A Tale of Two Houses

The Mulu Pinnacles, Mulu.

By Char Tickens

Sawak was an orphan but a rich one who had been bequeathed with much wealth. He had a handsome garden which produced black gold and trees that bore golden langsat.

Due to their wealth, Sawak’s late father was worried about the neighbour who had shown traits of hooliganism and aggression. All the neighbour’s sons were tall with strong, and Sawak’s father had caught them eyeing the black gold and golden fruit trees every now and then.

On his death bed, after much consideration, Sawak’s father chose to ask a distant brother, Peninmaya to adopt Sawak, to ensure the young boy’s safety and future. The old man hoped that Peninmaya would give Sawak good education, protection and help Sawak, to manage the house and build up the splendid house of Sawak.

To firmly secure Sawak’s future, an agreement was signed between Sawak’s father and Peninmaya to preserve Sawak’s rights.


Sawak was adopted into this big family where Peninmaya had many sons. Peninmaya’s favourite son of course was his eldest son by the name of Onmu. Onmu was a strong son that any father would be proud of and Peninmaya who was no different from any other man, had total trust in the son and both of them ran and ruled the house of Peninmaya.

As Peninmaya had many sons who had even more sons and grandsons, resources were always scarce for him. A decade after Sawak’s father passed away, he started to find ways to tap into Sawak’s wealth.

He found a way, finally, through the Peninmaya Grand House Meeting, where Sawak was outnumbered by Peninmaya’s 12 other sons.

An agreement was signed, allowing Peninmaya to gain full ownership of the black gold while a certain percentage would be given to Sawak’s house annually.

Sawak being young and trusting, signed the agreement without doubt, not knowing that a distant uncle trusted by his dying father could be so malicious as to have such a manipulative plan to rob him of his inheritance.

With the new agreement, Peninmaya obtained the rights to take the beautiful black gold in Sawak garden. He would come to visit Sawak once in a while. He could see that Sawak’s house was getting more and more dilapidated.

Considering himself a well-educated and sophisticated businessman, he chose to ignore the fact that Sawak’s house had not been properly maintained where many necessities were lacking. He casted aside the promise he made to Sawak’s father at the latter’s death bed.

Time went by and Sawak grew up. The old wooden house left by his father was still grand but there were already leaks here and there that needed urgent fixing.

Meanwhile, with the money derived from the sale of the black gold which Peninmaya had unceasingly mined from Sawak’s garden, Peninmaya had managed to build a golden palace for himself.

While things on Sawak side was moving slowly and the house leaking, Sawak’s household however, was a happy and harmonious lot, not unlike Sawak’s own disposition, being gentle, open, trusting and fun-loving.

Sawak and his family knew that Peninmaya’s men had been digging deep into their backyard to extract more black gold. They bore with it because they were trusting and gentle people who did not like open confrontation that might cause quarrels and worse, bloodshed, like what happened in Peninmaya’s house before not long ago.

During that time, Peninmaya’s sons took up arms and fought against each other. There was a blood bath and the memory continued to instil fear in some of Peninmaya’s household whenever the event was brought up.

Whenever Peninmaya’s men came over to mine black gold from Sawak’s backyard, Sawak remained quiet but he saw what was going on. His wife Sophia however, was not so patient.

“Why are you so obedient? You have come of age. You should just declare the independence of your house and get these men who are drilling in our backyard day and night to stop.

“They are building a palace there and look at what we have. An old wooden house left by your father, that can barely stand a heavy downpour. Some parts are so old, like the staircase that collapsed when our children were standing there taking a group photo.

“Our house might collapse at any time. Can you do something please, not for you or me but for our children’s sake. Things that are not right need to be made right. We should take back what is ours,” said Sophia one night, after their children fell down the staircase when it gave way due to their collective weight.

Sawak pondered. For the sake of their children, perhaps it was time to talk to Peninmaya about this. The 53-year-old man finally made the decision to initiate the conversation and negotiation.

Both of them flew on a military plane because they could not afford a commercial flight. Anyway, before this, the military also had been helping them to mend some parts of their house, which Sawak and Sophia truly appreciated.

Surprisingly, Peninmaya listened attentively to Sawak this time. He had to. Due to the favouritism shown to Onmu, his other sons had been complaining. Some of them even openly rebelled against their father by calling for demonstrations and street protests.

While these sons in past years have been enjoying the palace life, they never thought about Sawak, their adopted brother.

However, after two failed attempts to bring down Peninmaya from within the palace, they realised that they did not have enough support and had to turn to Sawak.

“We need Sawak’s army to bring down our father. Though their army is quite small, but the number will make the difference. Let us go and negotiate with Sawak,” the sons discussed among themselves.

From then onwards, they started to visit regularly to coax Sawak to lend them the small army which actually just made up of farmers, teachers and philosophers, but who had learnt how to defend themselves in times of chaos and war.

Sawak however, was reluctant to work with these other sons.

“We can’t trust them. When they were on good terms with their father, they never cast an eye on us. And many times, they just stood there and laughed at how poor we are. They never truly saw me as their brother.

“And look at some of them. One of them  ignored us completely and looked down on us as if we are some savage. And I remember another one came over to our house one day and just took away our English dictionaries and books, claiming that these books were useless,” Sawak told Sophia who at one stage was thinking that it would be good if they were to work with Peninmaya’s dissenting sons.

Sawak asked Sophia to recall the recent incident where they took a military plane out of necessity to go to see Peninmaya in the palace.

“You remember that incident? Those other sons all laughed at us just because they are all very rich and can afford to fly on commercial flights. Instead of sympathising with us, they only laughed at us.

“So don’t count on them. They always feel that they are superior to us. Count on ourselves and we will try to strike a good deal amid the struggle between Peninmaya and his other sons. Sophia, let us do things quietly, gently and legally in our own culture and way.

“We drink the water of the Rajang River; we look to the Mulu pinnacles when we pray and we sing the Song of Santubong when we are happy and sad. We are different. Our spirits are free even though we are poor. We do things our way.

“We are the people of the House of Kenyalang where simplicity and respect is our house motto. Our house may not be as grand as their palace but our house keeps us together as a family.

“We are always a family. We may be poor and lacking, but family always stays as family. We don’t betray our family,” said Sawak, with the image of the actor Vin Diesel suddenly flashing across his mind. —DayakDaily