August 22, 2009

Daun Keropok / Natural Cover

In the by gone days most of the indigenous folks truly "by force of nature" processed daun keropok (local dialect word)to make easy and portable wall coverings and even roofs(atap) when they were on the move and / or especially when they needed to make a temporary hut. Usually called "attap" by other races the daun keropok were sewn together either with natural twines.

A Foochow friend commented that when he was working in the timber camp in Ulu Limbang the Ibans were very "resourceful" as they built their own huts fashioned out of "attap daun keropok" . Many people lived comfortably for many years using these materials and they came "free". I was thinking as I listened to him how much the company had saved in terms of costs when ever willing and gracious workers helped out in this way. When I look at many others who live in comfortable portacabins with air conditioning I just shiver when imagining the differences in living standards.

Today it is a very rarely seen material and only a small handful of men and women in the more remote areas of Sarawak would have the skill and knowledege to process daun keropok. Hence it is indeed a disappearing skill.

The processing is long and tedious and therefore if the local people can afford it they will just buy the less environmentally friendly lightweight orange or blue "canvas" (which is really raffia matting) and of course not the real tarpaulin.

These leaves which can measure up to 15 feet will be trimmed and the "skin" removed. They are then dried in the hot sun until no moisture is left. This drying will turn the leaves into very hard and sturdy but very lightweight covering material not unlike Venetian blinds. They are then cut into equal lengths and sewn together to form a long flat piece of covering material to make a wall or a door.

On the hand hand the women can also cut the leaves into very small and thin pieces. After some drying the leaves can be casing for tobacco quite similar to those of nipah cigars. (Reference: Sarikei Time Capsule)

The collection of daun keropok is most uncomfortable and difficult at they are full of thorns. During the Japanese times and the Confrontation period those escaping from their enemies would natural hide behind the keropok clumps (growing in the swamps) which are really hard to penetrate. Besides snakes are often found crawling amongst the keropok hence they are often avoided by the faint hearted.

This is a makeshift door fashioned out of many leves of keropok. They are waterproof and sturdy. The ability of the leaves to stand up like light wood is one of the advantages of using keropok. The makeshift door can also be folded and transported elsewhere when necessary. This kind of door is lasting too. Wooden doors may be too heavy and deem too expensive to use whenever farmers need to build their "pondok" or "langkau" just for a few seasons. Knowledge of the useful plants like the keropok is an economic advantage to the locals.Whenever the Ibans travel along the river by their longboats they are usually quite happy to use the attap to keep themselves cool if they have not built a permanent roof over their slim longboats. Unlike their Malay and Melanau neighbours their boats are usually uncovered because they need to maneouvre their boats over smaller streams and perhaps even rapids. So a light weight material like daun keropok is more applicable.

I am sure new uses would be made use of the keropok in the future. Environmentally friendly materials should be looked upon with greater favour. There are always lots of uses for the keropok if we care to find out more.


Uncle Lee said...

Hello Sarawakiana, wow! You sure brought back memories to me.
I had forgotten the name, 'keropok', always use 'attap' or 'nipah'.

And yes, I have many times being caught by their thorns when in deep jungle and swamps during my working days in the jungles of Malaysia and Sarawak.
You have a pleasant weekend, best regards, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Lee

It is nice to see you again in cyberspace.

I had just spent a few beautiful days in Kuching visiting my mother and sisters. They live in a nice resort setting with Matang Peak on the west and a vast man made lake in front. I walked through nice casuarina roads with birds singing in the air...

I cannot imagine a Chinese man working in the deep jungles of Malaysia and being cut by the thorns of these vicious keropok!! Actually believe me they are rather on the endangered species list now !

Nipah is definitely different and is plentiful in the swamps of the Rajang and Baram.

Attap and kajang will not leave us for as long as there are people who need them for cheap coverings. My late maternal grandmother (Foochow from China) used to make kajang and the rokok nipah (lokok) to earn a few cents about 90 years ago!! Another posting on her soon.

You have a great weekend!!
Warm wishes S.

Ah Ngao said...

this indigeneous folks are really King of the forest - awesome ! no wonder,most of them don't like to stay in or even near city because they can easily adapt and survive in the jungle with ease.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
The Indigeneous folks have been around for centuries e.g. Inuit ;Australian Aborigines ;Taiwan Amei folks and the Minority Peoples of China etc. They use the best of nature for their lifestyle but when hurtled into the 2lst steel and concrete world where $ n cents or money is king many of their people cannot compete with the wage /income earners if they are not educated in the urban educational systems.
This is the present rural-urban divide;information gap;monetary vs non monetary systems;technology divide etc...The powers -that - be can manipulate their positions and bring about suffering to the less "capable" and the story goes on making the "original peoples" the disadvantaged peoples unless favourable laws are enacted and political systems are truly democratic and fair.
Perhaps now even the title "the kings of the forest" might not be theirs so to speak as they are deemed "backward" etc by many.
I am sure many of the educated indigenous people are more than fit (and therefore competitive enough) to be in the urban scenario if you look at the likes of those who are working in the US as famous surgeons and computer experts ;lawyers with UN and related agencies;top engineers ; top educationists; top economists etc...It is just that no one has really gone into writing a Who's Who for the indigenous of the world and furthermore there are more important things to do.
Thanks for dropping by.

Greenspot said...

Hi Sarawakiana!

Is daun keropok a species of the Pandanus???


Ah Ngao said...

younno,last Saturday our local paper covered something about the indigenuos people of Taiwan,lamenting their difficulties when typhoon Morakot destroyed their homes.all these while,i have always had the notion that our local brothers & sisters the Dayaks communities might or actually have strong ties and connection with the natives of Taiwan.from other sources also,i noticed the similarities in terms of their traditional custumes and their appearances too.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Someone whispered to me that keropok can also be spelt as Krupok. It is I believe a bigger species of pandanus which can grow up to 15 feet in its leaf length. I have not seen any description of it in any botany book written by local writers.

Nice of you to drop by.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
You are right. In fact there was a special research on the similarities and therefore possible relationship between one Taiwan tribal group with the Lun Bawangs. They examined the similarities of their vocabulary and some other cultural characteristics. In fact I heard that a forum was set up to bring more understanding amongst them. But I do not know what happened to this nowadays.
Now we have DNA which makes it easier to establish blood identity etc.....

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