Monday, 16 July 2018

Into The Jungle!

Like any other day, we started our morning with breakfast, and then we were off to our
respective Tepuq or Sinah’s paddy field to start work. On my third day, I was fortunate enough to
be able to do a kind of different activity with Tepuq Bulan, which was to collect Isip leaves.
Definitely a chance for me to go into the jungle and have that excitement of being surrounded by
trees!
Me and Tepuq on the way to her kebun. 

The jungle (or eventually, Tepuq’s farm) was located to the east of Arur Layun which took around

20 minutes of walking. Walking in Bario was never boring as my eyes were continuously fed with
beautiful paddy fields, majestic mountain ranges, and bountiful green trees, and each of my steps
had that love-hate relationship with the muddy road.
As we neared Tepuq’s farm area, the pathway became muddier, the sound of cicadas played as
the background song for the jungle, and the smell of earth permeated the air due to the rain the
night before. We then crossed Pa’ Merariu (Merariu river) to get to the site of Isip leaves. Every
time I passed by the rivers in Bario, I was so happy that there were still rivers that are alive. Back
in my kampung, the river flow is almost inexistent due to improper usage of land that caused the
river to be filled with sediment. The sediment later caused the river to become smaller to the
point that it didn’t look like a ‘true’ river with water gushing along. My friend once told me a
story about his friend who showed him a river somewhere in West Malaysia. He was surprised
upon seeing the condition of the river and said, “That’s not a river! That’s a longkang!”
Not long after the successful river crossing, we reached the Isip leaves’ site together with our
coordinator, Glo, who at some point along the way expressed her discontentment of not wearing
an appropriate outfit for this trip because she hadn’t expected the jungle to be that thick
(Sorry Glo!). All of the Isip trees had been cultivated by Tepuq’s mother a long time ago. I had
never expected the trees to be taller than me. Well, that was a first time for me! Tepuq quickly
put her things down and started to chop the Isip leaves. For every Isip leaf that she cut down, I
had to slice the excess stalk, choose the healthy-looking Isip leaves, and put it in one place. Of
course, Tepuq’s work was much neater than mine.

Holding up Isip leaves that we harvested.

Throughout the collecting of
Isip leaves, I asked Tepuq for an example of the local kuih here.
(Shout out to my mom who ‘encouraged’ me to ask such questions whenever I visit any kampung).
Tepuq answered, “Senape. Kamu pernah rasa? (Senape. Have you tried?)”. I nodded. I realized that
many, in fact all, of local Sarawak foods (even Sabah) don’t include any coconut milk or spices,
which makes these kuih much healthier and which also, in my opinion, leads to longevity in life.
However, I must say that I do miss the spices in food after a while.

Cutting the stalk of 'daun Isip'.

The work doesn’t end at collecting
Isip leaves. Tepuq then brings lanau shoots to be cultivated
in the area surrounding the Isip leaves. I like the way Tepuq has organized her farm. ‘Normal’
farms usually have neat rows of vegetables, but Tepuq’s style is that she lets her vegetables grow
around the existing plants, and she will mark the place that she cultivated using fallen branches
so that she will recognize it in her future visits. I think this has been part of the tradition or local
knowledge passed down to Tepuq from her ancestors, and this way of cultivating plants ensures
the sustainability of land use, foods, and livelihood of the locals as a whole as opposed to a
monoculture as in oil palm plantations. Besides Isip and lanau, Tepuq also has yam and cassava in
her farm. She owns three to four durian trees which sadly didn’t bear many fruit this time around.
There were also mango trees which just smelled so nice that it reminded me of some Thai foods
and Tarap fruit, a species of fruit similar to cempedak and nangka, also known as Kiran in Kelabit.    
We slowly marched out once Tepuq was done with her work and ready to go for lunch! Going
with Tepuq to collect Isip leaves was a valuable and precious experience, and I don’t think I could
ever get this chance back in my kampong. It was also an insightful moment for me as much of local
knowledge has become more ‘unknown’ that people have taken it for granted. Looking forward to
doing this the next time!  

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