Stones in the highlands: Stones for other practical uses

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Heritage Snippets of Sarawak

This is the second part of a two-part series on stones in the highlands. Read Part I here: The three forgotten stones of Bario Lembaa Longhouse prior to 1963.

By Ose Murang

ELSEWHERE in the highlands, besides being used as artifacts, stones have been and still are in use for other utilitarian purposes, such as batuh penerang (blacksmithing stone), batuh iran/batuh pian (sharpening stones), batuh tik (a portable sharpening stone), batuh penepi ugam (a stone for smoothing a mat as it is woven ), batuh tuning (claypot stone), batuh puket (gillnet stone), batuh pu’un edtan (stepping stone), and batuh bupu’ (door weights).

Batuh penerang were used by blacksmiths as a base for hammering and shaping a red-hot iron bar in the making of tungul (machete), iyo (pen knife) and other household tools. These comprise very hard almost cylindrical stones with two flattish surfaces – one as the base and the other as a working top surface. The width and height of the stones both measure more than one-and-a-half feet each—heavy enough to prevent the stones from moving when hammered upon. Blacksmithing is done under the veranda of a longhouse or at the farm hut.

Blacksmith Baye Ripug (right) forging a knife using batuh penerang as others look on.

Baye Ripug, a blacksmith, forging a knife using batuh penerang.
Blacksmith Baye Ripug (right) forging a knife using batuh penerang as others look on.

Batuh iran (also called batuh pian) is a sharpening stone and is of two types, each to cater for different stages of sharpening.

In the first stage, a larger, coarser semi-hard sandstone is selected. Being coarse in texture it is used for fast and easy sharpening of a blunt machete or any other tools. For the final stage, a hard and fine-grained sandstone or slate is used to finetune the sharpness of the tools.

The coarse sand stones, the size of an oblong bread loaf, are carefully selected from the ranera pebble beaches along river banks, or just by the akan river terminal of the longhouse. These are brought back to the longhouse or the farm hut and are placed on the barat, an open patio, where water is collected and stored.

These batuh iran may be found at the sites of abandoned villages and farm huts. The finer-grained and smaller stone is collected from exposed tepila slate formation on certain sites along river banks. Flat slate pieces of 1-2 inches thick with length and width each from six to eight inches, are preferred as they are lighter to carry back to the village.

Batuh tik is a very small version of the batuh iran tepila. It is a deep grey piece of batuh iran selected from tepila slate, used for a specific purpose. It is connected to the waist of a man’s shorts, or in olden times, to the waistline of a loin cloth for hanging an etik (bamboo container for carrying tobacco). When men are out hunting or foraging for jungle produce, the batuh tik is readily available for fine sharpening of the iyo and tunggul. It measures about one inch wide, half-an-inch thick, and of about four inches in length. With the aid of a small hole drilled on one side of the stone, it is tied using a talun (bark rope) to the cap of an etik bamboo container, used by men for keeping a limited supply of tobacco, a lighter and cartridges during a hunting trip.

Batuh penepi ugam is a small rounded stone of a convenient grip-size. It is used by women in flattening dried reeds in the making of mats. This will produce reeds that are of uniform thickness and width, essential in improving the quality of the finished mat. A fine-grained stone is preferred in order to prevent the reeds from damage by a coarser grained stone.

Batuh tuning are round stones used in the making of well-rounded bottoms to clay pots. The size varies depending on the size of the pots to be made and may range from two to five inches in diameter. The potter holds in her left palm the semi-completed pot while with her right hand rolls the round stone inside the pot to shape it. Using both hands, the stone is rolled slowly until a well-rounded bottom is obtained.

Naam Tenan showing batu tuning, round stones used in making clay pots.

Batuh puket (gillnet stones) are used as weights for holding down a gillnet in the river. Two appropriately weighted stones with holes in them are selected. A stone each is tied to the bottom end on each side of the puket so that when dragged across the pool, the batuh puket and the floaters will keep the net well in position to catch any fish swimming into it.

Batuh pu’un edtan (a stepping stone) is a sizable river stone with a flattish surface placed on the ground at the foot of a ladder. It is used as a lock to prevent the ladder from sinking further into the ground or slipping forward and thereby falling from the entrance door. Besides, the hole around the base of the ladder turns into a puddle of water when it rains, and so the batuh pu’un edtan is a stepping stone that provides a dry surface for making the first step for going up the ladder into the house.

Batuh bupu’ are door weights to keep the main entrance doors into the house shut. An appropriately heavy stone is tied to the door; and based on a pulley system it pulls the door close after use. This is to prevent dogs from entering into the house or to prevent young children from going outside unattended.

Ose Murang
11 Feb 2023

Datu Ose Murang retired as Deputy State Secretary in 2016.

This is the second part of a two-part series on stones in the highlands. Read Part I here: The three forgotten stones of Bario Lembaa Longhouse prior to 1963.

“Heritage Snippets of Sarawak” is a fortnightly column.