In February 2007, I had the great pleasure of photographing this lovely lady for my book of Malaysian portraits. A Kelabit elder in the highlands of Bario in Sarawak, she goes by several names, as I discovered, the Kelabits have a tradition of having several names. Her full title I believe was Tepuq Na’am Ka’an @ Beken Ayuq @ Sineh Napung Aran @ Dayang Aran. She passed away on 16 April, 2014 at 105 years. She spent her time threading beads to make traditional hats and necklaces. Some of the glass beads are heirlooms and are highly values amongst the Kelabit.
Here is an article about her here and a tribute by David Lian Labang below :
“In memory of Tepuq Beken Ayuq best testimonial act after bed ridden for over a year of unbearable pain from a femoral head fracture and underwent a speedy recovery in less than 2 month after a Hemiarthroplasty surgery (Hip replacement surgery) ~ which stopped the pain and made her able her to stand up and walk again. (No one expected that she could walk once more but only the possibility of standing up)
Well, my admiration of this Tepuq Beken Ayuq that, she could withstand the unbearable pain and long hours of bedtimes alone in which, the state of depression and lost of hope and confidence in oneself can set in for more than 1 year without surgery and, I’ve come to understand this torturous depressive state ~ from personal experience for laying helplessly in bed for less then “2 hours long” waiting for someone to help me because I was totally immobilized and not able to move my legs and arms from a different illness last year.
Tepuq Beken was the Iron Lady of the Kelabit people. She surpassed all medical, mental, physical, philosophical, historical and underwent all childhood hardships of unfortunate circumstances and into the 21st century modernity and technological advances.
Well, i know that it wasn’t technology that made her walk but it was necessary as an assistance and improvement to minimise pain. What really made her overcome depressions, self-confidence and a true belief in knowing that she would be able to walk again was her faith in Christ Jesus and her belief in the promises in the word of God and the prayers of all family and visitors that came to visit her.
As I know that wisdom extends/prolongs life.. I for one would never let her mind be discouraged or let be lukewarm. No matter how stubborn and uncooperative she would have been to others, but one thing for sure.. she responds well to the truth as she hears it with humility and a humble heart and the re-assurances from the Gospel in which she agrees to and conforms her heart into.
Never in my life I would expect myself to be convincing an elderly wise person like my grandmother who taught and instructed me a lot over the years. And I’ve never envisioned myself to be preaching the word from the bible; correcting her, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and with careful instruction to her.
She humbled me greatly and with tears (as it reminded me of my late grandpa which his humbleness and wisdom has never in anytime in his life would ever leave,separated or divorce his wife in any circumstances made me understood what he truly meant (dropping him on the plane from Bario to Miri for a serious medical treatment of his swollen leg) when he said as reminder while he is away saying “don’t leave tepuq alone and try to treat her well. she may be difficult at times but don’t get angry at her. she has gone through a lot in a lifetime and she is genuinely good person actually”. I said “sure. I’ll take care of her”. (listening but didn’t understand how is it possible for me, a grandson can ever to deal with her myself)
Grandpa (Tepuq Wan Bala) recovered from his swollen leg after 1 month in hospital, 2 month with me taking care of him in Bario and passed away 1 month after returning home with his wife in they own house. At grandpa’s funeral, I was in tears frustrated at him for leaving me alone to handle her alone by myself. As if, he was treating me unfairly by putting all that responsibility unto me unbalanced because I was an assisting grandson to them both but pre-maturely became a role given by him to balance her instead.
Over the years, after grandpa left, I kept patient and diligently seek the way how grandpa managed to handle her and throughout the years, I learnt so much about history, cultural values and kelabit identity through the fellowship she and I discussed together and to confided in her wisdom and knowledge (in defining our Kelabit language, culture, values and heart).
As I learnt to understand that no one should be alone and especially someone of an elderly age that are wise, hardly speaks of needing company and being a Christian, sharing the gospel was a good time together and reminding each other the opportunity to keep transforming by renewing of the mind.
Ephesians 6:12-13 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Well, for all that has gone past and history as shed tears. In all things, good time or bad times, fortunate and unfortunate circumstances.. tepuq beken ayuq and I have learnt to rejoice, praising the Lord in thanksgiving and in all glory unto Him because His goodness and mercy endures forever.
Lastly, peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”