DixPix Photographs

     

INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO

 
     
  Indigenous Groups: Malaysian Borneo  

 

What are now called the Iban, were once a ferocious, head-hunting tribal complex, expanding mostly into what is now Sarawak.  When the British (who dominated the colonial period in western Borneo) first met them as coastal pirates in the 1840's, they named them the Sea Dayaks.  The Malaysians later came to call them Datak, and although some were coastal, most lived along the inland rivers.

The Iban have adapted well to the modern world, and now most live away from their tradional long-houses which once supported as many as a hundred families.  The following is based on a visit to the tourist-adapted traditional Sepayakl long-house on the Enkari River, which flows into the giant Batang Ai Reservoir.

 

The Iban long-houses really can be long, they are known as Rumah Panjang.  This one is above the Batang Ai Reservoir, showing the mess left at lower water levels.   Many of these had be relocated when the reservoir flooded. Click to see big picture (640x338 pixels; 82 KB)
And the mess at Batang Ai is not just along the shore.  The area was flooded without cutting the less valuable trees, resulting in a forest of snags and deadheads. Click to see big picture (557x480 pixels; 72 KB)
The Iban travel the rives in long, motorized canoes of varying lengths. Click to see big picture (572x480 pixels; 97 KB)
A canoe under construction. While far from stone-age tools, the implements used are quite traditional. Click to see big picture (640x362 pixels; 117 KB)
Once skilled hunters, the Iban were experts with these huge blowpipes, which may be sited through the barrel as shown.  Keeping such a monster steady from one end is a skill. Click to see big picture (512x480 pixels; 122 KB)
To the end of a blowpipe is attached a spear for the final kill.  Here also one of the darts used.  Snares were additionally used for game. Click to see big picture (300x480 pixels; 75 KB)
A warrior dance, with the feared Iban sword known as a Parang. Click to see big picture (344x480 pixels; 71 KB)
Various forms of the Iban traditional dance known as the Ngajat, were performed for appropriate occasions. Click to see big picture (528x480 pixels; 108 KB)
Here a more elaborate performance of a Ngajat is held at the Sarawak Cultural Village near Kuching. Click to see big picture (640x420 pixels; 86 KB)
Tattoos were once an important cultural symbol for men.  I am told they mainly relate to the different long-houses with which the wearer has been related. Click to see big picture (355x480 pixels; 73 KB)
Weaving is another Iban specialty, although a necessity for most indigenous tribes.. Click to see big picture (627x480 pixels; 104 KB)
Rice is the staple food for the Iban, here shown drying.  The crop has been ritualized and was once thought to have a soul.  Times are changing. Click to see big picture (640x428 pixels; 126 KB)
Traditionally, the inland Iban practiced slash and burn agriculture, in this case growing corn.  Alas the soil only sustains one crop per burn.  Clearly this is not a sustainable lifestyle in the face of rampant logging and an increasing population. Click to see big picture (640x449 pixels; 139 KB)
One method of cooking is to place vegetables in green bamboo containers, which do not burn through too rapidly. Click to see big picture (356x480 pixels; 83 KB)
And why not throw in a few tilapia, from fish farms on Batang Ai.  Fish is one of the main sources of protein for the Ibank. Click to see big picture (517x480 pixels; 129 KB)
Together with some herb sauces, a local feast is ready. Click to see big picture (640x356 pixels; 122 KB)

 

The Rungus tribal group live in northernmost Borneo, in the Kudat region of Sabah Province.  They were originally animists with female shamans, but now are mainly Christian.  Like the Iban, they live in long-houses on stilts, and have a diet based on rice.  Rungus women are renown for their beadwork.

 

 
The traditional Rungus clothing is based on black.  The intricately woven and decorated crossed 'bandolier like' sashes are known as Pinacols. Click to see big picture (517x480 pixels; 101 KB)
Although the traditional Rungus dances are still preformed, the youth tend to prefer the more active 'slap-pole' dance where they must step between pairs of poles which a slapped together at intervals.  But young people have become rare, joining the mainstream society. Click to see big picture (640x353 pixels; 98 KB)
Gongs are an important part of the traditional music of the Rungus, as they are in other tribes. Click to see big picture (583x480 pixels; 114 KB)
And here is the nose-flute, an unusual instrument to say the least. Click to see big picture (534x480 pixels; 90 KB)
While the Rungus communal long-houses on stilts are still used, many families have built separate homes, which tend to look like long-house segments. Click to see big picture (640x373 pixels; 105 KB)
The old 'boy-scout' method of starting fires with friction is still practiced, at least for tourists.  Try this in a rainstorm sometime, when you really need a fire. Click to see big picture (640x391 pixels; 85 KB)
In the days of inter-tribal warfare, this 'itchy' palm apparently yielded a chemical defense, sort of a mace.  Now it is planted to ward off evil spirits.  Click to see big picture (342x480 pixels; 94 KB)
With no more warfare, Rungus expertise has been turn to practical things like giant fish-traps. Click to see big picture (640x463 pixels; 150 KB)
And gardens with giant (edible) 'elephant ear' plants. Click to see big picture (640x448 pixels; 121 KB)

The Melanau tribal grouping were mostly settled in the Rejang River basin of central Sarawak, and united by dialects of the Kajang language.  The language and culture are disappearing as the younger generations melt into those of the Malay.  Traditionally they built long-houses of more than one story, known as tall-houses, and had a diet based on sago and fish.

 

A traditional Tall-House at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

 

Click to see big picture (640x441 pixels; 149 KB)
With stilts and two or more stories, these houses are indeed tall and imposing. Click to see big picture (633x480 pixels; 111 KB)
Access is by stairs cut from single longs. Click to see big picture (401x480 pixels; 100 KB)
The Orang Ulu are a diverse tribal definition for groups living in the mountains near the headwaters of rivers.  The name means 'remote people'.  They are known for carvings (note their house stilts) as well as tattoos and both making and using swords.  Most have converted to Christianity. Click to see big picture (586x480 pixels; 148 KB)
The Bidayuh tribes are second only to the Iban in population within Sarawak.  This is a depiction of their traditional housing at the Cultural Village, but as their homeland was originally centered around the present city of Kuching, they now live in modern housing. Click to see big picture (346x480 pixels; 86 KB)
The Sarawak Cultural Center also produces dances and other productions from the various tribal groups.  This is not just for tourists, but also to give the 'modernized' children some idea of their heritage. Click to see big picture (348x480 pixels; 70 KB)