December 16, 2010

T he Heart of Borneo - 6 - Sg. Utik Longhouse

"Sharing a roof" is a good partial description of the longhouse concept. In the 1960's an anthropological definition of a household or family is "the group of people sharing rice from a single rice pot". This definition would include grandparents and unmarried uncles and aunties. The idea of a single small nuclear famly amongst the Chinese in Sarawak was still in its infancy then.  A young family moving out of the original household was considered "splitting" from the family and there would be a lot of shaking of heads for years in fact. 

BUT doesn't the Chinese character for peace represent ONE woman under the ROOF?

Was I fortunate in growing up in a nuclear family in which our rice pot was shared only by my parents and my siblings?

Then later I was married into an extended family which literary also included 32 other sub families under one roof.

As I raised my own family I had lots of interesting conversations with married relatives. One memorable occasion was with my second aunt who said " a roof which does not leak and four walls  which keeps out people would be simple enough as a home. We need  not ask for more trimmings." She led a long and simple life.

Like a butterfly I flit between a large roof and a small roof.


But this home "Sungai Utik long house"  spans 100 meters!! It is shared by more than 50 families who often gather together in the ruai which is the common hall under the single roof.

It is here that I got to know that mats were made from more than three different kinds of materials - the rattan and the bemban ....and now the Senggan and keropok.
Birthday party: Long house residents celebrate the first birthday party of a boy, eating snacks and drinking.
the  Long house residents celebrating an occasion.

Sungai Utik, literally meaning white river, is the name of the river where the residents bathe and wash. There are two nearby river banks covered with clean white sand. The water is clear except when hard rain in the evening brings mud from higher places.White river: Children bath at Utik River. Residents bathe and wash at Su-ngai Utik, which literally means “White River”.

"The longhouse in Borneo is often in conflict : a community under one roof inside and potentially threatened by socio economic development and threats outside. While the political leaders try their best to protect the welfare of the people the forces of outsiders like illegal logging and rapid technological changes continually beat upon our roof of social stability. This is our common struggle and we have to seek a balance. If not we might cease to exist one day. That would be very sad and we as the educated Dayaks would be remembered by our future generations in this sad manner" one of my new acquaintances told me.
A story within a story unfolded as I got to know the people of this longhouse. It is an amazing tale!!

This man is the Pala Adat or Head of the Law and Customs of this area. His late brother Rawing migrated to Sarawak and married a beautiful Iban lady from Pulau Melayu of Limbang called Imore. The late Rawing was thus related to me by marriage!! I found a relative in Sg. Utik!

Would the traditional sacrifices (miring) they have been making continue to protect them for the devastation wrought by outside forces? Would it protect them from the rapid poaching and the rapid removal of their forests?

Over the roof is a solar panel. And then there is the more obvious 21st century icon : an Indonesian TV satellite dish.

Time will tell the truth.

And then as I drove away in the convoy I realised that in the ancient days my Chinese heroes had proclaimed " All men are brothers and ........the four seas are our home". Can we make our earth better by being better citizens of the world?


William said...

Reminded me of the mission trip. But this house is looong!

sintaicharles said...

A very perspicacious writing.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes William....this is a looooooong house with so many families...

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Charles That's a very long but significant word. Thanks.

Free Bird said...

i can smell the environment from here.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

This place is nice with lots of fresh air .

Unknown said...

is there anyone should I cantact there I plan to go there for vacation

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