Preserving Unity through Shared Meals: Insights from the Student Volunteer Mission to Sarawak 2023
BY: Michelle Liew
The longhouse community in Sarawak has long practiced the tradition of communal dining, a custom revered for fostering unity within family structures and communities. This cultural hallmark has recently captured the attention of Aniz Azalia Neel Azwar, a participant in the Ini Warisan Kita: Student Volunteer Mission to Sarawak 2023 program, which centered around the theme of 'Preserving the National Unity Agenda.'
Aniz, a second-year Bachelor of Science with Education student from Universiti Malaya, observed how the practice of eating together instills a sense of togetherness. He contemplates the applicability of this tradition to families in the peninsula, where the fast-paced nature of work often impedes shared mealtime.
"In Sarawak, we are taught to wait for others before starting our meals, emphasizing the importance of eating together," shared Aniz during an interview with Bernama at Rumah Bagol Tom in Nanga Sekeranji, Machan, Kanowit.
As part of the program, Aniz and 15 other participants formed a circle during meals with their foster family, patiently waiting for everyone to be ready before commencing their communal feast. This act of respect for one another left a lasting impression on Aniz after spending six days in the modern longhouse.
Remarkably, the longhouse residents, with diverse backgrounds including sons-in-law from different races and religions, coexist harmoniously. Aniz underscores the beauty of this unity, stating that it's a valuable experience worth sharing in the peninsula.
Mohammad Hafiz Najmi Mohd Syariff, an Accountancy Diploma student from Sultan Azlan Shah Polytechnic in Perak, echoes Aniz's sentiments. He highlights the coexistence of Muslim and non-Muslim food vendors under one roof in Sarawak, emphasizing the absence of conflicts.
"In restaurants, there are Muslim and non-Muslim shops. There is no conflict in Sarawak. Alhamdulillah, this is an interesting experience that can be brought and told in the peninsula," remarked Mohammad Hafiz.
Contrary to their initial assumption of traditional wooden construction, Aniz and Mohammad Hafiz were surprised to find the longhouse made of bricks and equipped with modern amenities. This fusion of traditional and modern elements left a lasting impression on them, showcasing how tradition can coexist with modernity.
The mission participants, comprising 95 students from various public and private higher education institutions, immersed themselves in Sarawak's cultural heritage during the two-week program. They delved into traditional clothing, local cuisines, weaving techniques, and musical instruments, enriching their understanding of the region's diversity.
Aniz expressed her joy at receiving a woven basket (raga) as a gift from her adoptive mother in the longhouse, symbolizing a deep connection formed during the program.
The 'Our Heritage: Student Volunteer Mission to Sarawak 2023' program, held from November 3 to 16, serves as an initiative under the Ministry of National Unity's flagship Kembara Perpaduan. It aims to enhance knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the country's diverse heritage, contributing to the preservation of national unity. The 95 participants were stationed in six areas across Sarawak, engaging in voluntary work to strengthen bonds and foster a sense of shared identity.