Tag Archives: Kahayan River

Festival Kampung Buntoi 2016

Last month we had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Festival Kampung Buntoi (Buntoi Village Festival). We travelled there in company with Pak Wondo, his wife Ibu Tata and son Andi. Buntoi is Ibu Tata’s home village, and we stayed at the home of her aunt and uncle.


We were only there for two days of the 3-day festival, but we had a great time. We had many interesting encounters and experiences (as we always seem to do), and saw some impressive and unique dance, music and theatre performances. Some of the outrageous costumes (such as these ones worn by dancers from the Sanggar Marajaki group ) alone were worth the journey.


Buntoi is a village of 2,500 people,attractively located on the banks of the Kahayan River, about two and a half hours downstream from where we were living at Sei Gohong (on the Rungan River). The Kahayan is a big wide river down there, and although Buntoi is just across the river from the district capital of Pulang Pisau, it takes nearly an hour to get there by road.

It was apparently founded around 1670, Buntoi used to be known as Petak Bahandang (meaning ‘Red Earth’). This former name came from the story about a raiding party of headhunters who were all killed by makhluk gaib (supernatural creatures protecting the village). According to the story, the villagers awoke to find the ground stained red with the blood of the would-be attackers.

The economy is based around fishing and rubber plantations, which seem to be thriving in this area in spite of the current low price of latex rubber. There are also a number of tall buildings like the one above, constructed to house the swiflets known as burung walet (Aerodramus fuciphagus). These are the birds responsible for producing the highly valuable edible birds nests. Recordings of the birds’ call are played continuously to attract them to the building.


Like all good festivals, Festival Kampung Buntoi began with a spectacular street parade, along the length of the road beside the river (which is pretty much the only road in town) and on to the festival venue. There were marching bands, people in splendid and ornate traditional Dayak costumes, event organisers and local dignitaries, and many children of the village.

The road was lined with… well Karen and I were just about the only cheering well-wishers. It WAS a treat.


There was an interesting and eclectic mixture of the traditional and the contemporary in the style in the parade participants – a blending which was to continue throughout the Festival performances.

This is great to see; Kalimantan cannot be a ‘cultural theme park’, frozen in some imagined long-gone age. The wonderful traditional warrior costumes on display at the Festival performances, are now only worn for performances, and young Dayak men can commonly be seen wearing Manchester United jerseys – but never bark vests… In fact many of these performance costumes are very contemporary reinterpretations of ‘traditional’ attire, unlike anything you can find in old photographs. They look great in photographs, but they owe more to the here-and-now than to history, and perhaps owe more to Carnivale than to Kalimantan.


The venue for the many performances of the Festival was the Rumah bambu (‘Bamboo House’), built in 2012 as a meeting hall and events venue with funding from the UNDP as part of the REDD+ (‘ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’) project. It was opened by the then Governor of Kalimantan Tengah in September 2013 as the Pusat Sarana Komunikasi Iklim (the ‘Climate Communications Facilitation Centre’).


As the only foreigners in attendance, we were (as always!) subject to a lot of (friendly) attention, and innumerable photo requests. Here’s Karen posing with event officials (that’s Pak Turai S. Deken – ‘Ko-ordinator Panitia‘ on the right) and local police officers.


Several temporary warung (foodstalls) were set up under a marquee in the field adjacent to the Festival building. We enjoyed several delicious meals there – including chicken curry, sweet and sour catfish, and chicken soup. (Note the traditional costumes worn by the local Dayak people).


The two MC’s (Chandra Intan Hakim and Ananta Nurudi Sawung) were really good – funny, relaxed, and able to ad lib freely to seamlessly fill in the gaps between the performers. At one point they called up a couple of bules (i.e. Karen and I) from the audience to talk about their impressions of the festival. We had not long arrived, so we didn’t have much to say! It was little awkward.

Intan is from Jakarta, and she has a wonderfully colourful and zany dress sense – which matches her ebullient personality. When he’s not compering festivals, Ananta is a freelance photographer who lives in Palangka Raya.


On the morning we arrived in Buntoi, we got to the performance area just as this young dance troupe (the Sanggar Palampang Tarung) were finishing, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see them perform. But they kindly agreed to pose for some photos for us.


Along with the music, dance and theatre there were also some interesting talks and Q&A sessions, on (extremely!) diverse topics. It was frustrating for us that we understood just enough to be very interested, but too little to fully comprehend what was being said by the accomplished and articulate speakers.

Dr Andang Bachtiar (l) is a geologist, former President of the Indonesian Geologists Association, and currently a member of the National Energy Council of Indonesia. He spoke about the historical and cultural implications of the geomorphology of Kalimantan and the Indonesian archipelago.

Rayhan Sudrajat (c) was largely responsible for initiating the whole Buntoi Festival, harnessing community spirit and working cooperatively with local people to make it happen. He is a both a musician and an ethnomusicologist, with wide-ranging interests (including linguistics, psychology, culture and philosophy). His eclectic musical interests range from traditional Sundanese music to the Beatles. Based in the Bandung (Java), he also operates a recording studio.

Didik Nini Thowok (r) is a dancer, mime artist, choreographer and teacher whose international career has developed the Indonesian tradition of cross-gender dance performances. His every move confirms him as a dancer – fluid, elegantly controlled gestures, no unnecessary moves. He spoke about his personal history, traditions of cross-gender dance in various other cultures – and the art of stage make-up!


Zulfikar Muhammad Nugroho has lived in various parts of East Java and Kalimantan, and now lives in Palangka Raya, where he has been a student at the Universitas Muhammadiyah.

He’s an expert player of the sape (usually called kecapi in Central Kalimantan). The sape (pronounced ’saa-pay’) can have anywhere from 2 – 5 strings, with all but the upper string usually just strummed as a harmonic drone. It may have no frets, three or many frets, and may be quite compact or up to a metre or more long. In summary, it’s form varies! But it should always be carved from a single piece of wood, with the back usually hollowed-out.


Performance sponsored by the Yayasan Permakultur Kalimantan, with Ahmad Fullah at centre stage. Their performance was about the Dayak fire management practice known as Milang Seha. Noor Julaiha was the Creative Director.


Sanggar Tingang Panunjung Tarung.


BellacoustiC Indonesia are a Palangka Raya musical group, whose goal is “creativity in music which aims to promote the customs and culture”. They certainly achieved that in their all-too-short set at Buntoi. Each one of them is a virtuoso.


Theo Nugraha performed two sets at the Festival, one solo and one with Rayhan Sudrajat (he does a lot of collaborations in his work).

He describes himself as a ‘Noise / Experimental Soundartist from Borneo’ (he’s based in Palangka Raya and Samarinda). The Village Voice reviewed one of his recordings, and described him as a ‘noise evangelist’. It’s certainly experimental sound, some of it ethereal and ambient Eno-esque, some of it collections of environmental sounds recorded in the field, and some of it a relentless grinding wall-of-noise-and-static.


A performer from Sanggar Betang Batarung, Palangka Raya.


Dancers from the wonderful Sanggar Riak Renteng Tingang, Palangka Raya


Bukung character from the Komunitas Teater Palangka Raya


Performers of the Sanggar Marajaki


Redy Eko Prastyo is a prominent musician and composer, based in Malang (Java), but he performs extensively across Indonesia (and in Europe). HIs musical style spans traditional Indonesian and jazz styles, and a fusion of the two. At Buntoi he was playing a unique, handmade electric ‘sape’. The sound, and the quality of musicianship, was lovely.


Trie Utami Sari is a very well known singer and songwriter from Bandung. Her fame with Indonesian audiences is the result of several hit recordings (as well as five albums), and for appearing as a judge on the popular TV talent show Indosiar Fantasy Academy. Her voice (seen here improvising over music of BellacoustiC) is gorgeous.


The final set on Saturday night was a something of a collaborative jam session, with a number of musicians and dancers on stage together. The music reached a crescendo full of soulful energy and warmth. It was a fitting end to wonderful series of performances.


Apart from the Rumah Bambu, Buntoi village also has another (and much older) significant building – the Rumah Adat (Traditional house).


The house was built between 1867-70 by Singa Jala, with materials (mostly kayu ulin timber) brought from Manen Paduran, which is (a long way) further upstream on the Kahayan River. Being made from ironwood, it is a very sturdy structure, but it has also benefited from some restoration work in recent years – such as new shingles for the roof. Some parts, including the rooms for the four slave families who used to live there, are no longer standing.

The current head of the family, who is a direct descendant of Singa Jala, talked to us about the history of the house, including its role as a centre of the nationalist forces during the struggle for independence from the Dutch after 1945.


Inside the betang is a fine set of gongs, and a tiny (and damaged) bronze cannon (just visible on the right of the photo above).


There are also some very nice balanga, Chinese-made ceramic jars, which are valued and treated as family heirlooms by Dayak families in Kalimantan. There were also brass spittoons (known as peludahan), brass bowls (bokor, or sangku in Bahasa Dayak Ngaju), and some old baskets made of rotan (rattan).


We also were entertained by one quite unexpected performance. During a lull in the Festival programme, we went for a drive with Wondo, Tata and Andi further south to the village of Kanamit Barat. To our surprise, there was a wedding ceremony under way at which a Kuda Lumping troupe were performing (as we have previously seen in Java at Prambanan, and in Kalimantan at Suka Mulya village in 2014 and 2015).

And just when we were marvelling at having chanced upon this ancient, mysterious and powerful Javanese trance performance in a remote(-ish) village of Central Kalimantan, a woman (Mbak Muvida) comes up to us to say that she used to work at YUM (where I was volunteering), and that she recognised us from photos on a friend’s Facebook page. Welcome back to 2016…

Poster Festival Kampung Buntoi

There’s a great short (9 minute) video on YouTube which gives a really good feel for the Festival Kampung Buntoi – and it contains samples of the wonderful dance and music performances. (It even includes a couple of quick glimpses of the bules-in-residence – see if you can spot us!)

Our thanks go out to the friendly and hospitable people of Buntoi village; to the visionary and meticulous organisers of the Festival; and of course to the creative and hugely talented performers who attended. May your talents be rewarded with career success.  Special thanks to Rayhan Sudrajat for helping me identify performers in some of the photos – but any residual errors are my responsibility!)

We left with two sincere hopes: that the inaugural Festival Kampung Buntoi may be just the first in a long and successful series of Buntoi Festivals – and that we may have the good fortune to attend again….


Isen Mulang – Jukung Hias

Last year I wrote (here and here)  about the wonderful Dayak cultural festival that’s held every year (mid-May) in Palangka Raya – the capital of this Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan. The festival is known as Isen Mulang – which translates from the Dayak Ngaju language as ‘Never retreat’, or ‘Never surrender’. (Isen Mulang is also the motto of the province).


There are dozens of events held over the days of Isen Mulang – from dance and music competitions to traditional cooking, woodchopping, fishing (by hand!), blowpipe target shooting, and a massive Mardi Gras-style parade through central Palangka.

This year we were again amazed at the near-total absence of foreign tourists. Apart from around 10 expats (including us), there were literally 10 other foreigners that we could see – almost all part of a tour group led by David Metcalf. Meanwhile almost 4 million tourists visit Bali each year Yes, Bali is lovely! But the difference in visitation numbers is unfathomable.

One of the highlights again this year was the procession of brightly decorated ‘dragon boats’ (actually known as Jukung Hias, meaning ‘decorated boats’) along the Kahayan River, through the centre of the city.


As with almost all of the events held during the week-long festivities of Isen Mulang, it’s actually a competition between the 14 districts (13 kabupaten and one kota) which make up the Province, with one vessel representing each district.


Points are awarded to each competing jukung according to the quality of its decoration, the performance of the traditionally attired warriors, dancers and musicians aboard each one.


The sight of all the brightly bedecked boats lined up down the river really was spectacular.


Points are also won for any special effects they might employ – such as fireworks or water spouts from the dragons’ mouths.


Competition is fierce, and the results are spectacular.


The performers seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the spectators. And they looked wonderful, all decked out in traditional Dayak costumes, with clothing made from bark (kulit pohon nyamu) and batik, headdresses made out of the beaks, casques and feathers of a hornbills and tail-feathers of the Great Argus (Argusianus argus).


Some of the performers appeared to be heavily tattooed wth traditional Dayak motifs, but the tattoos are (in almost every case) temporarily applied for the event, because few of the local Dayak people have extensive tattoo decorations as in the past. (In some other regions e.g. amongst the Dayak Iban of West Kalimantan, tattooing is more common).


We were fortunate to be out on the water as the flotilla arrived – on board one of the very comfortable vessels of Wow Borneo (as well as buzzing around amongst the jukung on a little kelotok longboat).

But along the banks of the river, a large  (by Palangka Raya standards) crowd was assembled to watch proceedings.


There were a number of other spectator vessels out on the river. The passengers on this one were all civil servants, wearing the special blue KORPRI (Korps Pegawai Republik Indonesia) batik uniform that may only be worn on the 17th of each month, and on special occasions such as this.


All of the best vantage points were chock-a-block full of spectators. As is often the case in Kalimantan, the spectators were as interesting as the spectacle.


Some opted for an aerial view of the show from the Kahayan River bridge.


Children found some creative ways to get a good view.


Others took a more relaxed approach to viewing proceedings.


Some were quite excited – particularly when they caught the attention of bule (white skinned foreigners).


While still others were out in the ‘back yard’ of their floating homes, practising their heavy metal hand gestures.


And others just got on with the serious business of skylarking.


The Isen Mulang Festival was once again a great experience, and if we get the opportunity we will certainly be back again next year!


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