Hiking up the hill of legendary Lundayeh hero Upai Semaring

The mystical story of Upai Semaring (spelled as Yuvai Semaring in Indonesia) is unlike other local legends. It transcends international boundaries, from the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak, to Long Pa’ Sia in Sabah and even to Brunei.

However, his legend started from theKrayan Highlands in North Kalimantan, Indonesia.

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Signage leading up to Yuvai Semaring hill which measures 1,103 dari permukaan laut (above sea level).

The legend of Upai Semaring in Krayan

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Visitors need to cross a traditional makeshift bridge consisting of logs before making their ascent up the hill.

Since stories of his legendary exploits can be found among the Lun Bawang people in Sarawak and the Lundayeh people in Sabah, here is the Krayan Highlands’ version of Upai Semaring.

According to local guide Alex Ballang, Upai Semaring once lived in a cave on a hill in Long Bawan.

Upai Semaring was considered a local hero because of his fierce defense of the people, taking his stand on the top of this hill looking out for the enemy. (The hill became synonymous with him that it was named Yuvai Semaring hill or ‘bukit Yuvai Semaring’.)

Back in those days, headhunting was rampant. The hill worked as a watch tower for Upai Semaring looking out for headhunters from what we know as Sarawak and Sabah today.

Even before the enemy could even reach the Krayan Highlands, he would warn his people to be prepared. So the people of Krayan were always able to defeat their enemies.

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A flag pole on the top of Yuvai Semaring hill.

Upai Semaring: An ancestor of current day Brunei Sultanate?

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After some time, Upai Semaring left Krayan to explore, ending up in several places including Ba Kelalan, Long Pa’ Sia and Brunei.

In Brunei, there are many stories of how Upai Semaring became the ancestor of the Brunei Sultanate.

One legend has it there was a huge dragon living on the coast of Brunei, guarding a pearl. A king in Brunei offered up his daughter’s hand in marriage to anybody who could retrieve the pearl .

Since Upai Semaring was a giant, he was able to defeat the dragon and get the pearl. He married the princess, and it is believed that Upai Semaring’s descendants are today’s Brunei royal family.

Another version of the story has it that he was known as Awang Semaun in Brunei.

The sultan of Brunei back then was very fascinated by Awang Semaun’s strength that he offered one of his daughters to him in marriage.

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The view of the summit from where Upai Semaring watched for his enemies.

Upai Semaring, the mystical blacksmith

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The morning mist covering the top of the Krayan Highlands

Upai Semaring is renowned for his mystical powers; one of them being able to make a good parang.

“There is one spot near this hill where you can leave your parang and ask Upai Semaring to make it into a good blade. Come back the next day and your parang will be sharpest parang you could ever asked for,” Alex shared.

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Alex Ballang

Although Upai Semaring travelled to so many places and died hundreds of years ago, his spirit is believed to have returned to the Krayan Highlands where it still lingers to this day.

No one to this day has ever claimed to have actually seen him, but his legend is still so strong that sometimes people say they can see campfire light coming from his cave, saying that it is him.

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A view of the cave where Upai Semaring used to live.

Hiking up Yuvai Semaring hill

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A group of media practitioners and travel writers led by WWF-Indonesia on a climb up Yuvai Semaring hill on Apr 4, 2019.

When the moon is full, some believe you can sometimes hear his flute playing from the cave in Long Bawan.

Alex said, “The cave still exists to this day but the entrance to it has been closed. There used to be a trail leading into the cave but only a few daring locals are willing to take that route.”

Although the cave is inaccessible, visitors to the Krayan Highlands are more than welcome to visit Yuvai Semaring hill.

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Visitors can always take a break and relax after the steep climb uphill.

Yuvei Semaring hill stands about 1,100 meters above sea level. It takes less than an hour up a steep climb to reach to the top.

The top of the hill gives the perfect view of most parts of the Krayan Highlands settlements.

It might be the best place to catch a view of the sunrise if you are visiting it early in the morning.

Even if you miss it, the view is still magical as you watch the morning mist slowly being lifted, revealing the beautiful scenery of the villages and paddy fields down below.

Visitors can also see the mountain ranges which border the Krayan Highlands to Sarawak and Sabah from the top of the hill.

As you gaze down, you can imagine how Upai Semaring with his ever watchful eyes could see his enemies coming from miles away.

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A view of Long Bawan.
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The climb is short but steep.
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The hill offers the perfect view to film time-lapse videos of the mist moving over the Krayan Highlands.
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A view of Terang Baru and its surrounding villages.
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Even at 7am heavy fog still clouds the top of the hill.
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One needs to wait till 8am to 9am to finally see highlands without the mist.

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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