During the festive seasons amongst the Ibans and Dayaks of Borneo you might just be served with a special concoction which is freshly brewed from the Ijok Palm. You would be very lucky indeed to be offered a glass because it is not a common drink like the tuak. It is also not easily obtainable unless the longhouse farm has its own ijok palms and some skilled brewers are still alive!!
The Dutch call this palm the aren palm and the Germans know it as zuker palm. In English is known as the sugar or Gomuti palm.
In Iban it is known as Ijok (pronounced Ee Juok). The lethal concoction is called ai ijok (the "i" requires a sudden stop at the end so it can go like "aikk" ..however the kk is not exploded - linguistically).
These "scaffolding" are signs of "ijok tapping".
Ibans in particular and Dayaks in general have the skill of tapping the Ijok tree to extract a latex like sap from the palm early in the morning . This sap is processed to make an alcoholic drink called "ai ijok" or ijok water. This is very much like toddy or the tuak (a rice wine). Someone has compared the ai ijok to the Mackintosh of rice wine.
The photos above were taken in Kalimantan Barat in the vicinity of a longhouse. It was the first time I had a close encounter with Ijok Tree Tapping. The Ibans here produce both the Ai Ijok and Gula Ijok for sale. Also some scientists have been studying the ijok sap as a possible source of a cure for diabetes.
Apparently according to locals many diabetic people who take gula ijok have been known to have no negative side effects. Diabetes is not a common disease amongst the Dayaks in rural Kalimantan.
Lubok Antu in Sarawak is the best source of Gula Ijok. There are several shops selling this organic palm sugar @ RM 8.50 per kg. It is value for money really. Great with pulut!! (I will feature photos of the gula ijok in another post!!)
In both Sarawak and Kalimantan the ijok is a very useful plant to the Ibans besides providing an excellent alcoholic drink its fibers for example has been used for generations as cordage to bind things together. It is so strong that the villager’s use it to hold together bridges, houses and even floorings. It is useful in mat making too.
And I do hope that whatever wonderful scientific findings may result the Borneoan peoples would only be the benefactors as much as in the past centuries when they have had enjoyed the alcoholic drinks and the organic sugar.