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June 13, 2012

Genealogy, Borneo Style

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – I have always been interested in roots. I tried o track down my family origins but got stuck in the 1860 census.


After that, everyone seems to disappear off the planet. Maybe my family line did come from outer space. One of those new found planets could be the source of my origins.


There was a memorial service at my wife’s brother’s house for those who had passed away. The men sat in the front room with 10 male children of all ages. We recited verses from the Qur’an, invoking the names of the dead and asking Allah to remember them and be placed with the good people in heaven.


The belief states that souls are in suspension until the rapture. The prayers are food, light and other necessities for these people until then. The more we remember those who have passed away the better life they will have while they are “in between.”


Concluding the 45 minute prayer session, we had a fantastic meal of fried fish with turmeric and salt. When eaten, it was dipped in a very hot soya sauce with chili and lime. Chicken, beef, dhal (mixture of eggplants and navy beans) curry and tons of fried chicken with a wonderful coating were consumed in vast quantities. There was a pickled veggie of some kind, not sure what, with small red chilies (the most dangerous,) floating around. Two types of rice, white and briyani was also served. Cold, bright-red watermelon provided a relief from the spicy foods. Just as we fill the souls with our prayers, we become filled with food.


I felt this would be a good time to begin a genealogy project for Dzul to understand his Asian background. Everybody who remembered was there, as all had to be extracted as oral history.


Dzul’s great, great, great grandfather, Panglima Seman, was employed by the white Rajahs (the Brooke family) who ruled Sarawak in a lineage from about 1840 to 1946. His job was to fight the pirates who were raiding the coast. He would hold his breath and swim underwater to the pirate boat and pull the invaders underwater. He then bashed their heads against rocks. That is how the Kampung, Panglima Seman, got his name.


Westerners may have the idea of a huge masted ship, but here they were the size of a small three or four man dhow. His bravery was rewarded by the Rajah Brooke with the title of “Panglima,” meaning warrior. There is a village named after him across the river from my condo, Kampung Panglima Seman.


Panglima Seman also had some supernatural powers. It was said he could walk across mud without sinking, leaving only his footprints. A knife could not penetrate his skin regardless of how sharp. He had super human strength.


While trying to recruit others, a spear was thrust into a tree but only penetrated a few inches. None of the big burly men could pull it out. The Panglima, a small slight man, yanked and it came out almost immediately.


His grandson, Kipli bin Man also had powers. He once slapped a tree, the tree died and he was able to carry the entire Iron Wood tree, about 30 meters (90 feet) in length on his shoulder. When he went fishing in a boat he could carry the small vessel on his back.  He could easily swing the heaviest ax when felling trees for firewood in the forest.


These stories are partially true and wildly embellished but still a wonderful history to pass down through the generations. And Dzul now has some sense of place on this wonderful island of Borneo.


. . . . .Life is Good. . . . .


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