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.