Monday, September 30, 2019

Katingan traditional communities

Easily accessible from Palangka Raya, many of the communities on the upper Katingan River adhere to the ancient Kaharingan religion, described by the legendary Birute Galdikas ... 'Kaharingan is an ancient animistic religion which has a deep philosophical cosmology but acknowledges the supremacy of nature ... the word Kaharingan originates from a species of fig tree, whose deep roots and enormous branches represent the tree of life, similar to the tree where Buddha found enlightenment ... the heart of Kaharingan is the concept of a parallel universe, one a mirror image .... which exists in the here and now, accessible by dreams and shamans ... in Dayak culture, death is an integral part of life ... indeed more real than life'.

Dayak totem poles stand guard over the simple communal burial area

Rattan vines are collected and processed, employing local people in a successful small scale industry. Over the road, an enterprising local woman is weaving the dried and smoked vines into useful back packs for work in the ladangs, or rice paddies and family gardens.

Rattan is processed by hand in a series of steps designed to clean and dry the vines. Smoked with sulphur in simple stacks, each strand turns buttery yellow before being tied in bundles.

Each villager has a ladang here in a communal area, where they plant special dry rice

In this area, family mausoleums are shaped as a simple colourfully painted house. The funeral or tiwah in Kaharingan is possibly the most important ritual, where bones are disinterred, cleaned and placed in the bonehouses in long and elaborate ceremonies.

The communal ladang area is vast and needs some restoration. Dayaks are used to shifting cultivation in long cycles, preparing and burning new areas rather than sustaining the soil's fertility. The Government has built irrigation canals but some work remains to be done on making the system work

Rattan is woven into useful baskets, broad sun hats, mats and more. 

Carvings around the cemeteries are fascinating, even as they lose their colours and are weathered into artifacts with an ancient look about them. The hornbill plays a major symbolic role as a symbol of the other life, the link between the two worlds, always occupying the highest position.

'In spite of our Western cultural armor, after living in Kalimantan for any length of time, Kalimantan reality becomes your reality. You may not believe in spirits and spells, but you forced to acknowledge how much you cannot see and how much you cannot control.'

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Orangutan islands with Wow Borneo

Orangutans! Cruises on board the Rahai'i Pangun on the Rungan River, away from the better known  tourist centre at Tanjung Puting National Park, provides an ideal opportunity to observe this beautiful and endangered species. Stay on a comfortable live aboard for a chance to enjoy the natural rhythms of forest river life. It is amazingly accessible by a short flight from Jakarta and only minutes to the boat on arrival for the trip of a lifetime.

Framed by the dense riverside vegetations, this group were observed by guests. These orangutans were rescued and rehabilitated through the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) program and are on these river islands to adapt to a more independent life before being released into the wild.

As part of the agreed guidelines for observing these magnificent creatures in the last phase of their rehabilitation, we stay 15 meters distant, do nothing to disturb them, or feed them, and by remaining quiet and still. On the beautiful river, undisturbed by crowds, is the perfect place to see them in a natural setting.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Tiwah season!

21-23 October is planned for a massive communal tiwah in the upper Rungan area in the longhouse village of Tumbang Malahoi and another in an adjacent village.

These sababuka or masked, anonymous village guardians are protecting the village of Tewang Rangas during its tiwah ritual last year. The colourful masks and imaginative costumes are part of many such rituals in Borneo in a variety of forms. I have seen guardians swathed in fresh lake weed, giants in colourful batiks and others with huge fierce masks. You could join us 21-23 October to experience the unique Rungan tradition.

Many of the activities will be centred around the traditional ironwood longhouse, where totem poles and a bone house or sandung, already stand. The ancestor bones are generally placed in family sandungs at the end of the ceremony, removed by families from the main site of the events to their own sandungs, sometimes overgrown with vegetation.

Our program will cover the 3 days, and will provide simple accommodation and food in the village. We will follow the activities as they unfold giving plenty of opportunities for learning about the meaning of each part of the ritual and for photographs. This will include animal sacrifices, communal cooking, shaman led ceremonies and parades.  Our normal village visit is covered at this link and our special tiwah event will follow a similar overall time schedule. Get more information at

Monday, January 2, 2017

Images of a memorable day on the Rungan River

At the very beginning of 2017, we had an idyllic cruise downstream on the Rungan River, the heat and languid stillness of the day as it waned combined to give these memorable images.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dayak carvings in historic Bukit Rawi

The traditional sandungs or second burial houses of Dayak tribes around the Palangka Raya area, are brilliantly coloured, some with fantastic detail and finesse. The fearsome snake eater keeps troublesome spirits away. See them on our mid-week cruises. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Glassy reflections on the black water lakes

Shadowing the sweeping bends and lowland forests of the lower Katingan River, canals and rivers draining the forests and stranded river bends form a web of waterways. Stained coffee colour, the water is an almost perfect mirror, and those photographers loving the effects, and turning their photos 90 degrees, are rewarded with whimsical images of the spirits of the forest. Most of these photos were taken by Osanna Vaughn, recording our trip made in early November this year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A private charter on the Spirit of Kalimantan

The Spirit of Kalimantan charter boat cruises the Rungan and Kahayan Rivers, The forested riversides and winding course of the river, create many islands, lakes and waterways. Some of these islands are pre-release refuges for rehabilitated orang-utans from the BOSF program, which guests on board can see as we cruise along. Air conditioned cabins, comfortable screened saloon lounge, open air deck with easy chairs and roof top terrace is comfortably furnished for up to 8 passengers. Food is freshly prepared on board and served in the saloon. Relax and watch the scenery slip past. We stop at villages and have some short walks and canoe rides to break up the day!