Carrying on traditions: Iban teen finds joy in living off the land as ancestors did

Oliver Wilson flashes a thumbs-up as he sets out to fish at a nearby stream on his family's farm.

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By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING Oct 6: It is almost mid-day. Oliver Wilson picks up his small machete and goes to the back of his father’s farmhouse to check on his snares and traps that he set up earlier in the day.

Snaring and trapping animals, birds as well as fishing at the nearby creek has become part of daily life for the Iban teenager, as he waits for a favourable reply while job hunting.


“I can’t play sports these days due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but I try to stay healthy by helping in the small farm where my parent plants vegetables. When I finish helping with the farm work, I am free to set my traps or snares at certain spots around the farm.

“Somtimes I’ll go set my fish traps or netting, or go fishing with my rod made from a hardwood plant at the nearby creek,” he told the writer recently.

Oliver Wilson sets up his traditional bird snare at the farm.

Oliver said he is learning how to forage food from the jungle nearby, just as his ancestors did hundred of years ago.

“My father and grandparents all know how to use the land to survive and gather food. It was something like their supermarket, and I want to be able to do the same,” he explained.

“I believe that young people should learn the way our ancestors live if they have the chance, as we never know when we need to stand on our own two feet to survive.

“For me, snaring and trapping animals, birds, and fish are all for my personal consumption and not commercial. At the same time, I learned to make the traps and snares the way my ancestor did.

Oliver explains that he does not want the culture and the traditions of how his ancestors used the land and foraged for food in the jungle to die out.

“Staying glued to your laptop or smartphone the whole day doesn’t do you any good if you don’t utilise it properly.

“I balance my time on these gadgets as I prefer to expand my knowledge in other ways, and explore other avenues,” he opined.

“It is fun to make all this snares or trap, using the skills passed down from generation to generation. I think it is beneficial to us, especially the younger generation, to learn these survival skills and to carry on tradition.

“My parents and grandparents are educated, but they never let the skills they learned from their ancestors go to waste. So I want to learn and not lose it too,” he said.

A traditional bird and animal snare set up by Oliver.

“I first learned how to make snares or traps from my father, as he likes to forage the forest near our farm. He taught me how to survive and what animals to catch and how to fish,” he added.

Oliver said it was easy to set a trap or snare for an animal, or to set up the fishing net or traditional fish trap by a stream.

To make a trap for birds and animals, you need some durable strings and some sticks. Some people use wild creepers, but I prefer nylon strings,” he explained.

Oliver said there were many materials to use in making traps, as nowadays most materials are readily available at shops.

“It’s the same if you want to catch fish. Some people use nets with nylon strings, or even iron cages. But I am learning how to make bamboo traps because the materials can be found in the jungle.

“I also like to set my fishing rods by the bank of the stream or creek and wait for the fish to take its bait,” he said.

After catching a wild bird, Oliver prepares its meat to be cooked. 

He hoped that the younger generation of Ibans tap into as much knowledge as possible from their elders, who have mastered the art of foraging.

“There are many uncertainties in the world we live in today, and if we know how to forage the land for food like our ancestors, then we can learn some useful life skills, be independent and be able to carry on their traditions into the future,” he said. — DayakDaily