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Long house, in the middle of the jungle

Kapit, Malaysia

Here in Borneo, in 2009, there is a group of people who are preserving age-old traditions. At the same time, they want to stay in touch with a world that is changing rapidly around them. There is a need for balance, because if they and there way of life are to survive, they must adapt and thrive without being forced into the fold of mainstream society. The forests and rivers are shrinking as fast as the cities are growing toward them. More and more of these people depend on money to buy many of there goods from town. More and more the children are growing up and moving away to the cities to find work. In spite of all of this, in small pockets all over Borneo, The Iban tribal way of life is still surviving and the Iban mentality is, in some ways, intact.

One way that many Ibans have found to earn money, is to open there homes to visitors, who want a glimpse into there world. We were lucky, not only to be invited into there world, but also to have been the first group of tourists to visit this particular family. We were fortunate enough to have been able to visit this family before they could form any opinions about what tourists want, which too often compromises there traditions. We followed this family around for three days. In these three days, they carried out there Normal daily routines.

To understand the Iban culture is to understand there home, the longhouse. The typical Iban longhouse is home to many families. They are usually one long building, divided into separate dwelling areas for each family. The longhouse is the center of their universe and the very thing that unites them all. It is the home to Iban tribes all over Borneo. This particular longhouse is home to 44 families. Everyone knows everyone and shares with everyone. The longhouse never sleeps, as the men are always coming and going to check their nets, traps, and crops. The women are perpetually cooking, as they eat more than anyone I've ever seen. Some of that could however be attributed to there legendary hospitality. No guest will ever go hungry in this longhouse. The There is a chief, who was elected 12 years ago by the families, to act as a mediator, decision maker, and an ambassador. There are also several young children, who are not old enough to work, running around and playing at all times.

Our trip started at a foggy boat pier late at night where we were greeted by two young men from the longhouse. They took us for a ride up the river in a small boat to the first longhouse, where we met our host family.

First, there was the father, who was quiet, but warm in the way he was quick to give a reassuring smile when we didn't understand what was going on. Then there were the children. There were three little ones, two boys and one girl. They were really close in age ranging from six to ten. They were also really cute. They wanted to play with us, and were really excited when we taught them how to operate our cameras. They were running around snapping off photos from floor to ceiling. They were especially excited to see there own photos on the viewing screen.

Last, but certainly not least was the mother and matriarch of the family. She was a boisterous lady who loved to entertain. She liked to dance to strange electronic karaoke music at really high volumes. She was really sweet and tried so hard to make sure we were fitting in. She especially loved Katie and liked to dress her in various Iban outfits to dance in, on of which was the most elaborate full body dress, made by hand out of the tiniest little beads. It would have taken an expert, which she clearly was, months to construct such an intricately designed garment. She even gave Katie the most beautiful necklace made by hand. She was so concerned with our happiness that she fed us seven times in one day. It's also rude to turn down food, which made it complicated. We ate ourselves miserable trying to maintain all of our manners as a show of appreciation to our host family. It was all in kindness though and we didn't have the heart to stop as she brought out dish after dish as her smile became wider and wider.

Between meals, we had the most fun. We checked the fishing nets, swam in the river, sat around drinking Tuac, the locally brewed wine made from rice, played with the children, taught a little English, learned a little Iban, and tried to learn as much as we could about our host family. We even had a meeting with the chief, who also fed us. He asked us about ourselves and answered all of our questions. Finally he told us that we were welcome back to the longhouse anytime we found ourselves in the area.

We left with an experience that was genuinely one of a kind. We made memories that will never go away, with a group of good people trying to maintain a more simple way of life.

permalink written by  katieandmichael on July 19, 2009 from Kapit, Malaysia
from the travel blog: Katie and Michael's Travel Blog
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