Authentic Borneo cultural trip is hard to refuse for Sarawak-addict like me. When I saw a cultural trip being promoted by a prominent travel agency in Sarawak, Brighton Travel and Tours, I knew I had to see it for myself. The last cultural trip of Borneo that I went was Makan Tahun, a harvesting celebration for Kedayan ethnic group. For as much as I could remember, I had zero knowledge on the culture of Kenyah ethnic.
Kenyah is one of the 27 indigenous groups that fall under the group profiling of “Orang Ulu” or loosely translated into “the interior people”. The Kenyah people is divided into smaller tribes. It suffices at this juncture to know that the festival I attended was a customary to Kenyah indigenous group.
When the day came for us to depart to Belaga to attend Pesta Kebudayaan Uma Badeng, Apau Koyan, I had to wait for two families from Peninsular Malaysia to arrive from Mulu. During the monsoon season (December – March), the visibility level is limited. Hence, their flight was delayed for until later that evening. While waiting, I devoured a bowl of kolok noodle with slices of meat strip at a restaurant called Restoran Awang Mahyan. The restaurant is owned by former Sarawak football coach and has few branches around Miri.
The travel agency took a pity on me for having to wait for the other that I was regrouped with another group at Batu Niah. We left Batu Niah at 1pm and reached Uma Badeng, Sungai Koyan, Belaga at 6.00 pm. Sg Koyan, Belaga is part of the area known as Bakun Resettlement Area, following a legal battle over the native customary rights over the native land. Eventually, in 1998, they vacated their native lands and resettled to the Bakun Resettlement Area in Sg Asap and Sg Koyan.
I have been to some longhouses, mostly upgraded and modern, but the longhouses in Sungai Koyan are concentrated and divided into blocks which are named alphabetically. From Blok A – K, they are known of. A typical long house in Sg Asap Resettlement, there are 60 houses with approximately 100 families living in one long house. The house is referred to as Room and normally occupied by few generation rooting from the same tree family. The whole of entourage of 2 vans went through the same door.
I was left to wonder how big was the Room?
Since we were staying overnight at Blok F, I had more freedom to explore the longhouse. The longhouses are normally built on wooden stilts. The modern ones are built on cemented ground, but they would still retain the same features like the common area known as ruai. Ruai is the long shared area meant for the communal purpose such as ethnic celebration. Beyond the door, there’s a huge living area meant for the family and family rooms. Then, there’s the kitchen, the modern one and the wood fire kitchen. Surprise, surprise! There’s an extension of the Room beyond the kitchen at the house where I was staying. They made few more rooms to cater to extended family members. Now, that’s huge! Bigger than million dollar condominium in Kuala Lumpur.
When I arrived, it was 2 days past Christmas. Everyone was in merry Christmas still. They greeted us with smiles. After having dinner over Sultan fish, one of the royal feast tasting fish in Malaysia-Thai freshwater (also one of the most expensive), we proceeded to one of the longhouses where Pesta Kebudayaan Lepo Badeng Apau Koyan was held.
We arrived a little earlier as the sape crew was still tuning their sape’, the traditional lute of Orang Ulu. More and more girls of 7 years old to 18 years arrived at the venue heavily dressed in their traditional costumes including saong (the hat). The registration counter told me that the event would be held for two days. For that night, there would be the beauty contest to uncover the king and queen of the Kenyah and group performance by young girls. The beauty contest is known as bungan lisau (female) and balan nyanding (male). Apart from having to walk the runway of the longhouse, the contestants need to showcase their talent to perform the traditional dance of Kenyah Badeng known as Kanjet Lasan.
The group performance from the young girls is a way for the Kenyah Badeng to preserve their identity and cultural heritage.
Also showcased in the event was the elaborated bead work for their clothing and bags.
The contestants for the beauty contest of Bungau Lisau
Possibly the funniest Balan Nyanding contestant!
Unfortunately, he had to settle with the third place.
By 12.30am, the event was still going on with no sign of stopping and the crowd did not give any sign of going home. When we reached our longhouse, the party continued to the kitchen where tuak, the rice wine was passed in circle as we talked in random until late night. It was only at 4 am that I went back to sleep.