Angela Miller knew of only one way to rise above the bleak existence of her indigenous tribe on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. She had to get an education.
Even as a child, Miller inherently knew that education would set her free from a life that otherwise was destined to poverty, an arranged marriage and a pagan lifestyle.
Miller has lived in Eureka for 40 years with her husband, Arvid, a retired school teacher. They raised their two sons in Eureka and she has worked at various jobs. It was finally time, she said, to write a book about what it was like to grow up as a native girl in a village where she witnessed deep poverty, injustice and, most disturbing to her, inequality in the treatment of women.
Her book, “Hornbill’s Daughter,” gives detailed insight into everyday life among the Bidayuh tribe in the 1950s through the early 1970s. Miller’s given name, Raduk, means “a girl of burning desire.”
She chose the hornbill, a rare tropical bird with a big curved beak, as a motif for the title because her ancestors felt they were guarded and guided by this bird.
“In this story, the similarity of this bird to my parents reveals their gumption and their stamina to survive in this cruel and competitive world,” Miller wrote in the book’s introduction. “The hornbill and the Bidayuh both struggled for mere existence.”
Miller said she always had a burning desire to better herself and never backed down from pursuing her education. Breaking away from the traditional ways of thinking wasn’t easy, though.
“What choices does a person have when she was born in a country where women were rated as second-class citizens?” Miller asked. “Marriages were arranged, women’s voices were not heard and they were suppressed by society. Education for women was not encouraged; they accepted whatever society expected of them.”
But not Miller.
“When you watch how women and uneducated people were treated, I was so frustrated. Education is the most important thing. I struggled for it,” she said. “I had to write this book to really let my story out.”
In the Maylasian state of Sarawak in the northern region of the island, hunting of human heads for trophies was common before British rule was established in the mid-1800s. Witch doctors tended to villagers and all sorts of superstitions were commonplace.
“Revenge was the way of life,” Miller states in her book. “Thanks to education and the influence of Christianity, this has changed.”
She credits her parents for enrolling her in school.
“In my age group, we were the first ones allowed to go to school,” she said. “But there were big challenges.”
When she was 12 she left home to attend a government-run boarding school in a fiercely competitive environment in which students had to retain high marks academically. “C” students weren’t allowed to continue their education at higher levels.
Miller writes about how difficult it was to concentrate on her studies after her brother was killed in an accident when he fell from a rambutan tree.
When she went home during school holidays, she helped with the tapping of the family’s rubber trees and collected jungle products that were sold to help pay for her Junior Cambridge Examination fee. Borneo has one of the oldest rainforests in the world and historically has been rich with spices and minerals.
“Early in the morning we went into the jungle where we spent the whole day searching for wild fruits and young shoots of eatable plants,” Miller states in the book. They spent every waking hour packaging their goods and then hauled them about five miles to the nearest bus stop.
“Unkempt, tired and hungry I sat all day selling my jungle products at the farmers market,” she recalled. “Some days I earned very little money, not even enough to buy food to eat ... this was my sacrifice I made in order to pay for my exam.”
The test cost the equivalent of $20, a handsome sum at that time. Miller was hugely disappointed when she only scored a “C” on the test and wasn’t allowed to move forward with her education. She was permitted, however, to apply for a government job and became a home economics demonstrator for the country’s Agriculture Department.
Through her government job, she was able to later attend the Agriculture College and earned a certificate in home economics.
Miller writes candidly about her first love, a second lieutenant in the Malaysian military who was Muslim. After her parents forbade her from continuing the relationship, she was forced to break up with him because of his religious affiliation.
“He went on with his life and I went on with mine, searching for the answers where fate would lead us,” she said.
As it turned out, fate led her to Arvid Miller, a Peace Corps volunteer who had served in Sarawak in the early 1960s. Arvid had returned to Borneo in 1971 and quickly became smitten with Raduk, who had changed her name to Angela when she converted to Catholicism as a teenager.
They married two years later.
“Hornbill’s Daughter” ends with Miller tearfully leaving her parents and homeland for a new life in America.
“As the plane sped down the runway I was being carried into a new chapter of my life,” she wrote. “It was as though the hornbill chick had finally become a beautiful feathered mature bird that was making her first long flight.”
Miller has continued to put her education to good use in Eureka through the years. She and her husband have cared for 13 foster children in addition to raising two sons.
“I love to help children and people,” she said.
As Miller shows smartphone video of her 6-month-old grandson, she marvels at how far she has come since her childhood in a tribal village halfway around the world.
She also continues to advocate for women and education and last month traveled to California to attend a conference put on by BraveHeart Women, a global community that encourages and inspires women to collaborate and move their lives forward.
Miller is selling bracelets from India to earn money for the Braveheart Women Foundation and to travel next year to Israel, where Braveheart Women will bring Israeli and Palastinian women together for a “harmony circle.”
“Hornbill’s Daughter” is for sale at Bookworks in Whitefish and Kalispell or online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Anyone wishing to support Miller’s work with Braveheart Women may contact her by email at email@example.com or write to her at P.O. Box 722, Eureka, MT 59917.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela Raduk Miller wrote a book. Dec. 4, 2013 in Kalispell, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)
Miller receives her diploma in home economics from the Sarawak Prime Minister of Natural Resources. She taught home economics among the indigenous people of Borneo for five years before emigrating to America in the early 1970s. (Photo courtesy of Angela Raduk Miller)