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Where tradition meets nature

Temiar tribe of Perak, Malaysia shares the stories behind their hiking sticks.

ANN/THE STAR – If you fancy hiking sticks that are natural wood, visit the indigenous people on either side of the Sungai Perak rest area along the North-South Expressway in Malaysia.

The north and south-bound rest areas are hard besides Sungai Perak and on both rest areas, off to a corner, are booths run by the Temiar tribe offering a number of products found in the jungles near Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Hikers and campers will find themselves drawn to the many sticks and staves for sale, and hefting any of them might tell you that the Temiar tribe have sun-dried, treated and even fire-hardened them till they are quite strong.

A Temiar tribe showing a bunch of ‘rotan tumpat’ hiking sticks. PHOTO: THE STAR

Of particular delight is the cane called rotan semambu (Calamus scipionum – scipio means walking stick in Latin).

Rotan semambu grow everywhere in the jungle. They climb around trees. Very common. But it is a hassle to harvest them because they are full of thorns and they are always all bent or curved. “We have to shave off the thorns, use fire to straighten the cane, then sun-dry them for about a week before they can be used as hiking sticks,” said Ikar Abdullah, 41, of the Temiar tribe.

Since she was 11, Ikar said she has followed her tribe members into the jungle not far from Kuala Kangsar, and now that her stamina has waned, it has become her task to sell jungle products for her tribe.

 “In looking for staves, our way is to never cut the trees down. We need them. But trees are felled by lighting, storms and landslides. We hike through dense jungles in search of these,” she said.

An interested individual taking a closer look at a hiking stick. PHOTO: THE STAR

Another popular hiking stick is buluh tumpat (Gigantochloa ligulata). Its Malay name literally translates into dense bamboo, and Ikar said they are cut green and sun-dried for at least seven days till they turn beige.

“Then they become stiff and hard and yet are light,” she added.

The base of the bamboo shoots are what become hiking sticks, and one will actually be holding it upside down, using the fatter base of the shoot as the hilt of the stick.

And the buluh tumpat has another dramatic use. Ikar said because they could scare off evil spirits, buluh tumpat sticks are always placed over doors and in other places overhead. “You must never hit people with them. They have a magic venom that will make people fall sick,” she claimed. Another stick with purported mystical powers that is useful as hiking sticks are those made from tas wood.

In Sabah and Sarawak, a tas wood stick is grandly called God’s Mountain Stick. The tree from which tas wood comes is scientifically known as Goniothalamus velutinus and botanically, it is regarded as a treelet because it is slender and grows to no taller than six metres.

While it has no importance as timber, its bark is proven to contain anti-cancer and anti-tumour bioactive compounds and pharmacologists around the world are actively researching this. Ikar said the Temiar love this wood because the sticks ward off snakes and other venomous creatures.

For hikers, the appeal lies with how its straight branches used as hiking sticks are strong and stiff, with hardly any flex.

There is also the aesthetics, because the bark of tas wood hiking sticks are of a fine grain that is black (a rarity among natural wood bark), and inscrutably, tas wood with black bark are considered males while the females sport brown bark. – Arnold Loh

A collection of ‘raja kayu’ staves on display at the Sungai Perak rest area. PHOTO: THE STAR



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