The Idahan minority ethnic that mostly lives in Lahad Datu on Sabah east coast has indepth knowledge of the ecological system that supports part of their economy, like harvesting bird nest. They establish a control system to restrict the harvesting of bird nest as well as rotational system on the rights to harvest among their clans so that the bird species that produce edible nest will not extinct. The control system too places the bird nest under community ownership with systematic harvesting method so that this resource is continous and can be benefitted by future generations.
THE BELIEFS AND ABSTINENCES OF HARVESTING BIRD NEST
A number of abstinences concerning behaviours are imposed when one is inside the cave to help ensure a courteous and accordance situation when harvesting. Harvesting works are done quietly and conversations are restricted to important issues only.
This ethnic believes in supranormal powers and their ancestors spirits. The bird nest cave in the Madai area was once used as burial ground and there are still coffins there. Nowadays, the cave is no longer meant for such purpose, but it is still considered sacred and needs to be given respect. Therefore, all abstinences are respect for their ancestors that are considered as the cave guardians. Before embracing Islam the Idahans prepare presentations such as yellow rice, white hen, ceramic vase and goat to appease their ancestors spirits.
Upon entering the cave the harvesters seek permission first from their ancestors spirits by mentioning that the harvesters are their ancestors sons and grandsons and request that they are not disturbed while harvesting. When entering the cave one must not wear tegawih or serawang (big head cover made of pandanus leaves).
If there are signs of or abnormal incidents scaling works are halted a while so that no dangers will follow suit. Sneezing while entering the cave is considered as bad omen and the sneezer must return home and forbidden to harvest on that day. Conversations inside the cave too use metaphors or specific terminologies. For example, tomorrow is replaced with the day after tomorrow the phrase want to go home is replaced with to ascend to where I belong.
The mourning period from harvesting bird nest for a death is two days. If an accident happens inside the cave, like a person falls down from the caves ceiling, then harvesting works in all the cave areas is stopped for three days, Except bird nest, items inside the cave including bird secretion, even though the market value is high, must not be disturbed or brought out.
Those in the Madai Cave area are forbidden to breed cats too as this feline animal is the breeding birds main enemy especially during the hatching period.
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