Gawai Dayak

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2013

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Where I stayed

Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Saturday, June 2, 2012

Black gold, if ever a city owed its existence to the oil industry it would be Miri. Located in the North east of Sarawak near to the boarder with Brunei, it serves more of a launching pad to other places rather than being a destination for tourists in itself. Being made of oil though there is a wealthy local population and thriving local population. Coming from Brunei we found a much more exciting social scene here, and one we were relieved to see.

Day 136: Saturday 2nd June 2012 Continued

Arriving in Miri I was greeted with the familiar sight of the bus stations that I had slept in only a few days previous. Unfortunately it wasn't as close to the centre of town as I it qo had thought so we needed to get a taxi to get in. Fortunately between the 3 of us it wasn't too expensive. We stayed in a hostel recommended to Alex by a girl she met in Brunei. As is often of the case with recommendations we found ourselves in a really nice little place with a very social atmosphere, as well as all the other benefits I had begun to almost expect in Malaysian hostels. It was located right in the thick of it in the middle of town, which whilst a little noisy provided a welcome change from the lack of atmosphere we had experienced in Brunei. there were restaurants and bars all along the street literally as you stepped out the door. It couldn't have been more built up if you were in the centre of KL itself.

Our original plan on arriving here had been to go and see the Niah caves the following day before our flight to Mulu on the 4th. These changed slightly when we heard that the hostel was organising a tour to a local Longhouse the following day. I'd been pretty keen to go and see one from the moment I decided to come to Borneo especially as we were right in the middle of the harvest festival, which is the time to go and visit them. Up to this point though I had not been able to as the trips had been mammothly expensive. Ben and Alex were both keen to go as well so we decided we would do Niah after Mulu provided we had the time.

We went out for dinner in the closest place imaginable. We were not even halfway across the road as there was a restaurant there in the central partition. I had some very tasty Bandung Noodles (A kind of noodle soup) washed down with a nice glass of Milo. Despite our close proximity to our hostel (We could still pick up the Wifi) we were trapped there by the mother of all rain storms and had to wait for it to subside before we could make the few feet dash to the door. A few games of cards rounded of our evening a we looked forward to a lie in and relaxing morning before our afternoon tour the following day.

Day 137: Sunday 3rd June 2012

We spent the morning relaxing, getting up late, enjoying a nice toast and tea breakfast and just reading and surfing the web. It made a nice little break if im honest, it was certainly a slower pace than im used to, it almost felt like a weekend. We went next door to get some Pau for lunch before joining some of our other hostel mates for our trip to a real Bornean longhouse!

Longhouses are an institution in Malaysia and in Borneo particularly where they are still prevalent. Almost exactly as they sound they are huge long houses in which almost (If not all) of the entire village live in. Separated into hotel like houses in which individual families will live but fronted by a large and very wide communal room/hallway and balcony area in which the occupants spend the majority of their time. The longhouse we had gone to see was actually relatively small by Malaysian standards with only 11 families living together. Some longhouses have upwards of 200 families living together in a single building! I really couldn't have arrived in Borneo at a better time to see the longhouses. It is the middle of Gawai Dayak (Known as the harvest or rice wine festival for us backpackers). Essentially it is a very communal celebration during which there is lots of eating, drinking (Rice wine in particular), as well as a few (To our eyes at least) peculiar traditional customs. One of the main ones revolved around a ceremonial tree. Somewhat similar in style to a Christmas tree only made out of more local trees. Attached to which dangling like baubles were lots of trinkets including small denominations of money, cans of coke, sweets, biscuits and (the prize of choice in my eyes) beer. People would take it in turns to dress up in the native dress (differing according to their gender of course) and dance around the tree to music before cutting off a prize from the tree. The whole thing had a very village fete kind of feel, with slow paced communal fun, interlaced with food and drink. The village fete feel was interrupted slightly towards the end of proceedings where a chicken was sacrificed and its blood used to bless or curse the remains of the butchered tree, we were not sure which. Overall it was a really worthwhile experience getting to see this communal way of living first hand and one I really enjoyed. The fact that the Gawai Dayak festival was there served to make the experience even richer. 

As we had become accustomed to doing in Miri we took things slow that evening, only bothering to venture next door in order to get food, but when you can get Cantonese noodle soup that good, that cheap and that close, why venture further? The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in our hostel chatting with the other guests and generally doing nothing that required more energy than making a cup of tea. 

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MH on

Really interesting. I didn't know of the existence of these longhouses.

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