From Sandra Munga Tagal in Ba'kelalan (Sarawak)
“My house is now full. Except for Sigar who is in Kuching, all my children are back for Christmas with their spouses and kids. For years, we always spend Christmas alone or with one or two of our children.
“But this year all of them are back - except Sigar who could not make it because of work. I am so happy,” exclaimed ibu Supang Balang who smiled widely with time-drawn wrinkles on her beautiful face.
Things were also different for Bina Yahya, the grandson of Pak Tua Labung who works in a multinational company in Bintulu.
With limited off days and just timber tracks connecting the outside world to his village in Ba’Kelalan, it was a very difficult task to spend holidays in the remote highlands with their only grandfather.
But this Christmas Bina Yahya happily drove his car all the way from Bintulu to Ba’Kelalan (at the Sarawak/Kalimantan border).
Thanks to the new road built by the government.
I remember when we were at Seri Perdana last month, Datuk Shahlan (Ismail - political secretary to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Haji Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak) mentioned that barely 9 days after taking office in Putrajaya, the PM had asked him to go to the interiors of Sarawak to observe the ground situation of the local people there. The rest is history.
Today, many enjoyed Christmas and the long holiday season with their family and loved ones in the remote highlands because our village is now accessible by road. You no longer need to travel by four-wheel-drive vehicles and spent the night on the road when it rains.
This year we enjoyed the biggest ever Christmas gathering in history as almost everyone made it a point to drive home to Ba’Kelalan. Those who returned home to Long Semadoh and Ba’Kelalan for Christmas drove home from as far as Kuching (more than 1,000 km), Bintulu, Miri, Brunei and Kota Kinabalu, much to their old folks delight.
As in the case of pastor Yahya Arun, getting his big family together for Christmas (he has 6 children who live in Kuala Lumpur, UK, Miri and Lawas) is such a blessings. For 29 years, he has been dreaming of getting his family to gather in this humble village to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as always getting the family together is not easy, especially when you have to travel with infants and children on the rough timber tracks.
Getting seat on MasWings (Rural Air Service operated by Malaysia Airlines) during the festive season is too difficult due to the limited seats in the Twin-Otter aircraft. But this Christmas the family finally got together in their Buduk Nur family lodge.
Every year, Christmas is celebrated in a typical traditional fashion in remote Ba’Kelalan. Those who work in the city or nearby town will usually arrive a few days or a week before Christmas day.
A sukaneka or games will be organised by the youngsters (Angkatan Muda) few days before Christmas day. Everyone must take part in the sukaneka, young and old.
The two-day event are full of laughter when games are set with unique rules and winning team will go home with prizes like towels, soap or even sarong.
On Christmas night, a service will be held at the local church followed with song and dance.
At the opening and closing day of Christmas event, the community will have an ‘irau’ or eating together.
Christmas is the time of the year when everyone catches up with everybody in the village and this year it was more meaningful as our village was brimming with people and all of them are the children of Ba’Kelalan.
A day before Christmas Eve, the city folks will walk around in the cool and refreshing climate of the village and in the serenity of the night, they’ll stop at homes of the elderly and sing Christmas carols until the house owner wakes up and greet the carolling team who will then give them some Christmas present and pray for them.
Then on Christmas Eve, the highlight of the show is lighting of the ‘Pohon Terang’. For us, the Lun Bawang community Pohon Terang resembles the light of God. This is one of the traditions that have been practised by the community since 40 years back and always make a centrepiece of every Christmas show in the highland.
The pastor or invited speaker will then deliver a Christmas message to everyone. After church, in the typical, hospitable Malaysian way, few houses will be opened for visiting and everyone will enjoy all kind of delicacies prepared by the hosts.
With the newly built road many people came to spend Christmas in the village with their parents and family. Datuk Seri Haji Mohd Najib Tun Razak approved the road project after learning the hardship endured by the local folks in Ba’Kelalan and Long Semadoh.
Today, Ibu Supang Balang and her husband do not have to spend their Christmas time alone anymore. Pak Tua Labung’s house also was full of laughter when his children and grandchildren came home for Christmas. Retired Pastor Yahya Arun said that their whole family would be celebrating Christmas in Ba’Kelalan again next year.
Thank You, Mr PM for what you have done and oh! Those smiling faces on those wrinkled faces. And you should see the joyful light in the eyes of the fresh little faces.
Thank you for making our Christmas more memorable.