Jamit anak Lasah: Teraja Longhouse Head
Story by Nurhamiza Haji Roslan
Photography by Faiq Airudin
Jamit anak Lasah remembers coming to Teraja when he was only a little boy. His father had brought him along with his other family members as well as friends from Marudi in Sarawak.
As Jamit tried to recall all that happened during the migration, he paused for awhile and sat still. His hooded eyes appeared to be looking into space but it was evident they were looking at scenes of his past, that were replaying in his mind.
He sat crossed legged on the floor, with his hands on his knees. He adjusted his position a little and then took a deep breath, as if to prepare everyone for a long journey which is his life’s story.
Jamit said his father was originally an Iban from Kalimantan who had moved to Sarawak.
After the Japanese occupation and war in 1948, Jamit said his father took him and his family from Marudi, Sarawak to live in Teraja.
Jamit said he vaguely remembers what happened during the Japanese occupation, all he could remember was his mother would hurry to bring him to safety whenever they heard the sounds of planes flying overhead.
“She would take me to hide in the jungle, outside our home, where there were many trees,” said Jamit.
Jamit said his father built the first longhouse in Teraja and became head of the longhouse.
Life in Teraja had always been peaceful but sometimes it can get a little too quiet.
The longhouse Jamit’s father built when they first came to Teraja had only three doors which later increased to five. This number was nowhere near the number of doors longhouses back in Marudi had which could go up to 80, said Jamit.
While Jamit’s father was still head of the longhouse in Teraja, Jamit had joined the police force to be a forest police. He was already in thirties then. However, after only a year of service as forest police, Jamit said he had to quit to take care of his ageing father.
“Father had no siblings (to take care of him). So I quit (being a forest police) to take care and accompany him,” said Jamit.
Jamit became successor of the longhouse when his father passed away.
Before and after becoming head of the Teraja longhouse Jamit has seen how time has brought change to his people’s way of life.
“Back then if you did not have work you could still live. You can go into the forests, look for edible plants or hunt or trap animals,” said Jamit.
“And if we could grow the plants that we have taken from the forests ourselves, we won’t have to disturb the ones growing naturally anymore,” he continued to say.
“If we go hunting, we would not go after animals that are not fully grown . Same goes for trees, if we need wood, we cut down a tree for wood, we won’t cut the saplings growing around it. We would leave the small (trees) alone, so they can continue to grow,” said Jamit
“The simple life we led was enough for us. We only stepped out of the longhouse to go to shops to get items that cannot be found in the forest such as salt and oil,” said Jamit.
“In today’s modern world, if you do not have a job, it would be difficult,” said Jamit.
It has been over thirty years now since Jamit became head of the Teraja longhouse. The number of tenants in the Teraja longhouse has increased but many of them only stay there during the weekends.
Jamit explained that the younger generation of those staying at the longhouse preferred modern day jobs and the children now go to school. If all of them came back during the weekend, that would be around one hundred people gathered at the longhouse, Jamit said proudly.
Jamit said he does not feel sad the the younger generation of the longhouse tenants do not practice the old way of life.
He understands that times have changed; people need to work and find jobs now to earn a living. He does not expect the younger generation of the longhouse to live like how the elders did in the old days.
For those who have jobs, he hopes they will progress in their line of work and for those who are in school, he hopes they will finish their studies and excel.
He wishes that the younger generation will continue traditions of the Iban culture, its dances, important celebrations and most importantly not abandon the longhouse.
“One day, when there are no more elders around, my message (to the younger generation of the longhouse), do not totally abandon this village and this longhouse. This is where we come from. We live together here peacefully.”
He also wishes that the younger generation would continue to take care of the surrounding forests.
“It is better to take care of it (the forests). The forests have provided us many resources.
Without the forests, people in the old days would never have been able to live,” said Jamit.