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Friday, April 1, 2011

Sarawak's hornbill (Ubah) joins battle for change

Regina Lee | Apr 1, 11

Never before has political campaigning in Malaysia become this cute.

Arguably one of the most adorable (and probably the only) mascot used by any political party in the country, DAP has deployed Ubah (Malay word for change), a hornbill, in the coming Sarawak state election.

Since then, the mascot has appeared to have taken a life of its own. Ubah merchandise, ranging from plush toys to buttons, are flying off the shelves while stiff party leaders turn giggly at press conferences when asked to pose with the mascot.

On the cyber front, Ubah even has its own Facebook page and Twitter account, often posting photos of itself at DAP functions in Sarawak.

While the mascot clearly has to put up with the numerous “Angry Bird” puns – a popular game first available on the iPhone – Malaysiakini too could not resist and called out the bird in an email interview.

Below are the excerpts. The responses have been edited for language and brevity.

Tell us about yourself and how you got involved in politics.

I was born in Sarawak, of course, and I have a big family all over the state! There’s a reason why it’s called the Land of the Hornbills. :-) And for those who may not know, I’m a Rhinoceros hornbill and can grow up to four feet long!

I was born soon after the 308 general election. My parents named me “Ubah” because they felt, and were inspired, by the winds of change blowing throughout the country and placed their hopes on me to be an agent of change in our beloved state.

As I flew over the skies of Sarawak when I was growing up, I saw for myself how the authorities were raping the forests, destroying precious lives and livelihoods, and stealing the wealth of our future generations.

I saw how the helpless Penan women were robbed of their dignity. I saw how the indigenous communities in Belaga were forced to be resettled with little compensation, some of which have never been paid.

As I understood better, I saw how the state of Sarawak, despite its apparent beauty and wealth, has been neglected and discriminated against by the BN government, resulting in Sarawakians being among the poorest in Malaysia.

And now, I see the freedom of the people – freedom to speak, freedom to assemble as well as freedom of religion – restricted and constrained by an authoritarian government.

As a result, I promised my parents that I’ll do them proud, and will do my very best to fulfil their dreams of change in our motherland. I joined DAP in the middle of last year because I believe I could only realise my destiny with a party that shares my ideals of fighting injustice, corruption and abuse of power.

As “Ubah”, I’ve been assigned the heavy responsibility of spreading the wings of DAP far and wide throughout Sarawak, so that its presence is strongly felt in the coming state election.

In fact, I’ve travelled and lived all over the country the past few months, helping DAP with its cause.

I’ve also been to the peninsula to help raise funds for the coming election campaign, and I’m now busy criss-crossing the state from Kuching to Sri Aman, Sarikei, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri and even to Limbang to ensure that our campaign teams are fully mobilised and in high spirits.

Can you tell me more about your fashion pieces? What an interesting vest and necklace you have…

The little necklace I’m wearing is Kelabit jewellery made from the rare curved teeth of the wild boar. It is worn for protection and was given to me by my father when I told him I will join the movement for change in Sarawak.

The vest, on the other hand, is a kalambi (Iban ikat vest), handwoven by my mother who sacrificed much by trapping herself within a tree cavity for three months to ensure that I had all the necessary food and protection.

The kalambi is made from hand-spun cotton, naturally dyed in red and blue colours to match my party colours (I love you, mum!). She specially threaded it with the traditional kenyalang (hornbill) motif that is often used for Dayak shields. You like it?

We notice that you’ve been tweeting from @swak4chg. Blackberry or iPhone?

Ah, it’ll have to be the Blackberry. The little buttons make it a lot easier for me to type with my bill than the touch-screen iPhone, although the latter probably has a lot more jazzy features.

Also, the BB Messenger keeps me in touch with all my comrades and family members conveniently, securely and for free! :-)

How do you tweet anyway? You’ve got no thumbs.

With my bill! And in case you didn’t know what a “bill” is, that’s my big mouth, which looks like a “horn”. And yes, that’s why I’m called a hornbill!

Unlike other birds, hornbills have binocular vision, so that we can see the tip of our bill and perform many daily tasks with it, especially the precision handling of food like the blackberry! Yummy!

What’s your favourite food or place to eat in Sarawak?

Wah, you ask me this type of question… my stomach is now growling. Traversing Sarawak over the past few days , I’ve had laksa and kolo mee in Kuching, kam pua noodles in Sibu, juicy crabs caught in Belawai in Sarikei, large river prawn bee hoon in Miri and not forgetting, near-limitless supply of cheap beer in Limbang. Hic!

Do you play ‘Angry Birds’?

Ah, that silly game… birds whacking pigs… how ridiculous, ha ha… umm.. OK, shhh… don’t tell my parents. I don’t like them when they are angry.

Why do you sound like an eagle in your video, instead of a hornbill?

Hornbills are monogamous, you know? And I see you like your food. We forage the best food to court our loved ones. Yes?

Oh, video. Yes. Umm… that’s the problem with technology and special effects these days. The director didn’t think my calls were like umm… “fierce” enough.

Hey, I’m a peaceful and friendly bird. And I’m an activist, not an actor! So umm… the director decided to add “ummph” to my calls for added impact.

So, what happens to the story after you knock Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud into space?

Oh, I understand from the director that a sequel is being written. I read the early copies of the script (am I supposed to be telling you this?). My adventure will continue across the South China Sea.

Apparently, my role in the sequel is even bigger, for I’m to help DAP and its friends in Pakatan Rakyat depose the BN government in the 13th general election. But it all depends on how well the current video sells in Sarawak.

If the results are encouraging, and the calls for change loud, the studio is promising a big budget for the sequel, with even better dramatic special effects. I can’t wait!

What is your biggest worry about the Sarawak election?

My biggest worry in the Sarawak election is that my fellow Sarawakians continue to be blinded by lies and empty promises given by those in power.

Our lands are stolen, our forests raped, our wealth dissipated. Many in the state live in abject poverty, without even basic necessities such as electricity and clean water.

I am worried that my friends who are in need will continue to fall prey to little sweets and handouts given during the campaign period, as well as commitments that will never be honoured.

Ubah will forge ahead regardless to spread the truth, and provide information previously unavailable to my people, to ensure that change will come to Sarawak.

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