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Tepu' Doo' Ilah

Kalibit People

Bario, Borneo Malaysia

In line with Tepu'(grandma) Doo' llah's tradition, she has ear ring holes longer than her shoulders, which is customary for women of her generation. 

She plays Pagang, a bamboo zither, an instrument which the ancestors of Borneo’s people brought together with them when they sailed across the Indian ocean and settled on the island of Madagascar about a thousand years ago. Now, it has become the most commonly played instrument in Madagascar, known as the Valiha, as played by SIBS artists Sammy and Rajery.

Back in Feb' 2017 in Bario...

During the last 15 minutes in the propeller plane, we flew over ancient rainforests that remain still intact. Our plane landed on the upper river of the rainforest in Bario, a village surrounded by towering mountains. We stayed at the local longhouse and during our brief 24-hour stay, we enjoyed all of the homemade meals sourced directly from the garden. The mamas loved seeing the looks of happiness on our faces each time they brought out a freshly prepared meal.

This longhouse is Tepu' Doo' Ilah's home and as well as the home to at lease 50 other villagers. They live together in harmony, sharing communal spaces, resources and personal relationships. Living in the longhouse is a way to pursue this principle of sharing. 

We did not provide Tepu' with a script or setup. She just sat down and began to play her Pagang so elegantly. And since Tim and I are a lean film crew, we were happy to just sit quietly and film her in her element. Another Tepu' heard her playing Pagang, grabbed her cane, and came to us asking if she could sing. She then sat on the chair, hunched over and waited quietly. We were told that she recently celebrated her 100th birthday.

Once the sky falls dark and the temperature drops, everyone chats around the fire. There are many songs that they typically sing by the fire. But today, we have all of the longhouse mamas inviting us to join their Kelabit traditional dance and the trendy pop-disco. We also played a game with the mamas circling around where if your name was called, you had to pick up a plate in the middle of the circle before it hit the ground.

I know it doesn’t sound too exciting, but hey, have you ever seen 60 or 70 year old mamas playing this type of “action” game with so much passion!? I couldn’t help but wonder if those secrets of longevity are actually hidden in the longhouse and its garden and songs ;)

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