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A day in the life of a local Iban in Sarawak

Katie from our Asia team had an authentic experience on her recent travels to Borneo, here she writes about her time spent in a local village.

I don’t think there is a better way to truly understand how the Dayak people of Borneo live their lives, than to spend a day with them, or even a night if you are feeling wild. That’s exactly what we did.

The Ibans are a branch of the Dayak peoples of Borneo. They are just one, of over 200, riverine and hill-dwelling subgroups that I could have visited whilst in Borneo, all of which have their own customs, territory, culture and dialect. The Ibans have lived in longhouses since the 1980’s. Safety in numbers was the primary reason for this, as fights were prominent and frequent. The longhouses frequently argued over land, property and antiques, so families and extended families all lived under one roof to protect them.

Eric, our incredibly charismatic and knowledgeable guide took us to his Godfather’s longhouse. He blew me away with his knowledge on everything of Sarowak; from the Brooke Family who founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak; his passion for orangutans, along with finding us the next decent bathroom on the bumpy journey to Batang.

We traveled four hours from Kuching, however with a fair few stops en route. Stopping firstly at Semenggoh Nature Reserve where we were fortunate enough to see seven orangutans, all very much in their natural environment and then we stopped at a local market which seemed to be selling chopped up Cobra’s, live eels and the usual fresh produce.

From the moment I stepped out of the van, I noticed an incredibly strong sense of community. One parent from each longhouse was waiting patiently for the school doors to burst open, to take all the children home to their families. It makes sense as it’s a good half hour long tail boat ride home along the Batang Lemanah River. Meanwhile, the rest of their families were busy sorting rice, farming pepper, and most importantly preparing lunch for our arrival.

On arrival, we were welcomed by kiddies, grandparents, local friends and the chief of the longhouse. We politely sipped our rice wine and watched the locals perform a traditional dance for us. The local men performed the Worrier Dance, whilst other members of the family sang along and played their instruments. I was slightly wary of being intrusive; however they were so keen to show us around their longhouse, which they take a lot of pride in. We all gathered together to eat our barbecue lunch inside, simply because the weather wasn’t great. Typically you would enjoy it on the water’s edge. It is also possible to spend a night here too as an alternative to staying at Batang Ai Longhouse Resort.

My day on the river is without a doubt one of those experiences that will live with me forever.

For more information on Borneo, give one of our Asia Consultants a call on 020 3642 7660 or visit scottdunn.com

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