Sunday, June 3, 2007

The longhouse at Tumbang Malahoi

Longhouses, or betang, are traditionally built up the rivers by extended Dayak family groups seeking protection. A 3 hour trip by speedboat up the Rungan River to the village of Tumbang Jutuh, and then a short but rough road trip to the tiny village of Tumbang Malahoi, brings you to an area outstanding for its old longhouse and traditional carvings. This betang, lived in by 23 successive generations of the same family, also houses in front of it, the sandung, or ritual burial structure holding the bones of past family members. Flanked by tall totems representing some of those buried or guardian figures, the whole stands opposite ascention poles, said to be needed for each soul to reach heaven, on the back of one of the hornbills at the pinnacle. This betang stands on magnificent ironwood poles soaring 7 metres overhead and is clad in bark. Clambering up to the dim interior on niched poles, worn smooth by countless feet, is an entry to a bygone time. Before having to return to the speedboat, a walk through the village yields many other fine examples of sandungs and their guardian poles.

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