Randal and I went off to an overnight stay at a Dayak Village a half day’s journey from our anchorage on the Kumai River. Originally we were to go by speed boat which would have taken about 4 hours. Luckily that couldn’t be arranged and we were driven overland to a stop about 30 minutes from the village. From there we took a very noisy speed boat down the river to the Dayak Village. Our overland journey in a very sturdy SUV was very very bumpy over dirt packed roads through miles and miles of palm oil plantations. We guessed that the roads were built by the plantations to meet their own needs. I don’t know what the locals did before that; maybe there was a narrow path. But places along the way were very rutted and it was amazing we didn’t get stuck in some very deep muck. Our driver did an excellent job. He would stop when I wanted to take photos or when I had to pee down behind some palm oil trees. The driver was a friend of Izzy’s, our guide from the Orangutan adventure. Randal and I paid for the transportation and the fees to visit the Dayak village, but not for Izzy’s time as he had planned to go to the village looking at wood sculpture made there. (Unfortunately for us all, the sculpture was in the home of a villager who was away so we could not see it.)
Izzy had intended to get our traveling gasoline on our way through Pangkalan Bun. But the lines at the pump were so long it would have taken at least an hour to get fuel. Instead we drove into the next small town and bought gas from a roadside stand.
This was a smooth part of the road. But it went on for miles and miles and all looked the same to me. We bounced most of the way and it was tiring trying to keep yourself in place on the car seat. We would come to a fork in the “path” and our driver knew exactly where to go. His name sounded like Ogong to me. He didn’t speak English, but he always seemed to know what to do and what was happening. You’ll see photos of him taking part in the Dayak ceremony. We saw lots of people traveling these dirt roads on motorcycles, either their own or a motorcycle taxi. Occasionally, there were small groupings of buildings or wood houses so people lived or worked out in this area.
Gasoline is sold by the liter bottle. These little stands buy up the fuel and then resell it at a higher price. Randal and I didn’t pay the additional cost, but someone’s profit from our car rental went down. When you don’t buy fuel at the “pump” you can never be sure of the quality of the fuel. In this case it wasn’t our problem since it wasn’t our car. But we actually bought diesel fuel in Makassar that was delivered to the boat in huge plastic containers so it took lots of trips. Arif, our “Makassar friend” had organized and made a bit of profit from it. We also bought dinghy gasoline in Lovina Beach the same way. So far so good.
You can see what I meant by the road went on forever and the miles of palm oil plantations where there used to be rain forest. Those neat rows are palm oil trees. Palm oil trees have large clusters of kernels that made me think of corn kernels, but bigger, maybe the size of two peach pits and red brown in color. Palm oil should be an ok idea except that companies are chopping down rain forest to plant them.
This was a huge logging area that we passed. I wanted to get out and take photos, but Izzy, Ogong, and Randal thought it wouldn’t be appreciated so we just slowed and aimed out the car window. This also had been rain forest.
Finally after 4 hours of bumpy road and 30 minutes of noisy speedboat we arrived at the small Dayak Village.
The Dayak longhouse where we spent our evening.
Built in 1889, the grandfather of the current owner bought the house and now his son’s family lives there. Like many homes in the area it is built on stilts to prevent damage from the river flooding. It keeps crawling things away too and there is storage underneath. That’s where stuff goes when it leaves the squat toilet; a hole in the sandy ground beneath the house. We certainly didn’t smell anything. I’m probably telling you more about toilets around the world than you want to know. But they are essential, and something we have to deal with in each country we visit, each city, each village and each overnight lodging. It gets to be pretty important.
The name of the village is Bakunsu and it is one of the oldest Dayak villages in the area within driving distance from Kumai. Apparently when the whites got to the area they asked about the local people and were told, “they were the people who live up the river”; because, they were the people who lived up the river. So they were called Dayak which translates to people who live up the river. Or so the story goes….The interior of the longhouse was basically empty, clean and dark. This longhouse was the largest house in the village and is owned by a man named Dinson, one of the village school teachers and slight wheeler dealer. His home was always the one to host the visitors and collect the fees, a percentage of which were shared with the village. Because of this Dinson had installed an indoor toilet so guests wouldn’t have to go outside and use the traditional “Johnny house” that we saw all along the river. There was no shower or tub or sink. So for that one night I used an extra handkerchief as a wash cloth and used water bottle water for face and teeth. So in the space of a week we had gone from our lovely, mostly reliable DoraMac bathroom and shower to our Klotok with its open air combined toilet/shower to just a squat toilet and our water bottles. I didn’t mind but Randal just couldn’t get into the spirit of it all. I know I keep referring back to Agnes Keith’s Land Below the Wind, but for me it was a way to experience a bit of what I had read. Agnes went down the river to bathe and pee with armed guards to keep away crocodiles. She and her husband and then husband and son camped or stayed nights in a longhouse, all under much more primitive conditions though they also had guides and drivers who did all of the work and cooking. So our travels were giving me a way to see a bit of her life. Coincidentally in my Adventure Divas book, Holly Morris is also in Borneo, visits an orangutan rehab center and then spends a night in a longhouse taking part in the welcoming ceremony. So I was quite forewarned. Randal hadn’t a clue. But during the welcoming ceremony he did get into the spirit of the thing….the rice wine may have helped. You’ll see later.
The back of the longhouse looking toward the front door. There were some hanging bulbs that were lighted later in the evening powered by Dinson’s generator. That is Dinson in the photo. At night Izzy and Dinson’s wife would prepare our mattresses like we had on the klotok and cover it with a mosquito net tent. It was pretty comfortable and mosquitoes didn’t really seem a problem indoors. Maybe all of the cigarette smoke from the welcome celebration participants chased them away. Shoes are not worn in the house so the floors stay clean but were worn smooth.
“Stairs” down from the porch. “Stairs” from the porch into the longhouse.
I had no problem going up, but coming down to the porch from the house, I had no rail to hold on to so had to just sit on the house floor and sort of lower myself down to the porch.
Looking off the porch to the “front yard.” Those small building shelter graves. I saw them and they were similar to the dead bodies in Tana Toraja. It looks as if they are mummified and just placed into decorated wooden caskets or just wrappings. They are kept above ground. The blue and yellow
monument is the burial site of the last village head hunter. I’m not sure if he is in it, underneath it, which would be odd to me since all of the other bodies were above ground, or it’s just a monument. He died in the late 1950s I believe. Heads of dead enemy had lots of power so if you could capture one and bury it near your home you would have that energy and power. When parents wanted to scare their kids into staying close to home, they would threaten them with capture by the head hunter. Izzy’s parents warned him since child heads were prized the most. Both Izzy and Dinson both gave us that bit of information. In the Dayak village, if head hunters were in the vicinity, children would hide in the house and the adults would stand guard poking the blow gun through a small window of the longhouse. No head hunter could get up the “stairs” past the watchers with the blow gun. If he did evade the poison darts, the spear attached to the end of the blowgun would get him. The Dutch and British made head hunting a crime and it is pretty much unheard of now. And, no, we didn’t see any hanging around the village. Of course, we didn’t ask to see one either.
Our host, Dinson, with his blow gun. We weren’t allowed to see the darts or the poison they are dipped into. It would have destroyed their magic. The blowgun is used for hunting now.
The spear at the end of the long blowgun.
Dinson, Ogong and Izzy holding the blowgun. You can see how long it was and pretty heavy to hold steady and aim and blow. And taking a huge leap from the ancient to the modern, you can see a satellite dish in the background. Randal said he saw wires from it just hanging unattached to the house. Since they aren’t cheap and Dinson has to generate his own electricity, Randal wondered if the dishes were subsidized at one time or why there were so many dishes in a village that was lacking in so many basic services, like any kind of indoor plumbing. Rainwater was collected for the water used by the family and people bathed down at the river.