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D e d i c a t e d

to the memory

of my father Michael Lim Beng Huat, who loved Ulu Belaga and its gentle people,

and my grandmother Chee Sung Fung, who loved us above all else.

Published in Malaysia by Fairy Bird Childrens Books Sdn. Bhd. 2005 Text Copyright Margaret H.L. Lim 2005 Illustrations Copyright Su Jen Buchheim 2005 All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of the contents of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Lim, Margaret H. L. Payah / Margaret H. L. Lim ISBN 983-42638-0-5 1. Childrens stories, English. 2. English fiction. I. Title. 823 Manufactured in Malaysia Cover and Book Illustrations by Su Jen Buchheim Cover and Book Design by June Wan of Dreamagic

A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S I am forever indebted to: Mary Lian, from the Highlands of Bario, for helping me give Payah her name; my brothers, William and Philip, for their invaluable support - thanks, Liam, for opening all the necessary doors; my sister Aileen, who patiently did the thankless task of editing and proofreading; my nephew Waldemar, who not only had a lot of ideas, but also liaised, translated and chauffeured; Puan Rashidah Bolhassan, CEO of the Sarawak State Library, whose boundless enthusiasm for PAYAH gave me the courage to go this far; Henry Kilah Talek of Belaga, for his advice on Kayan family relationship, and the naming of Payahs great aunt - any inaccuracy in this book is mine alone; Datin Ruby Chin, a childhood friend, who tirelessly answered many questions; cousin John, for rustling up all the contacts; my own family, without whom, this book would not be possible.

A b o u t

t h e

a u t h o r

Margaret H.L. Lim, born in Kuching, Sarawak, was educated at St.Teresas Convent School for Girls, and St.Josephs School in Kuching. She has a B.A. in English from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., and also in Education from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada . She divides her time between her residence in Germany and her home country, Malaysia. She owns no pets, but enjoys feeding the song birds that come and go in her garden.

A b o u t

t h e

i l l u s t r a t o r

Highly talented illustrator, Su Jen, is her daughter. Born in Berlin, Germany, she Fairy Bird Children's Books Sdn. Bhd. (691175-H) Riverbank Suites, Unit #1005 Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman 93100 Kuching, Sarawak received her education at the Teletta Gross High School in the Lower Saxony town of Leer. She has an honours degree in Fine Arts from the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, California. This is her second book.

grandfather the national language of Malaysia medicine man/ woman grandchild

Akek (Kayan) Bahasa Malaysia

Bomoh (Bahasa Malaysia)

Cucu (Bahasa Malaysia) pronounced choochoo) Iban

language of the Ibans, the largest indigenous group in Sarawak. (Kayan) mother (also aunt) language of the Kayans, an indigenous group found mainly in the upper reaches of the Rajang and Baram. (Iban) hornbill forest person, long-haired primate found only in Borneo. mouse deer

Inaey Kayan


Orang utan (Bahasa Malaysia)

Pelandok (Bahasa Malaysia) Perahu (Bahasa Malaysia) Soh (Kayan ) Towkay ( Chinese)


grandchild boss, shopkeeper medicine, magic spells grandmother (also great aunt) upper reaches of rivers

Ubat ( Bahasa Malaysia)






pushed and shoved her way through the

crowded bustle of the bazaar at Belaga. She was looking for her grandmother. She stepped on a lot of bare toes, earning cries of annoyance and an occasional jab from a bony elbow. Payah was eight, and frantic with anxiety. She found her grandmother at last, squatting before piles of colourful sarongs, deep in conversation with the woman selling them. She knew that it was rude to interrupt when adults were talking, but on this exciting market day full of colour and noise and enticing smells, her heart was sad. She tweaked at her grandmothers sarong, but her grandmother was too deeply involved in haggling to notice. She caught hold of one of her hands and tugged, which made her grandmother turn around. Do you have to ...? No! No, Uku. Come with me. Come, quick, please, hissed Payah urgently. Patience, my Soh, patience. Let me finish my business here first. Her Uku was not to be hurried. It seemed an eternity before a bargain was struck. It took another eternity before the sarong was carefully refolded and wrapped up and finally placed into her grandmothers eager hands. Payah sighed with relief. At


another time, she would have admired her grandmothers choice, which would have pleased her, but this was not the time. In the glare of the midday sun, Payah dragged her grandmother through the market. They bumped and squeezed their way through the jostling crowds. When her Uku dawdled or stopped to examine something that caught her eye, Payah urged her on, tugging and pulling. She came across a stall full of mouth-watering cakes and sweets. Neat rolls of soft green pancakes begged to be eaten. Payah breathed in their fragrance deeply, tasting in her


imagination the coconut sweetness of their fillings. Fifty sen in loose coins jingled in her pocket. She heaved a sigh of regret and walked purposefully on. They threaded their way through the crowds, all dressed up, as Payah and her grandmother were, in their Sunday best. The sun shone on Ukus heavy, burnished brass earrings, which were shaped in the form of a stylised animal. They belonged to her Akek, her grandfather, who was a great warrior. They stretched her earlobes right down to her chest. Payah herself had two copper rings in the lobe of each ear. They swung and clinked musically when she moved.


dragged her grandmother to a row of shops and stopped

in front of one, half of which was a coffee shop, the other half, full of sundry goods. Uku, the towkay wants to sell that bird. Payah pointed to a hornbill, bedraggled, dispirited and forlorn, cooped up in a cage that was much too small for it. It was also hurt, because one wing hung down. Payahs heart hurt at the sight. Towkay! cried Uku, imperiously summoning the shopkeeper. Its illegal to catch a hornbill. It is also sheer wickedness to keep it in such a small cage. Nenek, Nenek, protested the shopkeeper. I did not catch it.



One of my customers brought it to me as payment. He has many mouths to feed. What can I do? He spread out his hands and shrugged. Let it go. I shall go bankrupt if my customers bring me birds and beasts of the jungle in exchange for goods and I set them free! How much? Ukus eyes gleamed. Twenty ringgit. Payahs heart sank. Ten ringgit, offered Uku firmly. She knew that he had to get rid of the bird at any cost, or he could find himself left with a fat and juicy fine in the hand and no bird at all. It would take time to wear him down, but she had all the time in the world. Nineteen. Ten. Eighteen. Seventeen. Sixteen. Fifteen. Payah shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. The towkay was giving way, but not fast enough for Payah. She was not aware that she was gripping her Ukus hand tightly. Twelve. I have many mouths to feed. Ten. Youll have one less mouth to feed. Eleven. Ten.


Ten-fifty. Last offer! Ai-yah! exclaimed the towkay, in exasperation. Ten-fifty! piped in a voice squeaky with emotion. Uku, Uku, I will pay the fifty sen. Oh Uku, please Uku, pleaded Payah, shaking her grandmothers hand vigorously. Your Cucu? Ah, she has a kind heart. My Soh, corrected Uku with pride, in Kayan. Her heart is too soft. All right, ten-fifty. Now we have another mouth to feed. Uku sighed, pretending defeat, making it easier for the shopkeeper to accept his. Ai-yah, all right, ten ringgit, said the towkay mournfully, heaving an even bigger sigh, for he could not, without looking like a monster, pocket Payahs money. No! Ten-fifty, like I said, insisted Payah. It is my bird. Payah was adamant, and proudly handed over her fifty sen. The towkay, not to be outdone by a wisp of a girl, generously pressed two lollipops, one red, one yellow, into her hands. She did not like sweets, but was too polite to say so. She would give one to her baby brother and the other to her best friend. The hornbill squawked, but did not put up much of a fight. Its legs were trussed together. Uku insisted on that. She was not taking the chance of losing her ten ringgit, even if Payah did not care about her fifty sen. Payahs heart was singing as


she held the hornbill tightly, yet careful not to squash it. Uku took a quick look at the sun. Time to go back. Uku Nyalo is probably waiting. Thats another impatient one! Uku Nyalo was Payahs great aunt, and her grandmothers youngest sister. Grandmother and granddaughter walked together hand in hand, Payah chatting away merrily, her earrings tinkling with each movement of her head. Ai, I know just what shell say. And worse still, your mother. Shell scold me, said Uku . But youre her mother. You can scold her. Thats what you think, my Soh. Uku gave a cackle of laughter. Oh yoh, oh yoh. Your Inaey, she can scold, that one! Ill never scold you, Uku. Never! Payah gazed up at her grandmother with shining eyes, her heart brimming over with love for her. She held her grandmothers hand to her cheek. The intricate blue tattoo, almost up to the elbow, made it look as if Uku was wearing a glove of fine lace. Ah, sighed Uku. She looked fondly down at her grandchild, and saw herself many, many moons ago, and remembered the many promises she had not kept. Ah.


Nyalo was of course waiting impatiently. She had sold

her fruits and the wild ferns that Payahs Uku had picked and


there was only a small bunch of bananas left. She always looked, thought Payah, as if she was forever sucking on a sour plum. Whats that? asked her great aunt, eyeing the bird with distaste. Its a hornbill, answered Payah sweetly. I have eyes in my head! snapped her great aunt. I want an explanation. When Uku Nyalo heard what they had paid for the bird, she let out a shriek of disgust.


You paid TEN, TEN RINGGIT AND FIFTY SEN for that scraggy thing crawling with lice that you cant even put into a pot! That money could have got us a pair of fat layers. But Uku Nyalo, weve got enough hens already, protested Payah. Cheeky child, talking back to your elders! A good spanking should teach you better manners. Keep that lousy bird away from me! They stepped into the perahu. Payah sat in the middle, quivering with indignation. She watched her great aunt, whose back was rigid with displeasure, jabbing her oar angrily into the water. Behind her, her grandmother pushed off, dipping hers in gracefully and bringing up silvery drops that sparkled in the sunlight. Payah soon became aware that she was hungry. She eyed Uku Nyalos bunch of bananas longingly. The hornbill was probably hungry too. No! She was not going to beg her great aunt for food, not even if she was on the point of starvation. She hugged the bird to her and soon relaxed. She would not let her great aunts bad temper spoil her day. She had rescued the hornbill from a fate worse than death, thought Payah grandly. Her heart sang.



at the

longhouse, they were received with mixed feelings. As Payah had feared, many agreed with Uku Nyalo that they were foolish to pay such an exorbitant sum for the hornbill. But everyone shared Payahs outrage that the kenyalang, proud symbol of the Land of Sarawak, had been trapped, in spite of the fact that it was a protected bird, and shunted about like merchandise. Because of its injured wing, the hornbill could not be let loose into the wild, an easy prey to all. It was put into a big cage, meant to protect it rather than imprison it. Soon, fed on bananas and scraps, it lost its scraggy look and perked up. Its black feathers shone. Its great golden bill glowed. When let out, it followed Payah everywhere. She called it Kenyi.


But you could not cuddle Kenyi like you could cuddle Sammy. Sammy was a baby orang utan with soft, fuzzy, orange hair and big, round, golden, trusting eyes. It also had a shy smile. Sammys mother had either been captured and sold, or killed by hunters. Loggers had brought Sammy, half-dead, to Payahs father. Payah had cried over the poor little orphaned creature until it seemed her heart would break. But Sammy survived, fed on the tinned milk that Payahs baby brother was drinking and which she too had drunk when she was very small. Sammy lived in a cage so huge that even the tallest person in the longhouse did not have to stoop inside it. There it swung contentedly from rope to rope, and tumbled happily, head over heels, to the delight of all the children. When Payah came to let it out, it jumped up and down and made squeaky noises. It loved being carried around by Payah, who enjoyed carrying it in return. Her baby brother, unlike Sammy, wriggled about like an eel in her arms, which made her terribly afraid that she would drop him.


afternoon, after school, Payah played with her best

friend, Usun. It was a game called Paper, Scissors, Stone. You hide a hand behind your back, call out, One, Two,


Three, and bring it out, balled like a fist (stone), or with the first two fingers splayed (scissors), or flat out (paper). Scissors cut up paper, but are useless against stone, while paper wraps up stone. Paper! shouted Payah, spreading out her hand. Scissors! screamed Usun. Snip, snip. I win! Stone! Paper! You lose! Scissors! Stone! I win! I win! So it went on. There were lots of giggles and girlish squeals. It was fun until ...


Hey, thats cheating! You saw my hand first. Did not! You should have waited until I said Three. When you start quarrelling, it is time to stop. Lets go to my hideout, suggested Payah, who had grown tired of the game anyway. No. I want to read. Usun was a regular bookworm. Fraidy-chicken! mocked Payah.


hideout was a cleared patch on the bank of

a deep and shimmering stream that opened out into the lively Belaga river that flowed past her longhouse. It was like a magical place, full of light, especially when you came upon it suddenly after a trek through dim, dank undergrowth shadowed deeply by tall trees. Here butterflies danced in a whirl of colours. Here streaks of red and blue gave the kingfisher away. All the children knew about Payahs hideout, but stayed away from it for, to get there, they would have to go past the medicine-womans hut. They had never seen the bomoh. She kept to herself. The adults consulted her now and then for some potion or other. The children were just simply afraid of her ubat, her magic. There were rings of stones around her fruit trees. Straws, knotted into odd shapes, hung from the branches and spun


slowly in the breeze. Eerie sounds could be heard coming from around her hut strange clapping noises, high whistles and low moans.


Even Payahs heart would beat a little faster when she passed by the hut and her steps would quicken. Another reason why the children never went near Payahs hideaway was the belief that a white crocodile lurked in the deep stream. You did not notice it until it was right upon you, because it moved as silently as a ghost. Payah, however, would not let her imagination run riot. She was the type of person who believed in taking the bull by the horns, only when she saw it. Usun was different. She thought too much and saw all the difficulties even before the adventure had started.


on this hot and sleepy afternoon, Payah took Sammy and

Kenyi with her. She was glad of their company. Kenyi squawked and fluttered about, making enough noise to scare off everything. Sammy clung to her like a limpet, which was somehow comforting as she scuttled past the bomohs hut. They made their way through dank undergrowth. Twigs snapped under Payahs feet. Sounds of cicadas in the thousands trilled in her ears. Now and then there was a rustle nearby, and sometimes a distant crash as a branch fell to earth. High up in the canopied tops, birds chirped, croaked or screeched. She also glimpsed flying squirrels hurtling from tree to tree. As she neared the clearing, which was hidden from view by


giant ferns, she heard a whimper and stopped, uncertain. Even Kenyi fell silent. Payah poised herself for flight. However, the sound was more a sound of distress than a threat. Very slowly and carefully, and holding her breath, Payah parted the fronds. Her heart, that had just a moment ago thumped fearfully, was now beating with rage at what she saw. A pelandok, a mouse deer, and still quite a baby, was tied by one fragile hind leg to a stake at the waters edge. Payah understood immediately what that meant. It was being used as a bait to catch a crocodile! Payah hesitated, unsure how she was going to free it, when suddenly there was a slight movement in the still water. She screamed, and flung herself forward. At that very moment, everything happened at once. The air was shattered by harsh sounds. There were shouts and sounds of gunshots. Water spattered about. Feet pounded and the ground shook.


In the midst of this confusion, a strong voice rang out. Stop, in the name of the law! There were sounds of feet hitting water, urgent cries, and grunts. Then a splutter, and an outboard motor roared to life. The sound swiftly faded around the bend and into the distance. Payah found herself crouched over the mouse deer, her heart hammering away deafeningly in her ears. After a while, when her heart had stopped its wild beating, she became aware of a man standing at the waters edge, one fist raised, and cursing himself for not being sooner on the spot. The poachers had escaped, empty-handed, to be sure, but that was cold comfort.


Promotion down the drain! Uh, river. Oh well, maana. Payah heard him say. Ma-nya-na. Whats that? Payah had recovered from her fright. The man swung around and glared at the group before him. Payah was still clutching the tiny creature, which was in a state of shock, in a choking grip. Sammy was hanging on to her for dear life. Kenyi was flapping awkwardly about and croaking in distress. That was a stupid thing to do! snarled the man. Whats ma-nya-na? Eh? WHATS MA-NYA-NA? Payah yelled, thinking that he must be a bit deaf. Tomorrow. No. Now! The man looked startled, and then gave a shout of laughter, showing strong white teeth in a tanned face. Why do grown-ups always say tomorrow, tomorrow? I want to know now! demanded Payah, stamping her foot. Maana does mean tomorrow, another day, said the man. He laughed again. Its Spanish. It sounds like Bahasa Malaysia, doesnt it? Its a very convenient word, you know,


depending on your attitude. Lots of tomorrows for putting things off, plenty of tomorrows until you get what you want. He continued grimly, Im going to get them and their kind, if not today, then tomorrow. Im Payah. Ben. Ben Laing from Ulu Baram. Im a forest ranger. By the way, its illegal to keep these animals. Ben frowned at Sammy and Kenyi. I know. Kenyi is hurt. Sammy is still a baby. Im looking after them. He ought to be at the Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Sammys not a he. Payah giggled. Shes actually called Samantha, after my sisters roommate in London, who has orange hair. Ben grinned and the corners of his eyes crinkled. Youll have to let her go before she gets too big. She will have to learn to get used to her own kind and how to look after herself. I know. Payah brushed off the thought as she would brush away a fly. What are we going to do about the pelandok? You cant simply shoo it away and say go find your mummy.


No, youre right. Ive been thinking about that. Theres a large enclosed space at the back of my house. Itll be safe there until its big enough to fend for itself. You wont eat it?


No! exclaimed Ben, sounding outraged, but his eyes were dancing. Promise. Ben held up two fingers. Can I come and visit it? Of course! Hey, youd better get going before it gets dark. Ben gently freed the deer and gathered the still-trembling creature into his strong arms and stood up. Before Payah plunged into the path hidden by the clumps of giant ferns, with Sammy riding piggy-back and Kenyi waddling after her, she turned around, smiled and waved. Maana! Her voice rang out, loudly and clearly.