and I didn’t know how to express myself entirely, realising that they couldn’t really respond to me. Yikes!

And plus, I don’t like to go out just for the sake of going out. Going out is really a waste of energy, time and money. It’s pointless. But when I do, I’d like very much to experience something that echoes my way of perceiving the world. I really don’t mind spending money on people and things that would give me experiences that worth my while and broaden my horizons. Provided they have nothing to do with height. That shit scared the shit out of me.

Anyways, because of this, people my age think I’m boring. I guess some people just can’t accept the fact that I don’t really need to have fun all the time. And that I’m fine being home alone. Being alone doesn’t really mean I’m lonely although there are times that I am. But that’s another story. I’m a good company for myself. I prefer time to myself than packing my weekends with social events.

That being said, being an old soul means I’m also struggling with many other things. Things that many people may not be able to relate to unless they’re of the same species. These struggles are bad and I’ve not been able to find ways to combat them. Wait, maybe I did. By slowly removing myself from the eyes of the world.

Being an old soul and doubling up as the eldest child, my idea of responsibilities, possibilities and explanations are vast. I see life for myself from many angles. Like a bird view. And I do the same for my parents and sisters. It’s often because I feel like it’s my duty to do so. Because goddammit, making decisions and judgements can be very harmful to you and the people around you sometimes. Especially so, with endless internal and external influences.

I don’t think that I know very much about anything. But at times, I do somehow seem to know how to do things I’ve not even done myself yet. It’s almost like I’ve lived before. And most of the times, it feels like a deja vu. For some reason, I just know how all the shit works and get done. People come to me for advice. And I don’t know how I know the solutions and outcomes. It freaks me out sometimes. But at least those who seek advice will feel a lot better. I think so. I hope.

However, I get emotionally drained pretty easily because of that. While I sincerely want to be there to give them the emotional support they need from me, it can really take a great toll on my energy. It can also be very mentally exhausting. It sometimes affects my work and my sleep. I guess that’s also probably why I like being alone. It’s because I’m a sponge. And I tend to think a lot… About everything. Which later sort of leads to depression.

Anyways, while it is already a challenge to find like-minded friends nowadays, finding a life partner for an old soul is even more challenging! I used to think of other reasons and blame it on today’s dating culture. But the truth is, I’m not capable of just dating or having one night stands even though I did. It’s because I get emotionally invested in whoever I’m sorta dating.

I feel things on a deeper level than most people do, and I don’t open up to just anyone. But I did have a few hookups in my life before. For two years at least. It was a stage in life I never plan and never saw coming until it did. Until it ended and crushed me like a popsicle.

I refused to say it out loud previously, worried I won’t stand a chance with anyone at all but after all that, I know that I won’t settle down with anyone unless I think that there’s some future potential in the relationship.

I’m just another old soul stuck in the 21st century. A century where fake people, casual dating, open relationships and hookups are acceptable. I’ve had my share and I don’t want it anymore.

It’s just an old soul thing.

The end.

Photography Chat With Lance Vun

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt

Photography is a powerful form of storytelling. It encapsulates time and preserves memory. Other than that, it is also a means to express and reflect one’s feelings. However, apart from personal uses, photography can also document formal occasions and events one would like to look back to. Graduation concerts and weddings, for example.

Today, with good smartphone cameras and a mobile photo-sharing application called Instagram, everyone – young and old – have turned into photographers. And whether it is important or insignificant, (or selfies), we capture and share everything on Instagram. It is relatively simple and fun. However, not everyone has the eye.

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Lance Vun is a photographer born and raised in Kuching. He has been shooting professionally for over eight years. He first started as a photojournalist who then chose to make a living off of weddings. As a wedding photographer, he has had the opportunities to photograph countless weddings across the state. Other than that, he is also a passionate street photographer who has taken photos not only in the gritty streets of Kuching and some other parts of Malaysia but also in the brassy streets of Australia.

Prompted by a friend, Lance, along with a group of photographers have decided to organise a photo exhibition called Streets of Kuching. The exhibition is now live at Art Space, ChinaHouse, Kuching.

Here, the young lad talked about his passion and journey as a photographer.

How long have you been a photographer?
I was 19 when I first dabbled with DSLRs. I’m 28 right now so this year would be my ninth year doing photography. But I feel like I’ve not done enough. I know people who have been around for a shorter period and they’re doing pretty well. They’ve done more than me. I feel like I could’ve done more but everyone has got their own pace. I need to push myself because I feel that my photos are still nowhere near the top. But I dare say that my standard is above average.

What or who got you started in photography?
I was not into photography in the beginning. It was my friends who kickstarted the transition. I was in the middle of my diploma that I got influenced by them. I tried my hands on it and not too long after that, I found interest in capturing images. I was studying business in Swinburne at that time. So after I was done with that, I took another diploma in photography. I started building my career from there.

Who are some of you favourite photographers who has influenced your work? And how do they inspire you?
You see, inspiration is all around. It could be from the books I read to the films I watch. But my main source of inspiration would be Joe McNally – a New York-based photographer who used to shoot for LIFE Magazine. Right after 9/11, he did this huge project called ‘Faces of Ground Zero’. I was truly inspired by that. And the other one is Zack Arias – he’s an Atlanta-based photographer.

What sort of work do you specialise in?
I’m a wedding photographer by profession and I photograph mainly weddings and event coverage. That’s what I’ve been doing most. Because I’m very much into stories. So weddings and events can give you that. Sometimes I do basic portraits. I used to do press work. I used to work as a photojournalist for United Daily News and took photos for the newspapers. Now, I also run a studio under PhotoBorneo as part of the community project called HAUS.

What intrigued you most about your subjects?
Emotions… And moments that you can’t stage and don’t get to capture twice. Moments where you just have to be there because you don’t want to miss the emotions.

Exactly what do you want to say with your photos, and how do you actually get them to do that?
Well, I like to tell stories through my photos. I want to express how I feel about what I see at that time. But specifically, in weddings, I want to capture priceless moments. Moments that can’t be staged. There is something special about photographing couples who are crazy in love. But it’s not just about two people, it’s also about the people around them who are there to celebrate that special day with them. And every wedding is different. Every wedding is an exciting adventure. So, you’ll see a lot of different things happening at the wedding. Many that you can’t replay.

Like candids?
Not really. Some, maybe. But these are the stories, and kind of a life history that you want to share with people. There are so many opportunities for beautiful photos throughout a wedding day. And for me, those photos carry more weights because those are the photos which the future generation who were not there can see. So, I’m honoured to be hired as a wedding photographer. And I have been very fortunate in undertaking multiple weddings since after my initial work was well received.

Right. So what do you think makes you different from the other photographers that you know?
I think I see things on a deeper level. I photograph the essence of the soul, of the subject. My style is quite documentary with a focus on real moments and emotion. I don’t stage my photos. I watch events unfold naturally. It’s not just about the visual aesthetics but it’s more about the life. 

Why do you like street photography?
See, for me, photos that really stand out are the one where a street moment is captured to show a unique story. With street photography, you get more freedom. You don’t have to give instructions to your subjects or annoy them. Anything from candid shots to perhaps portraits, none of them is staged. I also like the challenge. People don’t usually realise that they are being photographed. You need to have an eye for detail and finding something worth telling through the photos you take.

What are the other challenges of street photography?
Well, unlike wedding photography, one thing that will always hold me back is the fear of shooting strangers. If I publish it, I might get in trouble. You will need their permission. But street photography is my passion. It’s probably the best way to show my way of viewing things and I’m determined to keep developing my eye for street photography.

I can say that you’re enjoying a pretty stellar career as a photographer now. What are the best and worst experiences you have ever had to go through to get the shots you deemed as perfect?
There are many. But I can’t pinpoint one at the moment. However, I would say it’s probably the one that got me the Kenyalang Press Awards. It was a random photo that I took from the bridge but I was fortunate enough to win that award. It’s not my greatest photographic accomplishment, but it kind of motivates me. I still have a long way to go.

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Of course. Now, comparing where you are at the moment, with where you were when you first started, what do you think you could have done differently to get to where you are sooner?
I don’t know. But nothing, maybe. I may have screwed up many times. Many of my photos didn’t work. But I won’t say that I regret them. I learn from them. That’s how we learn and polish our skills. Only from mistakes and flaws will I know what to focus on in the future. That’s how we progress. Making better, more compelling art is addictive. So I guess, I wouldn’t change anything. In fact, I still have more to learn.

Do you create personal work often?
If you’re talking about street photography, I do it here and there, every now and then. Whenever I have the time and opportunity, I’d take my camera around and start taking photos. I do it mainly in Kenyalang. It’s a place that is close to my heart. And I like to do it alone and take my time to blend into the street scene.

Do you want viewers to recognise the symbols or messages in your photos and be subconsciously affected?
Of course. Not subconsciously. I want my photos to affect people. That’s what it’s all about. Especially the scenes of urban life through my street photos. This photo of these two uncles for example. They may look like they are only two old men having drinks. But it’s more than that. I want to show our culture here on Sunday mornings.

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Of course. Let’s get to the technical part. What cameras and lighting gear did you start with and what are you currently using?
I started with Canon 1000D that my dad bought for me. At the moment I’m using two Canon 5D MKIII. And I mainly shoot with a 16-35mm lens, 50mm, 100mm, and a few lights here and there. But I rely on natural light as a preference, though. It’s the best.

And if you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
At the moment I guess it’s the 16-25mm because I like wide stuff. With a wider angle, you get more drama in. But with wide angle, you need to also handle the distortions. So, I kind of have this love-hate relationship with that lens. You have to be able to master that characteristic of a wide angle lens.

What technology or software do you use to keep focused on what you do best, as you photograph?
It depends on the tasks or the photos. I use 70% Photoshop Lightroom, 30% Photoshop CS6.

How much time do you spend taking photos, versus retouching photos?
Two-third of the time, shooting. One-third, editing. Not to say editing, but processing and delivering what’s best for my clients.

More and more iPhone photographers are coming out of their boxes now. They take good photos too. Soon, people may not need professional photographers anymore. What motivates you to continue taking photos?
Well, everyone can take good photos. No doubt. But many do it for fun. They don’t plan to become a professional photographer. And there’s no versatility. Versatility is important to photographers. And photographers are compelled to push themselves further in the pursuit of creative excellence. So, adding creativity to compositions and looking to achieve something different is something I am constantly striving to achieve in my work.

For your commercial work, how important is your website or social media accounts? Do you bother making a hard copy portfolio?
Well, yes. It’s very important. Otherwise, how would people reach me? Everything is through social media nowadays. And yes, I do make a hard copy. I need to bring something to show my clients to convince them.

As for this exhibition, is this your first or have you had many prior to this?
I have participated in a few but this is the first one with me being one of the organisers. It was a friend’s idea. And it was just a matter of realising it. Most photo exhibitions here focuses on landscapes and vibrant photos. So, I thought why not do something different this time.

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What are you trying to achieve from this exhibition and why?
As organisers and speakers for this exhibition, we hope to educate, guide and motivate people. We want to give them tips on street photography, of course. Other than that, we want to provide a platform for other photographers to exhibit their work. As far as I know, in Kuching, we don’t have exhibitions for street photography. So this is the first and we have a lot of participants. Some of the participants are relatively new in this field. But I can tell you that the level of skill from the newcomers is astonishing. So we kind of want to set up a community where photographers – old and new – can learn from each other. This is the chance for everyone to learn and evolve.

Are you planning to make this is a yearly thing?
Well, we’ll see how it goes. I mean, I received good comments and positive feedbacks. They did suggest to me to do it a yearly thing, but you know, we need the budget as well. If need be, I don’t see why not.

Which photo in this exhibition are you currently most proud of?
The boat. I was at Waterfront. I saw the boat coming towards me. Something about it intrigued me so I took the photo from the top. I thought it was going to stop there. But it went to the corner. I went to take a look and saw the uncle counting his money. It wouldn’t be appropriate to take a photo of that. So, I left.

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You’re born and raised in Kuching and spent some time in Australia. What is home to you?
Home is where I can just be myself. Without having the fear of how other people would think of me. Without anyone judging me. Home is where I feel joy naturally. When I’m home, at the dining table, I’d automatically lift up one of my legs on the chair. But that never happened when I was in Australia. I don’t feel comfortable doing that anywhere else. And when I do street photography in Kuching, I feel more of myself. When I do it in Australia, it didn’t feel like home.

If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet, where would you build your dream home?
I have not travelled and seen enough. So, at the moment, I can’t really say where I would want to build this so-called dream home.

Check out Lance Vun’s photos here!

PS: All photos are courtesy of Lance Vun.

Miyo – Kuching Street Heroine

“Graffiti is a life force in a city, that says to every citizen, I’m alive, the city is alive. A city without graffiti is like a field without flowers.” UC Berkeley’s Professor Greg Niemeyer.

Graffiti, regardless of its form, makes a statement. And any notion of meaning or interpretation towards the art which has existed since prehistoric times is left to the perception of the viewer. However, people often consider it as vandalism.

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Graffiti is a time-intensive craft explored by highly skilled artists. And this art form is dominated by men. Contributions by the women have been particularly overlooked in many parts of the world. Despite pursuing their art under dangerous and illegal conditions, they do not receive the same respect as their male counterparts.

In Kuching, women are underrepresented in this subculture. One, however, is pushing the limit and challenging the stereotype. Miyo – real name Dewi Emilia binti Iskandar – is Kuching’s first female graffiti artist. In fact, the only one on the radar. Leaving her marks within the masculine spaces of street art, she astounds the traditional gender notions.

During my interview with her, she spoke passionately about the art of graffiti and her devotion to it. While some best-known female street artist has gone to great lengths to preserve their anonymity, she who sometimes goes by the moniker ‘The Black Cat‘, through this interview is doing the opposite.

Check out the interview below:

 

Could you describe your journey into becoming the first female graffiti artist in Kuching?

I used to create weird block letters. I was 13 at that time, and I had zero knowledge about graffiti. I was introduced to the art of graffiti in college by my lecturer. I started painting in 2007 on a plywood for a competition. I was a solo project.

I took a break and got back to it again in 2012 when I met my junior Dhiya Roslan who shares the same interest. I was not a skilled graffiti artist back then so, I picked up a thing or two from him.

We then officially kick-started our journey at an event called ‘Youthnity for Charity’ with some friends under the name RUSK Crew. There were Saddiq (Twenty-Fifth), Razi and Moody. After a while, we got along well and got Shafiq Fauzi (Shaff) on board as well to ‘bomb’ Kuching city.

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In 2013, they left to further their studies in KL. And I was left alone here. Fortunately, I had an offer to work at a bank so I had to go for training in KL for a week before sitting for the exam. When I was there, I saw a post on Jin Hackman’s Facebook page about a graffiti jam in KL. I contacted the curator of the event and joined a whole bunch of strangers to ‘bomb’ the walls in Jelatek. I was the only female writer there and the rest were pretty surprised. It is almost impossible to find a female graffiti writer in Malaysia.

After some unfortunate events in life, I stayed away from the scene for a bit. And got back to graffiti in March 2014. During that time, I received a couple of offers to paint on walls. I saw a great spot at the Bishopsgate’s arch in Carpenter Street and started to paint on the ‘virgin’ wall. I few friends tagged along and soon, Kuching city was filled with more and more graffiti.

Later, I began receiving some serious warnings from the Kuching North City Council (DBKU). I would fly to Singapore, KL and Miri whenever I get caught. But it was a great turning point when DBKU called me while I was in Singapore telling me that they want me to paint for the city. I took the offer and worked with an art community group that was recently established by D2K and I called the 9Lives. Ever since then, the public slowly accepts street art in Kuching and now more painters are coming out to ‘bomb’ the walls.

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I travel quite frequently since 2014 to Singapore, Indonesia and KL to leave my mark. I also took part in most of the graffiti events in Indonesia. Through that, I got to meet more great, incredible talents around the world.

2015 was also a great year as me and the 9Lives art group was approached by Petronas to paint under a program called ‘TanahAirku’ which made a big hit for Kuching painters.

In 2016, I won fourth place for a graffiti competition in Brunei against all guys and a girl (who got eliminated in the first round), created the first ever official graffiti workshop in Kuching with my old friends and got a spot under TEDx, exhibited some of my artworks and had a mini graffiti workshop session.

I have mostly been doing commission jobs to paint on walls and participated in quite a number of exhibitions under 9Lives. Now I focus on my work as an independent artist.

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It has been a tough journey with a rollercoaster ride from the streets to fitting in with an art group but nonetheless an amazing one; especially the ones that I have experienced in Indonesia and Brunei. I learned a lot through some graffiti friends in Indonesia, had my first ‘spraycation’ (spray-vacation) in Java from Jakarta to Tangerang to Yogyakarta to Bandung and back to Jakarta before flying back home, all by myself.

Indonesia is like my second home and I went there just to travel and paint on my own, met strangers then became good friends with some Indonesian’s finest like Poetry, Zaner, Cloze, Mone, Yogyakarta boys, Bandung writers and more. They certainly opened up my eyes to the real graffiti life and how it works.

Currently, I am given the opportunity to use a studio space at ChinaHouse, Kuching on my own until further notice; as a creative space.

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That is a very inspiring story! As a female pioneer of street art in Kuching, who or what inspired you?

There are a few people. My mum is my great source of inspiration; I saw her doing batik ‘canting’ since I was small. My daughter as my motivation to be the mum she would be proud of. My late boyfriend Yuki who has mad love for creative street stuff and also this great graffiti writer named MAD C from Germany who is just great at what she is doing.

Have you come across any other aspiring female graffiti artists in/from Kuching?

Not even a single soul, but that is yet to change. I just need to work harder to create interest in them, I guess. Some approached me for a bit of guidance but then disappeared in a flash. Graffiti is always known as a ‘male’ thing and that explains how it is almost impossible to get females to have passion in graffiti.

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Right. So, in your opinion, how is street art different than more formal kinds of contemporary art? Is it more or less important? Why?

Graffiti is the only art that cannot be bought or sold. Unless if it is a commission job, then, of course, graffiti writers are getting paid but loses the real essence of graffiti as an expression that is priceless. Real graffiti artists do not expose themselves in the public eyes. They are mostly anonymous, always working discreetly with artwork that shouts their name and character.

Graffiti or street art is as important as contemporary art where messages are conveyed through arts whether it is based solely on imagination or sensitive topics like politics or religion to create awareness. Most people perceive graffiti as vandalising properties because it made the streets look dirty but graffiti writers think the opposite.

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I believe you come from an artistic background. And your dad is a musician. How would you say this influenced you to become an artist yourself?

Both of my parents are creative beings who came from creative fathers. My dad’s father was a great self-taught ‘architect’ who built our kampong house from scratch and always been building and fixing broken stuff at home on his own. He also played ukulele in an orchestra band in Kuching back then. He is a big fan of keroncong music and he loves to write. From there, my dad might have been influenced by him and he himself is a great keyboardist, a composer and a sound engineer who has also been through many ‘rollercoaster rides’.

My mum’s dad is also a good singer who loves dancing to keroncong music. And he has the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen. My mum used to be a singer and she loves art as much as I do. I grew up watching her doing her batik ‘canting’ but unfortunately, she had to stop doing what she loves because of her health condition while raising me as a single mother.

My parents made me think that it is possible for me to do what I love to do and be successful as long as I put my heart to it with lots of patience for my passion. There will be ups and downs but the most important thing is to keep on moving forward and create more as time goes by and guide others in the long run to create professional art community.

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How do your family and friends feel about your artwork?

Initially, my mum was not too keen on me leaving a fixed day job to be a full-time artist but somehow, I managed to open up her eyes when I got paid a lot for my projects. Her main concern is my daughter’s future because I am a single mother also. But with time, she began to understand that money is not everything and for as long as I keep on doing what I love wholeheartedly, I will always get her support. The rest of my family was also very sceptical about it in the beginning but like my mum, they are slowly adjusting to the fact that I am rebellious and a born artist at heart. Nonetheless, I get supports from friends and families even though not everything I created impresses them.

How do you go about getting walls for yourself and other street artists?

I take walks around town or cruise at times and with my ‘cat’s eyes,’ I would spot a wall that screams ‘paint me’ or abandoned buildings, walls under the bridge that catches my eyes. When the time is right, I will ‘bomb’ the spot either by myself or with some friends.


What is challenging or difficult about street art in Kuching?

It used to be thrilling which makes it exciting because we need to avoid from getting caught by the city council. Now it does not feel as adventurous as before. The city council has now accepted street art and allowed it to be filled in Kuching city.

I can tell you miss the thrill! And what do you find surprising about doing street art in Kuching?

The public and the government bodies seem to have adapted to having graffiti all around town. And most painted walls have become an attraction where locals and tourists would take photos for different occasions, from weddings to projects, to just a mere selfie shot.

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What kinds of reactions do you get as a female practising street art in Kuching? Are you threatened or do you feel frightened? And are you lauded?

As a female graffiti writer, I get criticised a lot. Some from the professional graffiti writers, some from peers who thinks that my art is ‘ugly’. At times it gets to me, but far from threatened. I felt challenged which makes me want to be better and surprise myself by proving them wrong.

I admire the rebel in you and the positivity. So, spray cans or brush?

Spray cans are my boyfriends.

What brands of spray paint are you using?

Anchor and Pylox are the cheaper options. Most of us use that. The rather expensive one would be Montana. That one last longer.

Making art is expensive. How much do you spend on spray paints an average?

About RM300, I think.

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What inspires your writing style?

My writing style is inspired by Hiragana & Katakana, Sarawakian natives elements, and also the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

What are your techniques and what inspired you to use them?

Just basic graffiti skills actually.

Can you tell me more about the Petronas street art project?

9Lives was approached by Kaki Seni Malaysia; they were looking for artists from Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching to be in the second edition of street art under TanahAirku; TanahAirku 3.0 Street Art Kuching. For the Kuching side, 9Lives was given 3 walls; 6 artists, 3 males and 3 females.

I collaborated with Twenty-Fifth for this and our artwork is called the Tree Edge in which his piece was a hornbill and a hibiscus while mine is the word ‘harmony’ on a ‘terabai’. It was one of my favourite wall-painting experience as it was the first time we painted using sky lift. We were literally brought to a higher perspective to paint which also symbolises a positive vibe.

I am blessed to be given a great opportunity to expose myself the legal way. And to work on it with an old friend made it even more special. We are equally proud to represent Sarawak for the project. That painting, I dedicate to all Sarawakians. May all of us continue to live in harmony.

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Are you or any other street artists mentoring young street artists in Kuching?

No doubt. Some do it on the streets, some do it through workshops.

Is there a strong interest in visual arts, or its history, in Kuching?

I believe so. As you can see the rapid growth in the Kuching art scene. The only thing that we need now is a ‘Balai Seni’ to display the work of our local artists (young and old). Since most visual arts nowadays got exposed through the ‘back door’ (shortcut) unlike the fine artist that has got to go through a lot of tedious and difficult process, the interest somehow shifts at times to modern contemporary art even though fine art is still considered as more valuable. We have art collectors and art lovers coming from all around the world or the locals who would support the local art scene by purchasing our artworks or give us commission jobs.

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Please tell me about your involvement with the street art community in Kuching.

I was definitely the pusher, the so-called pioneer who started the ‘trend’ for the rest to follow. Currently creating and pulling the ‘chosen ones’ to guide because I choose quality over quantity.

Do you think that more people in Kuching are more aware of contemporary art because of the social media?

Through social media and based on what they found in their travels.

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Are artists using their art as a way to voice their political feelings? And are you?

Some who has the balls and a great knowledge of the law and political matters, most definitely give their shots every now and then. It is not my mission, so I stay out of it.

Would you use street art to highlight women’s rights in Kuching in the near future?

Why not? Since I am always being discriminated for being ‘the only female’ in the scene, therefore, I have to work harder to reach certain standards. It would be great to show the public what we can achieve.

Is contemporary art in Kuching important? Why?

It is, to suit the future; to move forward without forgetting our roots.

Do you have any plans for exchanges with artists from outside to come to Kuching?

I am looking forward to hosting my friends from Indonesia mostly and the rest of my friends from all around the world for collaborations in Kuching.

Is it important for Malaysian street artists to have international recognition and opportunities? How could they be better supported?

Yes, and some of us have made it far to Dubai for a massive wall art project where they get paid a great amount of money. Also, some other projects through connections that were built from time to time through travels, research and such. Street art is known internationally and every country got their own great artist. Most probably through collaborations and sponsored travels, and more exposure I believe.

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Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?

I have established in 2013, a hip-hop community called Tha Project. Now I am focusing on building it from scratch; through 7 elements of hip hop – emcee, bboy, graffiti, DJ, beatbox, basic knowledge of hip hop, skateboarding and maybe basketball in the near future? Watch this space jam!

Do you have any plans to collaborate with street artists from other states/countries?

Well, of course. Hint: CATFISH (a collaboration with a Filipino female street artist, Beni Art).

Tell me about your ambitions for the future. Where would you like to be in, say, five years?

I would love to be living either in Japan or in France (with my daughter) as a harmonic poet, graffiti writer and a hip-hop enthusiast. Inshaa Allah.

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Constantly in evolution, artists who believe in making changes will surely pave the way for more aspiring artists. Miyo is no different. She is paving the way – and back alleys – for even more female artists making graffiti, not only in Kuching but also perhaps, Sarawak. And Tha Project will surely be the next big thing many would hear in the near future.

I am definitely stoked to see more strong, smart and talented women in the predominantly male subculture. And who knows, this exposure may help Kuching’s graffiti movement to become launched into the rest of the world.

PS: ‘terabai’ is an Iban war shield.

Just SWAIV It; Smoothly

In the music scene – independent and mainstream – there is a lot more that makes the musicians similar than different. Although many come with a style that is rare and unique, most musicians combine a lot of ingredients and elements in their music.

Refused to be pigeon-holed into any single category, they take the elements of things that they like without trying to sound like anybody else. This is a challenge. Although it allows the musicians to improvise and combine the best of everything, there are so many bands out there that sound almost the same.

Swaiv may not have been a band name you have heard before. But after this, perhaps, you may hear the name over and over again. Previously known as Pearl & Rendall, Swaiv started off as an acoustic duo in 2010. Driven by their passion for music and personal experiences, Swaiv now consists of five young musicians with years of experience in many musical styles.

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(from left) Adrian Meringai (bass), Doboson Elisha (guitar), Meryll Pearl (vocals), Brian Chia (keys) and Rendall Ngumbang (drums).

The band recently performed at The Wayang, a bar located in the heart of Kuching City. The barstools were worn out, and the crowd was pleased. In between rehearsals for their upcoming gigs, at almost midnight, members of the multi-element band – equally inspired by classic tunes and today’s hit music – sat down for an interview with me.

Among other things including the band’s origins and musical influences, we also talked about their experience sharing a stage with Yuna, their thoughts on the independent music scene in Kuching and what is in store for the rest of 2017.

Check out my interview with the humble musicians below:

 

A band usually started with like-minded musicians getting together. Tell us how you got together to form Swaiv?

Brian: From what I understand, the band started out as “Pearl & Rendall”, the duo – this married couple here. It started out in 2010. And then, the story between the rest, I am not too sure. But personally, I, Brian Chia who plays keys was invited by Adrian Meringai, the bassist. Fortunately enough, we sustain this long and played quite a few gigs together. I must admit, it has been fun.

Rendall: Yup, it started off with both of us, we took part in RockERA. It was supposed to be a band thing but there were just two of us. So the judge said, he likes what he hears but it would be better if we come with a band because it sounded like… So empty. So we thought since Adrian at that time has started to pick up bass again, the three of us would do something. Later, we decided to form a band and Adrian looped in Brian. Dobo was always around, playing the shaker, of all things.

Brian: At that time we had a different line-up. Before Dobo came, there was another guy, his name is Nathaniel. He was on drums and percussions. And due to other commitments, we reshuffled. Dobo was the blessing in disguise – now, playing the guitar.

Rendall: We are the original band members. There were six of us, including former drummer, Charles Arthur. Now we are down to five.

 

Could you tell me more about yourself?

Brian: See, that is a question I dread. Aaah.. I would like to start with this. I am actually a Sabahan and I have been staying here in Kuching for 14 years. Uhmm.. I started piano when I was 5 and I really like the guitar. I took on guitar when I was 13 and decided to do music when I was 15. Thank God I managed to pull through and sort of continuing with it. I met not only these guys here, good musicians, but also people from the community. Initially, I was playing keys for Swaiv. But for certain gigs, I will play the guitar. And just this year, I started back on the keys again. And really, thus far, I think the best show that we have done together as Swaiv was for Yuna’s homecoming. That is by far, I think, the highlight of Swaiv. And definitely, more to come, I believe.

Rendall: I was always keen on music and I have been playing music since I was 12. I started off with guitar and played mostly rock songs. After that, I met Pearl, and I loved her voice. I thought her voice was suitable for jazz, blues, R&B or something and… After that, from rock, I started playing jazz. And since then I have been playing a lot of jazz and anything that I would say, close to jazz. Before Swaiv, I played for a couple of bands, mostly as a sessionist. As a drummer and guitarist. But when Swaiv first started, I played the guitar. We shuffled and now in 2017, I am the official drummer.

Pearl: I never expected to become an official musician because I did not anticipate what would ever be the means to do it. But I started singing when I was 15. And I played the guitar and started making YouTube covers. And I tried to be in a band as a vocalist but I was rejected because of my voice. See, I cannot sing high notes. It was demotivating, I stopped singing and just focus on playing the bass for a while. I was in two bands at that time. I played Muse and post-hardcore songs. Later on, my voice was accepted by some people and Swaiv happened.

Dobo: I started playing music since I was 10. I took a piano lesson, guitar lesson. And in high school, I started to join my friends playing rock music, and grindcore. And then when I was in college, I played acoustic. Right now… I played bass, guitar, a little bit of keys… Sort of… Everything. Before Swaiv, there was no band at all. But I have always had the interest in music.

Adrian: I first became involved with music when I was 13. It was all because of a friend who is now a tattoo artist. He invited me to his house, picked up his dad’s Fender guitar and taught me how to play All The Small Things by Blink 182. That was a good grounding for me. At that time, I had no idea how to play the guitar, I never touched a guitar before. So it all started from there and eventually, we jammed almost every week. I ended up being really into it. In college, I lost the interest as I was focusing on other stuff. But slowly, I got back to it again. Now, I am in Swaiv, playing bass.1378594_649267011856182_3184267878387894644_nThis, I have to know. Why the name Swaiv?

Pearl: We had been through so many names trying to work out what we could call our band. One day it just came to us. It rhymes with ‘wave’. We wanted a name that represents soothing music, smooth and cool vibes. So, we thought of the waves. And later from ‘waves’ to ‘Swaiv’. The soothing sound of the waves will always remind us of where we come from and why we are here.

 

You are sort of a blues and jazzy multi-element indie-pop band. Could you tell me about the biggest influences and inspirations for your music?

Brian: This is a very interesting question, I think. Because like what you heard early on, everybody comes from a different background. I think that is where it is a good challenge for everyone because everybody will put on their idea from different genres and elements. And that is where it sort of pushes each other like ‘Oh, this is new for me. So, I am gonna have to change my, whatever it is, like my playlist, I gotta listen to more of this stuff, that stuff to help the band’. I think that goes for everyone. So, definitely, there are some tunes that we do not really link on to but, for the band sake, it not only pushes us, it also helps everyone in general. Basically in terms of making us sounding versatile. We are mainly jazz-pop-ish group but as instrumentalists, we all enjoy playing other stuff as well.

 

That is for the band. What about personally? Who inspires you?

Brian: Rendall would have a very interesting story to tell.

Rendall: Mine would be John Otto, the drummer, and founding member of the nu metal band Limp Bizkit. But for Swaiv, I am inspired mostly by Jamie Cullum and Jason Mraz.

Pearl: Uhmm… I love Julie London. She has the sexiest voice ever. And Michael Buble too.

Dobo: Me, I would say… Dewa and Death Row Records, to name a few.

Adrian: Music in general, I would say Limp Bizkit. That is how I met Rendall actually. So Limp Bizkit, to Korn, to Nirvana. I also look up to Sam Rivers. The way he plays bass is kind of different. And from there I discovered Incubus’ former bassist – I forgot his name. After that, I met a friend who told me about this one guy and from there I focus more or playing the bass. I started playing more fusion style.

 

Who in the current music scene do you most admire most and why?

Rendall: Bruno Mars. Yeah!

 

Bruno Mars? His new music or the previous one?

Rendall: All of his music.

 

You have a few songs out. And I find that they are all very different from each other. Are you planning to release a full album in the near future?

Rendall: An album at the moment is quite big of a project to work on. I would say EP. We are working on an EP. Our first EP consist of 7 songs. Now we are going to come out with our second EP. Probably this year or next year. We will see.

Brian: In the near future, yeah.

Dobo: Hopefully by this year, if everything goes well.

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What was the creative process like when developing all your songs – music then lyric of the other way round? And who usually composes the songs.

Rendall: Sometimes lyric first then the music.

Pearl: Most of the time, music first.

Rendall: When it comes to composing a song, I think everyone contributes. Sometimes we will call it ‘Brian Song’, or ‘Dobo Song’. We ourselves influence and push each other to try and produce something new, something different.

 

And how did the writing process work? Is there a formula you employed, like starting with a guitar riff or title?

Rendall: Somebody either has a riff, or tune or something and we’ll be work from there. Someone will say, ‘Hey guys, I have this thing going on, check this out’ and we’ll slowly build it up from there into a more proper and clean composition. And after all that, we will… ‘Swaiv it!’

Brian: Yeah. During rehearsals, we would try out new arrangements. Everyone will throw in their ideas and improvise. We basically feed off each other.

 

You have a very deep sultry voice. Kind of whistle-y too. Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape?

Pearl: Not that I know of. Haha. But when I perform, I just sing passionately, I guess. And you know, it just comes out naturally.

 

Right. You have been performing every once a week somewhere, correct? How did you get the gigs?

Brian: Hmm… A lot of the gigs are from previous exposures. It could be from personal friends.

Dobo: Recently, mostly are from friends.

Brian: Yeah. But I have to highlight this, Kuching is a close-knit city. Everybody knows each other, especially the music scene. So, we sort of look out for each other in a way that, say, if we really are not able to take the gig, we would sort of pass it to another group or something like that. Or vice versa.

 

What has the fan/audience feedback been like so far?

Rendall: It has been good, we are thankful for that. I think the best compliment we received is from Germany. They sent us an email and asked about our new projects. That, and a band from Italy.

 

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That is awesome. So what was the response to that – what did you guys say to them?

Rendall: We told them we had a pause moment for a while. At one point we hardly did anything.

Brian: We took a break for almost two years. We kickstarted in mid-2016. And when we received that email, we were in awe actually. They discovered us from Twitter, I think.

Rendall: I think it was because of Bandcamp. The exposure. To have the opportunity to meet the community on the global scale would be pretty awesome.

Brian: Well there is a fine line between compliments and… Just because you are my friend, I can help you. Things like that. Sometimes you just got to take it with a pinch of salt.

Pearl: There was this one time during Shades of Arts. We have not been playing for a few years and suddenly someone approached us – ‘Oh, I am a fan, and I have been waiting for Swaiv to play’. We’re thankful that you know, someone recognises us.

 

What has been your favourite live performance to give?

Rendall: I must say that it would be that time we opened for Yuna. We were the opening act for her gig here.

Brian: Yeah. I have to second that. That is definitely by far the coolest life experience. This was in 2012. And we played all our original songs.

 

Nice! So what did Yuna say to you guys?

Pearl: We did not really get to talk to her after the show, unfortunately. Well, only the guys.

Brian: Yuna was the highlight but I guess the whole experience in terms of sharing the same stage, personally and I think I can say this on behalf of everyone, it felt surreal. ‘Wow! This is really happening. We are sharing a stage with Yuna.’ This happened in December 2012 and we found out the next year, she just got signed with David Foster. So we were like, wow, we were the last group of local act, I believe, to be performing with Yuna. That was quite an honour.

Cool! And now she is known worldwide – a superstar! And that actually, is a really good platform to put yourself out there.

 

So, most of the time, do you perform your own songs, or covers as well?

Rendall: Both, actually.

 

What is your favourite cover?

Rendall: I think it would be Feeling Good and L.O.V.E. I mean, besides Pearl, we have another singer in Swaiv. Brian sings as well. For Pearl, Feeling Good. For Brian, it would be Turn Your Lights Down Low.

Brian: Really?! Thank you for this interview, I am learning a lot of new things about my band members! Oh wow!

 

I know you have SoundCloud and YouTube. So, what other platforms are you using to promote Swaiv and your songs?

Pearl: We have Reverbnation as well.

 

What do you think about Spotify and other streaming services? Are you planning to use that platform as well?

Pearl: Yeah, we wanted to. We are going to but, we are not sure how to go about it.

Oh, we can talk to someone who can help you with that.

 

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So, you have performed with Yuna, you have a couple of songs out, you have been playing gigs here and there. You are doing pretty good, I think. What else do you plan to get up to in 2017, besides the coming EP?

Dobo: More new stuff, definitely.

Rendall: We were just talking about this recently and we hope to play in one of the big festivals here in Sarawak.

Brian: For the band in general, I think we all want to get more new stuff out there. Grow our repertoire. We want to avoid recycling the same thing over and over. And we are going to get our tunes legalised, in a way. Get them copyrighted. That is going to take extra funds, so we are trying to sort that out.

 

There are a lot of talented people here in Kuching. But not many are out there. Not many have the opportunities to do so. Do you have any advice for aspiring independent musicians who may feel disillusioned or discouraged at times?

Rendall: There is a saying that goes ‘quality over quantity’. For me, with time, I found out there is one more important thing. That is progress. Sometimes people would look at the quality or the quantity. But they forgot progress. And that is the most important thing. You must progress, never stop. You must keep going. Keep moving until people notice you, recognise you and acknowledge you. Eventually, they will see your quality and quantity. Just be positive and keep progressing.

 

What is your personal opinion on the music scene in Kuching?

Brian: That is a very fragile sensitive question. But I think it is growing. Slowly but surely. And it boils down to our mentality and attitude towards the art – both the clients and the musicians. The music business is fragile, you just have to keep an open mind, be positive and be truthful to yourself and to people. Perhaps avoid jealousy, envy, and general intrigue, all the negative vibes.

 

Do you think you have a competition out there?

Adrian: You see, we are not competing with anyone. We are just doing our stuff. We constantly grow and we want to improve.

Brian: I really like the question. Damn. Uhmm.. I think the competition is really within ourselves. Our competition is our achievement. If the benchmark for 1026 is this, then 2017 has to be higher. It’s part of the progress for the band.

 

So who have you been collaborating with, here in and from Kuching?

Pearl: rhymebo0k, Saufi, Nutty Slicc…

Rendall: Soon, there will be a surprise. Wait for it.

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Now, to enlighten you, check out my favourite song from the band HERE! This was from 3 years ago, but I still love it! RED is one of my go-to jam in my smoke-filled, dimly lit room.

PS: Photos were taken from the band’s Facebook page. I do not own the credit. This was an audio/video interview.

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.

Being Sarawakian: We No Longer Behead

Here is one of the common conversations I had with the people who met me for the first time when I was in Peninsula.

“So where are you from?”

“I’m from Kuching.”

“That’s in KK?”

“No, that’s in Sarawak. KK is in Sabah.”

“Aah.. So, you’re from the headhunter’s tribe? Do they still hunt heads there?”

“Uhh.. No, we don’t do that anymore.”

I do not know much about my own tribe except the basic knowledge the whole world would have. Let alone, about other tribes and their history. But it is offensive when a conversation like this takes place in the 21st century.

However, I don’t blame people for immediately associating the word “headhunting” with Sarawakians. They are not entirely wrong. After all, Sarawak is the land of headhunters.

The practice of collecting heads was widespread among the Dayaks – the indigenous, non-Malay inhabitants of Borneo. And the Iban tribes are reputed to be the most formidable headhunters on the island.

I am a Bidayuh; a tribe known as “Land Dayak”, a name that was first used during the period of the White Rajah of Sarawak. We are the second largest Dayak ethnic group in Sarawak after the Iban (Sea Dayak).

My parents are from two different geographical areas. While my dad is from the Penrissen district, my mum is from Bau. And they both speaks two different but related dialects. My dad, Bisitang and mum, Bijagoi. One is much softer than the other. But the Bidayuhs are generally very softspoken people.

However, they are also known for their warrior audacity. The men are proud and strong. In a war, a Bidayuh man’s prowess and status are determined by the heads he collected – the more heads, the higher his rank.

And what happened to the heads, you asked?

Well, the brains were carefully extracted through the nostrils. And then the heads were skinned, placed in rattan nets and smoked over fires. I still can’t get this image out of my head. The skulls then, were stored in their baruk, a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres off the ground.

Curious about the history of headhunting, I had a conversation with my dad about it. He could not give me the kind of explanation I wanted on the subject, though. But according to him, back in the days, the men would go out for a headhunting expedition once in four (4) months. The first to bring home a head is considered a hero. Sounds to me like headhunting is a form of sport. And sort of… Evil?

But our ancestors were animists, and the skulls were said to possess powerful forms of magic. Since the ideas of manhood were also bound up with the practice, the skulls were considered trophies of manhood and bravery.

Dad also spoke about tribal wars. Our ancestors’ headhunting skills played no small part to their aggressive culture of war against other tribes. When there is the need of territorial expansion due to overpopulation, there is the need to intrude on lands belonging to other tribes. Thus, there is the need for brutal confrontation as it was the only means of survival. And during that time, while the Bidayuh men were killed, the Bidayuh women were taken and raped (a common scenario in any wars).

But our headhunting days has long gone. It was outlawed in the 19th century through the efforts of the colonial Dutch. Conversion to Christianity or Islam had also suppressed the practice. And our humility and peace-loving reputation had opposed our headhunting past.