Nov 25th, 2009
Singapore and Sarawak
. . . whenever thou findest an opportunity thou dost travel and visit the believers, disseminating the fragrances of God . . . Bahai writings
`Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, said that the Baha’i `teachers must continually travel to all parts of the continent, nay, rather, to all parts of the world’. To fulfil this request, Moojan and I left the UK on 19 November to visit Baha’i communities in Asia and the Pacific.
Travel these days is really no more arduous than getting on a bus, although there are the inevitable hold-ups going through security checks at the airport. The main delay, however, was on the train from Sandy to Kings Cross!
A 12-hour flight took us from cold and wet England to hot and wet Singapore. Here we stayed with our friend Phyllis Ghim Lian Chew, her husband Yeo Yew Hock and their daughter Peta. Phyllis, a lecturer in linguistics, is the author of The Chinese Religion and the Baha’i Faith (George Ronald) and, more recently, Emergent Lingua Francas and World Orders (Routledge).
They had arranged for us to speak at the new Baha’i Centre in Singapore the evening that we arrived, so, somewhat jetlagged after a 17 hour journey from home, we found ourselves sharing Baha’i ideas and news with 50+ new friends and a couple of Baha’is we had met elsewhere (a not unusual experience).
Singapore was only a stopover on our way to Sarawak, where we arrived on Saturday 21st. We were met by the amazing `Dr John’ (Fozdar), Knight of Baha’u'llah for Brunei, son of the famous Shirin Fozdar, father our own European Counsellor Shirin Fozdar Foroudi, and husband of the truly delightful Grete Fozdar. Their kind and generous hospitality to us has been overwhelming. Every day they have taken us to meet the Baha’is in Kuching and far out of the city into the jungle. Read about the Sarawak Baha’is here.
We attended 19 Day Feasts on successive nights in different parts of the Kuching, where two or more communities came together at each so we could meet as many Baha’is as possible. The Baha’is of this area are mostly Iban (who used to be called Sea Dayak) and what beautiful, warm people they are. We were also guests at the commemoration of the 84th birthday of Sai Baba.
Kampong Mujat is well-known to travellers for its historic longhouse but what is well less well known is that most of the people living in it are Baha’is – first, second and third generation.
We walked up through the village to the imposing Baha’i Centre, built by the Baha’is themselves on a hill at the top of the village.
The Baha’is in Kampong Mujat greeted us with traditional gongs and welcome dances
The gongs are ancient and a sign of a community’s wealth. Each village or area has its own tunes and dances and the dancers wear their own particular dress. In Kampong Mujat the young men wore bells on their ankles; in Kampong Selampit the girls had bells on the hems of their dresses.
At each village we spoke to the Baha’is about the connection between the growth processes of the Baha’i communities, the Ruhi institute programmes which Baha’is all over the world are undertaking and our overall task of helping to build a new civilization – reminding ourselves that the Baha’i communities we are establishing are ones based on vibrant, learning, engaged spiritual people who are values and principle based and that the skills and habits we are learning — consultation, participation, meeting people in their own homes, educating children and young people, sharing spiritual ideas and practical service – are the very ones the new civilization needs.
At Kampong Mujat the Baha’is hosted a delicious lunch of rice, fish, vegetables and fruit, as well as chicken stew. The fruit included the durian which has a flavour and smell not to be missed (our air tickets from Singapore to Kuching had stamped on them in red `No durians allowed on this flight’, which may give you some idea of the strength of their odour). But most people find them delicious and I thought they were OK in small doses. Mostly we ate rambutans and another forest fruit that tasted like very sweet grapefruit to me.
The longhouse at Mujat is probably over a hundred years old and seems to be about 100 metres long, with many homes and common rooms all attached. It poured with rain while we sat on the bamboo walkway and we never felt a drop. All the people in these pictures are Baha’is.
The village of Kampong Selampit is divided by a river, crossed by a ferry. We walked up through this village of about a thousand people to the Baha’i Centre, again at the top of the village on a hill. About 600 people in this village are Baha’is and again we were greeted with the gongs and dances of this village.
The Baha’i Centre was full, as the Baha’is were also commemorating the Day of the Covenant, which began this evening. There were so many beautiful children present, we couldn’t resist having a picture of them.
The evening concluded with a meal at a Baha’i-owned restaurant on the other side of the river – this time it had Chinese influences, with delicious fish from their own fish pools – and the ever-present durian, this time fried with onion and anchovies. I denied myself the pleasure this time!
Our translator for all this was Maria Peter, a Kuching Baha’i who works withe women, providing training in literacy and women’s advancement. She is a talented, warm and generous Iban woman who has travelled all over the area and knows everyone – they love her too!
Today we also had another very special privilege. We were invited by Kamal Fozdar to visit the new, nine-sided, Sarawak Parliament building.
As the owner of the construction company that built it, Kamal was able to take us into every room on every one of its nine floor, including the main chamber, the dining area and the rest area for members of Parliament. The art deco main entrance has a distinctive flavour of the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi, which Kamal also worked on,
while the debating chamber has traditional themes woven together – with 9 pointed stars as the main, which also appears on the Sarawak flag.
The views from the ninth floor at the top of the building are stunning.
Tomorrow we go to Kampong Triboh.