Surely, the wild boars, monkeys and mouse deer would have returned.
He was wearing a loin cloth made from the bark of a tree and a back-pack made of interwoven rattans. A spear was slung over his right shoulder and a razor-sharp, multi-purpose, two-feet long duku (machette) was strapped to his waist. His hunting dogs were prancing and yapping with excitement and eagerness.
The jungles and rivers have been over-hunted and over-fished. Food was becoming scarce. He would have to venture deeper into the jungles. It would mean trekking a few days to reach that part of the jungle.
Barely five minutes after he had left his long house, he heard the unmistakable call of the sacred bird (ketupong). It came not once but in rapid succession, displaying its urgency and earnestness.
Langi stopped dead in his track. His life was in danger. He became fearful. Without hesitation he turned back. He was not safe until he reached the long house. The sacred bird had warned him not to proceed with his journey or else calamity would strike him. He would have to let a couple of days pass before continuing with his life. The next day, he thanked the spirits and appeased them with offerings of cooked rice and rice wine, sprinkled with fowl’s blood.
Three days passed by before Langi dared venture into the jungle again on his hunting trip. When he returned, three days later, his back-pack was fully laden with fish and meat.
Thankful for the astonishing success, Langi again offered the spirits his cooked rice and rice wine.
To ensure continuity, just as his father had passed it on to him, he did likewise with his children. Even when he died a few years later at a ripe old age of 50 years, this belief continued to be one of the family’s guiding commandments. In fact, it was practiced by all Iban communities. The sacred bird had been their protector and saviour.
Inevitably, after three generations, development and modernisation caught up with the long house. Forests were cleared to make way for highways and roads. New townships and settlements sprung up. Rivers were straddled by concrete and steel bridges. Vast tracts of wilderness and virgin jungles made way for airports and hydro-electricity power dams. Jungle fringes were pushed deeper inland. Today, they have shrunk to about half its original size.
Nowadays, it is rare to hear the calls of the sacred bird. With their habitat encroached and destroyed, they have either disappeared or pushed deeper into the mountains. Only those Ibans who were dependent on the jungle for their livelihood, could still hear their calls of concern.
Modern Ibans preferred jeans. They had shed their loin cloths about five generations ago. Instead of hunting and fishing for a living, they were now deeply embroiled with machines and computers.
The importance of the sacred bird had been long forgotten. Likewise, the people have not fed the spirits with cooked rice and rice wine. What Langi had painstakingly abided by and passed on to his children had been ignored and lost. Why should they follow the ancient ways? They didn’t have to fish and hunt for their food anymore. They were all available in the wet markets! All they needed was money and plenty of it. And making money needed different approaches.
Lieutenant Robert issued his patrol orders to his men. Just as they were about to fan out to track down the last remaining group of the communist terrorists in the dense and swampy jungle East of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, he heard the unmistakable high-pitch cry of the sacred bird. Unlike his father Langi, he didn’t go back. He couldn’t. He mustn’t, although he knew danger was ahead. It was the danger he had been stalking all this while – the communist terrorists.
He warned his men to exercise extra caution. And sure enough, they located the enemy camp without being discovered. The subsequent attack was a major success.
Lieutenant Robert was grateful for the warning. However, he offered no offerings of cooked rice and rice wine. He just prayed to God for His guidance and the safety of his men. Modern values might have seeped in to dilute the ancient belief. Time had changed the ancient perception and way of life. The sacred bird which once commanded respect and fear, is now merely one of those countless creatures living in harmony in the jungle.