Dusun Christmas Parties
Take the Microphone!

by Herman (2007)

When I am asked about differences between Western societies and Borneo societies the word "party" jumps to my mind. And mind you, it does not have to be one of those nasty, day-long drinking celebrations I have talked about before. People in Borneo simply cannot conceive a quiet, private ‘decent’ Christmas party, for example. Let’s put it in order:

It is good that we have ‘Kedai 2 Ringgit’ – cheap sales Shoppe – in Sabah, where you can buy all sorts of rather useless things for two Ringgits or thereabouts. Things that last just about what they are worth, but usually less! Towards Christmas those shops are invaded by locals. Hordes of locals, the Dusun making no exception, shopping for Christmas presents. That one has to give presents for Christmas is of course a novel idea, a little newer than Christmas itself, but then there is already a consumer society out there in Sabah's jungle and marketing has worked well right into the heart of all reasonably accessible villages. By reasonably accessible I mean less than two days walking – preferably even access by car! So there go hordes of Dusuns and buy supplies from Kedai 2 Ringgit: teddy bears, screwdrivers, cotton buds, bras, alarm clocks, sponges, night lamps, pencil sharpeners, detergent, ashtrays and batteries, you name it you get it at the Kedai 2 Ringgit inclusive of gift wrapping paper at a bargain rate, decorated with snow covered landscapes and ice skaters. It is bargain loot, considering that you have to prepare Christmas presents for your fifteen children, twenty grandchildren and half a dozen great grand children – of your first wife. More expenses will be required for the food for the congregation which can easily reach a couple of hundreds, but then you have the house for it. In some parts of Sabah individual houses have a ‘ruang temu’ – translated as ‘living room’ but more appropriately interpreted as ‘congregation hall’ – that is bigger than the house itself, some sort of porch the size of a small sports hall. Mind you, inclusive of grand stand (for VIP guests and the house owner, in that order), PA system and floodlights. OK, maybe gas-pump lamps. But still enough space to accommodate easily two hundred guests.

As Christmas approaches we start celebrating ‘open-house’ (rumah terbuka in Malay). And we certainly celebrate open-house! Nothing seems to bring greater pride, or prestige to a family patriarch than a successful open-house party in which hundreds of people come, drink, talk, and maybe even sleep over. It is simply impossible to think of a small party. Incidentally this is real Christmas: a coming together of relatives and friends, of renewing bonds and mending past mistakes, a promise of friendship and help in times of need.

But now we shall not forget the children, and all those who receive presents according to the careful planning of the party. Take the microphone to line them up and get their attention. Presents are distributed according to a draw system. Each parcel gets a number, and everyone who is on the long list of gift receivers is called up, draws a number, and goes and looks for the corresponding present, nicely wrapped. The crowd is cheering and laughing and clapping hands, of course you have to open your Christmas present immediately and show what you got. Oh, dear, the father of my friend got a bra, which he displayed with great humour and his youngest brother a couple of sponges, which puzzled him mightily. His sister got a photo album, and I got a bedside lamp that is so bright I could not sleep by it. And I don’t have a bed...! But all this is really not important, I got a present! And more laughter as everybody got theirs, a little token, a gesture of goodwill, a happy lot everyone and me amongst them all. Then the drinking continues, and the eating, and chatting, and singing, and joking until early in the morning. Life takes on a peculiar rhythm over the festive days and if you manage to keep your alcohol level at a reasonable stage you can actually do quite fine and visit several open house parties!


Christmas BBQ

Traditional music

A new toy!

Christmas buffet...

Last one for the album!


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