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Iban Long Houses in Batang Ai

Iban Long Houses in Batang Ai

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Published by Wiwie Bieby

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Published by: Wiwie Bieby on May 11, 2010
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07/21/2010

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1
MEDIA FEATURE
SAME CONCEPT, DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES -IBAN LONGHOUSES IN BATANG AI
Sarawakian’s rich cultures and customs, unique traditional rituals, dances, foods, and costumes areamong the things that continue to intrigue and fascinate visitors and researchers from around theworld. Their warm hospitality and simple ways of life are also some of the traits that many visitorsfind endearing.I guess, the fascination for this exotic destination also stems from interesting stories aboutthe headhunters of Borneo. Images from National Geographic or Discovery Channel showing smalldark people with tattooed bodies donning fancy headdresses of exotic bird feathers must have alsofuelled the curiosity of our foreign visitors.
Though both carry the concept of an Iban longhouse, the Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort and the Mengkak Longhouse offer very different experiences.
DARYL YEP
findsout.
 
2
TOP:
 View 
 
of 
 
the
 
Mengkak Longhouse from afar
 
BOTTOM:
The four-seater boat that visitors use to reach thelonghouses from the Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort
If nature and multi-ethniccultural experiences are your cup of tea,then Sarawak has plenty of them tofascinate you.For someone who at timesfinds nature overrated and is notparticularly enthusiastic about ethniccultures, I still welcome a trip toexplore Sarawak again with pleasureand excitement. Perhaps, it was due tothe chance to check out Hilton’s only jungle property, the Hilton Batang AiLonghouse Resort.Our main destination this timewas Batang Ai, to visit the Ibancommunity at the Mengkak Longhouselocated at the mouth of SungaiEngkari.The Ibans form the largestpercentage of Sarawak’s population. Indays of yore, they were reputedly themost formidable headhunters on theisland of Borneo. Ibans today arefriendly and hospitable. They arerenowned for their traditional weavingssuch as the Pua Kumbu, woodcarvings,beadworks and silver craftings.Longhouses are built on stiltsabout a metre above the ground. As thename suggests, Borneo longhouses arelong and narrow consisting of severalrooms. Each family occupies a room.One longhouse typically accommodatesbetween 20 and 50 families.There’s a large communal living space, between the balcony and bedrooms, known as the
ruai 
, running down one side, and separate living quarters for each family along the other side. The
ruai 
is the place where the longhouse folks gather for an evening chat or carry out activities likemaking handicrafts and farming apparatus.
A TASTE OF IBAN HOSPITALITY AT THE MENGKAK LONGHOUSE
 Upon reaching the longhouse, we spotted three sarong-clad Iban ladies doing their laundryand bathing in the lake, which is a normal routine for the longhouse folks.Ah, I wished I could jump into the inviting cool lake to join them.No, don’t get me wrong.It was intensely hot that day and I was drenched in sweat, especially after travelling under theblazing sun for close to an hour. To reach the Mengkak Longhouse, we had to endure a 45-minuteride in a four-seater motorised longboat from the Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort.
 
3
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:
1)
 
The house chief, Burau Anak Buba2)
 
Intricate weaving for sale at the Mengkak Longhouse3)
 
 An Iban man performing cultural dance for visitors
Still, I was extremely thankful that it didn’t rain as I wasn’t prepared for that, even though Ihave read stories of visitors getting caught in the rain during the boat journey. Although some guidesprovide ponchos, there’s no harm bringing one in case they don’t. Disposable ones would be justgreat. Cameras and mobile phones should be kept inside a waterproof bag.Though the boat ride makes you two tones darker, the journey to the longhouse is definitelyworthwhile. Travelling in the long wooden boat itself is both terrifying and exciting as the boat is sonarrow that even the slightest movement would make it sway. We were like floating and glidingdown the man-made Batang Ai Lake, with water just inches away.It was awesome.Upon entering the Mengkak Longhouse, we weresurprised that the atmosphere inside was so much coolercompared to outside. It was probably due to the woodenfloor boards, tree-bark wall and rattan mat ceiling that keptthe heat out.It was apparent that the longhouse folks were used tohaving tourists around judging from the many intricatehandicrafts being offered on sale such as ornamental jewelleryand wooden sculptures. Its hard to resist getting one assouvenir. I had my heart set on the unique weaving butsomehow managed to refrain myself from getting it knowingvery well that nothing else would fit into my small suitcaseanymore.

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