Cheeky way of preserving dying tribe

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IMAGINE filling up official forms as a way to provoke a reaction when ”Miriek” is written under the ethnicity section in Malaysia. 

Robiah Tani has been cheekily doing that for the longest time, to affirm her pride of being from the Miriek community in Sarawak in pushing for its recognition.

While it can be “hekeh” (Jatti Miriek for ‘exasperating’) to explain what Jatti Miriek is to the uninitiated, the businesswoman thinks it is high time Malaysians or even Sarawakians stop mistaking them as being Malays and start acknowledging them as another ethnic group- having their own heritage, culture and language. 

She explains that she has always been mistaken for a Sarawakian Malay but has no qualms going into lengthy explanations of her tribe as long its existence is known. 

“Sometimes when I go to government offices or when I have to fill up forms, I purposely write down ‘Miriek’ under the ethnicity section only to be told to explain myself. 

“People always associate Sarawak with the Ibans, Melanaus and Bidayuhs when it comes to ethnic groups but many are unaware of the Jatti Mirieks.”

So who exactly are the Jatti Mirieks? 

“Often mistaken for being Malays for bearing similarities in terms of culture and traditions from weddings to funerals, we have long been living in Miri and we originate from Baram. 

“No doubt we bear a lot of similarities with the Malays- culturally when it comes to weddings and funerals but what sets us apart is our ancient beliefs, rites and of course Bahasa Miriek which is totally different from Bahasa Melayu.

“To my knowledge, the Miriek speakers population is estimated to be around 2500 persons and sadly this number is decreasing quickly or community spreads out with the younger generation leaving for better job opportunities or assimilation through inter-marriages,” explains Robiah. 

Fearing that the original Miriek culture and language might become extinct, the Miri Jatti Miriek Association has even come up with a dictionary of Jatti Miriek words to ensure the continuous usage of the language, especially amongst the younger generation. 

While the Ibans, Chinese, Malays, Bidayuhs, Orang Ulu, Melanaus make up the ethnic groups in Sarawak, the Jatti Mirieks have pitifully maintained a stealth status, no thanks to their dwindling population. 

Robiah, along with her fellow Jatti Miriek community has long been fighting the cause in being officially recognised as another ethic group in Sarawak. 

“You see, with the official recognition, it would make it much easier for the community to deal with official matters such as applying for government scholarships as well as filling application forms. 

“Miriek is one of the oldest communities in the country which came to Sarawak about 200 or 300 years ago and that the word “Miri” originated from Miriek but it puzzles me why we are not recognised even though we’ve been championing the cause for decades,” explained Robiah. 

There have been reports that the close-knit community of Jatti Miriek had been longing to be recognised as one of the ethnic groups in the state as currently, the community is categorised as Sarawak Malays in the race column on government application forms unlike other minority ethnic communities such as the Kayan and Kenyah.

Currently, there are an estimated 10,000  Miriek folk and they reside mainly in northern Sarawak and Brunei, with many having successfully ventured into business or working in the public and private sectors even though the early Miriek people started off in agriculture and fisheries. 

Miri Jatti Miriek Association Public Relations Officer, Ujut Rahman remains hopeful that the Sarawak government can speed up the process and finally recognise Jatti Miriek an ethnic community.

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