August 15, 2009

Death in Timber Camp

One of the greatest pains suffered by the workers and especially indigenous people who work in the timber camps is accidental death by timber logs which have stacked up on the hill slopes and river banks waiting for transportation elsewhere. Another accidental death is caused by slipping from a slope while precariously chainsawing a tree. Another common timber camp death is caused by a bulldozer falling into a ravine.

Good companies insure their workers well and that really helps in funerals and other incidental payments making everyone very happy and feel rewarded. In Sarawak most workers have Socso and pay their EPF without fail.

When unprotected,illiterate and ignorant workers die under the logs by accident or in any other possible ways their families suffer the most. Many of these could also be migrant workers from Indonesia or the Philippines.

Those of us who have travelled through logging areas and timber treks only know too well how dangerous it can be (see photos).

Although such deaths are already few and far in between due to the conscientious efforts made by all the workers on Safety First when accidents happen and tragedies ensue one can only be very very sad and grieve for the dearly departed.

We recently lost an uncle who hailed from the Katibas.

He had always been a jolly good fellow and generous at heart without malice towards any one. He never had a chance to go to school and had worked all his life as a labourer eeking out a living to the best of his ability. When he finally managed to have four walls and a roof over his head his life was cut short by a fatal fall half way through chainsawing a tree. He fell legs first down the hill crumbling his backbone and tearing and cutting his bladders open.

The ladies from other longhouses came over the express their condolences. Biscuits and tea would be serve as every one sat down on the lampit (mat). The talk would focus on how kind the deceased was and how well he got along with the others never forgetting his need to be generous to those around him. He would be fondly spoken of as the mourners remembered him before he was finally buried on Monday. Catholics do not bury their dead on Sundays.

the deceased had not completed his "family home" before he died.
The canvas covered the makeshift kitchen which was put in front of the longhouse.

As expected the every efficient longhouse Neighbourhood Committee (JKKK)garnered all able bodied men and women to help out. For three days the mourners would receive their meals from this makeshift kitchen. A pig had been slaughtered. Noodles bought and other ingredients contributed by the members of the committee and family.

With a very generous donation made by the timber company the pre-funeral waiting period was well managed by the sisters-in-law and the ex-father-in-law. The deceased had been married to his first wife for many years before she passed away. A few years later he married another woman who brought in five children into the family.

This kind of extended family is very tolerated as long as the community was able to accept the various legitimate arrangements according to their communal and religious beliefs.

Funerals like this bring the best out of every one. It was very touching to see distant relatives coming to mourn and expressing their condolences.

A young man walked the whole night to come from another longhouse just to pay his last respects. He would like to remember how kind the deceased had been to him and be present at the preparation of the grave and at the final journey for the burial in the longhouse cemetery.


Anonymous said...

Hai Aunty Yi,

I have been an ardent follower of your blog, but I just could not get myself to comment on your post.

Somehow, I can't resist this. The sight of timber logs stacked many highs along the road sides reminds me as far back as my pre-school days. I still have blurred memories of my youth growing up in the timber camp.

During my primary school days at SRK Nanga Medamit, the logs were doubled or even tripled the current size. In some rare instances the diameter can be taller than a 6-footer. Well, after many years of logging, timber tree get more scarce. I presume most of the loggers are doing secondary logging or "nuchi block" they call it.

I cannot recall how many times I had boarded the timber trucks to commute from our longhouse in ulu Medamit to my primary school at SRK Nanga Medamit and vice versa. Going back to the longhouse we would tumpang an empty load truck. The passenger seat at the cabin can only accommodate at maximum 4 primary school students squized in like tin sardine(normally reserved for the younger crews). We would normally go back for the week end..maybe once a month or at most every a platoon of 10-15. So the remaining would cling behind the wooden load structures. Safety? Never really thought about it. It was fun at that time. The only thing that matters at that point in time was to arrive at the longhouse to have a short stay with out parents...most of all of course was to replenish our ration. Only we kids from Rumah Aling,Ulu Medamit had this "priviledge". What choice do we have? The kids from the other longhouses along the batang Medamit are located within the vicinity of SRK Bukit Batu, not a boarding school at that time.

Going back to school on the Sundays, we would use the same mode. The only difference was that the trucks would be loaded with logs. Mind you, those who had to cling behind the truck would have to sit on the log end closest the cabin by holding on tight to the steel cable used to fasten the logs onto the trucks. Sometimes in the Peninsular while driving with friends towards the east coast, I do come across a log-stacked truck. When I tell them the story, I got weird stare from them...well, maybe they thought it was just fiction.

Not many of us made it to the universities. I was realy blessed to have you and Uncle Chris (the first Iban from Limbang to go to the university and definitely the man who has the greatest influence in my life). Believe me, I can never thank the two of you enough for that. No material value can equal how you have bred me and my siblings. I admit that I am not good at all in expressing myself. ooooops, i got tears in my eyes...maybe i'll write about it another time. really sad to hear of Uncle Langgong's demise. I've never heard of him being sick..the most is his back ache. Like my father (who hails from Ulu Mukah), he was one of Iban "bejalai" crew from Balleh. His love story with the late Aunty Lia equals a Bestseller. It's about faithfulness. My mum told me that he earlier declined a proposal to match him with an aunty from Krangan Ma' because she is their first cousin. He considered her like a sister to them. That's why he re-married someone outside the family line. Anyway, I am a bit concern about his 2 innocent children.

robert@apai rania

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Apai Rania
(In our struggling years did we imagine beautiful children like Rania and Iqbal?)
Thank you so much for the words you have written so well here.
they should appear on your own blog as part of your effort to bring real life to cyberspace.

what your uncle and I did was what we had to do. In life there are many things we can do or have to do. Royal Professor Ungku Aziz was right - to break the vicious cycle of poverty one must inject education into the cycle.

Today I would add the word "quality and true education" not the touch and go (t and g) type of education. What ever has happened to good quality education that you had before? said...

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