December 18, 2010

Batang Mandai and Handicraft Centre

 This overland Camel Trophy like road adventure has many cultural and social aspects for me to learn.
 I have been on the road and staying in two longhouses where I learned about many things I have not  known before. Even though the Iban spoken is the same several other practices of praying and sacrifice are still new to me. These two are very religious in the Roman Catholic way . And the headmen are very aligned to good environmental practices. Besides the Kalimantan Barat Government is also very tolerant and supportive of protecting their forests and natural resources.

As we meander along the long untarred lateritic road I can see that the forests are still well kept and much of the land has been replanted with rubber. It is no wonder that RUBBER/karet is the most important export of this province. Rice is widespread. When asked what jobs they have the Dayaks proudly say they are Planters. They indeed actively contribute to the rich resources of Indonesia.

Culturally there is much to learn throughout the journey.

Tenung or weaving is an important part of Iban culture. On both sides of the border the Ibans of Sarawak and Kalimantan are prolific in their weaving. Cloth woven have been used mainly for ceremonial purposes. Today their woven textiles have been used for making of hand bags and cushion covers. Some have been farmed up as pieces of art. And in the modern era women and men have also chosen this pua kumbu as they call it as part of their haute couture. Not many civilizations in the modern world can boast of such an intricate skills.

Weaving can be done in several ways - using home made wooden frames and spindles or using larger structures. I think no one has actually made a steel weaving machine to make pua kumbu.

the best pua kumbu woven has spiritual directions and women who weave well are the pride of their husbands and community. Her reputation can cover thousands of miles and her name would be remembered for geneations.

Besides many the presence of many museums dedicated to Weaving there are many handicraft centres which show case weaving and woven products. It is no wonder that Indonesia is top in the world in natural fibre weaving.

The Handicraft Centre was only partially open when we visited the place as we had been delayed by the conditions of the road. Most of the craftsmen and women had gone home. However it was good to hear that the government is making such great efforts to show case the work of these artisan craftsmen and women and providing them accomodation as well in the centre.

The Mandai River has a great mystery for the Iban people. A noble spirit roam forever in the river valley. Its water provides strength of spirit and long life. And  it is believed that even drinking and bathing from the river you can be cured of your "sicknesses". The Mandai is revered by the Ibans like the Ganges by the Indians.

another photo of the children.
:Little boys wearing football jerseys.

The wooden boat could have been made in Sibu.

Incredible woman paddling a small boat coming nearer the bridge.

A serene cow drinking water in the evening not realising so many Sarawakians are looking at her. The river is not burdened by erosion.
Another shot of the Mandai Bridge
Doris is very determined to get good Mandai River water : for health and long life.
Jonathan Barau really wants to bathe in the strengthen his body and spirit but we were so short of time for this break in our journey. I found it very relaxing just to be by the ed ge of the river. And I made a wish to live in a  floating boat house here..

Although not really believing in the legends Arnold and I dip our feet into the cold clear water. Perhaps like Achilles I can derive some strength from the water. Won't it be lovely to live in a house like this?

The  mysterious Mandai River (valley of the spirt world, 'Headhunter Heaven') was traditionally feared even by the Iban raiding parties as the haunt of spirts and ghosts. To this day it remains uncharted and is known only to members of the Da-an tribe. Upriver from here it takes a further 10 days of hard travel (paddling and hauling) by dugout canoe to reach the headwaters of the Mandai River. Most bridges in Kalimantan are simple structures like this. And they don't cost 50  or 500 million ringgit.


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