08.10.2010 - 10.10.2010
We stayed with the Iban people at Nanga Sumpa Longhouse as part of a tour organised by the Australian based travel agent Borneo Tour Specialists.
The Iban are one of the best known of the Bornean tribes. Predominantly located around the inland areas of Sawarak in Malaysian Borneo, the Iban are renowned for their past as ‘head hunters’. In times gone by the tribes of Borneo were brutal in their quest to defend land from overpopulation and encroaching rival tribes. The heads of conquered tribesmen were often taken as battle trophies and put on display as a sign of tribal power. Nowadays, with their head-hunting days firmly in the past, the tribes of Borneo are battling to maintain their identity and customs against encroaching modernisation and globalisation. Iban life is centred around the ‘long-house’ where traditionally the entire village lived under a single roof. Long-houses consist of a long corridor off of which a series of rooms house individual families. The large communal corridor area is the focal point of Iban social life and the lines between individual families often blur in comparison to the bond that ties the wider village community together. The Iban have historically made a living from subsistence farming but they’re also known for their fishing and boat building skills. Navigating their way down the many rivers and tributaries of Borneo is a major part of day-to-day life and the traditional ‘long-boat’ is an intrinsic part of Iban culture. Today tourism is playing an increasingly important role in sustaining the traditional lifestyle and a number of ‘eco tourism’ options have sprouted up to give travelers a firsthand feel of how local people live. As always there is a balancing act between maximising tourism dollars whilst minimising the impact on the local people and environment. The Nanga Sampa long-house resort has won a number of awards for its commitment to sustainable tourism.
Communal corridor of longhouse
Nanga Sampa is fairly well off the beaten track. From Kuching, the state capital of Sarawak, it's a 4.5 hour drive east through the pepper gardens and cocoa plantations of rural Sarawak to reach Batang Ai reservoir. From there it's a further 1.5 hours by longboat through pristine rainforest to reach the longhouse itself. Nanga Sampa has been split into two sections with the long-house and local amenities on one side and the accommodation for tourists on the other. Accommodation is fairly basic but comfortable.
Visitor accommodation - simple but comfortable
During the day tourists are discouraged from entering the long-house in an attempt to maintain a normal day to day life for its residents. At evening time the village elder welcomes visitors up to the long-house to meet the people and drink locally produced rice wine. Daytime activities include travelling up the river to visit the Enseluai Waterfall and swimming in the surrounding lagoon, trekking through the rainforest and enjoying a traditional style barbeque. It's also possible to watch the Iban going about their daily activities including net fishing, boat building and hunting. Weekends are the most lively since the local children return to the longhouse from their midweek boarding schools upriver.
Local style barbeque
During our stay the village men came together to cut down a huge tree overlooking the long-house which had become unstable due to recent flooding and landslides. At evening time a chicken was sacrificed to appease the spirits of the forest for the fallen tree.
Tree being cut down
Chicken being sacrificed