MUKAH -- For a true bred Melanau, Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for Balingian by-election, Yussibnosh Balo has a rather unusual name.
Its quite a mouthful and invokes guesses as to whether the name is Russian, Ukrainian or even Scottish in origin.
Yussibnosh said like all good Christian fathers, his father Balo named him Eusebius, after an Italian saint.
Eusebius could have been a mouthful for the National Registration Department (NRD) officer or he had hearing problem when registering the birth, he told reporters at Lamin Dana, a life size replica of a typical Melanau house/cultural centre in Kampung Telian, 10 minutes drive from town, here Saturday night.
Yussibnosh said the officer had his own idea how Eusebius should be spelt. That is how Yussibnosh came into being but to his Kampong Telian folks, he is simply called Bu'ih.
The former Dalat district officer, 48, is the toast of his kampung where some 1,000 voters of the 13,633 registered voters in Balingian reside.
He is the first local to be chosen as a candidate and contesting locally (another local, Datuk Aidan Wing was former Lambir state assemblyman in Miri.)
Names of people in Mukah, the heartland of Sarawak and home to 130,000 Melanaus, can be quite mind boggling to those unfamiliar with the area.
If one comes across someone with a Malay name complete with the gender denoting "bin" or "binte", it is a mistake to conclude he or she is a Muslim.
There were cases where Islamic officers caught civil servants with name tags such as "Razak bin Mahli" or "Osman bin Kudat" eating and drinking in public during fasting month only to realise they were actually Christian Melanaus.
Diana Rose, a former journalist and Melanau cultural activist said many Christian Melanaus have Malay names. Melati or Noraini are common for women.
The choice of Yussibnosh as BN candidate has gone down well with the 7,705 Malay/Melanau, 3,875 Iban, 1,683 Chinese voters and other ethnic voters.
"The top leadership is seen to honour a gentleman's agreement made during the time of Sarawak's third chief minister Tun Abdul Rahman Ya'akub.
"The agreement was such that if the Mukah member of parliament is a Muslim, then the Balingian or Dalat state assemblyman should be a Christian and vice versa. Though not carved out in stone, it has been observed ever since.
"This is not racial or religious. We are beyond these trivial things as we are somehow related to each other in the kampung. What really matters is the leaders remember the 51-year-old agreement."
Diana said the Christian Melanaus and the Muslim Melanaus are almost equal in number among the 7,705 categorised as Malay/Melanau voters.
Meanwhile, Yussibnosh who loves fishing in his free time, is ready for the challenge. He is expected to face a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidate.
"Poverty during childhood taught me a lot of things. I am determined to bring change to the poor. Good education is key to a better life for the new generation. I want parents to focus on strengthening the family institution."
He used to wake up at 5.30am and walk for about one hour to school. In his Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) days, he often had to forgo meals to save for more important things.
An expert at preparing the much loved iconic Melanau "Umai" or marinated fresh fish, he is expected to endear to the 3,875 Iban voters.
Yussibnosh speaks Iban fluently. His wife is an Iban from Simunjan.
They have seven children and most speak Mandarin as they studied in Chinese medium schools. -- BERNAMA