Lest We Forget


Compiled by Chan Chee Khiong

Osman draws inspiration from Kampong Ayer

Abang Jit Manis

June 19, 2010 – His deep love and loyalty towards Brunei Darussalam have inspired him to promote the Sultanate through paintings.

The patriotic artist is Osman Omar from Kampong Bendahara Lama in Kampong Ayer at the capital.

Osman, 63, has been in the art scene since the 60s along with artists such as Pengiran Dato Paduka Haji Asmalee and Haji Salleh Ibrahim.

Speaking at his art corner at Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah (YSHHB) Complex in the capital recently, he said for more than four decades his artworks mainly focus on life in Brunei.

Kampong Ayer with the Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien mosque in the background is his favourite subject.

Asked why he chose Kampong Ayer, he said that the water village is a landmark and has historical value as in the past the Sultan’s palaces were built there.

According to Osman, some of the villages in Kampong Ayer no longer exist due to the fires which destroyed parts of the water village some years ago. That is why some of his paintings feature old scenery of Kampong Ayer with houses built with wood and leaves.

Artist Osman Omar likes to focus on scenes in Kampong Ayer. PHOTO: ABANG JIT MANIS

One painting which I admire most is The Padian of Kampong Ayer.

According to Osman, during his childhood the Padian or women traders played an important role in the Kampong Ayer community, paddling their boats from one village to another. The Padian sold food, fish and other necessities. But the Padian no longer exist due to modernisation. That is why he honoured them through his paintings.

I also came across a painting of Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II’s. The portrait was drawn from a 1960s photo and done with pencil. Osman said that the portrait means a lot to him. Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien played an important role in turning Brunei into a modern country.

It was during Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saiffudien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien’s era that Osman started joining art competitions. Osman also draws portraits of local dignitaries which are also exhibited at his art corner in YSHHB Complex.

Osman also features happy moments in his paintings. Two paintings feature three girls smiling and a mother with two of her children which symbolise the peacefulness of Brunei.

Osman said that Brunei is lucky to be blessed with peace and prosperity. Happy faces of people in the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan are also featured in his paintings.

Osman’s paintings symbolise Brunei Darussalam and its people. When we take a glance at his paintings, we would say, “Yes this is me, these are my friends, this is my home and yes, this is Brunei Darussalam”.

Love songs from the heart

Valentine Tawie Salok

June 18, 2000 – Renong, one of Iban’s revered oral tradition, has no equivalent in English oral tradition, unless one identifies it with traditional English opera songs of romance, love, courtship, marital bliss, related feelings and related matters.

In whatever sense one tries to relate it to oral tradition of any one group or community elsewhere, in Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa or the Middle East, renong stands uniquely Iban.

This is for the simple reason that it is about the life of the Iban community, particularly in the longhouse, encompassing their courtship, love, marriage, self-esteem, pride and rich cultural traits.

There are two common types of renongs, namely renong semain and renong sakit, the latter being rarely done unless someone gets sick but wishes to let the bard perform the renong sakit to invoke or call for the spirits to cure, an alternative to the traditional healing belian by the shaman manang. Bards who can perform the renong sakit are getting extinct, one of the last few in Krian basin being (ahem! my father Salok anak Jembu, now 91, also the first Iban to record sampi chants in the then Radio Sarawak in 1955).

As singing has no place in Iban oral tradition, renong semain is its immediate substitute. Just like a song, renong semain is meant as an entertainment piece, minus the musical accompaniment. The person who performs the renong must be gifted with a powerful and melodious voice, poetic, creative and good, if not perfect memory.

Mainly a tradition unique to the Garibas and Krian basins, renong semain is performed by a male bard lemambang who usually sits on the wa (a wooden swing) positioned at the middle of the open ruai gallery or verandah.

His court consists an audience of eager listeners who sit around and lend their ears. Some may even be reduced to tears if they empathise with the passages of his renong, particularly those about heartbreaks, jilted lovers, broken romance or unrequited love.

Renowned renong semain exponents or bards for the aforesaid river basins include the late Segara anak Geraik, arguably the most creative and innovative of them all; Baja of Ulu Awik, known for having the best voice; Jamit of Ulu Krian; Bidin anak Sanggu of Nanga Ulai; Dundang anak Enchana of Sungai Belong, Melupa; Jelemin anak Jantan of Kedap and Saban anak Imong, also of Kedap. All of them have recorded their renongs with Radio Television Malaysia (RTM).

Most renongs centre around the simple love life and courtship of the longhouse folks.

Take for example, the bard starts by telling his audience that he is reluctant to sing ‘lembau berenang tang nyau alah gulu bala anembiak ti begempuru dudok berimbai, sereta laban nyau alah pangkang sida apai orang ti ngerigang dudok ngelulai’ in renong rhymes (his reluctance gives way to willingness due to the appealing crowd).

Then he starts recording his appreciation of his audience, their beautiful surrounding, their kindness and other virtues, even lists in singsong fashion the attributes of the longhouse where he performs.

Of course the main composition of the renong comes next. He starts from the moment the girl is conceived. This is when the mothers starts craving nyera tetengok deka makai upa rutan jelai enggau raba assam binjai (for shoots of wild rattan and wild mangoes). Her husband starts bepenti observing taboos for an expecting father. The baby is a girl. At three months of age, she will be given her first bath mandi at the river, more as an initiation.

When the girl becomes a teenager, the father builds for a special platform padong where she sleeps. He intricately designs the padong with likau nabau ngeraran enggau sengkilong tedong bulan (the skin pattern of a giant python and the coil of a moon cobra). Her mother splashes the padong with belabak minyak jayau jematan beauty charms of perfumed ointments.

All the bachelors around the area smell the perfumed ointments and flock to court her through way of the night visit ngayap. This is where the bard exploits his poetic skill about love, romance and passion.

Then he goes on to the stage where the girl laments the bachelors are not coming anymore.

She is fed up of being alone with her pillows, blanket and mosquito net indu dara udah merampau, nguan genturan papan linsu begulai enggau perambu gulong kibong.

She and another girl peer want to get out from the longhouse and breathe fresh air to kill boredom. They look for bamboo shoots at the foot of the hills ngiga tubu ngagai siti munggu langgong bedarong. After walking some distance, they decide that life is not worth living and aim hence suicide is the answer. They look for the deadly tubai poisonous roots and pound them on a wooden bowl. When they are about to drink the excretion from the roots, two handsome bachelors in war attires appear and throw away the bowls of tubai. Sounds simple but dramatic, added with an element of suspense.

That is not the end of the story. The bard goes on to narrate further rendezvous and relationship between the couples encompassing romance, passion, marriage, heartbreaks, break ups, etc. Listen to the renong semain, you will laugh, be entertained or even be blurred with emotions – if you appreciate and can comprehend poetic Iban.