some older photos
25.08.2006 31 °C
so I never got round to showing anybody my Malaysia photos.
I've prepared a few of my favourites from the Longhouse that Emily and I stayed at in the Borneo Jungle complete with families of ex-headhunters and old ladies with holes in their ears. I will have described the event in the my blog back then.
So, the highlights
Flying in over the Borneo Jungle
The airport terminal...only opens on wednesdays and sundays for an hour
Boat trip to the longhouse
Arriving at the longhouse
Borneo Baby YEAH!
Just finished a few days in the jungle and feeling very tired but very happy. No buses go to Belaga, and barely any road to speak of, so we had to find some other transport to get here.
We took a half hour flight over the Borneo Jungle from Bintulu to Belaga... it was great. Just a little tiny baby plane with propellers, about 20 seats and two other passengers. The plane only flies twice a week, and then only when the weather is good, so we were really crossing our fingers. Swooping low over the jungle certainly gave a sense of the hugeness of it. Its hard to imagine the effect that the loggers would have on that beautiful landscape.
We landed on a tiny little airfield and walked our way up to the terminal building (a shed about the size of a large-ish kitchen) and waited for the staff to close it up and take the boat up to the town. My Footprint guide book says that Belaga is a sleepy town where the residents spend the day in coffee houses watching all the interesting types who come into town, whether they are tourists, loggers or local tribespeople who have come down river to sell there jungle wares. The guidebook is correct, and we spent almost all of the first day chilling in the aforementioned sleepy coffee houses.
Eventually we made the aquaintance of John, a local guide from the Kayan tribe of head-hunters and he agreed to take us to visit the longhouse in which he grew up. The deal being done, we bought gifts for the longhouse headman, then stepped gingerly into Joahn's longboat with two of his tribesmen, James and Joseph and made our way upriver. The ginger steps were made because these boats are not particularly stable, we all had to side dead straight in a row through the middle of the boat as a slight move to the left or right would result in water gushing over the side. Within minutes of the journey being underway a bottle of the local brandy (50 %) was passed around for guzzling.
Arriving at the longhouse, my first impression was that it was really pretty damn long. About two or three hundred people lived there. The longhouse is divided into lots of separate abodes, rather like a terrace, but with a communal balcony stretching the length of it where kids would play, old ladies would smoke the most enourmously fat rollies (or home-made cigarette mum) or men would sit about chatting. We said hi to a few kids then went into Johns abode where, after showing us how the toilet worked, he brought out another bottle of brandy to welcome us. While we were drinking and chatting, he marched up a token "poor woman" complete with hat and bag for a photo, before shuffing some brandy down her throat. Emily and I felt a little bit embarrassed by this and made an effort to ask her name and introduce ourselves.
The aforementioned James and his family cooked us an amazing dinner, accompanied by more brandy, before being introduced to the headman, who we dutifully presented with a bottle of brandy, which he shared around. I was beginning to see a slight pattern to the our activities. In addition to alcohol, Emily got to swop cigarette with the old ladies and I got back into chewing beetle nut. I'm not quite sure what this is, but we used to use it in Sri Lanka. (The sri lankans described it as their version of chewing gum) Its a nut or some sort, wrapped in a fresh tobacco leaf that is coated with a paste from some sorts of water snails. I think there is also another ingredient... can't remember what. Anyway, when taken together, the four ingredients have a mildly narcotic effect that gives you a light head and a bit of happiness. Also lots of saliva which you have to spit out at regular intervals. Oh, and it tastes revolting. But fun. ALl this happens whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor with parafin lamps lighting our way.
We discussed with the people about how they were keep their young interested in their culture (quite successfully). What they thought of George Bush (not good). How their river has been polluted by the logging industry over the last 20 years. And their worries about a new hydroelectric damn which is to be built upriver. This damn is going to be twice the size of the Asswan damn and flood an enormous area of former jungle, that is home to lots of local tribes people as well as lots of endangered Orang Otangs. Several Longhouses and nomads are going to be displaced with only the bare minimum of care or assistance. The people in the Longhouse we were staying in wouldn't be moved, but are very apprehensive... not just abou
Where was I,
Oh yes, staying in the longhouse with the Kayan Orang Ulu tribespeople in the Borneon Jungle. Yeah, we had some good chats, talking about a damn that is to be built about 2 hours boat journey upriver. This damn will apparently be twice the size of the Aswan damn and is being built to generate hydroelectric power. As well as lots of prime Orang Utang forest, about 50 longhouses will be flooded. Those communities upriver will be compensated and moved on, but there is no provision and very little reassurance for the communities downstream, such as the one I was staying in. In addition to worries about the river flow and the effect on fish etc, they are very worried about what happens if Osama Bin Laden puts a bomb under the damn, or it breaks in an earthquake. The only concession made to them by the damn builders was that if they have any relatives left alive, they will be compensated. Great!
Other moments of joy in the longhouse include one of the beautiful young children, who had nestled herself into Emily’s lap, pointing at Emily’s bounteous breast and signaling that she would quite like a drink. Also, the kiddies were very interested in my book, and so I decided to read them a chapter. Emily was tickled pink by the sight of 6 kiddies all totally transfixed by me reading an English translation of the great Russian story, The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky. And when we were to leave the fisherman Joseph felt moved to sing an oldy styley Spiritual Song to give us god speed on our journey. They are apparently not supposed to sing these old songs, straight from god, now that they are Christian… but I didn’t mind.
We were very sad to leave the Longhouse, but excited about the next phase of our journey.
8 hours boat journey down river, followed by a seven hour bus ride we reached the town of Kuching, in the south of Sarawak.