I RECENTLY GAVE MYSELF a little treat and made a short trip back to the “old country”. Singaporeans may have several “old countries” or countries of their forefathers, depending on how far back they trace their ancestry. For me, on my mother’s side, it is Kuching, Sarawak.
My visit coincided with the Dawai or Harvest Festival celebrated by the various native tribes who live there. It is a time for frivolity when copious amounts of food and home-brewed rice wine are consumed over a period of days. At a deeper level, it is a time to be thankful that the harvest has finally come.
In modern-day Sarawak – dismiss the idea of people living in trees and spending their days hunting heads – it is a time for city dwellers with native roots to return to their kampong and longhouses. Like the Lunar New Year celebrations that we are familiar with, it is a time to meet their relatives whom they only see once in a long while.
What is the significance of such festivals to modern-day life? Besides the momentary nostalgic harkening of days gone by, do they matter at all?
As with most things historical, their significance lies in remembering what they are meant to commemorate, lest our observance of them becomes meaningless. Does remembering harvest time mean anything to us in Singapore? I still think so. Even though we do not have seasons of planting and harvesting, we observe seasonal variations in our economy.
Market cycles and product life spans remind us that there are certain rhythms in life.
However, with these man-made cycles, we can forget that our fate lies not in the hands of market analysts and hedge fund players but with God. The farmer, who relies on the coming of rain, is often reminded of his reliance on God’s good grace. We must remember that our economic survival is a gift from God.
This visit to my distant relatives also brought home two more points. The first is that we are not alone in this world. Each of us is part of a web of relationships. This is one sure antidote to the feelings of anomie or aloneness which some of us can paradoxically experience as city folk. However, merely having many relatives is not enough. Our ties with them must be kept strong.
The second point is that whenever we make these occasional visits, we are also reminded of the cycle of life. This is evident when we greet some new faces, find others have become more wrinkled and observe the absence of others. This fact again reminds us that life is so short and that we need to let go of old grudges and make amends with others whilst we still can.
Do you have an old country to visit? Do you have some old ties that need some mending?
Benny Bong, a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.