Monday, September 18, 2023

The Grand Old Lady of the Kahayan River

Recent renovations to the Rahai'i Pangun improved the cabins, added ensuites and replaced equipment. She is returned, happily plying the river she has serviced for 50 years. A grand old lady, she was built in the locally famous Mandomai carpentry school near the regional capital of Pulang Pisau on the Kapuas River. Built solely from the first-grade hardwood called ulin growing prolifically in those days, she has outlived many other vessels on the river. Launched with the name Noah, she was purchased by Wow Borneo in 2014 and comprehensively converted and upgraded. We take maintenance seriously, and in spite of the worst possible conditions - extreme tempratures, heavy rain and widely variable river conditions - she continues to live up to her new name, Rahai'i Pangun. It means big development in Dayak, and she continues to pioneer a river tourism industry along the Kahayan River.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

The improbable proboscis monkey

Nasalis larvatus is a large, exquisitely coloured and graceful monkey that is a native of the rivers, swamps and coastal mangroves of Borneo. It is classified as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to habitat loss, illegal poaching, and land conversion.

Among the largest of Asia's monkey species, they are found in energetic groups along riversides often near the sea. This guy is photographed by the side of the Sekonyer River, along the boundaries of the Tanjung Puting National Park. Like orangutans, the proboscis or bekantan (as it is locally known) is one of the Bornean flagships that faces serious threats to its population.

It may seem hard to believe, but male proboscis monkeys probably use their out-sized noses to attract mates by amplifying their calls to mates and rivals. They are a highly arboreal species, making spectacular leaps through the canopy, and will venture onto land only occasionally to search for food. They live in organized harem groups consisting of a dominant male and two to seven females and their offspring. Various groups often congregate near water at night to sleep.

Apart from their unique noses and elegant colouring, with the long pure white tail, Proboscis monkeys are the primate world’s most prolific swimmers. They can often be glimpsed crossing rivers in search of food, using their webbed feet and hands to help them outpace the crocodiles, which are their main predator. Over the last 40 years, proboscis monkey populations have plummeted. They are currently protected from hunting or capture in Borneo.

Join Wow Borneo's cruises into Tanjung Puting National Park and to the Sebangau National Park to glimpse these improbable and highly specialised creatures in their native habitats!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Longhouse at Tumbang Manggu

On the Samba tributary of the Katingan River sits this stunning longhouse or betang at Tumbang Manggu. Although constructed over the last 3 decades, it is conceived on traditional principles, using the endemic trees from the once embracing forest - notably massive ironwood treetrunks. Many meters high for safety from annual floods, marauding animals and rival tribes, it was built and occupied by a Dayak family who is locally famous for traditional crafts and especially for dance. Here below is Chechen prepared to perform the sword dance in traditional garb. He trains a village group in dance and the accompanying rituals. Here he is seen on the niched pole which gives access to the betang.

The betang is sensibly located above the river's course and close to a well-established village. One of the delights of staying here is to set off on exploring strolls around the village to find the many examples of carvings created to honour the ancestors who are interred in the magnificent raised bonehouses or ossuaries. The totem poles may depict the departed souls and events in their lifetime. Some illustrate the manner of passing, but all are decorated in highly ritualised symbols and colours. Hornbills are the vehicles for the souls as they travel to heaven and the ferocious beasts keep away troublesome spirits.

The betang itself, although imposing, with beautiful carved posts and elaborate stair access, is simple inside with spaces provided for gatherings and with memorabilia lining the walls. Photos of ancestors and the extended family are fascinating to see. Guests rooms line the side of the meeting area. Meals are served on the balcony or inside a smaller family gathering space. Traditional instruments, the array of gongs, and beaded cloth worked by the inhabitants hang on the walls. Rattan baskets for gathering jungle foods and the traditional long machete or pisau also hang there, ready for the next foray into the forest, to trim the prickly rattan vines or dig up some wild tapioca bulbs.



Village strolls and walks to the nearby ladangs or family cropping areas yield so many interesting sights and meetings. The village shops line the high street with a few simple eating houses. Passers by have a ready smile. After the shops, houses line the river bank, and interspersed with those are the bonehouses.


All remaining occupied longhouses are distant from the city, and only accessibe along bumpy roads and swift rivers. Not for the faint-hearted or luxury lovers, these places are closest to the real life of the longhouse. Every year, communications improve, the adjacent forestry company expands and fells more timber, and the modern world encroaches further.

But the passion of the dancers remains!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Garden on Kahayan

Opening early for breakfast, come and sit in our delightful and central Garden Cafe on Kahayan for an American style bagel breakfast, all baked in house. We're open through lunch as well. Enjoy our comfortable outdoor area under the trees or inside on the sofas. Meeting rooms make this a perfect setting for small group meetings. Check out our Menu below. We also sell some of the amazing plants we have in The Garden. Great food, great ambiance, great drinks!


Monday, December 7, 2020

Mangkok & the Sebangau National Park

Accessing this relatively recently declared wild orangutan National Park, although close to the provincial capital of Palangka Raya, is a challenge through the dense and peaty forest, however, the rewards may be high. Sightings of shy wild orangutans, colourful birds, amazing black water reflections on the lakes and the unusual vegetation are likely. Entering the area along the Lempanen Canal, cutting through the emerald green forest, is a trip by local canoe that will take about 1.5 hours. We work with local villagers to provide this service. Stroll along the boardwalks at the information centre, or else jump off and take an adventurous trek through the forest.
Borneo Beckons! Join us on Wow Borneo Orangutan and Dayak Village Cruises for this experience.

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.'