Tag Archives: Gunung Mas

Rungan Hulu

I last wrote about the very interesting betang (longhouse) at Tumbang Malahoi. But actually the whole area of the Upper Rungan River (Rungan Hulu) was interesting, so I thought I’d share some pictures from our travels up there with Dodi and Yon.


By Day 10 of our trip, the sometimes-abysmal roads of Gunung Mas were taking a toll, even on the rugged red Land Cruiser. We were pleased that it had been equipped with new tyres before we started out. But since then, apart from collecting a fair amount of mud inside and out, we’d lost a wheel bay cover and two solid rubber blocks from the suspension. However Dodi was able to engineer some temporary fixes and we carried on.

So here’s our Toyota, parked on the boulevard in Rabamrang village, where we had gone in the hope of meeting up with a local rotan (rattan) craftsman.


Unfortunately he was ill, but we did get to see some of his handmade backpack baskets (and we ended up purchasing the one that Karen is holding in the photo above right.)


Just outside the village of Jangkit, we met a group of teenagers who were trawling for fish and edible crustaceans in a small muddy stream. They immersed their basket fish-traps (saok) repeatedly and were actually catching reasonable quantities of small fish and little molluscs, which they would then transfer to a bucket to carry back home. It was all done with much hilarity and joking, especially when the bules  (white people) showed up.


Pak Yuner (though everyone calls him ‘Bapa Honda’) is 76 years old, and was born in Tumbang Malahoi. He makes long cylindrical fish-traps like the one under construction in the photo above (known as a buwu) out of rotan (rattan). He also makes mandau (the ubiquitous Dayak sword/machete), a couple of handles of which are also visible.

Dodi bought one of his buwu, which was then strapped on top of the roofrack of our old red Land Cruiser. The long cylinder made the 4WD look a a bit like a mobile rocket launcher!


The roads in Kalimantan are tough on bikes, but some bikes are kept in service for longer than you’d believe possible, often through improvised repairs and ‘bush mechanic’ skills. This ageing Yamaha could have been older than the house it was parked next to.


This is a not a photo of our Land Cruiser at the end of our 10 days’ travelling in Gunung Mas, but a ‘retired’ model that we came upon along the way (near Tumbang Jutuh). Dodi and Yon examined it with interest, concluding that it could be made serviceable again.


Here’s Yon, warmed by the late afternoon light on the bridge at Tumbang Malahoi.


Karen on the bridge at Tumbang Malahoi, with electrical poles, pantar panjang and coconut palm trunks behind her.


Pak Nirwan took us on a walk into the forest near Malahoi which he knows well, and where there are very many useful plants – for those who know what to look for!

We also visited Pak Nirwan’s pondok (hut) at the edge of the forest, so he could feed the large pig that he keeps there. He’s very proud of that pig.


To many Dayak people, the forest is the ultimate sustainable resource, providing them with food and drink, medicine, tools, building materials and more. (When we were trekking in the forest in Kelabit, our guide Petrus referred to it as the “jungle supermarket”!)

In the forest with Pak Nirwan and Dodi (above), Karen was most interested in seeing nyamu trees (pohon nyamu). The bark of this tree species (Artocarpus elasticus) was removed, soaked, pounded and cut, and used to make range of traditional Dayak clothing.

Baju kulit kayu (bark clothing) is now only worn during certain Kaharingan ceremonies, and as clothing for performances in traditional costume.


A small digression, by way of example. The photo above is not from Tumbang Malahoi, but from the Isen Mulang Festival in Palangkaraya last year. The dancing Dayak warrior (who incidentally was standing on the roof of a fast-moving boat) is wearing a vest made from kulit pohon nyamu (bark of the nyamu tree).

He is also sporting the beak, casque and feathers of a Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) atop his head, and tail-feathers of the Great Argus (Argusianus argus) protruding from his neck and shoulders.


Tumbang Kuayan village is a little further up the Rungan River from Malahoi. Currently the road from from Malahoi ends on the opposite side of the river, because the bridge is too damaged for cars to cross over, so the village is quiet.

Villagers in Tumbang Kuayan still grow their own rice using slash-and-burn techniques on the ladang (swidden) areas in the forest. The harvested rice is carried back to village in sturdy basket backpacks (as above right), and threshed by hand to separate the grain ready for cooking.


There are LOTS of children in Tumbang Kuayan, and 20 or more of them followed us as we walked around the village. At first they looked variously stunned or terrified by our presence, but they relaxed once they realised that we were just weird, not scary, and some resumed their games.


These boys were playing a game of battling wooden spinning tops that we have now seen being played in a number of places, including inside a longhouse over in West Kalimantan. Along the Kahayan River they call it bayang. There’s a sort-of similar game called balugu, which, instead of spinning wooden tops, is played with tempurung kelapa (coconut shells).


There were some really nice sapundu in Tumbang Kuayan, including this spectacular group. As is common, they were all facing towards the river, perhaps awaiting the arrival of a canoe?

Each sapundu is made from a single trunk of kayu ulin. If there is a fork or large branch in the tree, the craftsman will often take advantage of it to incorporate an extension of some sort. The outstretched arm and the tiger in the photo above are examples of this.


There’s not a lot of forest left in the 4,172 sq km of Gunung Mas (except in the mountainous parts in the far north – and even up there there is a network of logging roads. An ever-growing expanse of the district has been clear-felled and given over to plantations of kelapa sawit – oil palms (Elaeis guineensis).

Commercially grown oil palms grow up to 20 metres in height, and can be productive for 20 to 30 years. So it’s therefore surprising to see that such a large proportion of the plantations consist of young palms like the ones in the photo above. This is an industry that’s rapidly expanding…

…and eating up just about everything as it grows.


Tumbang Malahoi

After Tumbang Anoi and Tumbang Korik, the final destination on our ‘Tur Tiga Betang’ (our ‘Three Longhouse Tour’) was the Betang Toyoi in the village of Tumbang Malahoi.


Malahoi is located in the upper reaches of the Rungan River, which we consider to be ‘our’ river, as it runs by here where we are living, downstream at Sei Gohong. It’s about 122km to the north of the provincial capital of Palangkaraya.

It’s a very interesting Dayak Ngaju village, home to large numbers of Kaharingan sandung (ossuaries), sapundu (carved ceremonial poles) and tall pantar panjang (like the hornbill-topped pantar above left).

It’s also home to many traditional craftspeople, such as the 90-year-old man (above right), who has only recently retired from making rattan baskets and other crafts. (“My fingers have become sick” he said – it looked like arthritis.)


Despite its name, the village of Tumbang Malahoi is not on the Malahoi River (as you were no doubt thinking…), but in fact is at the junction of the Baringei and Rungan Rivers. The reason for this discrepancy is apparently that the founders of the village (the Toyoi family, who also built the longhouse) originally came from West Kalimantan near the headwaters of the Melawi / Malahoi river. They wanted to retain their connection to the ancestral homelands, and even brought some soil and water from there to help maintain the link.

Whatever the name, it’s an attractive river, and full of water when we were there in the middle of the wet season.


Tumbang Malahoi is best known for its lovely and well-preserved old longhouse (called a betang in the Dayak Ngaju language). Construction of the Betang Toyoi was completed in 1869, after a year of work by the community (gotong royong). Since then it has housed many generations of the Toyoi family.

Its floor stands around two metres above the ground, supported by 26 heavy wooden posts. It’s 37 metres long. The walls, like those of the longhouse at Tumbang Korik, are made from kulit kayu pendu (bark of the pendu tree – Polyalthia glauca?)

The betang was built by Bungai Toyoi. He was a friend and supporter of the Banjar Sultan Muhammad Seman (1862 -1905), who fought (and lost) against the Dutch colonial forces in the Barito War. (Such an alliance between a Dayak Kaharingan chief and a Banjar Muslim Sultan was not uncommon at the time. Perhaps nothing unites people better than having a common enemy!)


And later, during the struggle for independence from Dutch rule in the 1940s, the betang at Tumbang Malahoi was for a time the regional headquarters of the Gerakan Revolusi Rakyat Indonesia (the ‘Indonesian People’s Revolutionary Movement’)

It’s hard to imagine now… but this place has HISTORY. Nowadays it’s a peaceful place, maintained by a warm and gentle family – themselves descendants of Bungai Toyoi. Head of the household is 59-year-old Ibu Aniema Nanyan Toyoi (but known as Mina Indu Boni). She lives there with her elder sister (Mina Indu Gandi) and mother-in-law Tambi Indu Erie, along with her 34-year-old son Boni and Tri Septiani, his wife of three years.

They were friendly, generous and entertaining hosts over the three nights we stayed there.


Just inside the entrance of the betang are six illustrated panels, carved and painted into the ceiling. Just outside the door are another four panels, on the underside of the eave.

These ten panels (yes, I know there’s only nine in the photo above) relate to stories of the family’s past intertwined with symbols from Ngaju mythology and encounters with the spirit world. The tree in the panel at top left in the above photo, for example, is the Sawang Ngandang – the ‘Tree of Promises’. It is so called because of its use in wedding ceremonies, where the bride and groom exchange their promises before God, family and nature.

The panels are considered to be significant enough that reproduction drawings have been made and are on display at the Museum Balanga in Palangkaraya.

Mina Indu Boni has carefully written, in 62 pages of neat longhand, a valuable and detailed account of the history of the longhouse, the Toyoi family tree, and descriptions and explanations of the panels and various sculptures at the betang. It’s mostly in Bahasa Indonesia, but with chunks of Dayak Ngaju language also. She kindly allowed Karen to make a copy, and we are now keen to get assistance in translating the large sections that we don’t fully understand!


There is usually only a single entrance to a betang, via a log with steps cut into it (known as a hejan). The hejan at Tumbang Malahoi features two stunning patung (statues), one on either side, about 2 metres high. Each one depicts a tiger (harimau) with a Dayak warrior sitting astride it, and a crocodile (buaya) crawling up.

The patung harimau at Tumbang Malahoi are old, but in fact they are only reproductions of the original statues, which have been removed and are safely stored within the longhouse. Which is just as well. Just six days before we arrived at Malahoi, and during a loud thunderstorm, thieves came in the night and took the companion statue to the one above, by sawing it off at the base.

Sadly, such thefts of Dayak sapundu and patung are not uncommon (we were shown another sapundu that had been sawn off when we in Bangkal village). They are likely to be ‘commissioned’ thefts, with the objects stolen to order for some wealthy collector. The rewards for the thief must be great, because in Indonesia, getting caught while committing a property crime often results in swift, summary and brutal punishment.


A dozen sapundu pillars, each one carved from a log of kayu ulin (Bornean ironwood), stand in a row in front of the betang.


I took a series of ‘portraits’ of them – partly as a record in case any of them get stolen like the harimau statue.


As the evening descended, the row of pantar across the road from the betang were nicely silhouetted against the darkening sky. The pantar (made from kayu ulin, of course) have been described to us as ‘highways to heaven’, symbolised by the flying hornbill bird which sits on top of most of them. We understand them to be erected to honour the life (and death) of some particularly notable member of the community.

As I was taking this photo, a motorbike came down the road from the left side, then turned to cross the bridge. With a 20 second tripod exposure, it laid down a light trail of its headlight transforming into a red taillight as it passed.


It was getting dark, and stars started to appear – and the mosquitoes too!. So we went back inside for dinner, leaving all of the sandung, sapundu, patung harimau and the pantar panjang to watch over the Betang Toyoi longhouse at Tumbang Malahoi.



Tumbang Korik

After our visit to Tumbang Anoi, the next destination on our ‘Tur Tiga Betang’ (our ‘Three Longhouse Tour’) was to the longhouse known as ‘Betang Damang Singa Kenting‘ in the Dayak (Ot Danum) village of Tumbang Korik. Like the Betang Damang Batu in Tumbang Anoi, it’s located in the upper reaches of the Kahayan river system, in the district of Gunung Mas, Central Kalimantan.


It’s a really interesting place, a well preserved betang in a beautiful forested setting – with spectacularly tall pantar poles out in front. But visitors aren’t common. We think we found out why.


But first: our base for the trip to Tumbang Korik was the larger village of Tumbang Miri*, on the upper Kahayan River. At around $3 each per night, there are no sheets or bedspread on our beds at the local losmen. But the bedcovers are emblazoned with cartoon penguins playing soccer, and the big captions: “I love you QQ”, “Happy Valentines Day” and (oddly) “Who was the original owner of this house?”

Bright, colourful, friendly and strange – we really liked them. Saccharine cuteness and bizarre English language slogans are something of an art form in southeast Asia, but this fabric really achieved a new level of weirdness and incomprehensibility. (We now know that ‘QQ’ is a popular Chinese instant messaging service, and the penguin is their logo. But, still…!)

*You may (or may not…) be wondering why so many villages in Central Kalimantan are called ‘Tumbang…’ . It’s because ‘Tumbang’ indicates that the village is located at the junction of a small tributary river (e.g. the Anoi, Korik, or Miri rivers) with a larger river.

Map Upper Kahayan_1

You can go all the way from Miri to Korik by klotok (longboat), but the boat hire is expensive and the journey is long, so Dodi drove us as far as Tumbang Tajungan. That way we’d only need to use klotok for the last part of the journey. The first stages of the dirt road to Tajungan were very rough – and then it steadily deteriorated through the remainder of the trip.


There was (variously) deep mud, deep channels in the road surface, broken bridges, and several sequences of rollercoaster hills. (But fortunately no fallen trees). Ominously, we could see some bike tyre tracks in the road surface, but no car tracks. The road – if we may call it that – has clearly not benefited from any maintenance work in recent years. And this area receives a LOT of rain (nearly 7 metres of it annually) so it’s perhaps not surprising that the surface is a bit eroded.

The upside to this is that we passed through some of the best and least disturbed stands of forest that we saw anywhere in the district of Gunung Mas, and we were rewarded by some lovely views of the Schwaner Mountains which separate Central and West Kalimantan.


Our arrival in Tumbang Tajungan was greeted with some surprise. We were told that ours was the first car to arrive since December (four months previously!) It seems that we had at last found “The Road Less Travelled”! During the wet season some motorbikes still make the road journey, but most transport is by boat on the Kahayan River. We can understand why.

A willing klotok owner was soon found, and we were soon heading upstream on the lovely Miri River towards Tumbang Korik. We passed only a few other klotok along the way, and one gold mining dredge (above) which was moving slowly downstream. One man stood on the bow with a long bamboo pole to check the river depth so as not to run aground, while another man sat beside him… fishing.


We saw kingfishers and macaques in the trees which hung over the river. At one point we heard a voice and looked up to see a man directly above us, sitting WAY up on the overhanging branch of a large tree, and laughing. He was collecting fruit of some sort. He must have really wanted them, because he seemed to be quite precariously perched up there, and it was a long fall into a shallow river if he lost his balance.


The Betang Damang Singa Kenting, built around the mid-19th century, and repaired several times since, faces the river in Tumbang Korik. Its founder was Kenting, who earned the extra title of ‘Singa’ (Lion) because of his authority in the Dayak community. He was heavily involved in the 1894 gathering of Dayak chiefs at Tumbang Anoi which agreed to end the practices of headhunting and slavery. His wife was the sister of Damang Batu (who was the chief at Tumbang Anoi).

Like other betang, it is constructed from kayu ulin (ironwood), and it sits on top of tall ulin posts (known as tiang). There is almost always only one way in, some rickety steps culminating in a steeply angled log with steps cut into it (hejan). The idea is that this affords some protection for the occupants from what the Museum Balanga euphemistically describes as ‘wild animals and bad-mannered people’ (i.e. headhunting raids by warriors from other tribes).

There were previously three betang in Tumbang Korik, but the other two (Betang Jaga Kamis and Betang Jaga Jahan) now lie in ruins nearby. It’s sad to see, because it’s highly unlikely that any new ‘real’ longhouses will be built (in Central Kalimantan, at least). Apart from the near-disappearance of kayu ulin from the forests of KalTeng, people simply don’t want or need to live in large communal housing structures like that any more.


We were shown around by Pak Ringkai Rumpoi, 66 years old and a sixth generation descendant of Singa Kenting.

Inside there is little furniture, and plenty of light comes in through the gappy planks in the walls.The timber surfaces are all smooth and well seasoned. (It reminded me a little of an old Australian shearing shed).

One tiang pillar in the middle of the room is adorned with a sangkalang with four weapons (a duhung, two luju, and a mandau). Beside the tiang is a drum. This particular kind of ceremonial drum is called sumbu tutung in the Ot Danum language (and a gandung in Dayak Ngaju), and the skin is from kulit bajung (a type of deer). Buffalo skulls from a 1998 Tiwah ceremony hang from other posts.


The interior walls are made from sheets from bark of kayu pendu. In another room is a really old (and somewhat corroded) set of bronze gongs, and the barrel of a small (presumably Dutch-era) canon.


Out in front of the betang stand some spectacularly tall poles known as pantar panjang. They are erected (alongside the usual carved sapundu poles) to commemorate the life and death of someone held in particularly high regard. One (the one on the right above) has a balanga (Chinese jar) mounted way up near the top.

We would have liked to stay longer at Tumbang Korik, but Dodi was looking uneasily at storm clouds gathering in the sky, and worrying about the return journey back down the river and along the ‘road less travelled’ to our lodgings in Tumbang Miri. As it turned out, the weather stayed dry, and the road journey back was not complicated by fresh mud – which would certainly have made it impassable!


Just next to Tumbang Miri is the village of Dandang. While walking around there the next day, we met Ibu Nila (above) sitting on her verandah making sun hats known as tanggui layah (at least, that’s what they are called by the Dayak Ngaju of the Kahayan River). These hats are still commonly worn, particularly when working in the ladang (gardens in forest clearings). She collects the reeds of daun kajang from a nearby wetland/lake area, then trims and dries them before weaving them into the inner and outer shapes of the sunhat.

Daun kajang, which comes from a variety of pandanus (I think) is also used to make panels of roofing material.


A little way downstream, in Tumbang Haboan village, we visited the home of Pak Willi Inin, because he is well-known as a maker of fine mandau (traditional Dayak swords). He’s now 84 years old, but still working. He said that the blade of the mandau above was actually forged out of metal from a chainsaw.

He also makes and plays the three-stringed (or sometimes two-stringed) Dayak instrument known as kecapi. The strings are nylon, but in the old times they were made of a particular kind of rattan. Pak Willi Inin played and sang some really nice traditional tunes – it’s amazing what you can do with just two or three strings if you know how.


We visited another house in Tumbang Habaon because we heard that they make mandau, but ended up buying some old manik-manik (beads) from them. Pak Berlin now works at gold mining instead of making mandau. His wife Ibu Anie said that, while working over soil on the riverbank at the site of an old betang, they found a number of old beads amongst the flecks of gold and other heavy debris that gets sifted out.

Manik-manik beadwork is still popular, and is prized and traded by Dayak people. Beads are often made of glass or ceramic, but most valued are those made from lilis lamiang (carnelian), which is considered to have special power of panekang hambaruan (“strengthening the soul”). The basir and pisur shaman will usually wear a string of lilis lamiang beads around their neck and/or wrists and, for some ceremonies, it is essential. The two broken orange beads in the photo above are lilis lamiang.

I read somewhere that, when the first European visitors came to Borneo in the 1500s, and travelled upriver into the interior, they were understandably amazed to find Venetian Murano glass beads (as well as beads of Chinese glass and Indian agates). Through what lengthy and complex chain of trade routes would Venetian glass have made it from western Europe to the interior of Borneo in the 16th Century? If only those beads could speak!


Tumbang Anoi

After we left the Tiwah at Kuala Kurun, we continued northwest, up to the last villages near the headwaters of the Kahayan River.


The population is largely Dayak – Ngaju and Ot Danum – and mostly quite religious, with Christian churches and Kaharingan animist structures (sapundu, pantar, and sandung) side-by-side, and seemingly around every corner.

As is usually the case in Kalimantan, the journey was as much of an adventure as the destination. This part of Gunung Mas regency is really interesting, rich in culture, history – and full of challenges for the traveller. We had the good fortune to be accompanied by our guides and friends Dodi and Jonathan, both Dayak, who have deep knowledge of the area.


The road up to the Upper Kahayan (Kahayan Hulu) sub-district is asphalt in parts, but is mostly dirt, sand or more often (at this time of year) mud. We encountered the road closure above while running repairs were being made to a small bridge. Chainsaw, hammer, and some six-inch nails soon made it usable again, though other drivers got us to cross first in our sporty red Land Cruiser, before chancing it themselves.


Further down the ‘highway’ were a number of steep and/or muddy patches. The motorbike rider above had chains around his rear wheel to try and get some traction through the mud. That’s Dodi walking behind him in the white t-shirt. He’d gone back down the road to retrieve a mud flap that got torn off our Land Cruiser when we came through. By the end of the day we had hauled out a couple of vehicles which had become bogged in deep mud.


We arrived and Tumbang Anoi after dark, and settled in for our stay at the famous longhouse. The next morning, our 4WD got a much-needed wash and some running repairs.


The longhouse (betang) at Tumbang Anoi was built in the late 1800’s by Damang Batu. But unfortunately it is no longer habitable, and we stayed in the ‘new’ betang built adjacent to the site of the original one. It’s still an impressive structure, built entirely from kayu ulin (Borneo ironwood). It sports modern conveniences such as running water, but currently the pump is not working, so buckets of water were carried up those steep steps each day so I could wash at the mandi (and we could flush the toilet). Karen, more considerately, chose to bathe in the Anoi river behind the betang.


The sandung and sapundu in front of the betang are beautifully carved, and in a style unlike what we’ve seen elsewhere.


All that remains of the of Betang Damang Batu is some of the wooden framework. The site is overgrown with weeds now, and it looks a little forlorn, but for three months in 1894 it was the centre of the Dayak world, and events there helped shape the subsequent course of Borneo history.

Before that time, fighting between the many and various Dayak tribes of Borneo was chronic, and (perhaps due to the disrupting impact of the Dutch and British colonial powers) was getting worse. Headhunting raids led to revenge raids led to more raids, and the cycle was accelerating. One ongoing war between Dayak Ngaju of Central Kalimantan with Kenyah from the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan had led to many deaths on both sides – and no victor.

At a meeting convened by the Dutch Resident from East Kalimantan in Kuala Kapuas in June 1893 it was decided to hold a grand council of all the leaders of all the Dayak tribes of Borneo. 152 were invited. Damang Batu, the 73-year-old Ot Danum chief from Tumbang Anoi, was widely respected by all, and he offered to host the meeting in the following year.


The meeting, a photo of which is above, was a great success. It lasted three months, and the catering reportedly included 100 buffalo, 100 cattle, and countless pigs and chickens. By the end, there was agreement to immediately:

  • cease hostilities between the tribes, specifically the ‘3H’ practices of Hakayou (raiding parties), Hapanu (killing each other) and Hatekek (the taking of heads);
  • cease the practice of human slavery; and
  • enforce the rule of customary law, including payments in the event of someone killing a member of another tribe.

The council of Dayak chiefs also found time to consider and rule on some 300 previously unresolved disputes and criminal cases.


In front of the betang – and in front of just about every Dayak Kaharingan home is a plant known in this part of Kalimantan as Daun Sawang (or Dawen Sawang) [Cordyline fruticosa]. The leaves of this locally sacred plant are used in a number Kaharingan rituals, where they may be used to splash water (or blood of sacrificed animals). Hung from a line suspended between poles the leaves can indicate the perimeter of a ceremonial area.


Tumbang Anoi has an official population of 418 (in 116 families). But this is possibly exceeded by the population of carved sapundu figures that stand mutely throughout the village. Some looked as though they could start speaking at any moment.


Buei Tiung (the ‘Keymaster’ of the betang, standing in front of the group above) walked us around the village and tried to explain some of the history and culture. He introduced us to many of the locals along the way, including Buei Raden Sawang, the village elder at the left of the photo above.


The kids were unusually shy, perhaps because it is rare for them to see people like us in Tumbang Anoi. The cry goes out: “Ada bule di kampung! Bule di sini!” (“There are white-skinned people in our village!”) These kids just ran away at first, then got curious and approached us slowly from behind, running away again every time we turned to face them. Eventually they tentatively agreed to pose for a photograph, but even then they clung to each other for courage.


We went upriver by klotok longboat to the hospitable villages of Karetau Sarian and Tumbang Mahuroi, which are the last (or first, depending on how you look at it) villages on the Kahayan River. With peaks of the Schwaner Mountains in the background, this is real ‘Heart of Borneo’ country.


The traditional crafts are still practiced in places like this. The lady above is making a small basket, while a half-complete woven mat can be seen at the back of the room.


Some children’s games seem to be just about universal. These boys were expert marbles players.


A juvenile Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) was being kept as a pet in Karetau Sarian village. These birds are the smallest and most widespread of the hornbills, and unlike some of their larger cousins, are not considered to be under threat. But this beautiful little bird looked like he would rather be free in the forest than a captive in the village.


The main industry of the upper Kahayan appears to be (illegal) gold mining. Floating dredges are used to sift alluvial gold from river sand (as is common practice in our own area along the Rungan River), but there are also mining sites dotted along the river banks. These operations pump high pressure water into the sand/soil mix of the river banks, forming a suspension of muddy gold-flecked water which is then filtered in the same way as used on the alluvial dredges.

With the steady disappearance of the forests, changing social values, and the collapse in rubber prices, the money that comes in from gold mining is keeping whole villages afloat economically. But… this activity also causes massive damage to the river banks, and causes the rivers to be even muddier and siltier than they would otherwise be. A particular problem results from the miners’ use of mercury to extract the gold flecks from the dirt and sand etc. A proportion of the mercury ends up in the rivers, whose fish all now have high levels of mercury contamination.


Captive hornbills, and toxic gold. As so often in Kalimantan, the sublime and the tragic sit side-by-side. Some further reading about Tumbang Anoi;

  • http://humabetang.web.id/artikel-dayak/2013/perjanjian-dayak-tumbang-anoi-1894/1
  • http://kulturdayak.blogspot.co.id/2015/07/dokumentasi-perdamaian-tumbang-anoi-1894.html
  • http://gerdayakjakarta.blogspot.co.id/search?q=anoi

Tiwah Kampuri

The rains have arrived, the fires and smoke have gone for another year, and life has returned to what passes for normal here in Central Kalimantan (KalTeng). In fact the wet season storms arrived with such gusto that they demolished much of the power line from South Kalimantan. As a result, KalTeng has had little or no electricity, telephone service, internet or even piped water for the past few weeks. Normal service appears to have been resumed the past couple of days, and so now we await further unexpected developments. Meanwhile…

I’ve previously written about the Tiwah (Dayak funeral ritual) that we attended back in November last year, and about another very large Tiwah in August this year. Both were quite extraordinary. When we heard that another mass Tiwah was being held in the village of Kampuri, we quickly made arrangements to attend. Kampuri is a village of around 600 families, in the Gunung Mas region of Central Kalimantan, about three hours drive to the northeast from where we live. It’s on the Kahayan River, whereas the two earlier ceremonies were on the Katingan River to the west of here. We were very interested to see how different the Kaharingan religious practices might be.

By a happy coincidence, my workmate (and our friend) Ibu Andarini is from Kampuri, and she very kindly provided us with transport, accommodation and great company for the main ceremonial days (Tubuh Basir Muduk and Tubuh Ngarahang Tulang) of the Tiwah. We were the only non-Indonesians there.

When we first arrived, the ceremonial site had been prepared, but things were pretty quiet, so we drove an hour north to the district (Kabupaten) capital of Kuala Kurun, and stayed overnight with members of Andarini’s family there – who made us very welcome.

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Back in Kampuri early the next morning, the crowd was gathering. Musicians had started playing the gongs and drums that continued for most of the next two days. The food, snack and drink vendors had set up their temporary warungs. No less than eight gambling operations had started business – but, being (technically) illegal, they were located a discreet distance away amongst the trees behind the main proceedings. “No photos!”

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Seventeen tall painted wooden sapundu were erected, one for each of the deceased. The poles were securely planted in deep holes in the ground. On top of each one was carved a stylised representation of the deceased. One man who had served in the army, for example, was depicted in khaki and carrying a rifle. The sapundu are used to tether the buffalo and cattle that will be sacrificed during the tiwah.

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The rituals of Tiwah are part of the Dayak Kaharingan religion. Adherents of this animist faith believe that the spirit of someone who has died will stay around the village that was their home in life, and will not be able to make the journey on to the ‘Prosperous village’ (i.e. Heaven) without assistance and encouragement.

So there are prayers, music and offerings to get the assistance of beneficial spirits (and to repel the malevolent ones). Chickens, pigs, cattle and buffalo are sacrificed, and the animals’ spirits will also accompany the deceased and support them when they arrive at the ancestral spirit village.

The gods and spirits are very finicky about protocol, and the complicated rituals must be performed exactly if they are to be successful. So one or more basir, experts in the minutiae of Kaharingan ritual and the sacred language of Sangiang, are required to preside over proceedings and to keep it all on track. At Kampuri, there were nine of them, mostly wearing rattan caps with the word ‘basir’ woven in so there could be doubt of their role and status. They were an amiable group, keen to try and explain things to us whenever time and our limited bahasa language skills allowed. And, like all Indonesians, they were ready to pose for photos at the drop of a (rattan) hat.

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There weren’t nearly as many prayers and songs as we had seen at the Tiwah on the Katingan River, but the ones that did occur were quite beautiful, in an extended, hypnotically repetitive cycle of solo voice and chorus responses. The little drums (katambung) that they play are significant, and their use is one of the things that distinguish the basir of the Kahayan from the pisur of the Katingan. Their prayers, chants and music went on well into the night.

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By day, the crowd was generally more boisterous than those we saw on the Katingan. There were frequent outbreaks of hujan tanah (literally, ‘raining dirt’) where clods of soil (perhaps later mixed with some buffalo faeces and blood…) would be picked up and lobbed across the heads of the crowd. After I got targeted and pelted a couple of times, including one quite solid missile that hit me square in the glasses, I expressed my clear displeasure and invited the throwers to come over and discuss the matter in more detail. That seemed to be the end of it.

More benign were the people who moved through the crowd, applying white rice flour paste to the faces of all present. We are not certain of the ritual significance of this paste, but the lady below made a fine advertisement for its beautifying effect.

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On each day, the first animals to be sacrificed were the pigs (babi). Unlike on the Katingan, where the pigs were slaughtered very quickly and relatively painlessly by a knife to the heart, the largest babi Kampuri were speared while held in a bamboo enclosure. Each family member took a turn, and so it took a little while, and the squeals of the indignant pigs were heartbreaking to hear.

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The mass Tiwah was held for the souls of some 17 people, and there was a major sacrifice – usually a buffalo (kerbau), but sometimes a cow (sapi) – for each one. The buffalo can cost up to nearly the equivalent of AU$1000, so it is a very major expense for each of the families that provide them. The decorated animals are brought out one by one, and tied to the appropriate sapundu with a halter (saluang) made from rattan.

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Disconcertingly, they would frequently fix their gaze on me, as if imploringly asking for help

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The basir and key family members formed a ring around the sapundu, each one now with a buffalo attached, and performed the slow dance of Ngangjun, Pakai selendang, which invites the spirits to descend to the village and take up temporary residence in the sapundu.

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The family members then take turns to spear the buffalo. The spear (tombak) is long and decorated with red fabric and pink and white chicken feathers. Afterward, the spearer was given a glass of rice wine (or beer), which was downed quickly then he (or she) would face east, raise their head and let out a loud ‘Woooo!!!’.

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The spearing continues until the beast can no longer stand up, at which point a wooden block is placed under the beast’s head, and its throat is cut. Unlike the Katingan Tiwah, there was less interest in collecting the spilt blood, or washing hands and feet ‘clean’ in it.

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A batik cloth is thrown over the animal, the family members all gather and squat down around it, and a basir waves a clump of leaves over their heads.

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Small pieces of the rattan that had tied the buffalo to the sapundu, or even bits of the animal itself (lips and nose) were collected by people to take away as good luck talismans. At the completion of ceremony, the animal is hauled away, for butchering, distribution and cooking. Not an easy task.

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Its even harder to load onto the back of a ute. But, like most things in Indonesia, it can be accomplished if you have enough people, a couple of basic bits of equipment, and a lot of shouted advice.

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The heads were taken away to be stored and displayed at the main ceremonial area.

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The Tiwah is a ‘secondary funeral’. That is, it is held for people who had died and had been buried some time previously – often many years earlier. The bones of the deceased are exhumed from the site of burial, carefully cleaned and placed on fine cloth in small wooden trays or coffins. They are then taken to the specially built wooden structures (sandung) where they join the bones of other family members who had pre-deceased them. All going well with the performance of the Tiwah, their souls join the ancestors in the ‘Prosperous’ village’.

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Our understanding and appreciation of the Kampuri Tiwah was greatly assisted by Pak Goldison (2nd from left below), who was the basir chiefly responsible for the organisation of the Tiwah. He was a very busy man, but he went out of his way to ensure that we were comfortable, well informed and well supplied with drinks and food throughout our stay.

And of course without Ibu Andarini (3rd from right) we probably wouldn’t have got there at all. She ensured that we had a place to stay (there is no commercial accommodation in Kampuri), that we didn’t miss any of the key events, and that we were made welcome by her family and friends in the village.

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And when it’s all over, it’s time to go back home. Five on a bike? No problem.

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More of my photos of the Kampuri Tiwah here.