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With the Kenyah community at heart

on 23 November 2014.

With the Kenyah community at heart

baram river

A YOUNG man caught the eye of several media representatives at the recent 12th International Borneo Research Council Conference in Sabah.

He was a Kenyah. And from the sound of the name of his community, it seemed only natural – and even irresistible – for these questions to be asked – Is he from Kenya? Why is he such a fair young man?

As the young man walked around the conference room, several people went up to talk to him and discovered – to their surprise – he is actually from the Baram.
They probably have never heard of the place before.

The Baram is the second longest river in Sarawak and it is also the Valley where ethnic groups such as Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Berawan, Kiput, Penan and Iban come from.

A bystander from Sarawak found the questions asked rather amusing but then said it was normal that Malaysians still did not know very much about the minority groups as there are diverse ethnicities in the country.

She said it was good such an international conference would bring forth more information on the different ethnic groups of Borneo.

Jeffery Lenyau was the young Kenyah who the media reps assumed was from Kenya.

He was one of the youngest presenters at the conference, organised recently by Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu. And he came across as “very impressive.”

Jeffery, a Unimas post graduate, was born in Long San in 1986. He is the sixth child in a large family.

His parents are farmers. And the family have been living without electricity and other amenities until very recently.

Jeffery was especially anxious to be successful even when he was at St Pius Primary School in Long San.

During the holidays, he worked alongside his parents – and he believed this had schooled him to be hard-working and forward- looking.

His parents inculcated in him the importance of education at a young age. They taught him that with a good education, he could help improve the family’s livelihood and give himself a bright future.

While his parents were tending to their farm or away from home, he often had to cook for his younger siblings as this is expected of an older child, according to Kenyah custom.

jeffery visits Long Akah
Jeffery visits to old Long Akah Bazaar in 2011.

He strove to be better than the other pupils at St Pius and developed a very  competitive attitude.

In his own words: “I was determined and I was really hungry for knowledge.”

Because of his certitude to better himself and the encouragement from his parents, he excelled in school and won several accolades – best male student award (1998), best overall athlete (1998 and 2000), best student in the following subjects – geography (1999, 2003 and 2004), history (1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004), and agriculture science subjects (1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004).

In 2008, he was selected as an exchange student to Royal Melbourne Institute Technology (RMIT), Australia.

“It was a dream come true,” he said.

This exposure gave him the conviction and confidence to work towards realising his personal aspirations.

Subsequently, he enrolled at Unimas and enjoyed his under-graduate studies there.

For this Kenyah young man, it was a big leap forward academically. And to top it all, he received the Dean’s Award in the 2009 International Relation Programme.

Jeffery completed his first degree in International Relations in 2010. On  graduation, he was awarded the Zamalah Scholarship (2011-2012) by Unimas.

Today, he is in the Masters Degree Programme for research at the university.

He said he was motivated to do well in cultural studies, international and local politics, political sociology as well as social inequality studies.

He added that exposure to local and international conferences had not only helped to better equip him in research but also enable him to share his views withhis peers from foreign countries.

He is looking forward to doing a PhD in the future.

During this time of global uncertainty, why would a young Kenyah from the interior of Sarawak want to pursue research in political studies and not something that could bring him financial stability such as marketing or business?

His reply: “My field is political studies but my focus is the Kenyah community in Sarawak which is unique.

“The Kenyah sape, for example, is a worthy instrument to study too. I love my Kenyah traditional war dance and has been learning it.”

“Today, Kenyah culture is facing lots  of modifications due to modernisation and change in religion.

“I like to take this opportunity to study about all these in order to document my old – and also transitory culture – and heritage for young generation.”

Asked when did he start doing research on the Kenyah, he said: “Since 2010 when I registered as a post-graduate student at Unimas.

“My field work at Long San also started in 2011. I believe the information collected is very valuable, not only for my study, because such rare information is not well explored yet by other researchers.”

Jeffery explained he chose this field of study because “it comes naturally from his heart and it is a social responsibility to his own community.

During his undergraduate years (2006-2010), he constantly searched for articles on the Kenyah at the Unimas Library or the State Library.

In this respect, his family, especially his senior uncle, Joahanne Luwat Ukang, also influenced him indirectly.

He has now set up his own mini library. And his supervisor and co-supervisor – Dr Lucy Sebli Seidelson and Associate Professor Dr Neilson Ilan Mersat respectively – are really shaping him to become a good researcher.

Will he encourage others to take up research?

Yes, especially on social history and related subjects on Borneo.

For him, Borneo is like a heaven for the academic world. Borneo societies are changing tremendously due to modernisation and globalisation.

Jeffery noted: “Doing research in Borneo gives us great opportunities to explore indigenous studies.”

The paper he presented at the 12th International Borneo Research Council Conference was titled ‘Penaungan Demokrasi Dalam Masyarakat Kenyah di Sarawak: Kajian Kes di Long San Baram’.

In 2011, he presented a paper at a conference on Election and Democracy in Malaysia at the university. His topic was ‘Pengaruh Faktor Etnik dalam Pilihan Raya Negeri Sarawak 2011: Reflectksi daripada Kawasan Pilihan Raya Telang Usan’.

Last year, he also presented an international paper at the university.

Jeffery has travelled widely in the Baram Valley as a student and a researcher and his heart is with his people and Sarawak.

He hopes his studies will bring a better understanding about the Kenyah to the other races.

He believes information about his people should be documented because as a group, they are smaller than others.

There are many roles Jeffery can play as a researcher. And political science is a good platform for him to further his studies and research.

jeffery lenyau

Source: The Borneo Post

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