Dec 13, 2009

The Dying Art of Kelabit

Now everybody start cutting it and this old fashion thing soon will perish...

ABIR is the tradisional earing weared by the Kelabit people in Sarawak. It was once the most popular image in potraying the Sarawak's tribal.

The uniqueness of bronz earing that hang and swing to their ears has made Kelabit famous through photos and poscards.
This ancient customary also since long ago has became the main attraction for tourist to come to this Land Of Hornbill.
But to this modern days, not many of them practice the old custom that was once obliged. It's also now so unusual especially among the young generation.

I was lucky to take a chance to step to the village called Pa'Mada, in the region of Miri, located deep in the jungle of Borneo to see this dying fashion.

I say dying not only because it's no longer been practised to the youngster, but those elderly who used to wear it since their childhood times are now cutting the 'long part' of ear.
The reason is to make them move easier when they out for hunting or farming.

Beraok Lugun, the Head Villager of Pa'Mada said, as the head of the longhouse, he cut his ear part several year ago to suit his busy schedule travelling out to town.
"I spend alot of times in four wheel drive and having difficulties and pain when the road get tough.
"So i decided to see a doctor and do small operation,'' he said to me.
FYI, traveling the logging road from Miri to Pa'mada takes around 10 hours and it can be worst during rainy season. The only vehicle can pass this road is 4X4, a powerful one.
After my conversation with Beraok, i went to the kitchen area to meet a man at his 100 years old, Balang Sarawak. (he got 3 different names throughout his age- another traditional custom of Kelabit)

Balang Sarawak gave a 'soon to be a rare' post

Balang is the oldest in the village and since we speak different language, his daughter came to help me to do some translation. Works went easy, and I quite impressed with the man that old still can handle an interpreter.
"In this longhouse, only left me, my wife and two or three others who still wear Abir,'' he showed his long ears that touch his shoulder.
Balang said, Abir is not only weared as jewelry but it also represent the sosial status in the community. Those who inherited the earing from their ancestor (who used to be a good fighter or good hunter) are more respected.
He explained, there are two type of Abir that is differentiated for male's (Abir Tawa) and female's (Abir Semerak). Abir Tawa is made from bronx while Abir Semerak is made from black steel.

"For women, they normally wear more than one piece of Abir and those are heavier to men's Abir.
"During festive or ceremonial, a well respected women normally wear up to five pieces of Abir,'' he smiles.Dark dan peacefully gloomy in the house of Kelabit

How they pierce it?

Kelabit people were good alchemist. Once melted, the metal liquid is pour into a (small dried pumpkin) and then it will be put under the sun for couple of days.

To get it's shining and smooth shape, carving and polishing process will takes about a week.
Then come the interesting part, how they pierce their ears. Kelabit use a sharpened bamboo (pencil shaped) and pierce it to the children's ear just after their third birthday.

Beside Abir, there is another type of Kelabit earing called Odang. Odang is made from leopard teeth and only can be wear by those those who has an ability as good hunt and fighter. A sign of a very respected fellow.

My 13 hours journey using four wheels drive from Miri to Pa'mada, different rules applied to this road.

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