Days 12-13: Visiting the Iban Tride at Mengkak Longhouse

After a long bus ride out of Kuching City, we carefully loaded, 3 or 4 at a time, into shallow boats looked like canoes with a motor attached to the back. The ride was a great experience and took us deeper into the jungle, where our cell phones became useless.

Staying in the Iban longhouse was a really eye opening experience. We learned so much about their lifestyle and culture from spending just one day with them. The tribe wasn’t in the best of spirits because one of their members had just passed away and they were still in mourning, but they still performed a welcoming dance for us. As part of the ritual, we were each given a small glass of homemade rice wine, which is a staple drink for their tribe. Then two men danced with swords and shields followed by two women dancing with skirts made of coins that jingled as they moved. Then we all got to dance with them and learn some of the traditional movements.

The next morning, we were shown one of the blowpipes that the Iban people used to use to catch their meals. Nowadays, they use modern rifles, but some tribes still use blowpipes. The pipe is made out of a strong wood called iron wood with a small hole borne in the middle. It has a metal spear at the end so the hunters can finish off their prey. The darts are made out of palm tree needles and traditionally dipped in poison. The poison, however, doesn’t kill the animals; it only paralyzes them. This is why the spear is needed to kill the animal after it’s been disabled. We got to try using the blowpipe and aiming it at a target. It’s surprisingly difficult and requires a lot of air, but the native people of Borneo are very experienced and for them it is an effective hunting method.

Sadly, there were a few disturbing things we saw while at the longhouse. There was a monkey locked up in a cage banging on the doors to get out as well as pulling the hair out on the top of its head. There were a ton of wild dogs roaming around as well and if they did not obey rules they would be hit with a stick. Despite the sadness we felt, these images were all a part of an eye opening experience into a culture so removed from ours and yet starting to become impacting by modern ideas.

~Anna and Chris

Canoe ride into jungle

Pulling up to the Iban Longhouse in colorful canoes

Pulling up to the Iban Longhouse in colorful canoes