Iban Longhouse Of Sarawak

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Iban longhouse, Sarawak

Iban longhouse, Sarawak

Another exciting holiday post that I can’t wait to share with everyone. During my recent visit back, I was so thrilled when my husband’s best friend took us to visit an Iban longhouse. It is one of the greatest attractions of Sarawak. Sarawak is also called East Malaysia and situates on the island of Borneo. I have never visited a longhouse before despite being born and bred in Sarawak. I only read and heard a lot about it. I have always wanted to visit it and in this trip my dream came true. It was an awesome, humbling experience.

100+ old house of my grandparents

100+ old house of my grandparents

My visit reminds me of my childhood days where we lived in a wooden house on stilts too and we cooked with firewood on a homemade cooking stove quite similar to the one shown below. This house here was where my grandparents stayed last time when I was young. I used to stay with them during school holidays. It’s more than 100 years old now. It was sold long time ago and there are still people staying there. The one that my parents had was very similar. As we grew up and left home, my parents sold off the house and moved to town to stay with my brother.

Life then was simple and we didn’t have much but we were very contented with what we had. The air was very fresh and food were simple and homegrown. We reared our own animals for food and we used kerosene lamps. I still cherish all those days, where we had a lot of time for each other and my dad played a lot with us. We were very close with our neighbours. I must say we had very healthy food and lifestyle. The only canned food that I can remember are tomato sardines and luncheon meat.

Entrance of longhouse

Entrance of longhouse

To visit a longhouse, it didn’t take us long to reach one. This one that we visited is an Iban longhouse. It’s a more modern one where water and electric facilities are available. The lady at the window there was the one who walked with us and talked to us. She was very friendly and very happy to see us.

Long stairway up

Long staircase up

This is just a short portion of the staircase that we had to climb to the main area of the longhouse.

Long and wide verandah

Long and wide verandah

When we reached, we were greeted by a middle aged man who led us up the long staircase to the main communal area which is a big verandah, the biggest that I have ever seen, where all the many longhouse activities take place, like festivals and other celebrations. On my right were many doors with numbers which indicated the families who stayed behind them.

At the top of the stairs, we were met by a very friendly middle aged lady. She was very happy that I was able to speak the Malay language as she could understand quite well. She told me that a few of her children had all grown up and left home to work in town and she is already a granny. Her married daughter would return to visit her sometimes. We walked right to the end of the long verandah, passing by 25 doors, ie 25 family homes all next to each other.

A beautiful family house behind the door

A beautiful family house behind the door

Walking on our way back, suddenly she stopped and pointed to a door with number 19 and told us that that was her home. She opened the door and to our shock, it was very spacious and really beautiful and modern inside. There was even an exercise machine at the corner. It was a complete house behind that humble door. I was totally mesmerised. There was a big family room which led to more rooms and kitchen but out of courtesy we did not step beyond the door. I was just very thankful that she let me take some photos.

A single Iban house

A single Iban house

At the end of the long verandah was another stairs going down. As we looked out there was another longhouse nearby (first photo above). But there was also another single detached house nearby. I understand that there are some Ibans who prefer to have a house of their own.

A wooden chair without cushion

A wooden chair without cushion

There were some sofa chairs, some benches and a few individual chairs along the verandah where family members can sit. This one in the picture here is rather unique I thought. There was no cushion on it. Then I realise that it’s perfect for the blazing Malaysian weather….good ventilation all around!  It was day time and most longhouse folks were out at work. There was only one man sitting there and we were told that he was the headman of the longhouse. He smiled to us as we walked past.

A smaller adjacent verandah

A smaller adjacent verandah

Just next to the huge verandah, there’s another long but narrower verandah which is used for drying clothes, drying grains etc.

Cooking place

Cooking place

There were also a storage places for firewood and a cooking area or cooking stove. It looks quite like the one that my family had when we were young. I remember all our pots were black! But I must say that rice and other dishes cooked over burning firewood taste the best. If I have a chance I want to build one! I’ll have so much fun cooking……the real country way.

Weaving rattan mats

Weaving rattan mats

The Ibans are very good in weaving. They weave different types of mats, both using rattan and their special textile made from homegrown cotton. I have every admiration for the weaved textile. They come with very beautiful delicate designs. I love all the weaved rattan mats too. They are very cooling to lie on, which is most welcoming in the hot Malaysian weather. I remember sleeping on these mats when we were young, just these mats on wooden planks. There were no soft mattresses for us to sleep. It was very comfortable and we never complained of any discomfort or backache. I can’t even remember having  a pillow! I only had a small pillow when I was quite big.

Human skulls hanging from the ceiling

Human skulls hanging from the ceiling

As we walked along, suddenly I noticed a bunch of black thing over our heads. Immediately I recognised that as human skulls. They were black in colour and tied together by rafters. At first sight, it sent shivers down my spine but I have read a lot about headhunting in the olden days and their changed lives right now to know that the Ibans are one of the friendliest people on earth. Headhunting is not practiced any more. Most of them are Christians these days while some are Muslims. You can read more about this headhunting practice written very well by James Ritchie at  JAMES RITCHIE ON HOW HEADHUNTING ORIGINATED IN SARAWAK, BORNEO and more at JAMES RITCHIE ON THE RELIGIOUS BASIS FOR HEADHUNTING IN SARAWAK, BORNEO

Beneath the longhouse

Beneath the longhouse

The visit soon came to an end. My husband gave some money to the man who first greeted us at the door as a token of appreciation for allowing us to visit the longhouse and also taking some photos. As we went down the stairs, I was curious to see what was around. Beneath the long house were just a huge open area. A man was attending to his motorbike.

A simple garage

A simple garage

Nearby there was a little shack. It looks like a garage to me.

The visit was a total memorable one. To this day, I still cherish the amazing friendliness of the longhouse Iban folks. On top of that, I’m fully amazed at the way the Iban community stays so close to each other, all under the same roof and meeting each other everyday. That’s unity! I think it puts urban people to shame for putting up high fences around their houses and not even knowing their neighbours. Have we been too progressive and too driven in our own desires? I have been wondering.

A blowpipe

A blowpipe

To remind me of this wonderful visit, a friend brought us to a native craft shop where we bought a miniature blowpipe. It’s about 3 feet long. I didn’t even know such a lovely shop existed! The blowpipe comes fully equipped with the darts. The darts come in a nice casing. The real blowpipe is actually very long with a spear at the end as shown here. The Ibans shoot and kill by putting these darts, poisoned at the tip with the sap of a certain tree, and blowing from the other end at their targeted animals. It can kill in 3 minutes.

I hope you enjoy this post. If you ever visit Malaysia, make a trip to Sarawak and enjoy all the many unique cultures and visits. There are organised tours. Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy all the wonderful local fruits which I shared in my previous post, Best Local Fruits Of Malaysia. Don’t just stay in the city, go to the beaches or go for restaurant food. Take some time to enjoy the rich heritage and aesthetic beauty of nature and the local, indigenous people. If you have a chance to visit them when there are festivals going on, that would be best. The Ibans are great dancers. I love to watch their ngajat dances which are warrior like, enjoy their music and also adore their beautiful costumes. That will make your trip very meaningful and memorable.

If you like to know more and see more pictures of the Iban folks, you can check out more at the following links.

Quote of the day……

“If you want happiness for an hour ? take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day ? go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year ? inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime ? help someone else.”
Chinese Proverb

Keep Learning Keep Smiling

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Jeannie  on July 9th, 2010

Very interesting…if I have the chance, I would love to visit too!

anncoo  on July 9th, 2010

My good friend from Sarawak, Miri have told me about this Long House before and now I can read more from you. Nice pictures :)

the lacquer spoon  on July 9th, 2010

Amazing structure of the house, looks so spacious and comfortable inside! I was majored in SE Asian Studies at university long ago and still remember learning the Iban culture: textiles and skulls. Thanks for this great travelog :)

The Little Teochew  on July 9th, 2010

I sure enjoyed this post, Mary. It is an eye opener. I would never have imagined such a modern, well-furnished home existed behind the door. Thank you for this little tour. :)


PS: BTW, I thought of you when I made the sweet potato vegetarian ngoh hiang! Honest! Hahaha … I was thinking to myself, Mary would love this one! ;)

Belinda @zomppa  on July 9th, 2010

This is so fascinating! Thank you for sharing such a neat part of Malaysia. The homes are beautiful (the heads, not so much), and it’s so interesting to see collectivist societies still flourish in such a manner.

Von  on July 9th, 2010

The skulls are scary…….
I love how your childhood sounds so different to the childhood now-it makes me wonder what the world will be like in a couple of years time….
Sounds like you had a lovely trip!

Mary  on July 9th, 2010

@Jeannie - I’m sure you would like it. I hope to visit more and learn more :D

@anncoo - Thanks very much, Ann! :D There’s lots I would like to know if I have the opportunity…may be next trip.

@the lacquer spoon - Thanks very much! :D Wow….bet you know more than me! It’s amazing that you took SE Asian Studies. Must be very interesting.

@The Little Teochew - Thanks very much, Ju :D Wow…you thought of me when you made the sweet potato ngoh hiang…so sweet of you! The pictures are still very clear in my mind. Think I will dream of it tonight…haha

@Belinda @zomppa - Thanks very much, Belinda! :D It’s a real eye opener to me too.

@Von - Totally agree with you but it was overshadowed by the amazing friendliness of the longhouse folks. I just thought that as society progress, people are going to be more isolated. Real neighbourliness will decline….sadly. It was all a wonderful trip…learned a lot :D

pigpigscorner  on July 9th, 2010

Skulls O.O I’ve never been to east Malaysia, would love to visit one day.

Cheah  on July 9th, 2010

That’s a very interesting post, Mary. Would love to visit a long house too should I ever go to Sarawak! Thanks for sharing!

lequan@luvtoeat  on July 9th, 2010

Wow, I have never even heard of a long house, very interesting. I love learning new things while blogging. I bet if you got one of those outdoor stoves we would see many more magical and delicious dishes from you. Let’s just say we all would benefit ;-). Thank you for being my eyes through Sarawak and teaching me about these long houses Mary. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

Stella  on July 9th, 2010

Hey Mary! I read this entire post. I can’t even imagine that kind of life. It must be wonderful in a way to be so close to one’s community. I would imagine there is some bickering due to the closeness though (smile)!
Oh, and that’s so strange to have skulls hanging from the ceiling. I know it’s part of their history, but I would be afraid of ghosts. Yikes!

Sook  on July 9th, 2010

Love all those little houses and interior. I would love to go visit sometime.

Uncle Lee  on July 9th, 2010

Hi Mary, noticed your callsign at Rosebelle’s and busybody over.
Enjoyed reading your this eloquent posting. I too love Sarawak and of its interesting peoples.
Just by coincidence, I too just posted something almost similar….
You have fun and keep a song in your heart, Lee.

nisha  on July 9th, 2010

Great Post , i would love to visit sometime

Roti n Rice  on July 9th, 2010

That must have been an exciting visit for you. They do live well behind those doors. I must admit that I would be freaked by the lamp with the skulls! I thought they were coconuts. Thanks for sharing this intersting visit with us.

Devaki  on July 9th, 2010

Oh my - what a great post Mary. I love the pic with the wooden shutter opening into the verandah.

I will always love my time in Asia and Malaysia continues to be one of my fave places on earth! Thanks for sharing a peep into your roots :)

Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

3hungrytummies  on July 9th, 2010

It is a shame I didn’t visit a long house during my 3 years in Kuching. How wonderful the 100 yo house is still standing, must have brought back so much memories.

TasteHongKong  on July 9th, 2010

This is impressive, Mary.
I was kind of a curious tourist with you escorting me and introducing all the interesting details of the Sarawak Longhouse. I enjoyed, thank you : ).

Shawnee  on July 9th, 2010

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and a piece of your culture with us. I really enjoyed reading this post. :)

Uncle Lee  on July 10th, 2010

Hi Mary, thanks for the visit. I do have an archive, check out my profile somewhere on sidebar….its all there….
As read your mention, I thought it had disappeared….nope, its there, ha ha.
Have a nice day, Lee.

Mary  on July 10th, 2010

@pigpigscorner - There are quite a lot of places of cultural and historical places of interest that you can visit, like the Niah Caves, Mulu Caves, Mt Kinabalu to climb, Manukan Island for its underwater venture etc. Hope you can visit it one day :D

@Cheah - Hope you visit it one day. Cover as much of Sarawak as you can if you go there :D

@lequan@luvtoeat - If I have that outdoor stove, I think I will be outdoor most of the time having fun cooking and seeing all my pots and pans turn black on the outside…LOL :D My blog would then be all about real country cooking :D

@Stella - I bet there’s some bickering too but that’s where the headman comes in. Everyone respects the headman. However, the Ibans live very simple life and are very friendly so I guess if there is, it’s very minor. They are very trusting too. Ghosts?? Think if we don’t talk to it or against it when we are there, then it would be fine. They won’t disturb us :P

@Sook - Hope one day you get to visit Sarawak and enjoy all the food and places of interest there :D

@Uncle Lee - Thanks very much for visiting and lovely comment, Uncle Lee! :D I’ve checked your blog….very interesting posts. I had fun reading a couple of them. Have learned more about Sarawak from you.

@nisha - Hope you do :D You will have fun I’m sure.

@Roti n Rice - It was really an awesome visit :D If I have chance, I would love to visit it when they have festivals going on like their New Year. Then you get to see lots of exciting activities going on. Coconuts?? Oh no…..but they are really black. they preserved them by smoking them.

@Devaki - Thanks very much, Devaki! :D It’s wonderful to know that you have been to Asia and Malaysia and enjoyed it.

@3hungrytummies - Hope one day, you will visit it Sarawak again and pay a visit to the longhouse. You will never forget the experience. I really enjoyed the visit :D

@TasteHongKong - Thanks very much! :D Maybe one day when you visit Malaysia again, pay a visit to Sarawak and enjoy all the fruits and places of interest like the longhouse. It’s very different from West Malaysia.

@Shawnee - Thanks very much, Shawnee! :D Hope you get to visit Sarawak one day.

@Uncle Lee - Oh…thanks very much. I must have missed out somehow. Must have been too distracted by all the beautiful girls on your side bar…LOL :D Will visit your blog again soon.

Blackswan  on July 10th, 2010

The longhouse looks spacious & neat. I’d visited one when I was in Indonesia yrs ago & I really enjoyed the serene surroundings.

Independence Day always brings back memories from childhood | Tea  on July 10th, 2010

[...] Keep Learning Keep Smiling » Iban Longhouse Of Sarawak [...]

fimère  on July 10th, 2010

c’est très intéressant à visiter
merci pour ce beau partage
bonne journée

Mary  on July 10th, 2010

Mary, this was a fascinating post. Thanks so much for sharing your photos and knowledge of the area with us. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

Carla  on July 10th, 2010

Wow, the most delightful and informative post I think I have ever seen. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience withus. Almost like being there with you.

elra  on July 10th, 2010

Thanks for sharing Mary, wow!

pierre  on July 10th, 2010

mary you must have the most wonderful time and thanks for sharing with us !! Pierre

Drick  on July 10th, 2010

thanks for taking us along on your trip back home… I found it to be so interesting and yes, it is amazing how everyong gets along under one roof, that’s the way life should be… and also what charm and graciousness they showed to you and the respect you to them… that’s just what we call good mannered folks….

Magic of Spice  on July 11th, 2010

Mary, what an inquisitive and beautiful cultural journey you have taken us on:) Fantastic post, I loved every word (a little scared by the sculls though:) I am an Anthropology major and I love this especially with the food of cultures explored. Excellent, excellent!

claudia lamascolo  on July 11th, 2010

what great fun thanks for sharing!

Mary  on July 11th, 2010

@Blackswan - Yes, I was actually really amazed at how neat and clean it actually was on the inside. Really impressive :D

@fimère - Thanks very much, Fimère! :D

@Mary - Thanks very much, Mary! :D It’s my joy to share.

@Carla - Thanks very much, Carla! I can be your tour guide next time :D

@elra - Thanks very much, Elra! :D

@pierre - I did…really did! :D It was an awesome visit!

@Drick - Yes, these folks are really amazing. I love their warmth and friendliness :D I think society changes when it becomes more city-like. People are just too busy for others. I would love to live in the country again.

@Magic of Spice - Thanks very much! :D You took a very exciting and interesting course! I don’t take anthropology but I’m always very fascinated by other cultures. Maybe I should be an anthropologist like you and not a Math teacher…haha

@claudia lamascolo - Thanks very much, Claudia! :D I actually had fun writing it. It brings back sweet memories of my visit to the longhouse.

Sidney  on July 11th, 2010

last year, i went to sarawak for my business trip for a bout 10 days. I manage to meet a guy name Anuar which opens a restaurant opposite Hilton Hotel, Kuching. He became our local tour guide bring us around to semenggoh and bau…we manage to see the long house which still got the native staying there…it is unique. besides, I did went to the Sarawak Cultural Village but the environment is really different..

claire  on July 11th, 2010

hi Mary..thanks for coming by.. i m going o t add u to my blogroll .. u have so much interesting posts here i need to catch up with.. but give me time, cos of my “injury”…

Angie's Recipes  on July 11th, 2010

The house is very BIG!
Are they really human skulls?

tasteofbeirut  on July 11th, 2010

Thanks to you I now know a tiny bit about Borneo and this fascinating culture; I have always been intrigued by Borneo, ever since I read books on Mata-Hari as a little girl; the longhouses, the community of people I can relate to; the hanging of human skulls is very strange but yet I remember the mongols who invaded our land and used to display skulls. Been done all over I guess.

wenn  on July 11th, 2010

useful information. thx!

Allison  on July 11th, 2010

Beautiful story. Amazing opportunity to connect with your personal history and I’m sure something you will remember forever. I followed your comment to your lovely blog and I’m glad to have discovered!

peanutts  on July 11th, 2010

Hi!, Looks like you had a nice holiday.Am hoping to cover most of malaysia this time round . Maybe should head east for the next trip. by the way who are ibans? like orang aslis?

Sushma Mallya  on July 11th, 2010

Beautiful pics mary

Reeni  on July 11th, 2010

What an interesting post, Mary! I’m glad you were able to see this as it seems to mean a lot to you. Looks are deceiving - from the outside it doesn’t look like much - but the woman’s house was beautiful. And I like that they are all so close together in their own little community.

Mary  on July 11th, 2010

@Sidney - Lovely to know that you did visit a bit of Sarawak. That guy, Anuar, was really kind to be your tour guide. Maybe next time you can join a tour to visit those longhouses in the more interior. That would be so exciting. I would love to. A friend has just offered to take me around next time cos she’s an Iban. That’s so sweet of her! :D

@claire - You are most welcome, Claire! Thanks very much for your lovely comment and for adding me to your blogroll! :D I hope you are feeling better. Please take care.

@Angie’s Recipes - It’s indeed very BIG! I stared with unbelief when I reached the top of the stairs and looked ahead at the huge verandah. I can play badminton and football there!! :P Oh, those skulls are real ones! They did frightened me for a while!

@tasteofbeirut - Wow…headhunting happened in your land before, too! So glad it’s over in our place and also your place. Maybe one day you can visit Borneo and see with your own eyes the many interesting cultures, beautiful places of interest and also to enjoy all the wonderful local fruits :D

@wenn - Thanks very much for visiting and lovely comment, Wenn! :D

@Allison - Thanks very much for visiting and lovely comment, Allison! :D Happy to know you enjoyed my post.

@peanutts - Indeed I had a lovely holiday back home. Can’t wait for the next one :P Yes, would be god to head east to visit Sarawak and Sabah….different places of interest, different food and different cultures. The Ibans are one of the native tribes of Sarawak. They are a very wonderful group of people.

@Sushma Mallya - Thanks very much, Sushma! :D

@Reeni - Thanks very much, Reeni! I really enjoyed the visit and also writing this post :D The saying, ‘Don’t judge the book by its cover’ suits perfectly here. I’m very impressed by their closeness…just amazing!

Faith  on July 11th, 2010

What a great post, Mary! It’s so full of history and culture…thanks for sharing!

wendy  on July 11th, 2010

I only know a little bit about long house from my school long time ago, never got the chance to know so much details…thanks for sharing!

Sidney  on July 11th, 2010

wow…i am also interested…if you don’t mind, i would like to join in as well provided i’m not busy with work…

skip to malou  on July 12th, 2010

great travelogue mary. you could be in travel channel hahaha! but kidding aside, this post is very interesting, as it introduces us to a different culture.. and what makes it more interesting is your personal touch on it. way to go mary! you’re awesome!

Mary  on July 12th, 2010

@Faith - Thanks very much, Faith! :D

@wendy - Hope you get to visit a real longhouse one day. It’s an awesome experience :D

@Sidney - That’s exciting! Will let you know if we ever go :D

@skip to malou - Thanks very much, Malou! :D Haha…maybe it’s the start of another wonderful journey and dream! :D

sweetlife  on July 12th, 2010

great post, how nice of the fmaily to let you visit their home, I love the big room where all the activitesd take place, and yes a nice modern home, the skulls were different but it does go with the history, thanks fro taking such great shots and letting us in on your trip…oh I also love the proverb on the bottom

Mary  on July 29th, 2010

@sweetlife - Indeed it was very kind of the lady to let us have a peep of her home and let us take some shots. Thanks very much for your lovely comment :D

amoi  on August 10th, 2010

Hello Mary
I found your blog while surfing articles for my WebQuest assignment.I am an Iban myself but now living in Australia. Indeed, longhouse life is very different from that in the city. Most longhouses are fully equipped with whatever gadgets we have in the city. I cringed when some Malaysians in this 21st century still think we live on trees and that we are barbaric. Thanks for such a lovely article on us.

Mary  on August 11th, 2010

@amoi - Thanks very much for visiting and lovely comment! It’s very sad that there are still lots of very ignorant people around. I actually feel very sorry for them. But we know best and that’s important :D

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