Sunday September 16, 2012
Two nations, one family
By DIANA ROSE
Two cousins divided by politics say blood is thicker than water and are happy to focus on what they share in common.
LIFE has taught Wilfred Kutu Linau to veil his emotions well, but he could not hide his childlike joy when he met up with “long-lost” cousin Anthonius A’em at a village in Balaikarangan, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, recently.
The two men had been “separated” for 20 years. At a glance, one could not help but compare them physically: Kutu, 60, is broad, tall, speaks good English and looks prosperous. A’em, 55, is slightly-built, tanned, less talkative and smiles a lot. He looks the older of the two, the result of a tough life.
Nationhood marks the cousins as Malaysian and Indonesian, respectively, but they speak the same language (Sadong-Bidayuh) and their ancestors were from the same village before an “imaginary line” divided it into two separate entities.
Both of them love farming – ex-school head Kutu does it as a hobby while A’em does it for a living – and they both believe that blood is thicker than water.
I met Kutu just before he embarked on a journey to Kalimantan for a “family reunion”. He was enjoying fruits and fish from his 4ha farm in Siburan in Serian district, 65km from Kuching.
Serian is the border town closest to Tebedu-Entikong, the official immigration checkpoint for Sarawak and Kalimantan. The pensioner has the grit of someone who has triumphed over life’s hard knocks through intelligence and hard work.
Kutu’s father had worked as a labourer, breaking stones used to construct gravel roads. Determined that their life should not be shackled by poverty, and seeing education as the way out, he sent his eldest son to a mission school in Serian.
Kutu was 11 when his father died, leaving him to assume the role of head of the family – he had to school his four siblings, and look after them and his mother.
“My father had the foresight to leave our village in 1958, when I was five. I remember we had to walk through the jungle for three days before reaching Serian. He then built a shack opposite where the hospital is today,” he recalled.
The villagers of remote Kujang Mawang at the foothills of Gunung Rawan, Tebedu district, consider it a taboo to move away from their ancestral land. Anyone who dared to break the norm was considered an outcast.
“I think my father was very daring. We were the first family to leave our kampung and I was the first person to go to school,” said Kutu, now the proud father of five local university graduates. His youngest boy, aged 17, is still in school.
Kutu trained at Batu Lintang College and majored in agricultural science.
“I’ve earned a living with my bare hands and I share my experiences with my kids. Education is a priority in their lives.”
He chatted easily during our two-hour ride in his battered Proton Saga to Tebedu, from where we rode a van for an hour to Balaikarangan, to visit A’em.
“A’em and I started out poor, from the same village. I was a bit lucky because my parents ensured that I had education. In Malaysia, there are more opportunities to make good as long as we work smart and hard,” said Kutu, who also has a four-wheel drive.
He was 10 when Malaysia was formed, and he has seen how Serian has grown from a backward district to the flourishing border town that it is today. There are good roads criss-crossing its landscape, and one can now drive to Kujang Mawang.
Our journey to the checkpoint was uneventful, but the stark geographical contrasts hit us when we crossed the border: Bad roads, a denser population and even a lower energy level among the people. The moment we stepped foot on Indonesian soil, we were swarmed by men offering to be our tour guide, to arrange our transport and fill our immigration forms.
In the ojek enroute to Balaikarangan, we found ourselves squashed between Indonesian housewives, mostly Dayaks returning from Serian, after shopping or visiting the clinic.
One of them, Maria Gopin, a Beduai Dayak from Desa Kasromegor, had gone to Serian to seek treatment for her aching back. She told us Malaysians are lucky because our health facilities are much better than what they have.
Serian is 59km from Balaikarangan, compared to Sanggau, the nearest main regency, which is 106km away.
“We have to pay a bit more to seek treatment in Serian, but the medicines are effective,” said Maria, 52, who explained that the doctor at Sanggau only dignoses their ailment and then writes out a prescription, which they have to purchase from a pharmacy elsewhere.
“We have to pay twice – for the doctor’s evaluation and the medicine.”
When Maria learnt that I was a travelling journalist, she immediately sought help to “relay a message” to her sister Kumin, who had married an Iban named Gindi in Lubok Antu, Sarawak. She wanted me to tell Kumin that her son and his wife had been involved in a motorcyle accident a few months back and are now bedridden.
Travelling on the ojek was a good way to see how Serian’s economy has flourished, thanks to the purchasing power of Indonesians living across the border – their cooking oil, flour, biscuits and groceries all come from there. Maria shops at Serian at least once a month because it offers variety and is closer than Sanggau.
Soon, we reached Aem’s house at Balai Dayak 1, a double-storey building where he sells bundles of clothes.
The houses and shops in Balaikarangan seem to have been built without proper planning and A’em’s shop cum residence is typical of the construction in the area.
His family is among the entrepreneurs in Balaikarangan, where business is controlled mainly by the Dayaks and Malays, with only a handful of Chinese businessmen have made inroads into the district.
Like most districts in West Kalimantan, the villages are densely populated and every bit of space of land by the roadside is utilised for housing, or to plant vegetables or crops.
A’em had lived with Kutu’s family in Serian in the 80s, working as a labourer at a construction site. He even had a Malaysian identity card, which he lost a couple of times. Eventually, he could not make a new one and thus, was deemed an illegal immigrant.
Kutu is proud that A’em has made something of his life. He had advised his cousin to save money and start something in Indonesia to make a living for himself.
A’em – who hails from Kampung Panga, also at the foothills of Gunung Rawan, but on the Indonesian border – did that and left Kuching for good in 1988. He opened a sundry stall in Balaikarangan, and then married Donesia. A few years later, they built the shoplot cum house and started their clothes business.
In the last 20 years, he has saved enough to buy land – on which he has started a pepper garden – and another house, which he rents out.
A’em was in the pepper garden when we made our surprise visit to his home, where we also met Donesia, 42, their daughter Paulina Juniarti, 17, and son Firinus Faizi Julianto, 14.
Their eldest daughter Octaviana, 23, is married to a Malay and lives in Pontianak, West Kalimantan.
A’em had started pepper farming three years ago, leaving Donesia to manage their clothes business. She gets her supplies from Kuching, and her customers are mostly locals, including oil palm plantation workers from nearby areas. She also supplies the bundles to down-liners on a consignment basis.
On average she earns about four million rupiah (about RM1,200) per month from the business.
Soft-spoken Donesia said they cannot afford to have treated water piped at their house. So, they have to pump murky water from the ground for general use, and buy distilled gallon water for drinking and cooking.
They have electricity supply, though. There is no television or radio in the house but Paulina has a laptop and is able to connect to the outside world because Balaikarangan has good Internet connection.
Donesia graciously served us fried tapioca leaves, sambal belacan, salted eggs and home-grown rice for dinner.
A’em’s family gets their rice from his village in Panga. Over the simple meal, he and Kutu caught up with news on their families.
The following day, as we explored Balaikarangan, Kutu found that nearly 40% of those living in the town centre were related to him. Among them was his cousin Dismass Ate, who drives a Pajero bearing a Kuching number plate.
When discussing the issue of nationality, Ate, who is well-known in West Kalimantan, especially among the Dayak leaders, chuckled: “At times, the Malaysian flag looks clearer to the people in Balaikarangan than the Indonesian flag.
“It does not matter whether we are Indonesian or Malaysian ... we are one family. So the Sang Saka Merah Putih (red and white treasure) or the Jalur Gemilang can be ahead of us or behind us.”
Whatever he meant, Kutu and I were glad to be back on Malaysian soil after our short trip across the border, and to gaze proudly at the Jalur Gemilang.