I will never forget the dinner in a small longhouse several years ago. The host went out with us to cut down a nibong tree just before the sun reached the top of the hills. He said it was time to prepare for dinner. He did not wear a watch. He then went to the small river which at that time was in pristine condition. He raised the traps he had put in earlier on in the morning and out came several prawns in each trap. He already had a few fish in his little boat when he came in from the padi fields. By the time we settled down for our bath in the river he had already cleaned the nibong and the prawns. He had all these in the bamboo canisters (pansur) over the fire on the rocks as we enjoyed our bath. The setting sun cast gentle shadows on the fire and the fragrance of the boiling fish and prawns filled the air. As the fire wood crackled and the charcoals spitted when liquid dropped on them I could tell that the cooking nibong was sweet and delectable.
His wife already had the rice cooked (in bamboo) and some nice vegetables stir fried as we dressed . When we gathered on the mat (lampit) he took out the bamboo canisters and poured out the food into the bowls.
We thus had a meal almost all from nature. How bountiful the earth was! Each morsel of food was appreciated by young and old. Very little cooking oil was used for our meal and I was amazed! The rise in price of cooking oil would not affect the financial status of this family.
Recently during my land trip along the coast of Sarawak I came across some clumps of nibong trees and reminisced the pleasant longhouse dinner which have not been forgotten. This time round I had the opportunity to take photos of the nibong. That memorable trip was neither videoed nor digitally photographed . But every image was imprinted on my mind. The fragrance of cooking nibong palm shoot would always trigger off the images in the future.
The Nibong Palm is often called the forgotten palm because in size it is nothing compared to the coconut which is very stately and ubiquitous. It is not as financially rewarding as the oil palm which fetches about 400 ringgit per ton. The nibong is slim and slender and often found in difficult terrain in the equatorial jungles.
In fact the Ibans have long woven its pattern into their pua kumbu. And this palm pattern has been mentioned in "Iban Ritual Textiles" by Traude Gavin. Otherwise no many non Ibans would know of its significance in indigenous life.
For the women the nibong has proven its worth as good wood for utensils like ladles and scoops. Some are even custom made into special water containers and other decorative items for the stylish homes in the city.
Beautiful carved nibong trays for example have been specially ordered from the inner most parts of Sarawak for use in stately homes in Kuala Lumpur and even in London. Most of these become conversation piece for guests.
The two pictures show the slim nibong trees along the lowlands of Sarawak between Miri and Bintulu.
In Sabah the Bungkau (jaw's harp) is made from the bark of a nibong palm called bongkala)
The nibong should not be forgotten at all.