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Borneo Day 8: Friday, July 28, 2017

Group with guides by longhouse

Our group posing before a traditional Dayak longhouse near Loksado. You can see that I am still wet from the bamboo raft trip. The sign says: “Malaris customary hall.” From left to right: Nazar, his wife, Craig Hendrick, myself, Amat, and Budi.

After our bamboo raft was tied up to the shore we clambered up the riverbank to a small town on the Amandit River near Loksado in Hulu Sungai Selatan Regency in South Kalimantan, Borneo. The trip down the river had been unforgettable. Now we had one more adventure yet to come on our trip to the Meratus Mountains.

Kids in doorway

Kids in a doorway at the village where we exited the river. After a short and steep drive up a trail, we returned to the main road and headed back to Loksado.

Amat and Budi were waiting for us, and we climbed into the small minivan and drove up a very primitive road, the minivan’s motor complaining, until we reached the main road. We drove over the rickety wooden bridge again – it must be stronger than it looks – and continued back to Loksado. On the sides of the road, I noticed piles of strange spikey globes which Nazar said were snake fruit. They grow wild in the rain forest here and are collected and sold to markets by the local people. I tried one when I got back to Jakarta and it was not particularly tasty and left a bitter aftertaste. Its skin peels off and looks just like a snake’s skin, hence the name.

Snake fruit pile

A large pile of snake fruit. It grows in large globular clumps in the rainforest and is harvested by locals. The skin peels off and is very similar in appearance to snake skin, hence the name.

Now it was Amat’s turn to be our guide. In Loksado we drove a short distance further down the river to where a metal bridge crosses, just wide enough for one motorcycle but not our van. We crossed the bridge on foot, and it resonated with our footsteps and bounced up and down like a miniature Galloping Gertie. On the other side, we walked up a cement pathway into a Dayak village.

Crossing Galloping Gertie

Budi, Craig, and Amat crossing the metal bridge over the Amandit River near Loksado. It resonated up and down much like the infamous Galloping Gertie.

We first stopped at the traditional longhouse. Although the people here now live in individual houses, they keep the longhouse in good condition and use it for family gatherings and ceremonies. It is a very large structure, built primarily out of bamboo and raised up on a foundation of stilts. We walked inside, and the floor joists are covered with thin strips of bamboo to make a floor, comfortable and stronger than it appears. Around the inside perimeter are a series of doors leading to small rooms for sleeping quarters of individual families, but during other times everyone joins together in the large central space. A poster on the wall described some of the ceremonies they perform here.

Dayak longhouse

A traditional Dayak longhouse. These can be up to 150 feet long with small apartments along the inside walls and a large enclosed central space.

Since they are animists, they do not follow Muslim halal rules and eat pork. They will slaughter and roast pigs for the ceremonies. I did not follow most of what Amat said, translated through Nazar, but did record video of it that I hopefully can go through later.

Dayak longhouse 2

The other half of the longhouse. They are built up on stilts and made mostly of bamboo, which is plentiful in the rainforest, grows quickly, and is used for most construction.

We continued to walk up the road to the village, passing the houses and people as we went. Peccaries (a type of small pig), chickens, and dogs roamed around. A motorcycle passed laden with bundles of reddish sticks. Then we saw a group of ladies sitting on a porch scraping the bark off of more sticks with knives. Shavings of bark lay around the porch, and the aroma was heavenly. It was cinnamon. Further on, a small fenced off patch had small cinnamon tree seedlings growing in it, protected from the pigs and chickens. The trees themselves are grown away from the village – we didn’t see where – and harvested when they reach a large enough size. To think I’ve used cinnamon to season my bread and desserts which may have been scraped off on this very porch. Such is the nature of this strangely small and interdependent world.

Inside longhouse

Interior construction of the longhouse. Apartments line the outer walls and face toward this large central area. The floor is made from bamboo slats. Hardwood pillars and stilts support the structure.

This seems like an idyllic village, with men playing card games and women plaiting baskets and animals wandering around. Yet the Dayak people have a violent past; they were known as headhunters and ferocious warriors. The Iban, or Sea Dayak, were feared pirates and raiders. There are about 50 sub-groups and separate tribes speaking up to 170 different dialects, some only spoken by a few hundred people today.

Kalimantan_Ethnic_Groups

There are about 50 different tribal groups of Dayak people in Borneo. This diagram shows the major groups living in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The Banjar and Melayu peoples, related more to ethnic Malay groups, live along the coastal rivers. The Dayak inhabit the mountainous interior. The group we visited were of the Lawangan tribe (pink area) in the Meratus Mountains of southeast Borneo.

Although headhunting was outlawed by an inter-tribal peace treaty in 1874, there have been resurgences such as during World War II when Allied soldiers trained Dayak tribesmen in guerilla warfare against the occupying Japanese and encouraged a return to headhunting. Isolated incidents have occurred as recently as the 1990s.

Living in the rainforest, the tribes established sustainable practices without having to cut down trees. They believe in a life force called Semangat that is present in all people, animals, plants, and even in the water, rocks, and mountains. It is especially potent in the heads of executed enemies, and collecting them was essential for many village ceremonies and for a warrior’s status.

Dayak tribesman-1920

Photo of a Dayak warrior in the 1920s. Notice the elongated earlobes.

This belief in Semangat led the Dayak tribes to live in sustainable harmony with the rainforest around them. You could say they invented the Green Revolution, and we can learn a great deal from them. Yet because of economic forces and unscrupulous officials, over 30% of Borneo’s rainforest has been cut down for the hardwood trees and planted to palm oil and rubber. Here is an excellent article on the Dayak peoples: https://www.indoneo.com/en/travel/meet-the-dayaks-ex-headhunters-of-borneo/

Scraping cinnamon

Scraping the bark off of cinnamon trees. This is dried, ground up, and sold throughout the world. The aroma was heavenly!

Pig and dog and chicken

A peccary, a type of small pig, with dog, in a Dayak village near Loksado. Since Dayak peoples are animists or have converted to Christianity, they do not follow Muslim halal practices. The pigs are roasted for many ceremonies.

Beyond the village we came to a very sketchy wooden bridge across the river, which looked like the one out of The Emperor’s New Groove. Some of the slats had large gaps between them. We walked carefully across and continued up a path along the other side of the river. We saw a waterfall ahead, and had to use ropes to scramble over some slippery rocks next to the river to reach the waterfall, where we took photos. It was a very peaceful place.

Rain forest path

Walking through the rainforest toward the waterfall.

There was one thing that marred the beauty. Visitors had left trash behind. Not much, but there shouldn’t have been any. I’ve seen the same thing – piles of garbage left behind – in Hobble Creek Canyon near where I live in Utah. You would think we would all know better than this by now. I know I am trying to write generative stories here, not negative ones, so let me just say if you ever do visit a beautiful place, don’t spoil it by leaving trash. Please pick up after yourself. In fact, pick up more than you bring and gradually we can clean up the messes we’ve left. I picked up as many pieces as I could and carried them out in my pockets.

David by waterfall

David Black posing near the waterfall at the headwaters of the Amandit River in Borneo.

On the way down the path I noticed rubber trees by the pathway blending in with the forest. They were being harvested. To gather the natural latex, a slit is carved near the bottom on one side of the tree, sloping downwards around half of the tree. A leaf is driven stem first into a small hole made in the tree at the end of the slit, and the white latex collects in the slit, flows downward to the leaf, and drips off of the tip of it into a blue cup placed on the ground. It is a slow process, with only a few drips per day as the sap rises through the bark of the rubber tree. The latex is collected and processed. As the tree grows, the slit at the bottom moves up and a new slit is made below the old one. Some of the larger trees had about six to ten inches of slits moving down their trunks.

Mature rubber tree with slits

Mature rubber tree with a series of slits near the bottom. The white latex rubber sap oozes out of the lowest slit as it rises into the tree, then flows down the groove, out onto a leaf, and drips into a small cup for collection. The slits are carved only around half the trunk, or they will kill the tree.

We walked back over the wooden bridge and back down through the village. Two ladies were mending nets and weaving a basket on their porch, which I photographed. A small green building at the bottom of the village was labeled as “Taman Kanak Kanak” or Kindergarten. I saw no other schools around.

Latex drips off leaf

The white latex rubber flows along the groove of the lowest slit, then out onto the leaf, where it drips into the small cup for collection. Only a few drips fall each day.

We crossed back over the metal bridge, climbed into the minivan, and drove back up to Loksado, where we said goodbye to Amat. It was just sunset as we drove away, the end of the day coming early in the tropics. As we drove back over the winding road, I took a few final photos of the sacred Meratus Mountains.

Playing board game

Villagers playing a board game.

On the way back, we stopped again at another small town for late evening prayers, then in Kandangan to have a local popular dish for supper, called ketupat kandangan. It is steamed rice formed into triangular lumps and cooked in sweetened coconut milk, with fish or salty boiled eggs added. It was good, but I wasn’t a fan of the eggs. Then we climbed back into the minivan and headed back to Banjarmasin. My feet were still wet from rafting on the river (as well as my behind and legs) and my right leg was not very happy with being cramped up again. It was a long drive and I could only sleep fitfully, trying to change position to get my leg comfortable but without much success. But the discomfort was worth it for what had been an incredible day.

David in bamboo hut

This bamboo hut was along the trail to the waterfall. Almost everything here is built out of bamboo.

We arrived back at the hotel around 11:30. I crashed in bed as soon as I got to my room, barely taking enough time to get undressed and take my contact lenses out. I was glad for being able to sleep in the next day.

Weaving net and basket

Tending to nets and weaving a basket. The man is making a traditional musical instrument.

What a day this has been! My dreams of what to see and do in Borneo have all been realized. This was a long day, what with eight hours of driving, but it was so very worth it. I am grateful for what Nazar did to set up this trip, to Budi for driving and knowing all the right people and places to go, for Amat for his knowledge of the local people, and to Amli for guiding us down the river. I will never forget this day.

Chickens crossing road

So, why did the chickens cross the road?

Cinnamon tree seedlings

Cinnamon tree seedlings, fenced in to protect them from the roaming peccaries.

Rain forest at sunset

The road back to Loksado from the metal bridge that leads to Malaris.

Sacred mountain sunset

Sacred mountain sunset.

Sacred mountain

Sacred mountain in the Meratus Mountains of Borneo.

Rice and egg in coconut milk

Ketupat Kandangan, a local favorite dish made from lumps of steamed rice cooked in sweetened coconut milk. The boiled eggs were a bit too salty, but otherwise the dish was delicious.

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Borneo Day 2: Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bark hats

Hats made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, I couldn’t find one that fit, or I would have bought one.

Our first full day in Borneo was a Saturday, so we were going sightseeing. Craig and I met for breakfast in the buffet downstairs from the lobby. The food was pretty good, but not as extensive as the Le Meridién. The orange juice (jus jeruk) was delicious, and they had fresh pineapple and the small Indonesian bananas that are sweeter than what we get in America. They have an omelet bar where we could get scrambled eggs, and small waffles with honey. There were also some Indonesian and Italian foods, such as penne pasta, that were good but not exactly what I wanted for breakfast.

Nazar picked us up at 8:15 along with his wife and oldest daughter. We drove out of town on the Jalan A. Yani back toward the airport. The road was busy with early morning traffic – people heading to work or to market. We passed motorcycles laden with ducks and chickens, bundles of noodles, or other items to sell. The morning markets were obvious as there would be hundreds of parked motorcycles and many stalls by the roadway. We traveled on through the roundabout by the airport and continued on past it toward the city of Banjarbaru.

Bark britches

A bark shirt and britches, made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree.

Our first stop was the Lambung Mangkurat Museum, about 36 km from Banjarmasin. This is a museum of Banjarese and South Kalimantan history and culture, built for the Ministry of Education in the 1970s. The central building is shaped like a stylized Banjarese house with a red roof. We first went into a side building that showed Banjarese art, including weaving and the sasirangan that is Kalimantan’s equivalent to batik. It is more like tie-dye and doesn’t use a wax resist process. It also displayed clothing such as loincloths, trousers, shirts, and hats made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, which is pounded until soft and formed into clothing.

Bark clothing

Clothing made from breadfruit bark at the Kalminantan culture museum. This type of clothing is still made for ceremonial purposes by the Dayak people of Kalimantan.

Sasirangan patterns

Here is a description of the different types of patterns produced by sasirangan techniques.

Next door was a display of pottery, including some local wares and jars that dated back quite a long time to the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms of the 8th Century and from the Dutch colonies in the 17th through 19th Centuries. Some of the pieces shown were brought here from China from the Sung and Ming Dynasties. Quite valuable! Who knew I would see them here?

Sasirangan red stripes

Sasirangan is Borneo’s answer to batik and is more like tie dye (actually, I believe tie dye probably started as sasirangan). Here is a nice shirt with a wavy pattern.

The main building housed a variety of historic displays, including bones from the indigenous pygmy elephants that used to live here. A subspecies of Asian elephants still lives in a small area of northern Kalimantan. There were tools from primitive cultures going back to Java man. They had royal costumes and Dutch cannons, gamelon orchestra instruments and recreations of thrones and other artifacts. They had displays about Pengaran Antasari, a hero who led a revolt against the Dutch.

Sung dynasty bowls

Bowls and vases traded to Banjar rulers by Chinese merchants. These pieces are of Sung Dynasty age and origin.

Outside the main building in a shaded area under the stairs was a model of Borobudur. It is a giant Buddhist temple shaped like a mandala near Yogyakarta. I will be visiting there on my five-day extension trip in two weeks.

Kalimantan pottery

Native pottery from Kalimantan.

We got back in the car and continued on.

Piring bowl

A large Ming Dynasty bowl, or piring.

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