Keeping Melanau traditions alive in young hearts and minds

Press Release
September 23, 2005

Keeping Melanau traditions alive in young hearts and minds

The Knowledge Keeper of Sarawak, the fourth DiGi's Amazing Malaysians programme, gets under way

Sibu, September 24, 2005 - DiGi Telecommunications, through its nationwide corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, today "crowned" ex-journalist, Diana Rose, as the Knowledge Keeper of Sarawak. In the fourth of five DiGi's Amazing Malaysian projects to be launched this year, Rose and her team will be coaching 50 youth in the craft, dance and music of the Melanau people - a riverine community who have inhabited Mukah, on the shores of Sarawak, for over 1,000 years.

The youth are Primary 4 and 5 students from SK St Patrick's, SK Tellian and SK Datuk Awang Udin, and Secondary 1, 2 and 4 students from SMK Mukah and SMK Three Rivers. All schools are located around Kampung Tellian, a predominantly Melanau settlement. Over the next two months, the children will be trained in the fine art of weaving sago fronds to make traditional craft; making traditional Melanau music with brass, string and percussion instruments such as the sape, rebana and geletangan; and learning the intricate moves in traditional and fusion Melanau dances.

"Almost every country in the world is grappling with the question of how to maintain its cultural identity at a time when global culture is washing over the earth. DiGi realised early on that we wanted to be accountable for the development of the community that has created and supported our organisation. And culture is not merely a jewel in the crown of development. It is a very real part of development, not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means of achieving an acceptable intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence," said DiGi's Chief Financial Officer, Johan Dennelind.

"Through DiGi's Amazing Malaysians programme, we believe we can directly influence the preservation of our unique Malaysian heritage. The cultural resources of indigenous people, especially, are a fragile treasure that is now under threat. And the Knowledge Keeper of Sarawak programme is how we seek to encourage appreciation of our inherited treasures of the past."

At the launch in Lamin Dana, Dennelind placed Melanau headgear, called the serebeng, on Rose, symbolically honouring the young lady's tireless efforts in preserving and passing on Melanau's rich culture and heritage. While most people are leaving their village to start new lives in the city, Diana Rose decided to give up her career in the city to return to Mukah. What is more, she is determined to draw others to her village, so the whole world can appreciate the special tradition that belongs to the Melanaus.

Rose has been instrumental in the building and creation of Lamin Dana, a Melanau tall house which has become a thriving cultural home stay. At one time the tall house was to the Melanaus what longhouses are to Borneo's other indigenous people; and Lamin Dana is the first built in over two centuries. Here, the villagers of Tellian make available their legends and culture to the world.

Rose is excited about the opportunity DiGi is providing for her to share the experience with the young people of her area.

"Melanau traditions, as with other cultures, are fast being replaced by pop culture, especially among young people. The understanding of their cultural heritage and history, as well as that of others, is an important means to help youth define their identity. With this programme, I hope to revive interest in Melanau practices so that the children will be in a position to act as ambassadors of our tradition that is fast disappearing," said Rose.

The two-day launch included fun and games, but none so exciting as a jam session with one of Malaysia's finest fusion music performers, Zainal Abidin. The youth and guests were also treated to a boat cruise on Sungai Tellian and a crash course on the colourful history of the Melanaus and civilisation in the Tellian area by Rose.

About DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd

DiGi is a leading mobile communications company providing a comprehensive range of affordable, convenient and easy-to-use wireless services to simplify and enrich the lives of its customers. The company creates value by selecting the most appropriate cutting-edge technology so that customers benefit from products and services that give them choice, convenience and control.