Friday, June 10, 2011

Something Old, Nothing New.

It is smooth and shiny and has figures clinging onto the surface: a dragon, two goats cavorting under a banana tree, a rooster as big as the banana tree. Around the knob at the centre of the  chipped lid runs a beautiful circular pattern. It’s a small green jar and is the oldest thing I remember from my childhood. My mother used it to store salt.

My mother's ginger jar
 It must be about 600 years old.

The jar had belonged to my maternal grandfather and it survived all the transfers and house-moving my parents had to face during Papa's mata-mata days. (My parents had lived in Kota Belud, Sandakan, Labuan, Jesselton, kepayan, Tuaran, Menggatal and Penampang.) Somehow it wasn't in the fire that had turned our entire house into ashes. Now it stays with me, the collector of odd family objects and chronicler of the family ‘history’.  

Beautiful pattern on the lid

I’m keeping it simply because it had belonged to my grandfather and maybe to his father before him. We don’t know how he came to own this ginger jar which had travelled, from a pottery in China, across the South China Sea to Borneo. 

I don’t know about you, but I like to keep old objects such as this jar because they remind me of people who have gone before me; people who have lived, loved, died but we, their descendants, frequently know nothing about them. Often we don’t even know their names because the Dusuns used to regard saying the names of one’s elders disrespectful.

Old things—whether or not they have any monetary values—should be preserved. How else would we know of our past or our ancestors if we have no regard for our original language, our culture, old stuff?

The top of the bare hill, Nodo, was an old settlement. (Click to enlarge)

At the risk of being chastised, let me just say that the old settlement site (in Kampung Nodo—which I had mentioned in my book,) should be preserved for its historical value. No doubt the site is now part of somebody’s property and he can do whatever he wants with his land. No one can prevent him from cutting terraces on the slopes for the cultivation of crops. People are free to climb up the steep hill to see the place our ancestors had called home. They are free to take away shells and ancient, broken pottery as souvenirs of their visit. 

However, a hundred years from now, when our descendants want to study about their past, let's hope  they’ll discover another old site, another place, where the spirits of the long departed hover in peace and what used to be their homes lie undisturbed. 


  1. WOW! Maybe you should get some expert to analyse that artifact and see how long it dates back to! I still remember Amai Edward, he was a regular fixture at grandpa & grandma's place. His walking stick and ever present smile. Did he tell you about his experience working as mata-mata? I'm sure he had many interesting stories. If I can turn back the clock, I'd interview all the old folks till they get bored of me!

    It's so sad that Dusun Tatana do not have at least an oral tradition regarding to Kuala Penyu. Recently I asked whether there's any Tanah Tulen in KP with a cousin of mine and he had no idea what I'm talking about. I'm pretty sure there was a Tanah Tulen in KP on account that we had Shahbandar Makang. I'm sure he was the emissary of the Brunei Sultan.

  2. Justin, I came across this book about Sabah by that Ranjit Singh guy. He mentioned about the tulen (sometimes spelt tulin) on all the rivers along the west coast of Sabah. I don't know if you've read it. I'll look for it (at the library) and tell you the title.

  3. Beautiful descriptions of the jar.
    Ya, Old jars and old settlements should be preserved for future generations.

  4. Sorry, did not read the last paragraph properly. Hope more sites will be discovered by future generations.

  5. When the old settlement site is part of someone's private property, we can only suggest that it is preserved.

  6. Hi Tina,
    What an interesting rare treasure you have. My dad inherited a lot of beautiful jars (including tajaus). He claims they have been passed through a few generations before ended at his possession. Unfortunately, they have now been destroyed in the big fire that burnt down our first house. Sayang kan? I remember particularly one tajau (my Gaapa called it panding), it was green in colour painted with beautiful flowers and a dragon. I am almost sure it was made somewhere else, china maybe? Hayaa... sayang oo semua sudah tiada.

    Err.. is it the Gunung Kinabalu you were talking about in the last paragraph? Coz I'm hoping so ..

  7. Gunaqz, the Dusun's old tajaus and brass wares are precious and irreplaceable. Fifty years ago (in my kampung) every family had them. The only people who knew the objects were invaluable went round the kampung and shamelessly offered the village folks a few dollars for their heirlooms and sold them to collectors.

    So we, the Dusun, lost our tajaus and other stuff through unscrupulous people, fires, thefts etc. And you lost yours in a fire. Today we can only say 'sayang... what a loss' and only have vague images of our ancestors' tajaus.

    At least I have one little, green jar that I can say had belonged to my grandfather!

    The last paragraph? I was just hoping that there are other places (not yet discovered) that used to be an ancient settlement. Hopefully, in the near future, we'll all agree that it's important to preserve old sites due to their historical value. Now people will just radu what they find on their land because it is their property.