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.
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.
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.
This is just a short portion of the staircase that we had to climb to the main area of the longhouse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just next to the huge verandah, there’s another long but narrower verandah which is used for drying clothes, drying grains etc.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”