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Published: October 6th 2017
My curiosity of Dayak Tribes, the native people of Borneo, and Long House or “Bateng” had led me to Lopus Village, Lamandau Regency, Central Kalimantan. I had seen a Long House during my visit to Mancong Village, Kutai Regency, East Kalimantan, a few years ago, but it was no longer occupied and it used only for ceremonial events. Similarly, I had visited another Dayak tribes village near Miri, but the original stilt long house had been destroyed by fire. While it’s occupied by 200 families, the Long House was rebuilt on the ground by the government. Disappointed, I was determined to find an original, still occupied, stilt Long House.
The five hours drive from Pangkalan Bun was painless as the paved road was smooth. Thanks to the government, after the Trans Kalimantan road was built a decade ago, journey to nearest Capital City became faster. In the old days, the only method was via river, of which trip could take a month! From Pangkalan Bun, we headed North East towards West Kalimantan. There were hardly any cars passing by other than a few lorries carrying Oil Palm Fresh Fruit Bunch. The sight on both sides of the road was oil-palm
plantation as this province contributed 11% to the country’s total CPO production.
Lush green rain forest started to appear before our eyes only when we reached Lamandau Regency, thanks to the local people who had opposed to converting their forest into plantations. It’s one of the very few villages in the province that remained untouched by the Oil Palm Plantations in Central Kalimantan. Arrived at Lopus Village in the afternoon, we were pleased to see a tidy home stay, which had an in-house bathroom. Perhaps, that's the only house that has an in-house bathroom! The people in this village lead a simple life. They grow rice, vegetable and fruits at their farms, and catch fish from the river. River was the livelihood of the people in the village. It’s used not only for an alternative way to reach other villages, but also as the primary source of household water.
Greeted by our host warmly, we then were introduced to our guide, who was ready with his rubber boat to take us exploring the river. It was an easy ride as there were not many rapids; we didn't have to paddle that much. From our boat, we could see
how the aftermath of flash flood a few weeks earlier. Trash stuck up in the trees along the river was the silent witness of the nature cruelty. In this part of the world, mentioning the word “crocodile” was taboo. If crocodiles were seen in the river, many believed they were some kind of spirits. Thankfully, my guide read my mind and said confirmed there was no dangerous animals in this river. Indeed, crocodiles do not live in fast moving flow rivers. However, on our way back to home stay, we saw people gathering, and when we got closer, we found out that they had found a python nearby. The poor animal was killed and cut. Each brought back their meat home (see pictures).
After moving slowly for about an hour and passing a few rapids, we jumped into the cool water before heading back to our home stay. Back at our home stay, we were served with grilled yam in a bamboo stick. What a treat! As we enjoyed our tea, the brother-in-law of the homestay’s owner, Iwan, paid a visit. We soon learned his outstanding blowgun or “Sipet” skills which had led him in participating in various competitions
regionally. Similar to that of American Indian blowgun, Sipet is used for hunting by the Dayak Tribes; historically, it’s used for killing enemies secretly. When shot accurately, the poisonous arrows could instantly kill the victims instantly. When asked if there were plans to preserve it in the Dayak Tomun community, Iwan replied he had not had not taught his skills to the younger generation, even though he planned on doing so. I was afraid that Dayak culture would soon fade away, just like the fate of the forest.
After dinner, we headed to Iwan’s Long House next to home stay for a Welcome Ceremony. The Long House at Lopus Village was relatively small. It could accommodate a few families only. One set traditional musical instruments were placed at the corner of the hous: Gamelan, Symbals, Gendang or two headed drums and Gong. When played together, the music produced was quite lively. Later on I learned that only the well to do families own musical instruments in the house. Another wealth measure in this village is the number of large jars owned. Interestingly, in the local custom, any disagreement or dispute must be resolved by the elder members of the
tribes. The guilty party must pay the penalty in the form of jars. Dowry is also in the form of jars. It was said that one of the ancestors of the Dayak Tomun came from Pagaruyung, West Sumatra, which was why their dialect had similarities with that of Pagaruyung. Not only the dialect was similar, but the house roof top also resembles the traditional Minangkabau's rooftop.
Soon one by one people started to come, filling the empty space, and the Welcome Ceremony started. First, our local guide gave an opening speech to welcome us, afters which each of us had to introduce ourselves, followed by the Hornbill Dance by two couple. The Hornbill Dance was quite interesting as it consists of two couples, who greeted each other with their special hand shake before being served with rice wine or Tuak. In Dayak's culture, Hornbill is associated with peace and harmony and is considered the King of all birds. Each couple will dance and move in a circle before going back to their original position. While dancing, the ladies moved their hands outwards and moved them slowly, resembling a flying hornbill. The men’s moves were livelier. Each dance consists of
It took two hours of crushing by foot to separate the rice from its cover. Seeing this was a great reminder to always appreciate the food I had on my plate.
three rounds of the above rituals. I simply loved the solemn and graceful mood with lively background music. By the end of the dancing session, I could see the dancers were in a jovial mood. The rice wine must have taken effect.
Towards the end of the Welcome Ceremony, an elder member of the tribes threw us rice and put on bracelets on our wrists, blessing for us to return home safely. We were officially considered as part of their family. That evening, I slept like a log and was awaken briefly by the strange howls of the dogs in the wee hours of the morning. The locals believed this strange dog’s strange howling indicated the presence of the unseen. Too tired to analyse it, I went back to sleep.
The next day after breakfast, we had another river expedition, and this time, we took small and narrow wooden canoe. The boatmen were skillful enough to navigate the narrow river going upstream among the protruding rocks. Thankfully, the shallow river was transparent that I could see its bottom. After an hour of thrilling ride, we reached our destination where the boatmen went on land to get some vegetables
for our lunch. In no time, we dipped into the cool water, which felt like being in a natural spa in the middle of the jungle. What an experience!
Back in the Long House, we were served coconut drinks plucked freshly from the trees before having our simple lunch: boiled tapioca leaves with salted fish. For dessert, we had sugar cane, again freshly cut from the lawn. We even tried chewing beetle nut just like a local, and of course, it didn't stay long in our mouth.
Half heartedly, we had to say goodbye. I wished I stayed longer in this peaceful sanctuary and of course, I'd be back!
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