Who is a Pebalat?

I guess many have read that the Eskimo had many words for snow. The idea is that the language we speak both affected and reflected our own views of the world and since the Eskimos lived in a snowy world, they should have more words for snow.

Though there is some argument how many words the Eskimos actually have for snow. In a popular 1940 article on the subject, the writer referred to Eskimo languages having seven distinct words for snow. Later writers inflated the figure: by 1978, the number quoted had reached 50, and on February 9, 1984, an editorial in The New York Times gave the number as one hundred.

I have not studied neither do I have the time to do it - I would love to know how many Brunei words are there for fishing. Bruneians until the early 20th century were fishermen and seafarers. We used to have many fishing and sailing traditions but they seemed to have disappeared completely. Perhaps someone from the Brunei Studies Academy can look into this.

Why do I ask? Last Friday, I was in a bit of a panic. I was trying to complete my article for Sunday's BT. Normally I submit my article by Friday and the latest by early Saturday morning so that it allows BT's editorial board to go through the article and get it ready for printing by Saturday evening. My article was about Burong Pingai which is the kampong in Kampong Ayer and also in Perpindahan Berakas. The origin of the kampong was a bird whose sound was Pingai. The bird belonged to a Johor Princess who became the wife of Brunei's first Sultan, Sultan Muhammad Shah. The bird actually landed on a balat and a pebalat caught it before bringing it to the palace.

What is a Balat? Who is a Pebalat?

I have read about this somewhere but on that Friday morning, I just could not get my brain word recognition software to work. So I sent out a whole bunch of sms and all my friends responded and I got more than I need. A balat is a fish catching instrument. It is actually long strips of bamboo woven together to form a catchment. So the pebalat (the fishcatcher) would place it somewhere in the river and wait for the fish to swim in and he would then scoop the fish out of the catchment. The bigger version of the balat would be the lintau and the kilong. The latter two are big and permanent whereas the balat is mobile and can be taken anywhere.

To make a balat, it would have to be woven or dijalin. Hence Sungai Menjalin gets its name because that is the place where the balats were woven together or dijalin together.

There is a whole bunch of Brunei vocabulary out there waiting to be discovered.


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