STEFANIE Natasha Rich Joseph, an undergraduate of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) in Perak, finds that many people in peninsular Malaysia do not know much about the way of life in Sarawak.
The 21-year-old of Bidayuh and Iban origin said: “Kuching is like Kuala Lumpur. It is experiencing rapid development too.”
For many in the peninsula, the island of Borneo on the other side of South China Sea remains a mystery.
Some have images from the tourism advertisements stuck in their minds and believe that the Sarawak natives, clad in their traditional costumes, are always out hunting with blowpipes in the lush forests.
Vinceton Garawat, a Kelabit, also feels that many are ignorant about Sarawak.
“Some have asked me, ‘How did you cross the sea to get here?’” he said.
But despite this lack of knowledge, Vinceton has many friends from the peninsula as Kuala Lumpur has become a comfortable home for this 30-year-old advertising account manager who left Miri in 1997 to pursue a degree in Business Administration in Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), Kedah.
He stayed on after graduation because job opportunies were aplenty here, as he did not want a career in the oil and gas industry in Sarawak.
Augustus Sapen, a Bidayuh, said it was overwhelming at first when he was plunged into the fast-pace city life.
“There were so many high-rise buildings and so many cars. The people all looked sophisticated,” he said.
As the excitement wore off, Augustus settled down and enjoyed positive experiences with school and work mates.
“Sarawakians are often praised for their work ethics and capabilities. “We, as the minority here, try hard to prove ourselves,” the 32-year-old engineer said.
While busy pursuing career goals, they try to keep in touch with fellow Sarawakians here through the Kuala Lumpur Sarawak Heritage Association.
Its founder Dr Lawrence John is not a Sarawakian but has worked in Sarawak for seven years, and his wife is a Kelabit.
He had co-operated with UUM to provide tailored education courses in Sarawak and in the process helped 350 teachers to get their master’s degree in the past four years.
Currently he is negotiating with an electronic company here to provide jobs for Sarawakians who are willing to take weekend diploma courses in a local tertiary institute.
A seminar to enlighten Sarawakians on how to start their own businesses is also part of his plans.
“Academic, business, culture and welfare are this association’s main four areas of focus,” he said.
Over the past two years, the association had hosted open house functions during Hari Gawai, Christmas, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri, attracting huge turnouts from Sarawakians and locals.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud also attended its raya open house in Kuala Lumpur last year.
John considers it an achievement for a non-membership association and he makes sure the events exposed the locals to the colourful Sarawak culture.
The Hornbill Festival 2008, which was held in conjunction with the Hari Gawai celebration, presented performances from 15 ethnic groups. The association is currently preparing for this year’s Hornbill Festival.
Patricia Daniel, a 32-year-old Lun Bawang, came to know about this association when her friend asked her to perform at the Hornbill Festival 2008.
Amusingly, this Sarawak-born who grew up in Sabah only picked up the Lun Bawang language here, after befriending people of her ethnicity.
Vinceton, who is married to a Kenyah, belongs to the new generation that has moved out of Bario Highlands and lost touch with most of the Kelabit culture, beliefs and lifestyle.
However, his two children are learning native songs, poems and myths from his father who visits from Miri.
Vinceton still keeps a Kelabit costume for special functions and harbours hopes of returning to live in Sarawak.
“I want to get close again to my roots and culture, and that’s where my family and friends are.”
For details, visit http://warisansawarak.com/, e-mail email@example.com or join them on Facebook (Warisan Sarawak) and Friendster (Warisan Sarawak KL).