Iconic Semelai Elder passes away

Published: 11 November 2014

I just received word from Reita (of Gerai OA) that Makcik Kop of Kampung Bapak in Pos Iskandar (Tasek Bera) has just passed on. Reita in turn was informed by Kop's granddaughter, Rozlina, that she passed away at 1pm today, just 3 hours ago.

Makcik-Kop-on-the-perahu, as I always referred to Tok Wan Kop Desen, was in her 80s and one of the revered  elders in her community. She was respected for her knowledge of Semelai culture and heritage and was a skilled weaver until her eyes started to fail her a few years ago.

I first met her by chance in 1999 on the lake in Tasek Bera near Kampung Pathir. I was being shown around by my Semelai friend, Norli, in his father's boat. We had come up from 'downriver' of the Bera and chanced upon Makcik Kop and her daughter whom she was visiting then.

They were in a typical Semelai dugout canoe, checking their fishing lines after they had collected a batch of pandanus leaves.

Makcik Kop was the perfect subject and cooperated to steady her dugout as I asked Norli to manouvre the boat in order to get a couple of shots (on slide film) with my trusty Nikon FM-2. (Yes, it was the time before digital technology took over photography, requiring fiddling with the camera's manual controls on a rocky boat.)

Later, I was able to pass her an enlarged copy of the photo. And, call it coincidence or what, but over the years I got to know her daughter, Lej, and granddaughter, Roz, fairly well. Roz actually stayed in our center for some time (when she was working as an assistant to YB Elizabeth Wong, the assemblyman for Bukit Damansara); while I would see Lej whenever I visited with Reita or when she came down to KL.

Makcik Kop, or Nenek Kop as she should now rightfully be called, probably never really knew who took the photograph, but it was one that I was blessed to be given the opportunity to make. To me, she was an iconic Semelai elder.

11 November 2014