Thursday, February 03, 2011

Longhouses






Looking down from our hotel window, I see the river cruise ferry boat meandering its way upriver to the sounds of the call to prayer, the chanting from the nearby mosque. The sights and sounds of a city unlike any other. The day starts out clear but it quickly begins to pour. We are beginning to realize that this is a common occurrence and don't leave the hotel without umbrella in hand. The hotel breakfast buffet is quite a spread of fresh fruit, Asian dishes, pastries, eggs and breads and is quite filling. Upon the recommendation of the bellboy, who apparently is working in conjunction with a local tour guide to fill his minibus with visitors, I reserve seats on the minibus going out to the Sarawak Cultural Village, a 45 min. drive away. 12 hotel guests cram into a rickety old minibus - no one seems to be worried about the lack of seatbelts, or the little girl sitting in between the driver and her dad in the front seat, or the young man on the fold down bench along the side. The ride takes us out of the city past orchards and farms, more and more palm groves.

The Cultural Village is set around a small lake, a combination of houses that describe the indigenous tribal ways of life in Sarawak. We spend the day walking among the various longhouses where the different tribes of Sarawek had their origins. Each house is very different and the cultural show, consisting of dances from different tribes is quite interesting; the costumes are beautiful.Most were river tribes who subsided on fishing and the houses were built of wood, reeds or grasses, and sit on high stilts. The most fascinating tool they used was the blowpipe, a long ironwood tube around 8 feet long that they blew spears out of. Each of the houses has artifacts on display and native people demonstrating cooking, weaving etc. Ray is particularly interested in the Oran ulu, an upriver tribe in Sarawak, Gabriel’s ancestry. More specifically, their family is of the Kelabit group, a population of originally 3,000, but currently only 1,000 that live in the remote plateau of Bario. The local people are rice farmers but many from their tribe have moved to Kuching to find work. Their long house is built high above stilts with posts that are intricately carved and painted. In order to become a "man" and be eligible for marriage, a boy must come home with a "head"! As I walk out the back of the long house, two monkeys dash into the forest and up the trees.

This is monsoon season and the rains come unexpectedly throughout the day shifting from clouds to pouring rain within minutes. After returning back to the hotel, we go out in search of dinner and find ourselves at the Coca Restaurant in the Riverside Majestic Hotel. We have a delicious Chinese meal while watching others having a hot pot buffet dinner. The food in Malaysia is a combination of Chinese and Malay, with some traditional Chinese dishes but others that appear to be a hybrid with curries and spices.

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