A peak steeped in history

A climb up Bung Bratak offers an insight into the origin of the Bidayuhs of the Jagoi-Bratak group in Bau and Lundu Districts.

SHE AIN’T HEAVY: A Bidayuh girl gestures as she sits on two bamboo stems shouldered by two young ‘warriors’ during a traditional dance. — Photos by Antonia Chiam, Irene C and Agnes Tugong

FOR first-time mountain climbers, Bung Bratak looks a good ascending point.

To scale this mountain, no ropes are needed, just shoes with good grip and maybe a hiking stick.

The best time to go is on Bung Bratak Day (May 1) which coincides  with the annual celebration of the historical ancestral home of the Bidayuhs of the Jagoi-Bratak group in Bau and Lundu Districts.

There is only one trail leading to the plateau at the foot of the mountain at Kampung Tembawang Sauh, Bau District. To get to the village, drive a short distance from the Lundu junction and the village entrance is on the left with a hut next to it. There is also a banner publicising the trail.

As the road leading to the foot of the mountain is an undulating single lane, motorists should proceed with caution. Drive on to the end of the road where you will usually see a lot cars parked on the curb, signifying the popularity of Bung Bratak.

The villagers are enterprising, setting up stalls to sell mostly food and drinks, and the occasional ears of corn to visitiors. A word of advice though — don’t drink too much before the climb as there are no toilets on the way up — or down!

The hike starts on cement steps and climbers should proceed carefully as the concrete may be slippery due to the early morning dew.

Along the way, there would be some exciting — and amusing – sights like some untrained hikers taking a spill but there is always a helping hand when that happens.

And should non-animated help be required on the trek up, a dead bamboo stick found along the trail could be turned into a makeshift hiking stick.

The more seasoned hikers take only 15 minutes to reach the top but for city folks who have never climbed a steep mountain before, it may take between 30 and 45 minutes. One kilometre may not seem such a long distance, but factor in the slippery trail and steep climb, then it becomes a lot of hard work.

During our climb, most of the hikers were Bidayuhs from nearby villages but there were also many tourists. Kudos to the Bidayuh mum and dad who carried their young child all the way up. A handful climbers were seen resting on fallen trees before continuing. Some still had the energy to chat and joke while others cheered on their friends lagging behind. Some just kept walking.

Enchanting music

Halfway up, there was a resting spot with two bamboo benches.

Here, most climbers took a break, mopping their sweaty brows, having a drink of water and even updating their Facebook status.

At this point, visitors could hear the enchanting Bidayuh music playing from the mountaintop. The sounds of gongs and drums spurred on the climbers.

On reaching the top, climbers were greeted and ushered into the venue for the Bung Bratak Day celebration by maidens clad in traditional Bidayuh costumes.

Visitors would find the trek up worthwhile after getting to view the traditional baruk (despite the zinc roofing) and a big communal verandah where the official part of the event was held.

At the verandah, visitors sat on wooden benches and watched the ceremonial proceedings following a speech by Bung Bratak Heritage Association (BBHA) chairman and founder Datuk Peter Minos.

A Gawai Pisien ceremony, involving chanting the pasa (a form of prayer or communication) to the iengs (benevolent spirits), was performed by a priest, waving a live cockerel in front of the altar or bawal, to seek the blessings and favours from the iengs and the ancestrial spirits. Skapur boras sia (yellow rice) were scattered around the site to clear the way for the iengs.

A chicken was then slaughtered and the blood scattered to seek the blessings of the spirits. The chicken, with feathers, was roasted and the meat shared among the priests.

Also on the altar were pogang (similar to lemang minus the banana leaves), sekuoi (rice flour wrapped in manah leaves) and two bottles of tuak (rice wine or toddy) which were served to visitors after the ceremony.

The Gawai Pa-ad Sadih and Pimu-un Sadih were also performed. The purpose of the Sadih is to seek the blessings of the iengs and the spirits of the ancestors who planted the fruit trees are still being tended today.

The blessings are for the fruit trees to continue growing and bearing bountiful harvests every season, and be protected from pests, natural disasters, lightning strikes and storms.

Taboos were invoked to ensure the fruit trees were not damaged by anybody. The consequences of breaking these taboos are said to be severe.

Before and after the ceremonies, traditional dances were performed by the villagers as young as seven years old.

Six of the some 30 Bung Bratak villages played host with each performing its unique traditional dances, accompanied by traditional Bidayuh music.

Past and origin

According to Minos, historians and researchers have confirmed that Bung Bratak was founded probably more than 750 years ago. Some believe Bung Bratak’s original settlers came from Sungkong, now a part of the Indonesian Province of West Kalimantan.

“For hundreds of years, the people of Bung Bratak lived peacefully, planting rice and other subsistence crops at the foothills. This lasted until the settlement was attacked and razed to the ground on May 1 in 1838 by raiders.”

Minos said Bung Bratak was rebuilt in 1841 under Panglima Kulow who sought assistance from the first White Rajah, James Brooke.

During its over 750 years of existence, the people of Bung Bratak spread out to set up other settlements, and as a result, there are now about 30 Bung Bratak villages in Bau and Lundu Districts.

Due to Bung Bratak’s historical significance, Bidayuhs of Jagoi-Bratak area visit it on May 1 each year to commemorate its fall, its past and its origin, Minos added.

On the mountaintop, visitors can enjoy clean and refreshing water from a spring. There is a split bamboo pipe for ease of getting water, as well as water tanks for collecting excess water.

The water is believed to have curative properties. Some of the visitors collected the water in empty plastic bottles to bring home and share with friends and family.

The more adventurous can visit the two waterfalls on the mountain.

One is Nowang Waterfall, half an hour from the top. There is a trail leading to the waterfall.

Halfway there, some visitors were seen trying their luck in finding the elusive boras so-uh (burnt rice), believed to appear only on Bung Bratak Day. They dug up the soil to collect the black coloured rice grains which, it is believed, could only be found if the spirits favoured the diggers.

Nowang Waterfall is 100-feet high, and its water flows to Sungai Nowang. Visitors are urged to be careful because one part of the trail has a steep ravine.

At the waterfall, there is a bamboo bench for resting and visitors can drink and wash their face from the split bamboo pipe. There is a small pool at the waterfall and to get there, visitors have to climb moss-covered rocks.

The way up is like playing an adventure PS3 or computer game, only that there is no restart if you missed your footing. One must also be smart in picking the right rock to step on as some are loose and may be dangerous.

The cold sprays from the waterfall on the face are refreshing. No bathing is possible because the pool is really small but feet-dipping is possible.

Getting off the mountain at the waterfall is not possible, so be prepared to hike back up to the main trail for the trek down.

Overall, it’s a trip worth the effort and can be made again the following year.

Those who ended up with leg cramps or muscle aches should be better prepared next time by wearing hiking boots and bringing along hiking sticks and muscle balm.

Source: http://www.theborneopost.com/2011/05/08/a-peak-steeped-in-history/

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