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Looking back at a punitive expedition to upper Batang Lupar in 1875

Headhunting was rampant in 19th century Sarawak. In an effort to control the death toll brought on by headhunting, the-then Brooke government sent out punitive expeditions to suppress this activity.

Here is an account of a punitive expedition that took place at upper Batang Lupar in 1875. It was written by an unnamed writer and published in the Sarawak Gazette on Nov 3, 1875.

Batu Nabau Engkilili
A bridge over Batang Lupar river.

The Sarawak Government, finding peaceable negotiation of no avail with the upper Batang Lupar tribes – who have for the last four years made frequent raids on the Lemanak and Skrang people, causing these rivers to be nearly depopulated- organised a force to attack the upper country, which left Simanggang on the 6th, and arrived at Delok on the 11th, after experiencing hard work, ascending the river and passing the rapids, where it had been expected the enemy would make some opposition, but the way was found clear so far.

The Delok stream is on the left bank, and after ascending three reaches, the river was found to be so small and shallow, that a halt was called and an encampment made at a sharp point.

The force then set to work at clearing the ground for a considerable distance to avoid any hidden surprise.

After throwing up a strong fence which served as a stockade, a council of war was held, in which future arrangements were made for a land force to march against the enemy who were living at the head of the stream and on some of the hills that were within sight of the encampment.

The land force started on the morning of the 13th a pathway having been constructed by a strong party the day before, leading into the Dyak main road.

The country is a succession of steep hills, varying from 400 to 700 feet in height; and the paths leading to them are often so steep; that it is necessary for hands to be used in both the ascent and descent in addition to carrying rifle, forty rounds of ammunition and four days’ provisions – or in the case of Dayaks, a shield, three spears and food – makes the journey no easy matter.

The guides expected the force to come into collision with the enemy, between 9 and 10am the same morning, which some of the leaders did, having been led into ambush by the tactics of the enemy, against which they were specially cautioned.

The ambush tactic during the expedition to Upper Batang Lupar

The mode of ambush with Dayaks is as follows: a few active fellows are sent on, who appear before the leaders of the advancing force, then turn round as if surprised and run for their lives, throwing spears and shields away. This was too much for the young aspirants to glory in the Sarawak force who are not so much used to war as those experienced headhunters.

They broke away and pursued the fugitives until they had separated themselves from the main body; and after passing a ridge the enemy came on them in force; and killed 19 in the course of a few minutes, fighting hand to hand.

The enemy, when the main force came up, retreated, and it was found they had left five dead bodies among the slain.

Meanwhile, the houses of the enemy were mostly deserted and although they were strongly situated, there were not defended and were mostly burnt by themselves on the approach of the force, which early in the afternoon were in the heart of the inhabited country and during four days laid the place waste.

The women and children fortunately had been removed to a distance, and judging by the tracks, they had gone in the direction of Batu Bangkai, which is in the Dutch territory.

Large bodies of the enemy were seen on hills in the distance, and it was reported that all the Dayak of Lanjak and the Seriang had collected to assist their relations in the tribe to oppose the advance of the force.

The Dayaks of the force finding the houses contained little property, or were burnt, now spread in small parties to search, and it was not long before they came on goods and chattels of every Dayak description, either buried or secreted in their farming lands, as well as their paddy, these were all taken or destroyed, and thirsty houses, averaging about ten families in each were burnt in the Delok.

The battle continues

Schwaner Een dayaksche Dorp Benting
A Dayak Longhouse, known as Rumah Betang in Indonesia or Rumah Panjang in Malaysia, the traditional dwelling of many Dayak Tribes. Original watercolour painting by Carl Schwaner, 1853. Credits: Public Domain.

On the 15th, while a force of Dayaks were advancing to attack a village some distance off, under the chieftainship of a notorious enemy named Jumput, the leaders were surprised by a party of the enemy, and after a hand to hand encounter the Sarawak force lost 11 lives; the enemy suffered severely, but their loss was not known.

On the following day, the force was strengthened under the leadership of Minggat of Kalaka, who marched against the enemy and burnt down all the houses in the vicinity, the enemy did not make any opposition.

A good deal of plunder was brought in from Jumput’s country. A force was also sent from the main camp in Delok to the Menyang stream. And there, three houses and their property were destroyed.

This completed the work of the expedition which had encamped for nine days, had destroyed about 40 houses, and rendered the enemy houseless and foodless. The effect of the expedition remains to be seen. The only danger is that the Dayaks on the Dutch side will assist these rebels sufficiently to cause them to rise again to give trouble on some future day, unless an attack is made on the former also.

The expedition arrived at Simanggang on the 21st. It was under the command of H.H. the Rajah accompanied by Messrs T.S. Chapman and F.R.O Maxwell, and was composed of 300 Malays and 6000 Dayaks- who were raised and has started in boats with twenty days’ provisions, within six days from the time of the command being given. From first to last it has taken less than a month to complete the whole affair.

Where were these battles took place in upper Batang Lupar

The Delok River was where the government’s forces built their camp in 1875. Today, the river is part of Batang Ai National Park and Rimba Sarawak (Research for intensified Management of Bio-Rich Areas of Sarawak).

Meanwhile, Lanjak is a small town in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Most of the Iban communities there migrated from Sarawak during the 19th century.

Seriang in the article refers to a river which is also located in West Kalimantan. As for the Menyang, the river was on the news for its orangutan population.

These places where heads were once hunted and villages were burnt are not only historically colourful but ecologically rich as well.

Batang Ai
Batang Ai lake today.

Mandi Rumah, an old Iban housewarming ceremony

Iban Batang Lupar Kalimantan Barat 3
An example of an Iban Longhouse. Dusun Kedungkang, an Iban longhouse located near Danau Sentarum, West Kalimantan.

Different cultures have different housewarming traditions as people embark on the next step of their lives, which is settling into their new homes.

While housewarming rituals can encompass religious blessings, other cultural traditions may include symbolic gestures like lighting a candle on the first night, or painting the front porch roof blue or ringing a bell around the house to create positive spaces.

For the Iban people of Sarawak in the olden days, their specific ceremony when they started to move into a new home was called mandi rumah.

One of the few testimonies of mandi rumah from back then was written by Reverend William Howell, who submitted an essay about the ceremony to Sarawak Gazette which was published on March 1, 1909.

Here is what Reverend Howell wrote about the Iban ceremony, mandi rumah:

When a new house has been taken possession of by its future occupants, there are few ceremonies that must be gone through in order to make it habitable, such as the rite of making it lawful for the house to receive food for its inhabitants.

But the rite of mandi rumah (house washing) may be deferred although the house must be under certain restrictions until it has been performed.

Mandi rumah literally translated is “to bathe the house”. Yet the term is more common than the more exact phrase masu rumah ‘to wash the house’.

Muai rumah (to abolish the house) is also used as the name of this feast, having reference to the abolishing of restrictions by its observance.

It is hard to say what was the original significance of this observance, for nothing but the name implies anything about washing, the ceremony as now performed having nothing to suggest it. Perhaps, however, there is a hint of the original idea remaining in the restriction that prevents anyone polluting the water of the bathing and watering place, by fishing with the aid of tuba (poisonous root) which is thrown into the water to stupefy the fish or kill them, before the masu rumah.

Again, if, as the name implies, a cleansing of the house is meant it is difficult to divine its purpose. The washing of an old house might signify the purging of some stain of guilt attaching to it or its inmates, but in the case of a new house it seems to imply a sort of consecration to good purposes, and the formal renunciation of all that is accounted by Dayak custom immoral.

The restrictions before mandi rumah

Iban ceremonies typically have a period of “fasting” before the actual event, where certain daily activities which could affect the outcome of said ceremony will be put on hold.

In the case of mandi rumah, that means that alot of the activities typically held in the longhouse veranda are prohibited. These include settlements of disputes; fines, if imposed may not be paid; wearing and the making of blankets from bark (tekalong) are also prohibited until the housewarming ceremony is held.

Anybody caught breaking these rules will have to pay a fine, which usually takes the form of sacrifice. It is believed that paying this penalty will prevent any misfortune from falling upon the residents of the longhouse as a result of their misstep.

Preparing for mandi rumah

The mandi rumah feast itself is generally held after a good harvest. According to Howell, preparation for the feast typically takes two to three months.

When the event, or “promise of three days” nears, invitations are sent out, and fighting cocks are prepared for the festivities.

Much like Gawai Dayak today, mandi rumah also takes place over the course of three days. Unlike Gawai Dayak, however, the main event – which is the feasting – is on the third day.

The first day is devoted to making the ladder for the house which will be used in a ritual called beban tangga. The second day to preparing cooking of piring i.e. offerings that are to be made to the gods at the feast.

Three rites properly belong to the feast; namely beban tangga, mangkong tiang (striking the post) and ngiga igi engkuni (seeking the seed of the engkuni tree) which is used as a charm.

The feast of mandi rumah

When all the guests, who include all the men of importance arrive, they are received with great ceremony and a pig is sacrificed for them, or a libation made of their tuak, or homemade drink.

This is by way of an offering to their patron saints or gods.

The opening ceremony is miring ka tangga (the offering of the ladder). As soon as the new ladder is placed in position, Pulang Gana and other gods are honoured with an offering, which is hung underneath the ladder, and the sacrifice of a pig.

Howell says a chanter (typically an old man) then recites as follows:

“But thou art the heart of iron wood,
Come up, and bring with them brassware,
As gongs, tetawak and bebendai,
Let their merchandise be cheap, etc.”

Mangkong tiang

The second ceremony is mangkong tiang. The same chanter enters the room of the tuai rumah, or head of the longhouse first, to perform this rite.

Another offering is prepared in the room, and is placed on the shelf of the kitchen for Pulang Gana, the god of the earth.

The old chanter then strikes a post of the house with a bamboo containing pulut while reciting this incantation:

“Thou art not a common bamboo,
Thou at the heart of iron wood,
Be thou a supporter to fill the paddy bin,
And cause the Malays, the Chinese, the Europeans,
To come and buy paddy, and help us, O Pulang Gana.”

The chanter must repeat the ceremony in every room. According to Howell, it can take a better part of the day, and the old man might feel very drowsy or fatigued by the whole thing.

Ngiga igi engkuni

Iban Batang Lupar Kalimantan Barat 9
The ruai of Dusun Kedungkang, an Iban longhouse of Batang Lupar district, West Kalimantan.

In the ruai or reception room of the house, the professional reciters are deeply engaged with their incantation called “pengap” to look for igi engkuni.

It is a long recitation and it is done at the top of their voices to implore the father of Nendak to descend from above and give them the igi engkuni.

Apai or the father of Nendak, is believed to come down and put the igi engkuni in the engkuni post from where the longhouse people will pick it up.

The incantation begins in the afternoon and will continue until daylight the next day.

The feast itself lasts a day and a night and the house or village is generally quite full.

At the approach of daylight, the longhouse is a hive of activity again as Apai Nendak, Pulang Gana and the rest of the gods are believed to have arrived at the feast.

Offerings are made to them and musical instruments are struck louder and with more liveliness and energy.

“Shouting and laughter, the crowing of cocks and dogs fighting all about the place are enough to drive anyone mad. Such is this religious feast of the Dayaks.”

Have you witnessed this ceremony of mandi rumah in your own longhouse? Let us know in the comment box.

Legend of a two-tailed monster and how poison came about in Borneo

Poison always plays a role in a legend or fairy tale. The most famous example is in Snow White where the evil queen gave the princess a poisoned apple.

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Here in Borneo, we have our own version of how poison came about and it came from the mountainous part of this island.

According to Gallih Balang from Pa Longan who wrote to the Sarawak Gazette on July 31, 1965, the legend starts with a hunter named Parang.

One day, while he was out on a hunt, he walked and crossed many streams and mountains. On his way to the top of a hill, he saw a cleared field.

Parang was interested to examine the field and wanted to know what kind of creature could be there. He then decided to sit and watch.

The appearance of a monster

After some time, there came a strange monster. At first, Parang thought it was a crocodile. Unlike a crocodile, however, the creature had two tails.

The appearance of the crocodile amazed Parang as he never seen such a creature.

When Parang returned home, he told his fellow villagers what he had seen. They all gathered together and decided to kill the monster.

Gathering all kinds of weapon such as blowpipes, knives, spears and shields, they all went ahead to find the monster.

When they reached the field, the two-tailed monster was not there. So they decided to wait until the creature came back.

The moment the monster appeared, the villagers killed it. They then discovered that the name of the monster was Ale, the eater, and were relieved with its death.

About three months after they killed Ale, the villagers returned to the site where they killed it.

They found the body had rotted away but only its tails were still fresh as if still alive.

They took the tails home and used it to poison animals and people(!). That was how poison was discovered in Borneo. At the time of Gallih’s account in the 1960s, it was believed that the Bisayas in the interior and along the coast still used the poison.

According to Gallih, the people named the place where the monster was killed Budok Ale, and it is actually not far from Long Bawan, Kalimantan.

Long Bawan 6
A view of Long Bawan in 2019.

Sarawak once exported over 60 tonnes of pangolin scales in the 1950s


Did you know that it was legal to export pangolin scales in Sarawak back in the 1950s?

Pangolin (Manis javanica) was hunted for its scales and then exported through Kuching.

This unique animal has large, protective scales covering their skin. It is the only know mammal to have this feature.

They live in hollow trees or burrows. Pangolins are nocturnal and tend to be solitary. They only meet to mate. Their diet consists of mainly ants and termites, which they capture using their long tongues.

According to a report by Tom Harrisson and Loh Chee Yin, from 1958 to 1964 Sarawak exported more than 60 tonnes of pangolin scales.

Harrisson and Loh found in their study that each pangolin’s exportable scales average about 3 catty (1.8kg).

Here comes the sad part; since the maturity of the animals does not effect the value of their scales, so the traders back then even exported scales from younger pangolins.

The researchers calculated based on the weight of the pangolin scales that there over 50,000 pangolins were hunted for their scales in just seven years!

Where did these pangolin scales came from

Harrisson and Loh wrote, “Ninety-nine per cent of the scales exported from Sarawak came from Indonesian Borneo.

“They were being smuggled over mainly to the border towns of Krokong in the First Division and Lubok Antu in the Second Divison, while shops in Tebakang, Serian and Simanggang also bought any amount offered to them for sale by local people or by Indonesians, in quantities ranging from 50 to 500 katis.”

The pangolin scales that came to the dealers in pieces packed in gunny sacks.

For scales that came in with the skin attached usually fetched a poorer prices. This is because they need to boil them first to extract the scales.

“As they reach the shops, they are checked to make sure they are dry, and genuine and then repacked for export to Singapore or Hong Kong, where they are probably cleaned and sorted for re-export to mainlain China,” Harrisson and Loh stated.

The purpose of pangolin scales trades

Pangolin scales were wanted for their so-called medicinal values. They believed it had anti-septic values, stimulated blood veins and sped up the chemical reaction of any medicine.

There were two methods of application.

Firstly, raw pieces of scales were used for scratching itchy skin. It was believed that this would prevent further infection which usually follows if the affected part is scratched by fingernails.

Secondly, pangolin scales were ground into powder and then mixed in with other herbs boiled in water for the patient to drink.

Back then, dealers paid from $200 to $300 per picul or 100 kati for scales or $70 to $90 per pikul for scales still attached to the skin.

These prices also depended on the demand from China.

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The price of pangolin scales depended on demand from China. Credits: Pixabay.
Protecting the pangolin in present day Sarawak

In October 2019, Sarawak Forestry Corporation announced its plan to have the pangolin upgraded to the “totally protected” category.

Totally protected species in Sarawak may not be kept as pets, hunted, captured, killed, sold, imported or exported or disturbed in any way, nor may anyone be in possession of any recognizable part of these animals.

To this day, the pangolin population is still threatened by deforestation and poaching for its flesh and scales.

According to World Conservation Society, pangolin scales are made of keratin which is the same thing that makes our human fingernails and hair.

Hence, eating pangolin scales has no medicinal value whatsoever as it is like eating your own fingernails or hair.

Read more:

Sarawakians were once encouraged to catch shark commercially

How the Bornean Rhinoceros was hunted into extinction in Sarawak

How Dayak peacemaking ceremonies were carried out during the 19th century?

Modern day peacemaking usually has some hand-shaking gesture and official announcement in front of the media if it has gathered public interest.

In 19th century Sarawak, peacemaking ceremonies back then were somehow more interesting.

It usually involved some kind of tajau (jar) being exchanged and sometimes even human sacrifice.

Here, KajoMag looks back at how Dayak peacemaking ceremonies were carried out in the olden days of Sarawak:
1.They rip each others’ harvests to the core.

This Dayak peacemaking method was reportedly practiced by people living along the Sadong river.

The first White Rajah James Brooke stated in his personal journal, “When peace is made between them, one tribe visits the other, in order to feast together; and on these occasions, whatever the number or visitors may be, they are at liberty to use the fruits of their hosts without hindrance. At their pleasure they strip the coconuts off the trees, devour and carry away as much as they can, without offence. Of course the hosts in turn become visitors, and pay in the same coin.

“All the Dayaks are remarkably tenacious of their fruit trees; but on the occasion of the feast, beside taking the fruit, the visitors fell one tree, as a symbol of good understanding; of course it is only once that such liberties are taken or allowed. At other times it would be an affront sufficient to occasion a war.”

A Dayak peacemaking ceremony that could cause another war did not exactly served its purpose. Perhaps that is the reason why the second White Rajah Charles Brooke put an end to this tradition during his reign.

2.They sacrificed a slave as a sign of peacemaking

Well, this is a Dayak peacemaking ceremony that you definitely will never see again.

Resident O.F. Ricketts once described a Murut peacemaking ceremony where a human sacrifice involved.

He wrote, “Occasionally feuds have been settled between two tribes, the aggressors having made full compensation in payment of jars, brassware, and two slaves. It was custom to kill one of these slaves to make up for the relative lost.”

3.They sacrificed some pigs

Charles witnessed many peacemaking ceremonies during his reign. One of them took place between the Ibans from Undup and from Dutch Borneo (Kalimantan).

During the ceremony, both sides agreed that the first to draw their weapon on another in the future must be fined eight jars.

Then they sacrificed some pigs with the blood sprinkled around the ceremony. Some even took the blood home to sprinkle at their houses. This was to wash away any evil tendencies there might be hanging in the atmosphere and to appease the spirits.

4.They exchanged weapons between themselves

Just like the Iban, the Kanowit people also sacrificed a pig during their peacemaking ceremonies.

Spenser St. John recorded, “A pig was placed between the representatives of two tribes who after calling down the vengeance of the spirits on those who broke the treaty, plunged their spears into the animal and then exchanged weapons.”

The representatives then bit each other’s blades to complete the ceremony.

5.They poured the blood of fowl on themselves

St. John also witnessed a ceremony where two men who were feuding would never look at each other even when they were in the same house.

He wrote, “They refused to cast their eyes upon each other till a fowl has been kill and the blood sprinkled over them.”

The second White Rajah recorded in his book Ten Years in Sarawak that although fowl was involved in the Dayak peacemaking ceremony, no blood was sprinkled over those who were present.

They waved fowls over the heads of the guests for those who came to the ceremony “to conduce to good and friendly feeling and to prevent either party from quarreling and fighting.”

Schwaner Een Bilianfest der Dayakkers van Soengie Pattaym Jahre 1846
Dayak Festival in a traditional Longhouse, 1846, Dutch Borneo. Illustration by C.A.L.M. Schwaner. Credits: Public Domain.

Regardless of how the signs of peacemaking were made, the ceremony usually ended with festivities.

Do you know any other ways how Sarawakians hold their peacemaking ceremony in the olden days? Let us know in the comment box.

10 reasons you should visit Krayan Highlands in the Heart of Borneo

The Krayan Highlands in the Heart of Borneo is an enchanting place located at an altitude between 760 and 1200 meters.

Unlike the lowlands of Borneo which is known for its hot and humid climate, this place offers cool weather and chilly winds, especially at night.

Located in North Kalimantan, Indonesia, the highlands lie right along the border with Sarawak and Sabah of Malaysia.

Administrative-wise, the highlands are divided into five-sub-districts in the Nunukan District.

Long Bawan works as its centre with connecting flights from Indonesian towns of Nunukan, Tarakan and Malinau.

Visitors can also visit the highlands by road from Ba Kelalan, Sarawak.

The Heart of Borneo is an initiative of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia to preserve and maintain the sustainability of Borneo’s last remaining rainforest.

Part of the conservation done for the initiative is to improve the conservation management in the area and documenting traditional ecological knowledge.

Here are 10 reasons why you should visit the Krayan Highlands in the Heart of Borneo:
1.For the biodiversity at the Heart of Borneo Highlands
Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III 12
A pitcher plant.

Most parts of the Krayan Highlands are covered by heath forest. The locals call it tana’ payeh.

There you can find unique flora and fauna including pitcher plants and various kinds of wild orchids.

2.Learn about the culture of Lundayeh people
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The Krayan Highlands are home to mostly Lundayeh people.

The highlands are the homeland of several thousand Dayak community especially the Lundayeh. Besides them, there are also the Kelabit, Sa’ban and Penan people living there.

The best place to learn about Lundayeh culture is at Cultural Field School near Trang Baru village.

It is a space for cultural celebrations as well as where you can learn about traditional music and dances.

The school is initiated by Formadat (Forum of the Indigenous People of the Highlands of Borneo) in collaboration with WWF-Indonesia.

There you can also learn traditional wood carving and rattan weaving.

3.Visit ancient burial sites called “perupun”
Perupun 12
The ruins of a perupun.

Forget about the pyramids, “perupun” are ancient Lundayeh burial sites that can be found in the Krayan Highlands.

Villages including Pa Rupai, Terang Baru, Long Umung, Pa Raye, Long Layu, Long Api and Pa Kebuan all have perupun of their own.

These ancient graves were built by piling up dozens of huge stones on the burial ground.

However, nobody really knows how the olden communities of Krayan Highlands were able to do that.

4.Visit the mysterious crocodile mounds

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A crocodile mound which is now covered in vegetation.

Here is another mysterious archaeological site of the Krayan Highlands; the crocodile mounds.

The ancestors of Lundayeh people built them as a sign of bravery especially after returning from a successful headhunting trip.

These crocodile mounds can be found in places like Long Midang, Tang Payeh, Terang Baru and Long Layu.

Most of the heads of these crocodiles were built facing the river. This was to protect the community who built them from enemies coming from the river.

The unexplainable part of these mounds is that, there are no crocodiles in Krayan Highlands.

5.Watch how mountain salt is processed

Salt production in Long Midang 6
Natural salt brine being boiled in a salt production house in Long Midang.

Mountain salt is one of the most important sources of livelihood of the Krayan Highlands.

Salt production occurs all-year round but is more intensive when the locals are not working on their rice fields.

Most of production houses where this salt is processed are a humble building made from wooden planks with zinc roof.

There, the brine from salt springs are boiled for at least 24 hours before the crystallised salt is dried and packaged for marketing.

Make sure you buy some as souvenirs before you go home.

6.Enjoy the scenic view of paddy farms
adan rice
The view of Krayan Highlands paddy fields from a plane.

The main source of income for the locals Krayan Highlands is paddy farming.

These paddy farms offer scenic view of the highlands regardless of the season. The local farmers start to prepare the rice seedlings in July and then they begin to plant. The harvesting period is usually starts late December until February.

While buffaloes are commonly found in the highlands, they are only used to trample the paddy field and eating the weeds.

The rice from Krayan Highlands has the certificate of Geographic Indication (GI), thanks to the unique characteristics of this rice.

Known as adan rice, it comes in red, white and black colours.

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A black adan rice.
7.Take a look at rock art
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A Batu Narit in Pa Rupai village of Krayan Highlands.

Batu Narit is a form of rock art found in several places in the Krayan Highlands including Pa Rupai village.

The one in Pa Rupai have several motives including a snake and some geometrical shapes.

Nobody knows who exactly carved these rocks and the meanings behind these motives.

8.Take a sip of Krayan’s ‘Fountain of Youth’
Air Bunga the miraculous healing stream of Krayan Highlands 6
Wash your face at the Fountain of Youth of Borneo.

Locally known as Air Bunga, the small stream named Ba’ Sarang is the Krayan version of Fountain of Youth.

Locals believe the water flows from the stream has anti-aging properties as well as healing powers.

The stream is located five-minute walk from the town hall of Tang Payeh village.

Even if you do not believed in the water’s miraculous power, a walk to the stream passing through paddy field is therapeutic enough.

9.Have a gastronomic adventure of Lundayeh food
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Some of Lundayeh delicacies.

The Lundayeh people have their own unique culinary food which are made from their own farms and jungle produce.

Their desserts and pastries are mostly made from rice flour, which is widely available.

One of their must-try dishes is biter, a type of rice porridge cooked with different vegetables such as cassava leaves and ginger flower.

Additionally, there are so many fruits to choose from and all of them are locally sourced.

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Terap or tarap fruit.
10.Hike up the hill of legendary hero Yuvai Semaring
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How the top of Yuvai Semaring hill looks like from afar.

If trekking is your thing then you cannot miss a visit up the hill of Yuvai Semaring.

The hill stands about 1,100 meters offering hikers the beautiful view of Krayan Highlands settlements.

On the top of the hill, hikers can also explore the mountain ranges which border the highlands to Sarawak and Sabah.

It takes only less than an hour to climb. A trip to the Krayan Highlands is definitely incomplete without looking at the highlands from the top of Yuvai Semaring.

Upai Semaring 12

12 Indonesia-Malaysia combats during Konfrontasi you should know

Also known as Konfrontasi, the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation was an undeclared war with most of the battles happening between Kalimantan (Indonesia) and East Malaysia.

The confrontation was a result from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia.

Initially, Indonesian attacks on East Malaysia comprised of local volunteers trained by the Indonesian Army.

Over a period of time, the intrusions became more organised with involvement of Indonesian forces.

On the Malaysian side, the British provided help to Malaysian forces with periodic contributions from Australian and New Zealand forces.

The intensity of the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation eventually subsided after the 30 September Movement when six Indonesian Army generals were assassinated.

Indonesia formally recognised Malaysia when a final peace agreement was signed on Aug 11, 1966.

Still, many lives were lost on both sides with combats happening in small-sized operations.

Here are at least 12 Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation combats you should know about:
British forces in Borneo during Confrontation
While operating in Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation, a soldier is winched up to a Westland Wessex HAS3 of 845 Naval Air Squadron, during operations in the jungle. Another soldier is kneeling on the edge of the extraction zone. Credit: Public Domain.
1.Attack on Tebedu police station

The first infiltration and attack as part of Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation was recorded in April 1963.

On Apr 12, 1963, an Indonesian force attacked and seized Tebedu police station. Although Malaysia was not formed yet, the Malaysian government considered this as the first military attack on the-then future East Malaysia.

The raid, which happened on Good Friday that year, caused the death of a corporal and two wounded soldiers.

2.Battle of Long Jawai

On Sept 28, 1963, a large number of Indonesian troops crossed the Sarawak-Kalimantan border and attacked the outpost at Long Jawai.

After exchanging fires for several hours, one Gurkha was killed and ten Malaysian border scouts were captured and later executed.

3.The Kalabakan Incident

The locals of Kalabakan, Tawau unfortunately witnessed one attack by the Indonesian forces on Dec 29, 1963.

Nonetheless, the attack successfully brought different groups of Malaysians to fight together for one sole cause.

A battalion from the 3rd Royal Malay Regiment (RMR) from Peninsular Malaysia, the Police Field Force, Sabah Home Guard and even Kalabakan villagers united to fight off the Indonesian forces.

The Kalabakan Incident resulted in the deaths of eight men from RMR and 18 others injured.

4.Landing at Pontian

On Aug 17, 1964, Indonesian troops made an amphibious landing at the Pontian district of Johor.

The troops landed in three different locations along Pontian coast according to plan. However, Malaysians security forces were quick to respond with half of the raiders captured immediately upon landing.

5.Landing at Kesang river

Located on the border between the Malaysian states of Malacca and Johor, Kesang river witnessed an amphibious raid conducted by a small force of Indonesian volunteers on Oct 29, 1964.

52 of these volunteers sailed across the Straits of Malacca in fishing vessels on each side of the mouth of the Kesang river.

Their action plan was to blend in with the locals and to launch guerrilla raids against Malaysian infrastructure.

However, Malaysian fishermen spotted the raiders and quickly informed the authorities.

The British troops, assisted by the Australians immediately arrived to the scene where they killed and captured all but two of the invaders.

6.Landing at Labis

About a month later after the landing at Kesang river, the Indonesians made another landing on Sept 2, 1964 near Labis, Johor and this time via air.

Three Indonesian Air Force aircraft set off from Jakarta but only two landed as the third aircraft crashed into the Straits of Malacca.

Under the command of 4th Malaysian Infantry Brigade, the operation took about a month to round up all the 98 paratroopers.

32 of the intruders were killed while the rest were captured.

7.Action of Dec 13, 1964

The Action of Dec 13, 1964 was a naval action between the Australian minesweeper HMAS Teal and two Indonesian vessels.

It took place in the Singapore Strait where HMAS Teal was conduction patrols at night. The two Indonesian vessels fired automatic weapons upon HMAS Teal. The Australian ship killed three and captured four other during the combat.

8.Battle of Plaman Mapu

The Battle of Plaman Mapu was one of the largest battles of the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation.

In the early hours of Apr 27, 1965, a battalion of Indonesian soldiers launched a surprise attack on B Company, 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in their base at Plaman Mapu.

The British was outnumbered by at least five to one but they still managed to cause significant damage on the Indonesians.

In the end, the battle took the lives of 30 Indonesians and two British troops.

9.Battle of Sungei Koemba

The Battle of Sungei Koemba was part of the wider Operation Claret that took place along the Sungai Koemba in Kalimantan.

The battle consisted of two ambushes conducted by two platoons from the Australian forces.

B Company ambushed Indonesian troops on May 27, 1965 resulting in significant Indonesian casualties and no loss for the Australians.

Meanwhile, the second ambush happened a little further downstream from the last one by a platoon from C Company. Occurred on June 12, 1965, the second ambush again resulted in heavy Indonesian casualties for no loss to the Australians.

Royal Marines Commando patrolling in Sabah Indonesia Malaysia confrontation
British Royal Marines Commando unit armed with machine gun and Sten gun patrolling using a boat in the river on Serudong, Sabah between 1963 until 1966. Credit: Malaysian Archive [Public domain]
10.Battle of Kindau

Three days after the last ambush at Sungei Koemba, a platoon from A Company successfully ambushed another large Indonesian force at Kindau, Kalimantan.

The ambush resulted in about 25 to 50 Indonesian casualties and two Australians wounded.

Unlike other engagements under Operation Claret which remained under wraps, Battle of Kindau was caught by the media after a journalist interviewed one of the wounded Australians.

However, the news was reported under the pretence the battle took place within Malaysian authority.

11.Battle of Babang

This was the last in a series of successful ambushes conducted between May and July 1965 by Australian troops from 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR).

The battle took place on July 12, 1965 at Babang, Kalimantan as part of the wider British-Commonwealth Operation Claret.

On that day, 7 Platoon C was in an ambush position along a track near the Indonesian base at Babang. Around noon time, a force of about 30 Indonesians approached along the track. The Australians ambushed the Indonesian troops subsequently killing at least 13 of them and wounded five.

The cross-border attack was to provide warning to the Indonesian troops not to incur into Sarawak territory.

12.Battle of Bau or Battle of Gunung Tepoi

On Nov 21, 1965, 16 members of the British Army Gurkhas launched an attack on about 100 Indonesian troops.

The Gurkhas were then supported by the 104 men resulting the Indonesians to withdraw.

After the battle, the Indonesians reported at least 24 men killed in action and the British lost three men.

7 types of mental illness according to Murut traditional beliefs

In January 1968, the Psychiatric Specialist-in-Charge of Sarawak Mental Hospital K.E. Schmidt published a paper called ‘Some Murut Concepts of Mental Illness’ in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.

The Murut people are an indigenous ethnic group found in the southwest interior of Sabah, northern part of Sarawak, Brunei and North Kalimantan in Indonesia.

They are known to be the last of Sabah’s ethnic groups to renounce headhunting.

The paper explored the traditional understanding behind mental health and how native healers played important roles in the successful treatment of mental illness.

It also described the different concepts of mental illness according to the traditional knowledge of Murut people.

So here are seven types of mental illness according to Murut traditional beliefs:
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What is going on with someone’s mental health according to Murut traditional knowledge? Credits: Pixabay.
1.Ruden repan (rupan means ‘well’)

According to Murut beliefs,this illness is due to a haunted well. All Murut interviewed by Schmidt agreed that this was the number one cause of mental illness.

He stated, “If a person passes within two feet of a well or more important, if he comes into the contact with the water, he will have visual and auditory hallucinations of crowds of people who want to catch him. He therefore runs away. The urge to escape ‘them’ may be strong that he might even run into fire in order or escape. He will call out the names of those who he believes want to kill him, usually names of people unknown in the community.”

Sufferers will often die from exhaustion especially since they may refuse food and water. They might jump into the river in an attempt to drown themselves or attempt to hang themselves to be free from the terror of their ‘tormentors’. When they do not see their hallucinations, they will sit quietly and be withdrawn. Such a phase may last from one to several weeks, and spontaneous remissions are known to occur.

According to Murut beliefs, these wells are set up by the spirits under the big trees where they live. They are always at the foot of a hill and are known by the community to be haunted. Thus when a man sets out on a hunt, offerings are made to the spirits of these wells.

If there is no sacrifice, the spirit of the well may disturb the hunter.

So how to heal a person with ruden repan?

The traditional healer or ngurur will make images of animals and send them to the well. Along with these images, there are eggs, rice and household articles piled up on an altar where he will chant incantations.

Then, the ngurur will appeal to the spirits not to disturb the person anymore. If the ngurur is not properly rewarded (which is usually in the form of a buffalo or jars), relapse may occur on the patient.

2.Ruden Talai (talai means a kind of tree)

Ruden talai happens when coming into contact with the fallen leaves or touching a type of tree locally known as pelai or pulai.

The Murut people believe if the trees are disturbed and cut or the under bush is cleared, mental illnesses will occur to whoever that cause them.

Schmidt pointed out, “The illness begins with tiredness and pain in the limbs and trunk. The patient cannot sleep at night, has headache and as in ruden rupan has visual hallucinations of people who want to kill him. A person affected by this kind of mental illness will be aggressive and attack people i.e. running amok.”

3.Ruden meruai

In this condition, the patient will sometimes fall into the fire. They fall as if they were fascinated and attracted by it and have in some instances died from the burns.

The Murut believe that the spirit of the fire takes possession of the patient. Similarly, the spirit of the water will be at work if a person has a fit while taking a bath, and those of the earth of the fit occurs on land.

One of the cures prescribed by the ngurur is fasting. According to Schmidt, there exists some similarity here with dehydration achieved by the diuretic Diamox in the treatment of epilepsy in Western medicine.

4.Ruden mebuyai (mebuyai means stupid)

This condition occurs among young people who for unknown reasons change or become demented. They give indirect answers, are indecisive, aimless and drive-less.

Some people even attribute this condition to ‘sumpah’ or a curse.

5.Ruden sinoso (sinoso means poisoned)

Schmidt pointed out, “This is another allegedly induced psychosis, caused in this case by mixing into the food or drink something which has been obtained from certain trees. This may also kill. The person, after an interval of a day or so will begin to feel cold and wish to sit by the fire. Later, he may feel hot and wish to cool himself. He will often sit motionless for long periods and will neither eat nor drink. In no more than a month, he will die.”

Just like ruden mebuyai, the Murut believe it is another cause of mental illness which is the work of a paid charmer.

Additionally, they believe that a spell of this kind can be imposed for a limited period.

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A mental illness according to Murut belief can be caused by a paid charmer.
6.Ruden pa’lamai

Here is another mental condition caused by a paid charmer. The charmer will uses a kind of grass or a concoction from it and then plant it as a love charm into the seams of a persons’ garment.

When planting it, a charm is spoken: “Each time you wear this garment you will think of him who pays me. You will die if you do not return his love. If you do not die, you will become insane, but you will get well if you marry him.”

What a way to drag someone to marry you! But no worries, there is a cure to break this love spell.

Just throw the urine of several people into the face of the affected person.

7.Mururu teruaien

“Mururu” means “lose” while “teruaien” is “thinking”. It is a condition of dementia without violence but possibly with elements similar to autism which occurs in young people.

Overall, Schmidt deduced that the Murut concepts of mental illness are the various forms of schizophrenia that have been ‘fairly clearly differentiated’.

“Ruden rupan could correspond to acute hebephrenia, ruden talau does appear to have most of the features of paranoid schizophrenia, ruden sinoso sounds like catatonic schizophrenia and ruden pa’lamai may be looked upon as coming nearest to simple schizophrenia,” he stated.

Meanwhile, ruden mebuyai might be simple schizophrenia or post-encephalitic state and ruden meruai covers epilepsy including its symptomatic forms.

Read the rest of Schmidt’s paper here.

How Dayak climbers helped in foreign expeditions

We have often heard of Sherpas and Nepalese mountain climbers, but did you know that Dayak climbers from Borneo were often recruited by westerners during scientific expeditions?

These adventures took these Dayak climbers out of Borneo way back in the early part of the 20th century.

Hendrikus Albertus Lorents and his Dayak climbers/porters

Hendrikus Albertus Lorentz (1871-1944) was the first recorded explorer to hire Dayak climbers to accompany him in his expedition.

The Dutch explorer participated in three expeditions to New Guinea; the first was the North New Guinea Expedition in 1903, led by Arthur Wichmann. Lorentz himself led expeditions in 1907 and 1909-1910.

According to Tom Harrisson in an article “Kenyah above the Snow Line” published on The Sarawak Gazette (April 30, 1965), Lorentz recruited Dayak climbers to climb Puncak Jaya in 1909.

Known as Carstensz Peak back then, it is the highest mountain in Indonesia standing tall at 4,884 metres.

“The 1909 expedition was a Dutch race against a British group, sponsored by the British Ornithologists Union. Dutch leader Lorentz recruited 61 Dutch-Indonesian troops and 82 Bornean Dayaks, who were allowed to bring blowpipes and poison darts but not beheading swords,” Harrisson wrote.

More than a month after leaving their base, Lorentz and his party reached the snowfield of Puncak Jaya at 14,786 feet on Nov 8, 1909.

The first Kayan and Kenyah climbers to reach a snow capped mountain

Most records stated that Kenyah porters from Apo Kayan who helped Lorentz in his conquests.

According to Tom Harrisson, the six Dayak porters were actually Kenyahs and Kayans from the Batang Kayan and Mahakam, Indonesia.

Lorentz once wrote, “It is still incredible, as it was then, to think of us and our five Dayaks standing on that high white island.”

Though it is impossible to find out their identities today, it is right to say they might be the first Kayan and Kenyah climbers to reach a snow peaked mountain.

There is a photo of them on top of the mountain. It was published in “New Guinea: The Last Unknown” by Gavin Souter with one of the Dayak climbers covering his face with snow.

On the way down, Lorentz fell and got himself seriously injured. Thankfully, his Dayak climbers saved the day by bringing him down safely.

How Dayak climbers helped in other expeditions

Meanwhile, the British expedition got into serious difficulties and failed to reach to the top. Their expedition had 96 servants from Maluku, Indonesia and ten Gurkhas.

In 1912, the British Ornithologists Union tried again. Learning from the Dutch, the British also hired Dayak climbers to aid in their expedition.

Along with 74 Iban climbers partly from Sarawak, they reached the then record height of 14,866 feet of Puncak Jaya.

Later in 1938, American zoologist Richard Archbold dispatched two exploration teams into the Baliem Valley of New Guinea. Each team consisted of Dutch soldiers, convicts and Dayak porters from Kalimantan.

According to Harrisson, a large number of them were Kenyahs and Kayans from Apo Kayan “who among other things planted garden of beans and lettuce above 10,000 feet” during the expedition.

With their jungle survival skills and high-enduring stamina, it is understandable why foreign adventurers recruited Dayak climbers during such expeditions.

COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een Ibu Dajak krijger uit Long Nawan Z. en O. afdeling Borneo. TMnr 60034031
Dayak warriors. Credit: Creative commons

Enjoying the Traditional Food Festival in Lanjak, West Kalimantan


Food has always been the best way to become familiar with a place, culture and its people, so I tried to sample every dish during the Traditional Food Festival held in Lanjak, West Kalimantan.

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From 14 to 15 September, an Indonesian community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) NGO, Riak Bumi organised a traditional food festival in Lanjak.

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This year marked the sixth year the food festival had been organised for the community of Lanjak by Riak Bumi.  

The two-day festival saw 23 groups participating in the cooking competition as they competed to prepare the best traditional dishes on the first day.

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During the cooking competition, the participants were required to cook traditional food without using artificial flavouring. This included commercial sugar and even regular cooking oil.

Instead, they used natural flavouring and ingredients such as palm sugar and tengkawang oil for their cooking.

As Lanjak is located about 40 minutes drive from the Lubok Antu border, some of the dishes in our neighboring country bore some similarities to Sarawakian cuisine as well.

With a smorgasbord of food laid out, here are some of the dishes that I managed to sample that everyone should try when visiting Lanjak.

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This sweet sticky rice snack seems too pretty to be eaten.

Wajit is a popular traditional Indonesian sticky sweet rice snack. It is made of glutinous rice, regular rice, palm sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves. Typically, after wajit is cooked, it will be spread onto a baking tray and cut into diamond shapes. However, wajit can be molded into any shape that you fancy!

Grilled venison
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Grilled venison

In Lanjak, the local communities still hunt for food. This includes fish, toads and even deer. During the traditional food festival, I had the opportunity to try venison straight off the grill. Yum!

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‘Kesa’ is the local name for these ants.

In Southeast Asian countries, eating insects is a norm and Borneo is no exception. At the traditional food festival in Lanjak, one of the most fascinating dishes to be served were fried fire ants (kesa). For those who have never had them before, fried ants have a sour and tangy taste and not surprisingly, a crunchy texture.

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This sweet purple beverage is made up of lakum fruit mixed with honey. Lakum fruits looks like exactly like a blueberry.

Rice cooked in pitcher plant
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Nasi pok yok is rice cooked in pitcher plants. When steaming the rice, no artificial flavouring is added as natural flavour from the pitcher plant will seep to the rice. This dish is prepared by stuffing rice and some water into the pitcher plant and steaming it until the rice is fluffy.

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Sweet and milky tapioca pearls kolak dessert

Tapioca kolak (kolak ubi) is a type of Indonesian dessert made with coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan leaf. Generally, kolak comes in different variations such as banana, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and jackfruits. It is said that kolak is a popular sweet during Ramadan.

Lulun Kucai
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Chives cooked in bamboo

In Sarawak, kucai (or chives) is usually cooked with egg or chopped garlic. However, during the traditional food festival in Lanjak, I discovered an interesting way of cooking them – inside a bamboo.

Dishes cooked in bamboo
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Speaking of bamboo, the traditional food festival in Lanjak would not be complete without “pansuh”. “Pansuh” means cooked in bamboo. From chicken to fish and even deer, any type of meat will taste great cooked in bamboo.

Fish umai
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The fish umai in West Kalimantan is also similar to those enjoyed in Sarawak. Generally, the ingredients used for this dish are mostly similar, only instead of lime, they substitute it witha a citrus fruit called ‘buah kandi’ for its acidic and sour taste.

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This rice dish is a mixture of glutinous rice with regular rice. To prepare this dish, the rice is mixed and soaked in water. They are then ground with palm sugar and fry in a pan until they turn reddish brown. After that, the rice can easily be shaped into a cylindrical form using hand. It has a mild roasted rice scent to it and a hard, brittle texture.

Labu srikaya  
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Labu srikaya is a sweet and savoury dish

This Instagram-worthy dish has a savoury, sweet and milky taste. This dish is prepared by cutting a hole on top of a whole pumpkin and scoop out the flesh. To prepare this dish, a mixture of coconut milk, pandan leaves, palm sugar and eggs are poured into the pumpkin mould and steamed.

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Selukung is prepared by inserting rice into palm leaves shaped into triangle

This dish is a traditional Kenyah dish. It is basically glutinous rice cooked in wild palm leaves and folded into triangles.

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