While in Malaysia in 2012 I visited Raman Bah Tuin, a member of the Semai people, and I made several recordings of him playing a nose flute (pensol). The few hours I spent with him were among the most interesting of my month-long trip.
Before I set off on my travels I had contacted Reita Rahim, the co-ordinator of a voluntary organisation called Gerai OA. Gerai OA helps Malaysia’s indigenous people (Orang Asli) sell their handicrafts. In Kuala Lumpur I met Reita and visited the Gerai OA storeroom. Reita put me in touch with a craftsman by the name of Raman Bah Tuin, who she said lived in a Semai village not too far from Kuala Lumpur. So I gave him a call and arranged to visit him. In the short time I spent with Raman and his family he told me a number of things about life in the jungle, including which plants could be used for culinary or medicinal purposes. The main purpose of my visit, however, was to learn how to play the nose flute, and to record him playing a few tunes himself.
There is an art to playing the pensol which I have to admit I struggled with, although I did manage it eventually. Part of my problem is the shape of my nose. As you might be able to tell from the photo of Raman here, Orang Asli nostrils are wider than those of an average Anglo Saxon. This is actually a crucial feature in being an accomplished nose flute player. Thus I had to expel quite a lot of air to make a sound, meaning I would probably pass out before getting even half way through any tune I attempted to play in full.
I made several recordings of Raman Bah Tuin playing his pensol, although I had an unfortunate problem with the Minidisc which resulted in a few drop-outs in the recordings, and some are incomplete. For any future trips I intend to use a more modern method of recording. Three of these recordings have ended up sounding pretty good though. The first tune Raman Bah Tuin played was called Chenloi. This tune is preceded by an introduction from Raman:
Raman told me that Chenloi is the spiritual name of a flower, and is a popular name with ethnic people. The tune represents wind blowing through the rainforest, the feeling associated with this wind, and the flower. The second tune Raman Bah Tuin played was called Kasih Sayang. This, Raman explained to me, means “to love all people”, and this tune represents people together:
The last tune I have is Sinui Pai, which Raman explained means ‘new life’ is the Semai language:
There are a couple of other recordings on my Nose Flutes set on Soundcloud if you want to hear more. All in all it was a fascinating few hours. Raman Bah Tuin said that I would be welcome to visit again, and to camp in the jungle. This I certainly would like to do, as I would like to learn more about life there. Plus I would like to see more lizards like this: