Longhouse Disaster

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
Trip End May 30, 2013

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Sunday, January 20, 2013

So the thing 'to do' in these parts is to visit longhouses. For those of you who might not know, the native people of these areas use this as a communal living space. Long raised housing complexes hold all the families together. There is a big shared living space through the centre and individual rooms all branch off of this. Think of it like townhouses of the jungle.

We were quite excited when Tiina and Juma told us that they had met some people in the shop who said that they could take us out to a longhouse. Our understanding was that it was their tribe's longhouse and we could go for a visit. The Auntie (no english) of the shopkeeper would meet us by our hotel and take us out for a little look around. We were quite excited as neither of us is really into the group tour-thing, so this seemed like a unique opportunity. However, our understanding of what we were about to do, and the reality were very different things.

We stopped by the store to buy our gifts to present to the chief's family to thank them having us (a very polite and traditional thing I had read about). The Auntie drove very slowly and cautiously out of the town. We thought the road must be very rough and logging trucks dangerous. However, it turns out that she just didn't know where she was going! Not her home longhouse at all, but the one where 'they bring all the tourists'. Now we were stuck with a woman who didn't speak English, didn't know the tribe, and we arrived unannounced – complete disaster! Just as bad as optimistic Brian could have foretold (and which I'll probably never hear the end of). We were just standing there in someone's home staring at them as they commenced their daily life. There were things we would have liked to ask, but couldn't. What was the fruit they were harvesting and preparing? What are the raised sledged on the roof for? Where does the chief live?

People payed us little or no regard except perhaps for the odd bit of contempt. Then a few girls came out and tried to sell us stuff.

Well, I guess we can check 'longhouse' off the to-do list. It was a very looooong house. Everything was very old wood (they're building a new concrete block house nearby to move into). Down in a valley in the rainforest, we could feel the humidity building as we drove. Once we were out of the moing air the humidity just clung to our skin. So hot and humid I could breathe in the scent of the wood – like a sauna! And there wasn't even one shrunken head that I could see!

We left with a unmistakable 'ick' feeling. Almost enough to spoil the time we've had here, as we really enjoyed Kapit. The small town has a very energetic feel and the curiosity and friendliness of the people is wonderful.

Put it out of our heads and treat it as a lesson learned. Perhaps booking an actual tour might have been better – or at least be a happy artificial simile. Teach us for trying to be real  travellers.

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terri on

awwww nothing ventured, nothing gained! xxx

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