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MONDAY, APRIL 22, 2013

Most Memorable Trip in Borneo- Day One & Day Two (Part 3): The Nanga Ukom Long House

  The moment we arrived at Nanga Ukom longhouse Sarawak Jared, the assistant to the tuai rumah, warmly greeted us. Jared functions as a secretary to the longhouse chief, tuai rumah by recording the names of any visitor that visits Nanga Ukom longhouse
 
 
  We took a deep breath, settled down for a while and had a little chat with the longhouse residents. As I walked around, I noticed several peculiar objects that were hung all over the long house area. These objects were present in every corner of the longhouse. I asked Jared about these curious objects. He then proceeded to tell me an interesting tale about the object.
 
 
  The Iban people of Sarawak called these objects Piring Ampun. The Piring Ampun serves as a memorial for those who have recently departed. The Piring Ampun is hung on every corner of the long house as a sign for the departed spirits to ask them to go to the next world in peace as their time in this world has ended. The Piring Ampun is hung for a duration of 100 days starting from the date of the deceased’s time of death as the Iban believe that it’ll take the recently departed 100 days to reach his final destination. Food is put on the Piring Ampun as a sign of offering for the departed spirits. I was fascinated by this tale since although I’m an Iban boy I grew up in the city and have never heard of Piring Ampun.
 
The longhouse chief, tuai rumah returned to the longhouse at around 5.30pm. He greeted us warmly and sat down with us. The relatively young tuai rumah, at the age of 28, gave us a tour of the longhouse. He invited the Spanish couple to watch the cock-fighting event or locally known as Sabung Ayam, which they politely refused! As for me, I took the opportunity to watch this traditional longhouse past time. I can see some residents bringing up their best roosters for the event. In this event, the participants from either the same longhouse or another longhouse would pit their roosters against each other to win the bets that are placed on the winning rooster. However, I didn’t manage to catch the exciting part of the cock-fighting event, as both of the roosters in this cockfight were reluctant to fight each other, which was then considered as a draw.
 
 
 
  Our dinner at 7.30pm consisted of mouth-watering traditional Iban cuisine such as chicken cooked with ginger, green vegetables and jungle ferns. I also managed to observe an interesting thing that evening. The tuai rumah’s father was treating his grandson who was down with fever. He smeared a twenty-cent coin with a white sap powder, put in on his grandson’s stomach and recited some prayers. This was the first time that I have even seen a traditional Iban medicine at work.
 
  Later, we all gathered at the hallway and were treated to an enchanting Ngajat dance performance accompanied by the sound of a beating gong. The tuai rumah’s father started the dance and two young ladies then joined him in. The beauty of the Ngajat dance is something that you must experience within the traditional longhouse setting.
 
 
 
 
 
 
  After the dance, the longhouse chief, tuai rumah served us Tuak, a traditional wine made from either rice or sugarcane, to us. The taste is uniquely different from the typical beer or liquor. We are then entertained with some stories.
 
  We were told of the significance of an Iban tattoo that decorated most of the resident’s bodies. Tattoo is like a marker for a person’s rite of passage. When a young man is newly married, a tattoo will be carved on his body before he leaves the community. It is a sign that the boy has reached maturity. Even until today, when a person is about to leave his longhouse, before he travelled, a tattoo will be carved on his body as a reminder on his roots. In the distant headhunting past, a tattoo on an Iban warrior’s knuckle signifies the number of enemies that he has slain.
 
  We also learnt about that evening was on how the next longhouse chief, tuai rumah is selected. The new tuai rumah is a male selected from the previous tuai rumah’s own bloodline based on his capabilities and maturity. If the tuai rumah has no sons, he will have to marry of his daughter and pass down the title to his future grandson. The tuai rumah may only decline appointment by resigning once he took office. The office of the tuai rumah is for the duration of five years.
 
  We then had a history lesson about Nanga Ukom longhouse Sarawak. It was founded 29 years ago by the tuai rumah’s grandfather who moved from the jungles of Batang Ai to be close to the river. Several families subsequently joined him and settled here up to this day. The Nanga Ukom residents worked as farmers and fishermen. They would travel downriver to Lubok Antu to sell their produce at the market.
 
  The tuai rumah then explained to us about customary Iban marriage in Sarawak. In the past girls were married off at the age of 15 or 16. Nowadays, they would be given the choice of getting married at 18 after finishing school to go on to look for employment. The couple wishing to get married must first seek out the tuai rumah and request for a marriage. The tuai rumah would normally consent. If a couple wishes to divorce, they will bring the matter up to the tuai rumah. They would have to explain to the tuai rumah about the reason for the divorce.
 
  After the long story session, our first day ended. We kept ourselves warm by wearing long sleeved clothing as we slept in the cold longhouse.
 
 On the second day of our trip, we woke up at 7 am, had breakfast and readied ourselves for our journey back. We then walked back up the same trail that led us to Nanga Ukom to see how the locals make blowpipes.
 
 
 
  Dani and Ann, the Spanish couple, bought some beautifully made handicrafts. The intricately made and beautifully carved blowpipes and wooden shields on display here really fascinated me. The price was even cheaper here compared to downtown Kuching.
 
 
 The blowpipe that we saw was made out of high-grade quality ironwood. It can last for more than a hundred year. The blowpipe was around 10 inches long, about the same length as a British Musket.  If you want to use the blowpipe, you would have to insert one or two bamboo darts inside it. You will then blow through it to hit the target in front of you.
 
 
 These bamboo darts were lethal as they were usually coated with poison that can cause the victim to fall unconscious. In the past, the headhunters use the blowpipes before decapitating their target.
 
 
 When James Brooke landed in Borneo, he encouraged the locals to use guns. The blowpipe was supposed to be passed down from one generation to another. It is not meant be given away or sold. 
 
  Our tour guide and the Spanish tourists went in for a walk into the jungle for the next 45 minutes. They wanted to see various types of plantations and crops. As my sports shoes were in a bad condition, I had to wait for them from inside the boat. I took more pictures of the dangerous trail that the residents of Nanga Ukom have to go through daily.
 
 
 
  We learnt that what makes the Nanga Ukom culture so beautiful was than the unity that the Nanga Ukom residents have as one family under one roof. They treated us with great warmth and welcomed us like family member. It felt really good and refreshing despite of the short time we spent there.
 
  You definitely must spend some time with the people of Nanga Ukom longhouse and get to know them better. They were eager for us to learn of their culture as well. It was an extremely amazing and fulfilling experience. Although we were tired and exhausted from the long journey, we all agreed that it was worth it. The visit to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, the pepper farm and the sharing of our time with the Nanga Ukom longhouse residents will leave us a long-lasting memory of the wonders and beauty of this land I call home.
 
 
Tags: Sarawak Longhouse | Borneo Longhouse | Long House in Sarawak | Iban in Sarawak | Sarawak Nanga Ukom Long House | |

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