Keep their language, their culture alive


Jatti Mirieks de Miri strives to preserve and defend their identity, traditions and folklore

(From right) Hazwani, Robiah, the writer and Malati hold up the books co-published by the association.

EARLIER this year a book compiling an extensive list of miriek words, with translations in malay and english, was published by persatuan jatti miriek miri.

I wanted to retrieve a copy of “Bup Iddeh Itai” because I was interested in better understanding the process of producing such a glossary intended to define this community, from which the city takes its very name.

So I arranged to meet some members of the association, and it was not an easy undertaking given the restrictive Order of Movement Control (MCO) and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) made necessary by the situation. of Covid-19.

Also Robiah Tani, his sister Matati Tani and Haswani Mohamad Husli were very busy – we had to find a suitable time to sit together and chat.

Finally we got to meet and these three Jatti Miriek women were just lovely – it was truly a rewarding and fulfilling experience for me.

Preservation of heritage through books

The file photo shows Abang Johari receiving the book “Bup Iddeh Itai” from Abdillah (second from left), who led a delegation from the association on a courtesy visit to the chief minister in February 2021.

The Persatuan Jatti Miriek Miri was established in 1982 and today occupies a large building on Jee Foh Road.

According to Haswani, who is the secretary of the association, the committee members have always worked hard to plan and organize activities every year.

“Even during the pandemic, we are doing our best (in conducting business) with strict adherence to the SOP,” she told the Sundaypost to Miri.

The association, although small, has been very helpful in efforts to preserve the culture, language, traditions and folklore of the community.

Today, it is estimated that there are over 10,000 Jatti Mirieks in Sarawak, the majority of them living in Miri and the lower Baram Valley.

The main committee of the “persatuan” (association) has, in collaboration with various organizations, published three very significant books over the past three years – all signifying its commitment to preserving the identity and heritage of the community.

With Curtin Sarawak University located in Miri, it was considered natural for academics at the institution to study the intricacies of the Jatti Miriek language.

It is said that “Miri” derives from the mispronunciation of the name of this ethnic group by many Europeans, who then came to the region for oil exploration following the discovery of this raw material at the beginning of the 20th century.

Two young Jatti Miriek wear the traditional costumes of the community. – Photo courtesy of Persatuan Jatti Miriek Miri

The Jatti Miriek language is unique and very different from the local Malay. It is believed to have been around for 400 years, and the status of this community as the first settlers along the Miri River has reinforced the story that Miri town is named after them.

Regarding the compilation work on ‘Bup Iddeh Itai’, Robiah said the association works very closely and meticulously with Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka (DBP) – a statutory body responsible for coordinating the use of the Malay language and Malay-language literary works in Malaysia – and several alumni by Jatti Mirieks.

“It was a business that took several years, as they painstakingly sorted out every word and categorized it very slowly – sometimes just a word or two a day.

“It was a tough trip, but it was worth it,” she said.
“In the end, 4,167 words were chosen and listed, each with its translations into Bahasa Malay and English.

“The group was just thrilled that the work was published. Indeed, the book is another feather in the cap of the association.

In February this year, a delegation of Persatuan Jatti Miriek Miri led by President Datuk Abdillah Abdul Rahim paid a courtesy visit to Chief Minister Datuk Abang Johari Tun Openg, who was presented with a personal copy of “Bup Iddeh Itai ”.

Publishing a dictionary, a book on Jatti Miriek’s unique tombstone carvings and also her wedding traditions, signifies how far a community can go.

Cemeteries reflect history

Another book was launched last year, written by Academician Yakup Mohd Rafee and published as part of the “Sarawakiana Series”, on the intricate tombstone carving art of Jatti Miriek.

The author, who is an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) in Kota Samarahan, has written extensively on these stelae, many of which were made from “belian” (local ironwood).

His work covered in particular the funeral rites and practices of the Jatti Mirieks before and after the arrival of Islam. The research covered 14 cemeteries from Jatti Miriek – each testifying to the existence of the community’s earliest settlements across Miri and Lower Baram, to Bintulu.

“These old cemeteries are located along the coast, and they are ‘witnesses’ of our history.

“The 14 cemeteries are Lat Suran, Tab Sinak, Likauh Buie, Babutan, Song Lekang, Merafak, Bakam, Pelapi, Menjelin, Siwak Jaya, Luheng, Tanjong Lobang, Makam Permaisuri and Katong. “Only a few of them are familiar to Mirian today,” Robiah said.

She also spoke of “her ancestors” by giving the name of “Tab Sinak” to mark a place where the Chinese first set foot upon their arrival in Miri.

“So this is the story of Jatti Miriek mentioning the arrival of the first Chinese settlers in Miri – how remarkable!” enthuses Robiah.
Additionally, Matati said that each Jatti Miriek gravestone studied was unique.

“Each market has its own complex design – one is different from the other.

“Jatti Miriek craftsmen had to be highly skilled – or perhaps they were inspired by special knowledge bestowed upon them by God. “

Professor Yakub’s book is in Bahasa Malaysia, titled ‘Seni Ukiran Perkuburan Lama Jatti Miriek’ (The Art of Headstone Carving from Ancient Tombs of Jatti Miriek).

According to Matati, each Jatti Miriek tombstone studied is unique.

“Let’s talk about marriage”

Another book written by Prof. Yakub – also published in the “Sarawakiana Series” – is very interesting read for those interested in indigenous culture.

In the opinion of this writer, it would also be a good document for future generations of Jatti Mirieks to learn more about their heritage and identity, and to understand the marriage traditions observed by their community.

Entitled “Budaya Tradisi Kaum Jatti Miriek: Budaya & Adat Perkahwinan” (Traditional heritage of the Jatti Miriek: culture and customs of marriage), the book details the customs observed by the couple, their families and their neighbors before, during and after the marriage and all relevant rituals; the arrangements, including the clothes worn by the newlyweds on D-Day, as well as the “must-be-strictly-observed” rules imposed on the bride, groom and their families.

This book is perhaps the most special of all the other books co-produced by the “persatuan”, in that it offers “a more immersive experience” for the readers – the application of augmented reality (AR) in the creation. of all images and illustrations. on the book become “alive” through the use of a smartphone or other compatible smart devices.

“We are not Malays”

Robiah shared with me his experience filling out official forms that required his “breed category” to be indicated.
“I have been writing ‘Miriek’ for a very long time, partly to see the reaction, but above all, to affirm my pride in being a member of the Jatti Miriek community in Sarawak.

Robiah wears the sarong headdress, unique to the women of her community.

“While it may be ‘hekeh’ (a Miriek word for ‘exasperate’) to explain what Jatti Miriek is to the uninitiated, I really think it’s high time for Malaysians, especially Sarawaks. , to stop thinking of us as Malays – and to start recognizing us as a distinct ethnic group with our own heritage, culture and language.

“A lot of times people assume I’m a Malay from Sarawak. Whenever this happens, I would get into a long discussion about who I am as Miriek – I want people to know who we are.

“The Jatti Mirieks are classified as ‘Sarawak Malays’ in the ‘RACE’ column on most official government forms, while other minority communities such as Kayans and Kenyahs have already obtained their respective recognition,” a- she lamented.

Moving forward

Yet Persatuan Jatti Miriek Miri is striving to move forward, especially to help this community become more self-reliant and independent.

One of his plans was to create his own cooperative, intended to allow members to diversify their sources of income.

The original arrangement was to open an outlet in Marina Park City, but then the pandemic struck.

Coupled with the sluggishness of the economy, this cooperation project had to be abandoned for the moment.

Nonetheless, this community still has a lot to be proud of beyond the publication of all three books.

“Publishing our dictionary, a book on our unique tombstone carvings, and also one on our wedding traditions – you can see how far a community can go.

“However, we have a lot to offer. Our subgroups are the Daliks, Kiputs, Jatengs, Metings, Terings, Bakongs, Punas, Belaits, Temburongs, Tutongs, Berawans and Narums – each with their own culinary delights that may attract domestic and foreign tourists to Miri.

“The ‘kampongs’ (villages) of Jatti Miriek are Pengkalan Lutong, Pujut Adong, Pujut Tanjung Batu, Luak, Lopeng, Lambir, Katong, Kampung Muhibbah, Menjelin, Jengalas, Kampung Tengah, Bekenu Asli, Rambai, Ranca Kelapa Ranca – and Kampung each with their own products, ”Hazwani said, also pointing to the association’s gallery.

“We present our costumes, musical instruments and many old photographs at the gallery.

“Our gold ornaments and those worn on special occasions such as weddings are very elaborate. “The committee members are still working on improving this gallery with more exhibits.”

The photo takes a closer look at the fully decked upper part of the Jatti Miriek’s traditional men’s suit, which resembles a blazer.

This session with Robiah, Matati and Hazwani made me realize, and truly respect, the community’s steadfastness in gaining official recognition and validation as an ethnic group in Sarawak, as well as their efforts to defend their history and heritage. through research and documentation.

It made my own copy of ‘Bup Iddeh Itai’ even more meaningful than just a book.


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