Scotland-based Sarawakian doctor wears Orang Ulu headgear for PhD graduation


  • People
  • Thursday, 14 Jul 2022

Dr Kaleena standing proud with her parents, Michael and Supang. Photo: Happy Goat Photography

Sarawakian consultant ophthalmologist and vitreo-retinal surgeon Dr Kaleena Bulan Michael has been based in Scotland for 19 years. Yet, it's clear that she is very proud of her Orang Ulu roots.

Dr Kaleena's husband Donald and their son Dylan also wore Orang Ulu accessories for her graduation ceremony. Dr Kaleena's husband Donald and their son Dylan also wore Orang Ulu accessories for her graduation ceremony.The Limbang-born doctor wore the traditional Orang Ulu tapong se’ headpiece and tebilang bute-y (beaded sash) over a Ted Baker dress during her PhD graduation ceremony at the University of Glasgow two weeks ago.

“I have always made it a point to wear something related to my culture at every graduation event. One of the reasons is to demonstrate that the Orang Ulu community can get this far. Not only am I a medical doctor, I am also a specialist, a surgeon and a PhD holder while foremostly, an Orang Ulu.

“By wearing these (traditional) items for my graduation, I wanted to ensure that I am representing my heritage well,” said Dr Kaleena, 39, in an email interview from Ayrshire, a county that's a 50-minute drive away from Glasgow.

By chance, her summer dress matched the colours of her headgear and sash.

“While it might have been a coincidence, subconsciously I may have chosen the dress due to some of its design and motives that match the traditional design of the sash. Truth be told, I bought the dress 18 months ago with this graduation in mind,” Dr Kaleena shared.

Dr Kaleena with her parents, Michael and Supang during her recent graduation ceremony. Photos: Dr Kaleena Bulan Michael.Dr Kaleena with her parents, Michael and Supang during her recent graduation ceremony. Photos: Dr Kaleena Bulan Michael.

The headpiece was custom-made to represent the Kenyah and Lun Bawang tribes to reflect Dr Kaleena’s mixed heritage.

“My father is from the Kenyah Sebup tribe from Long Loyang in Tinjar, Baram while my mother is Lun Bawang from Lawas. The top portion of the design represents the Kenyah community. But, at the same time, the yellow represents the Lun Bawang community,” said Dr Kaleena, who is attached to Scotland’s University Hospital Ayr and University Hospital Crosshouse.

Dr Kaleena (centre) also wore the tapong laka’ anyam, a handmade rattan band, for her convocation from the University of Dundee in 2018.Dr Kaleena (centre) also wore the tapong laka’ anyam, a handmade rattan band, for her convocation from the University of Dundee in 2018.Her Miri-based parents, retired teachers Michael Nyagu Sabang, 67, and Supang Daring, 66, had ordered the custom-made headpiece, which cost RM700, and brought it to her for her graduation.

Dr Kaleena's parents, her husband Donald M. Sampley, 50, and son Dylan, three, also wore Orang Ulu accessories for the special occasion.

“I’m not usually one to stick my head out in a crowd unless it's for a good reason. Initially, I was super conscious about wearing the tapong se’. After some time, I realised that life was too short and my graduation was a once-in-a-lifetime event. If not now, then when?

“I stood out because the tapong se’ was just so noticeable from its sheer size and colourful design. Moreover, my family members also wore traditional accessories so it was clear that we were a unique unit. Many asked where we were from and gave looks of approval and smiles to show their interest in our costumes,” she explained.

Dr Kaleena also wore the tapong laka’ anyam, a handmade rattan band worn by the Kenyah-Kayan tribe, for her convocation at the University of Dundee in 2008 when she graduated with her medical degree.

Even though Dr Kaleena has settled down in Scotland, she misses Malaysia. She celebrated her birthday on July 12 and had Sarawakian kelupis – glutinous rice cooked in santan and wrapped in fan palm leaves – and kuih angku (red tortoise cake) for breakfast.

Coincidentally, Dr Kaleena's Ted Baker summer dress matched the colours of her headgear and sash.Coincidentally, Dr Kaleena's Ted Baker summer dress matched the colours of her headgear and sash.She believes it is important for Malaysians to showcase their culture and heritage to the world.

“Malaysia boasts a rich and diverse culture. I have only started appreciating my country after being away from home for so long. We each have our heritage and unique stories that have shaped us into the individuals we are today.

“The vibrance and richness of our culture would so easily be lost in time if we do not take the time to reflect and identify internally with our roots.

In Sarawak for example, we have come so far to get to where we are today that our ancestors deserve to be honoured by making their heritage known,” said the former SM Sains Miri student.


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