Headhunters and Longhouses
Trip Start Sep 19, 2012
92Trip End Jul 22, 2014
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The second part of their history that is dying is the traditional Longhouse
Despite all of this I am heading up river to have my own jungle experience.
My journey starts with the high speed ferry from Kuching to Sibu. This is a large covered speed boat that seats about 80 people downstairs and as many as possible on the upper deck. The boat leaves Kuching and heads out to the South China Sea for about 200 km before heading up the Batang Rejang, which is Malaysia's longest river, until we arrive at Sibu about 25 km from the mouth of the river
After spending the night in Sibu which is not the most exciting of cities I arrange a trip to Kapit (140 km upriver) on one of the Flying Coffins. These are narrow speed boats that travel at about 80 km per hour which is relatively quick for a boat that seats about 100 people in a long narrow compartment of about 55 meters. It is also good fun to sit on the roof as these boats race up the river with the jungle flashing by on both banks. Lots of houses and settlements along the way but mostly other boats piled high with tree logs coming from up river. Every now and then you pass large tracts of land that have been completely cleared of all trees. The are few wooden houses but more and more concrete structures. But it is still a great trip and I love being on boats. The next port of call is Kapit which has a population of about 20000 and is the main trading centre for all the people living along the river. What used to be a market town is now being turned into a modern ugly concrete centre
I have been told that there is only one boat that leaves at 8 am to Belaga, which is my next destination about 165 km up river. When I arrive at the jetty at 7.30 am there are two surly unhelpful guys selling tickets and they inform me that the boat leaves at 9 am and also one at 11 am and no they can't sell me a ticket. They then choose to ignore any further questions. After a cup of coffee I return to the jetty and find out from a local that the boat should arrive soon and I can get a ticket on board. The rude ticket sellers just glare at me
After dropping my gear at the Hostel I take a walk down to the jetty where I meet Kim from the USA. She has booked a tour to a longhouse and wants to know if I want to join her. I meet her guide, Danial, who seems interesting so decide to join them. Visiting a Longhouse has not been high on my list of things to do as I believe them to be a bit of a tourist attraction and I also feel uncomfortable wandering through peoples homes. Despite this we head off up river in a wooden narrow boat with our guide and his dog. Kim has much the same views as me about the longhouses so we will see what it is all about.
We stop at settlement with a few scattered buildings, a recently tarred road, a volley ball court and a long concrete structure where the locals stay. As tradition dictates we are supposed to ask the Headman's permission to enter and also bring some small bags of flour and sugar as gifts
From the large living room a door leads of to a wooden extension which looks like the family area. There are some basic chairs and tables and washing hanging all around. A small dingy room houses a shower and squat toilet. Another door leads back to the kitchen which has a 2 burner gas stove and a hearth with a cooking fire. There is also a Stainless steel sink and a wire fronted larder stacked with packets of 'Maggi Noodles', and some other basic supplies. The men of the settlement that haven't gone to the cities still supply fish and the occasional wild boar if they have been lucky. In the old days everyone shared with each other. Now a days its each family for themselves and if you have excess you sell it to your neighbours
Back on the boat we drift in the current and stop at another settlement. A flight of metal stairs lead up the bank and there are a few wooden houses on stilts. They look in a poor condition. An old man hangs out the window and our guide tells us as he and his wife have no children they live separately from the longhouse. We pass this house and enter a concrete courtyard with two long double story buildings on each side. It is dirty, empty and reminds me of a school building. There are two old ladies having a chat and they hardly take any notice of us. We follow our guide through the courtyard that leads to another double story wooden structure. The windows are broken, the wood is rotting and our guide informs us that all the families have moved away but do come home for Christmas. At the end of this building is another wooden house where an old lady lives alone with her cat. She is quite chatty and through the interpretations of our guide she explains that its very quiet living here and she only has one neighbour who comes across and they share meals. We leave them some sugar and flour. The whole trip has been very surreal and also a little depressing. It is sad that the modern world is killing this traditional way of life and these Longhouses are just like old age homes without any carers. Back in Belaga its a somber dinner and and an early night as Kim and I are sharing a 4x4 through the jungle and back to the coast
We are picked up at 7.30 in the morning and it's a bone jarring, teeth rattling trip on a concrete logging road through the jungle. It's a lot of fun as we climb and twist through the jungle. In most places the jungle is dense and green. However the further we go there are signs of more logging and deforestation and then this eventually leads into huge plantations of Palm Oil Trees. This is one of Malaysia's biggest exports. There are thousands and thousands of trees all in straight rows for as far as you can see.
After about 4 hours we arrive at a crossroad and our driver informs us this is as far as he goes and we should wait here as a bus should come along within an hour. After about 10 minutes a bus arrives and as we board I am impressed by the luxury of this bus. Leather reclining seats, refreshing air con and individual TVs with 30 channels to watch. About 3 hours later I arrive in Miri. Not much to do here but I have a few days to relax before I head back into the jungle and off to see Caves at Mulu National park of hours