Sarawakian artist Joseph Romey Dures speaks of his latest art project with pride and excitement, but it is also a sentimental and nostalgic journey for him. Due to the pandemic, he has to sit out yet another trip back to his hometown Kuching during Hari Gawai, but his thoughts are very much with family and friends there, especially while designing a national stamp series that was recently released by Pos Malaysia.
In conjunction with the upcoming harvest festival in Sarawak and Sabah, this stamp set features the sights and sounds of Hari Gawai and Pesta Kaamatan respectively.
The harvest festivals in both Sarawak and Sabah are an annual events comprising rituals and ceremonies to thank the rice spirit for a bountiful harvest. That aside, they are marked by local communities with lots of merry-making, family time, music and feasting.
“I was really thrilled when Pos Malaysia approached me about designing these stamps. This set illustrates the story of a postman delivering parcels to the longhouse on a longboat. As he reaches the longhouse, he is warmly welcomed by the Tuai Rumah (headman) and invited to join in the festivities. Being away from home made me reminisce about how Gawai is celebrated with family and friends, the food we prepare for the occasion and of course, the home-made drinks," says Dures in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
"I wanted these illustrations to reflect elements of Gawai and Kaamatan, and the unity, harmony, togetherness and diversity we have back home. It is also about giving thanks and being grateful for what you have, who you are, for your family and friends, and for what the future might hold, ” he adds.
Born and raised in Kuching, Dures, a proud Bidayuh, has been based in the Klang Valley for the last 15 years.
Dures has been working in the banking/finance industry for a decade now, but lost his job last year. He was devastated when this happened, but decided to focus on skateboarding (which he was already doing part-time while working at the bank) and art.
He started jrdoodles, where he takes on commissioned art projects, and shares his original art with the public on Instagram.
Dures is now a full-time skateboarding coach and artist/illustrator.
Besides drawing on paper, canvas or digital art, he also doodles on skateboards.
“I have a huge family back in Sarawak (some in Bau, Singai) and wonderful friends whom I miss dearly. Before the pandemic, I - together with my wife and daughter - would go back to Sarawak at least twice a year. Besides Christmas, Gawai is one of the biggest festivals we look forward to," says Dures.
"That’s when you meet family, catch up with childhood friends, have long chats about how time flies and how old we are getting. One of my favourite childhood memories of the celebrations is ‘Ngabang’ (visiting houses) with friends, drinking and eating non-stop until we throw up....rinse and repeat each day, until the Gawai mood is over, ” he adds.
In deciding what elements to highlight in this stamp series, Dures included the more familiar scenes like the Ngajat and Magunatip dances, and musical instruments, but made it a point to include other important aspects of the festival that are perhaps less widely publicised outside Sarawak and Sabah, like the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant,"ranyai" (tree of life) and "dayung boris" (Bidayuh priestess).
“It is good whenever we East Malaysians have an opportunity to show other Malaysians, particularly those in West Malaysia, about our heritage and culture. So no one would call our pua kumbu ‘kain buruk’ again, ” he says with a laugh, referencing a recent incident where a local influencer made this comment about the traditional Iban handwoven textile, much to the ire of many.
“It means so much to me that I can portray our rich heritage and culture on stamps. There are still many stamp collectors around as stamps hold sentimental value to many of us. People cherish this kind of art.
"I have to say that working on these stamp designs makes me feel so proud to be Malaysian and I hope that it will remind people to remember your roots, your heritage and culture, and to always respect each other, ” he says.
Pos Malaysia's Pesta Kaamatan & Hari Gawai 2021 Setem Ku Folder set includes an A4 Setem Ku stamp sheet (10 stamps x RM0.60), one folder with spot UV, three souvenir cover envelopes and three embossed, spot UV postcards.