Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Day One On the River-Kalimantan

I suppose life on the river in any country has many similarities. Houses are built to float or are built on stilts to accommodate the rise and fall of the river’s cyclic levels. Where there are larger villages, various shops are built for boats to stop and shop. Woman bathe their offspring and themselves in the river and laundry their clothes there frequently judging by the amount of items drying on clothes lines.

Our boat (the Rahai’i Pangun which can be roughly translated to mean the Big Enterprise) has five cabins below and of course Judith has chosen the best one and in the front of the boat. With the amount of luggage we have, we are able to pile our stuff on the single bed leaving us room to move about comfortably. The boat’s generator provides electricity for all cabins and the two very small toilets. There are cold water showers in the toilets. At night the generator is turned off for the sake of quietness and toilet flushing is done using a small bucket from the water barrel. Lights and an electric fan are still available through battery power.

Most of the day we enjoy the rain forest and beauty of the river while reading or starting a post for my blog, occasionally looking up to see if there is something of interest to see.


Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea and three different countries occupy it. The why of this is related to which colonial powers did the most settling. The Western part was greatly influenced the English Spanish and Portuguese and the South-Western part by the Dutch. Mountains in the Northern part of the island formed natural boundaries and water sheds. The about 60 % of the land mass is Kalimantan, Indonesia with two Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah facing the South China Sea. Then there is the small separate country of Brunei, which lies between the two Malaysian states.

The native Kalimantan people are Daytaks and our first destination, after 4 hours up the river and ½ hour to fix an overheated engine, we arrive at the village. We dock here and will spend the night. Notice the partially submerged plank we must negotiate to reach shore.

We disembark and walk in the heat of the day, slowly, to view the site where ancestral bones are kept. Now days, the Daytaks are Christians but there are still those who hang onto the old time religion.

Feb-Mar 2001 the Dayaks participated in a massacre against the immigrant Madurese. About 500 people were killed and by April all the Madurese (about 100,000) had fled Kalimantan. Beheadings were witnessed as the Dayaks reverted to the old ways of violence. Granted the majority Dayaks were provoked by the government taking away their land for logging purposes and relocating the Madurese into their territory. I couldn’t help thinking that this happened not to long ago.

Anyway, we go to a place where ancestral bones are kept. Bodies of the dead are first buried, then 5 years later they are dug up and their bones are cleaned and put into boxes. Just another expression of rising from the dead, I suppose. Their descendants can come there from time to time to bring a token gift to keep their spirits placated. The ancestors are provided with some help to ascend into “heaven”. The object on the left is to help pierce through the clouds. The long pole on the right is to provide a springboard which must be an all time pole vaulting record if successful. The red colored statues are replacements for originals which were stolen for their antique value.

During the ceremony that accompanies the unearthing ritual, slaves were tied to the figure below and put to death so the deceased would have someone to tend to them. Now days, slaves have been replaced by animals that serve the same purpose, with minor adjustments I suppose.

A man there explained all this to us and then asked if we would like him and others to play music for us that night. We accepted. Keep in mind that the sun rises and sets about 6 in the morning and at night on the Equator. So when lighting is limited for reading there isn’t a whole lot to do. So sure enough the man and his merry band came and entertained us.

All the instruments were hand made and he was proud to show us each and every one. (Actually they sounded hand made).
Everyone took several group pictures. The young woman on the right was our English speaking guide. Her name is Amie. She met us at the airport and ate with us. She can speak four languages and her English was excellent.

1 comment:

vikkitikkitavi said...

In the Mayan village were Rick was excavating, people would leave their dead to be eaten by animals, and would return later for the bones, which they would bury, in a jar, under their house to protect them from evil.