The Wonders of Batang Ai (Part 2)

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Enjoyed mouth-watering buffet breakfast – never thought that I was having such a lavish breakfast at ‘the end of the earth’ (still scratching my head)! At 8.50am we departed on longboat for our next adventure. The locals use longboat powered with motor as mode of transport here due to unfriendly terrain. One long boat can carry up to 6 persons. We passed by a few Iban longhouses along the scenic Engkari River. These longhouses are all more authentic than those we have seen on our way to Batang Ai. During the cruise, we saw hills landscaped with paddy grown by the locals.

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A longhouse near Ulu Ukom

We arrived at our destination, the Ulu Ukom longhouse around 9.40am. It is perched on a low hill that took us 5 minutes to reach the ancient looking longhouse. What a picturesque sight! I was lazing at a 5-star resort, now I’m standing in front of a villlage on stilts while dogs and chicken roaming around. We took off our shoes and were introduced to the Tuai Rumah (chief). According to statistic, there were 157 persons with 29 families residing there but currently, only 50 persons remained at this longhouse. Just like any other rural place, Ulu Ukom is facing the same scenario where most youngsters who have completed their studies moved to the cities for a better living.

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Here, we peeked into the lifestyle of the Ibans for a few hours. We briefly visited individual units inside the longhouse where respective home owner would promote their self-made handicraft. We were told that they also fish, plant vegetables and do rubber tapping to make a living. A majority of the people here are Christians while a small minority of them are still practicing animism. Headhunting was stopped about 200 years ago by the Brooke administration. Due to the religion reason, they do not display skulls in longhouse.

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Our new friend

Guests will sit in a circle together with the Tuai Rumah and some villagers for a chit chat. We were served with rice whisky (35% alcohol) and rice wine (5% alcohol). It was not surprising to see some of the villagers smoke palm cigarettes. We were invited to dance with their cultural dencers, consisting of a male and a female dancer.

Visitors’ gifts (compulsory) will be given to longhouse chief after dance performance. They will distribute that to children while the balance will be shared among adults. According to our guide, other form of gift include mini shampoo and soap. Afterward, we had a simple picnic lunch inside the Tuai Rumah’s room. Simple but tasty meals were served here as we continued to get to know more about our new friends here.

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Tuai Rumah (Left)
Visitors can swim at other part of the river after lunch. Our activities concluded with a blowpipe demo before returning to resort at 3pm. The good news was, I was pretty good with the blowpipe – just a few inches off the target!
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Ngajat dance

The next morning, we left Batang Ai with a heavy heart and wondered when we would make a comeback. There are so much beautiful places that worth a visit and some of them are quite unknown, like Batang Ai. If you enjoy a tranquil place and love to experience the unique culture of the friendly Borneans, no doubt, Batang Ai is the place to be!

Visit here for tour information.

By Willie Ki, Photo by Joebonaventure.

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