Powerful messengers: ‘Kusah’ and ‘Sasik’ birds guide Kpg Sapit’s Bidayuh farmers to successful harvests

A visitor on the edge of a hill overlooking the hill paddy field below at Kampung Sapit. Photo credit: Jessing Awos

By Karen Bong

THE Bidayuh farmers of Kampung Sapit, a village sandwiched between Sarawak and Kalimantan, Indonesia, in the heart of Padawan, have a unique way of identifying suitable land for hill paddy farming — relying on the “Kusah” and “Sasik” birds to tell if the land is free from evil spirits or negative energy.

With deep respect for the land and the spirits that inhabited it, Kampung Sapit Village Security and Development Committee (JKKK) secretary Jessing Awos said farmers are guided by the signals of the birds as powerful messengers to determine the success or failure of their harvests.


These beliefs and traditional practices are still deeply ingrained in the distinct Bidayuh culture and way of life in Kampung Sapit, even to this day.

The glowing hill paddy field on a foggy morning at Kampung Sapit.

In embarking on a survey of the land, farmers will pay close attention to the calls of the “Kusah” bird as the unique quality of the noise these birds make hold significant meaning for the farmers.

“When choosing a piece of land, they will listen intently to the sound of the ‘Kusah’ bird. Therefore, if the birds emit noise that resonates in a long, sharp pitch, it is regarded as an ominous sign.

“It indicates that the location is ‘hot’, steeped in negative energy that would thwart the success of our paddy,” he said.

The appearance of the “Sasik” bird is considered an even more dangerous sign, and farmers will avoid the land at all costs.

Farmers take these bird sightings seriously, believing that ignoring the “Kusah” and “Sasik” bird’s warnings could result in accidents or other disturbances, such as pest or bird attacks, that would not bring prosperity to their agricultural endeavours.

For this reason, the Bidayuh farmers of Kampung Sapit proceed with caution and respect for nature and the spirits of the land.

Precious grains that have been separated from the stalks. Photo credit: Jessing Awos

But the traditions do not stop there. Jessing mentioned that Kampung Sapit may be the only village in Sarawak that still practices the “Ngit” dance, a traditional threshing method involving dancing to separate the precious paddy grains from the stalks.

The beauty of this tradition lies not only in the practicality of processing their harvest but also in the intangible bond formed among villagers as they work hand in hand, embodying the spirit of “gotong-royong” during their paddy harvests.

The villagers will gather together, their feet gracefully treading upon the sheaves, employing a synchronised dance that expertly disentangles the paddy grains from their sturdy stalks.

A mountain of precious paddy grains indicates a good harvest. Photo credit: Jessing Awos

The traditions of Kampung Sapit are a reminder of the rich cultural heritage that is often taken for granted. In a world where modern technology has replaced many ancient practices, it is inspiring to see how the villagers of Kampung Sapit have held on to their traditions.

These age-old customs are not just a way of life for the villagers; they are a captivating testament to the deep respect and reverence the villagers hold for their ancestors, their land, and the traditions that have shaped their identity over generations.

It also emphasises the importance of preserving Sarawak’s rich cultural heritage, even in the face of modernisation and development.

Furthermore, they serve as a reminder that even in our rapidly changing world, traditions rooted in nature can offer valuable guidance and enduring wisdom.

Apart from being rich in history and unique culture, Kampung Sapit, located about 1,000 metres above sea level, is one of the few villages that sits above the clouds in Padawan. For that, it has become a popular destination for camping, offering stunning views of the sea of clouds, breathtaking sunrise and sunsets amidst lush forests and towering mountain peaks.

Kampung Sapit is one of the featured attractions under the Sarawak Tourism Board’s (STB) Sarawak Product Experience programme. — DayakDaily

Visitors trek the hilly path surrounded by lush forest and mountain peaks at Kampung Sapit. Photo credit: Jessing Awos