Tag Archives: Tewang Rangkang

Durian season (again!) in Tewang Rangkang



Yes, durian! Loved by many as the Raja Buah (the ‘King of Fruit’), and reviled by others as stinky and disgusting. I’m a durian lover, and can’t comprehend those who aren’t. Perhaps it’s a genetically determined hypersensitivity?


There are around 30 species of durian, at least nine of which are considered to be edible. The durian genus is native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, with many growing wild here, and referred to as durian hutan (‘forest durian’).

LOTS of edible durian are produced in Kalimantan. Some of the best ones grow along the middle reaches of the Katingan River in Central Kalimantan, upstream from the town of Kasongan. Our favourite Dayak Ngaju village of Tewang Rangkang sits right in the middle of that zone. We were delighted to return there last month for a short stay during harvest season.

In Tewang Rangkang (as in almost all Dayak villages), the houses line up in a row along the riverbank. Behind the houses are areas where chickens and pigs are kept, and areas (often quite extensive) of fruit trees – especially durian. Further away (and across the river) are areas used for ladang dry rice cultivation.

There are no fences around the individual durian orchards, but everyone knows exactly who owns which trees. Each orchard is marked by a the presence of a pondok (hut), further asserting ownership. During harvest season (December – January) the pondoks are occupied day and night, with family members taking turns to stand guard over the orchard.

Pak Dahuk and Ibu Wanie have built a new pondok since we were there in 2015. It’s a solid structure, with an even more solid roof, so that there is no risk of getting beaned by a falling durian.

Not all pondoks are quite so grand. Some appear decidedly impermanent.

And others, like Pak Etiu’s pondok, are somewhere in between.

The stated intention of the pondoks is to protect the durian harvest from pilferers, because the fruit are quite valuable.

But actually there is actually little or no theft, and we think that the villagers just enjoy a special time of year when a large proportion of the population ‘camps out’ in the forest, cooking and eating and sleeping under the trees, and visiting their friends and neighbours residing in neighbouring pondoks.

And collecting the durian fruit as they fall to ground from the tall trees.

A mature durian fruit can weigh three kilos, and the rind is covered with characteristic hard sharp spikes. The word duri actually means ‘thorn’. A fruit falling tens of metres onto one’s head could potentially be fatal. Even the ground gets scarred by the impact of falling fruit.

I had one land a couple of metres away from me, with no warning but a colossal thump – and so I quickly retreated back under the shelter of the pondok roof.

Apart from collecting fruit and socialising, there’s work to do out in the pondok. Led by Ibu Wanie, everyone helps to prepare large quantities of dodol durian – for consumption, gifts and sale.

The durian flesh is removed from dozens of fresh fruit, and cooked up in a very large pan over a slow fire along with coconut milk, glutinous riceflour and gula aren (palm sugar derived from the aren palm). After hours of simmering and near-continuous stirring, a thick dark red-brown fudge-like paste is produced. It is delicious.

After production of dodol durian, and quite a bit of feasting along the way, there is a large a growing pile of discarded durian husks.

But it’s not just durian trees. The vegetation around many Dayak villages may at first glance appear to be secondary forest regrowth. But closer inspection reveals that almost every herb, shrub and tree has some productive value. So there are all sorts of fruit trees: bananas, papaya, langsat, mango, guava. And of course many coconut palms.

And rambutans – all in fruit at the same time as the durian.

And mangosteen.

Pak Itiu shins up the mangosteen tree to collect fruit.

And meanwhile, back at the pondok, there’s time for a group portrait.

Desa Tewang Rangkang

Tewang Rangkang is a Dayak Ngaju village which stretches along a couple of bends of the Katingan River. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Kasongan in Central Kalimantan.

Since 2014 we have been frequent visitors. We’ve been privileged to stay there as guests of our wonderful Dayak Ngaju friends Mbak Lelie Liana, Pak Dahuk, Ibu Wanie Manur, Mbak Susi, Om Indra and Tante Hente – and their (very) extended families. Over those many visits we’ve witnessed manugal (communal rice planting) in 2014 and 2015, rice harvest, tiwah funeral ceremonies in 2014 and 2017, other family ceremonies – and durian harvest in 2015. 

36 Views of Kalimantan (Part 1)

Here’s a somewhat random selection of my photos of Kalimantan, taken from 2014 – 2017. Loosely (very loosely indeed!) inspired by Hokusai’s landscape prints from 1830-32. In fact, his main inspiration, apart from the title, was that he was already in his 70’s when he produced that series – and at the peak of his talent and fame.

I’ve mostly excluded wildlife images from the selection. I might make a separate selection at a later time for them. Hope you like some of them – please comment!

36 Views of Kalimantan is published here in three parts. Click on these links to view Part 2 or Part 3.

Tangkiling 19-Feb-2015 (1/36)


Tewang Rangkang 2-Apr-2016 (2/36)


Tewang Rangas, Central Kalimantan (Bukung Tiwah) 8-Aug-2015 (3/36)


Lake Sembuluh 17-Mar-2016 (4/36)


Tewang Rangkang (Manugal) 1-Nov-2015 (5/36)


Sebangau 6-May-2016 (6/36)


Tanjung Puting 3-Sep-2017 (7/36)


Banjarmasin 13-Sep-2015 (8/36)


Tumbang Gagu 19-Mar-2015 (9/36)


Danau Sentarum 4-Apr-2015 (10/36)


Pontianak (Masjid Raya Mujahidin) 28-Mar-2015 (11/36)


Tumbang Malahoi 15-Apr-2016 (12/36)


Manugal 2015 at Tewang Rangkang

For two years in a row, we’ve had the pleasure of attending and helping with the planting of rice in the Dayak Ngaju village of Tewang Rangkang, on the Katingan River a couple of hours drive to the northwest of our home. It’s the kampung of our dear friend Lelie, who seems to be related to almost everyone in the village!


When I wrote about our previous visit I described the rice planting process, and so I won’t repeat the detail now. In summary, family and community members get together for a ‘working bee’ (gotong royong) to plant rice for dry cultivation in a newly cleared and burnt field (ladang) in the forest. The event, which incorporates many traditions and procedural requirements from the Kaharingan religion, is known as Manugal. It takes place right at the end of the dry season, around the last week of October.


Lelie is now away studying at Gajah Mada University in Jogjakarta, but we were invited back by her family, and stayed overnight in the home of her aunt and uncle, Tante Hentie and Om Indra. That’s them with their ces canoe above.


In the evening before Manugal, we walked out to revisit the sandung (family ’tomb’) where the remains of Lelie’s grandparents are interred. It was one year to the day since we had attended Nenek’s Tiwah funeral ceremony. The two white sapundu pillars to the right of the sandung have since been relocated there from their previous location beside the road, where they had served as the tethering posts for the buffalo and cow sacrifices during the Tiwah.


On the way back we chanced upon this large and quite beautiful toad, who was kind enough to pose for some close-ups.


In preparation for feeding everyone at the next day’s Manugal, a pig was slaughtered and cooked, beginning with a very basic singing process. Another pig looked on, understandably looking rather disturbed. “Gerald, what have they done to you?!”


The next morning, after a disturbingly early start, everyone crossed the river by ces canoe, and travelled up a tributary stream to a spot where we could disembark and walk through the forest to the ladang rice field. The first wet season rains had only arrived a few days previously, but the water level was a lot higher than it had been the year before, obviating the need for a lot of muddy hiking.


When we reached the ladang, there was still some smoke and flames rising from the clearing fires. The ladang is actually the same field as was used last year, as they get a few years’ use before the soil fertility becomes too low for cropping (This is very simple agriculture – no cultivation of the soil, no fertilisers, no irrigation or pesticides). The area still contains many felled tree trunks from the original forest. Since last year they have built a stilt hut (pondok) for temporary accommodation while working at the ladang.


A line of men and boys work their way down the length of the ladang, making shallow holes in the soil with the pointed end of the staff that each carries. Some of the staves (the black ones in the photo) were prized pieces of kayu ulin (ironwood) that they keep for use from year to year.


In some areas the smoke was still thick, but no-one seemed to be deterred.


Meanwhile the seed rice is carefully scooped into handmade (mostly rattan) baskets (kusak dare), ready to be planted. There were several varieties including red rice, all saved from the last year’s harvest.


No two baskets are the same. Some of them are really finely made, and most show evidence of many years’  use.


The women and girls follow in a line behind the men, dropping a small number of rice grains into each of the newly made holes. There is a lot of chatting, laughter and tom-foolery in the process.


With so many people helping, the sowing was all finished within a few hours. Time then for a big communal meal: plenty of rice of course, plus eggplant and other veggies, and babi ketjap (pork). “Hullo again, Gerald!” Little cakes wrapped in palm leaf, sweet coconut rice and coffee followed.


Om Rudi and his daughter Jesica sat nearby at the edge of the ladang, sharing a plate.


With the morning’s work finished, and the heat and humidity approaching the daily peak, we all headed back over the river to Tewang Rangkang.


We are very interested in the weaving of rattan (or rotan, they call it), and later we went to visit Ibu Linie, who is possibly the only person in the village who still makes kusak dare baskets and sapuyung hats from rattan.


She explained the many and complicated technical steps involved, from selecting the best rattan vines from the forest to preparing them and fashioning the cut canes into useful and attractive objects. After lengthy equivocation, she agreed to part with the basket above, and we established a mutually agreeable price. It now adorns our hall table – but sadly it may never be used for sowing rice at Manugal.

Durian Season

The dry season has begun here, and the smoke has started to thicken from the countless fires across the island of Borneo (especially our part of it…!). Soon it’ll be mask-wearing time again. The smoke is likely to worsen from now until the wet season starts some time around November – though the forecasts for a doozy El Niño event suggest that this year’s rains may be delayed into 2016. Everyone looks forward to the arrival of the rain.


And the wet season is also keenly anticipated because it is … Durian Season! This fabulous odorous fruit is available here from December through to February. Regarded here as raja buah (the ‘king of fruits’), the segments of this 1-3kg fruit segments have custard-like flesh around the seeds (which are also edible). It’s delicious, and quite unlike any other fruit that we’ve tasted.


It also smells a bit – well, a lot actually – even before the fruit is opened, and we often see signs at hotels and public transportation advising that possession of durian is prohibited. We like the smell (in moderation), though some people consider it repulsive. Having spent a couple of hours travelling a car with the back section stacked up with fresh durian fruit, we can confirm that the scent can be a little overpowering.

There is an Indonesian saying: Durian jatuh, sarong naik (“The durian falls and the sarong rises”), referring to the supposed aphrodisiacal qualities of the fruit, but we can’t directly confirm this to be true.

There are a number of different species of durian, at least nine of which are edible, and a large number of cultivars. They are all members of the Durio genus. The trees grow large, up to 25-50 metres depending on the species. They all have thick hard skins (to survive falling from the trees when ripe), which are adorned with hard sharp spikes. In fact the word duri means ‘spike’ or ‘thorn’ in Indonesian (and Malay).

Durian from the Katingan River region to the north of Kasongan, about an hour to the west of where we live, are prized for their flavour, and are priced accordingly.


The village of Tewang Rangkang, which we have now visited several times with our friend Lelie, is right in the heart of the Katingan durian-growing region. There are numbers of the big trees in plots on the outskirts of the village, each plot belonging to a local family. In each one there is a simple wood-and-tin shack/shelter (pondok). Throughout the fruit season, family members take turns to sleep overnight in the pondoks, to guard against thieves making off with the valuable fruit.

The pondoks may be simple constructions, but they always have a strong roof. A heavy durian falling from 40 meters onto your head could be fatal… (even worse than a coconut!)


Durian trees flower in September – October, and the fruit are collected as they fall from the trees around three months later. The flowers of most Durian species are pollinated by bats.


The ripe fruit fall to the ground with a bit of a whoosh and then a big thump when they land, making it easy to locate each new incoming Durian missile. While we were visiting, everyone made a game of racing to be first to get to the newly descended fruit.


With Lelie and her sister Susi we dropped in to visit at a neighbouring pondok. Ibu was preparing a meal of forest mushrooms, which she kindly shared with us. In her batik blouse, bathtowel cummerbund and leopard-skin tights, she displays a fashion sensibility of refreshing individuality. The mushrooms were delicious.


Attached to the outside of the pondok was a web with perhaps the biggest spider I have seen. I didn’t get close enough to measure it, but I estimate it to have been easily 20cm across. Those long spidery legs looked strong enough to pick up durian…


Back at Lelie’s family pondok, a barbecue was under way. Fish caught in the Katingan River (some fresh, some dried and salted), local free range chicken (ayam kampung), and rice and veggies from the family’s ladang gardens. I think that the only purchased ingredient was salt.


Tante (Lelie’s aunt) likes a good joke and a bit of teasing, and so she made an elaborate show of not wanting to share the barbecued food with anyone. Fortunately she wasn’t serious…


And so we tucked in. The sambal was mostly garlic, tiny onions and chili, crushed on the flat hardwood mortar (cobek) in the picture above. Karen enquired about the wooden cobek, which had been made by Uncle Itiu. He slipped away after lunch and came back with a gift for Karen – a ‘spare’ cobek that he had at home…


After lunch, Lelie, Karen and Enjel found a shady spot to relax – but it was NOT under a Durian tree.


And Enjel borrowed her mum’s fan to keep cool – or to play with.

As the day went on, the stockpile of Durian fruit grew larger and larger. And that’s how we came to be travelling in a car loaded up with fuming Durian when we returned home that evening.


Tiwah ceremony

Just two days after our November visit to Tewang Rangkang to help with the communal Dayak rice planting, our friend Lelie’s grandmother (Nenek) passed away at her home in the village, after suffering a stroke. The family decided to hold the full Tiwah funeral ceremony immediately, rather than waiting (often up to a year or more) as is usual in other places. We were honoured by being invited to attend, given food and accommodation for the three days that we were there, encouraged to participate in all ceremonies, to ask questions and to make lots of photos.

I put off writing about it because it was pretty intense, hard to try to summarise in a few words and photos (and I have exactly 999 photos to choose from). It was also – as well as a ceremony, a performance, and a party – a time of grief for a family that has been very kind to us, so I wanted to be sure they were OK with the text before sending. And, with the ritual slaughter of a buffalo, two cows, four pigs and a number of chickens, some of the details are …  a little grisly. So, rather than try to string together a narrative, here’s some selected pictures and a few words which try to explain them. (And I haven’t included the more disturbing pictures.)


The traditional religion of all the Dayak peoples is known as Kaharingan, though practices and beliefs vary across different groups and regions of Borneo. Officially, it’s called ‘Hindu Kaharingan’, because everyone in Indonesia must register as belonging to one of the government-recognised religions (Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Protestant, Catholic, Confucian). But apart from the name there’s not a lot that’s recognisably Hindu about it. It has more in common with the pre-Hindu and pre-Islamic beliefs of much of the rest of Indonesia.

It’s an animist faith, with a strong belief that the spirits of the dead need practical assistance to make the journey from earth to heaven, where they will live with their family members in ’the Prosperous Village’. The hugely complicated (and hugely expensive) ceremonies of the Tiwah are intended to help the soul on that journey, and supply them with food and supplies so they will be comfortable when they arrive. Officiating over the proceedings is a Basir (Babak, at the right of the picture above), a shaman who is an expert in the rituals of Kaharingan.


Nenek’s house is quite traditional in design and fitout. No chairs, tables or beds, but with a full set of gongs (five large, four small) and drums for performance of ritual music. The gongs played almost non-stop while we were there, day and night. The performers (all male) would change over regularly, with just about everyone, young and old (yes, even me) having a turn. It was strangely hypnotic and soothing in a clanging techno-rhythm kind of way, and the music is still bouncing around my head.


We were invited to become honorary members of the family for the duration of the ceremonies (and for the following week), a select group amongst the 250 or so people at the Tiwah. That required a short ritual with the Basir (and Lelie beside us), and a red band of fabric with a coin inside tied around the right wrist (“Don’t take it off until 4pm next Saturday!”)  It also meant that were expected to participate in all the ceremonies (including, we were surprised to find out later, the ritual spearing of the buffalo and cattle prior to their slaughter).


Two large wooden posts (sapundu) were erected in the yard. One unfortunate black chook was carefully placed at the bottom of the hole before the heavy ironwood post was dropped into place. Fresh-cut logs were lashed together with rattan to make a holding pen for the pigs, which were (yes) ‘hog-tied’, and several chickens were tied up outside. None seemed to be particularly pleased with the arrangements.

The cow and the (very expensive) buffalo (kerbau) were yoked to the poles, each held by a heavy collar made out of rattan. They were tied up there overnight, and given nice food, kind words, massages and offered prayers.


The family members (plus the basir and us) assembled on a number of occasions in a circle around the sapundu. With the gongs playing loudly, we would proceed, facing in towards the centre, repeating the same set of actions. It was my kind of dance: very simple.  You raise both hands over the head, lower the arms with palms facing downwards, then make a sort of sideways pelvic thrust motion, then take a long step to the right. Repeat for 20-30 minutes, with periodic pauses for two low chants and a loud falsetto ‘whoop’!


At one point in the circle, you stop for three women to attend to you; one puts an oily drop on your neck, chin and forehead, another sprinkles some coconut water and rice grains on the top of your head, and the third rubs two knives together over your head before putting one into your mouth (blunt side!) for you to bite on. You go through this routine many times, and end up with a lot of rice in your hair!


And then next morning the cow and buffalo were speared (on the left side only) by each member of the family in turn. Although it is an honour to be invited, we decided not to participate. When each poor beast collapsed, after 30 minutes or so, it was tied up and dispatched with a large knife.


Suffice it to say, there was a lot of blood. Sacrificial blood is considered to have great power and to have a very purifying effect, so a number of people were keen to collect it or to bathe their feet, hands or faces in it.


The complex logistics of keeping all 200+ attendees fed and comfortable over the days of ceremony must have been challenging, but as always seems to occur here, everyone just pitches in and divides up the work amongst themselves without any obvious project management. And meals kept being prepared and served up. In this photo our friend Lelie is doling out plates of fresh (VERY fresh) beef stewed in coconut milk.


There was rather a lot of tuak and baram (homemade rice wine) consumed during the ceremonies. Actually, a great deal of tuak. The tuak was carried around in a number of containers: kettles, tubs, and even this ‘Hello Kitty’ jug. But there were only a couple of glasses, which were refilled and passed around more-or-less continuously.


For some reason I was a very effective magnet for the intoxicated, and got befriended by a number of amiable and largely incomprehensible blokes. But there was never any hint of any anti-social behaviour.

The fellow on the left above was closely involved in the business of sacrifice (as his face and hand attest), and the other guy is a keen handphone photographer. They were both sometimes quite intense.


Nenek’s coffin remained in a room of her home until the third day we were there. During that time, she was brought meals and drinks of water and coffee, even sirih (betel), which were placed beside her a she lay in state. After the coffin was finally closed and carefully brought outside on the shoulders of family members, Berry (one of the grandchildren) was chosen to be hoisted up to walk the length of it and jump off the end (three times!) This signifies everyone ‘letting go’ of their attachments to the one who has died.


In a small clearing in the forest stands a little wooden ‘house’ (sandung), erected four years earlier to hold the coffin and remains of Nenek’s husband. Before Nenek joined him inside, a small ceremony outside prepared all the material objects that were to accompany her on the journey to ‘the Prosperous Village’ i.e. heaven. There was a little bag of her clothing, baskets and small household items, snacks and two glasses each of coffee, rice wine and water (one for her, one for her husband). Her other clothing and linen was piled up and burnt nearby, so that her spirit wouldn’t be tempted to come back home. The sacrificed animals would have already joined her in the spirit world.


The climax of the Tiwah ceremonies was over, but the ceremonies continued for at least another week (that we know about). Meanwhile there was still plenty of tuak and baram to share around.

The whole Tiwah process is really expensive and, like in Bali, it’s common for families to co-host Tiwah for a number of the recently deceased, so as to share the funeral costs. It’s also becoming less common as so many Kaharingan Dayak people have converted to Islam or (more usually) to Christianity. Interestingly, however, a lot of the converts will still hold or participate in Tiwah ceremonies, saying that it reflects their Dayak identity and tradition (adat), and is no longer a matter of religion (agama).

Manugal – planting rice with the Dayaks

A couple of weekends ago, our new friend (and workmate) Lelie very kindly invited us up to visit her village of Tewang Rangkang, on the Katingan River about 80km (or 2 hours) to the northwest of here. It’s a Dayak Ngaju village. (The indigenous people of Borneo, especially the interior parts of the island, are collectively known as Dayak people, and the Ngaju people are one of the many sub-groups). The occasion of our visit was for a ‘Manugal’ ceremony and working-bee.

Tewan_Rangkang_20141025_0185Gotong royong and Manugal. Across Indonesia, the practice of ‘mutual cooperation’, where a community all pitches in achieve some goal that is too big for an individual to do on their own, is very much alive. Think ‘barn-raising’. They call it gotong royong, and it’s part of the national ethos (although the concept got hijacked for political purposes by both Sukarno and Suharto).

Amongst the Dayak people, who still practise slash-and-burn dry rice cultivation in forested lands (ladang), everyone pitches in to help their family and neighbours to clear land for cultivation, and to plant and harvest the rice. The ceremony and working-bee at the time of planting the rice is known as Manugal.


To get to the ladang fields, we first had to walk through the village and across the sandbanks to the river’s edge. Some small motor-powered canoes (‘ces’) were waiting to ferry us across the river, where we climbed up muddy banks and ladders, then through forest, plantations of durian, bamboo and rubber trees, and finally across a rather bleak terrain of recently cleared and burnt countryside. This was where the rice was to be planted.


By the time we got there (about 8am) there were around 40 people assembled under a tarpaulin shelter on the edge of the field. Bags of rice were measured out into baskets to be carried by each of the planters – white, red and yellow rice. Everyone took a taste of sirih – betel leaf, areca nut and lime paste – to chew on as they started work. We walked out into the burnt field, spitting red as we went.


The men each took a wooden staff, sharpened at one end, and formed a loose line standing about two metres apart. We worked our way across the field. making shallow holes in the ground as we proceeded, twisting the poles to form a roughly conical depression every 30cm or so.


The women made a second parallel line, sweeping across the field behind the men, and dropping about 10 grains of seed rice into each of the holes. It is all pretty rough and basic: the seeds aren’t covered at all, or watered in. In fact the crop is not irrigated at any stage, relying on the (usually reliable) rains from November to February to sustain the crop.


At the end of the plot (ownership boundaries are marked with string) everyone moves across to the next strip and repeats the process until the whole area is done. There are stumps and logs all over the field, and you just clamber over them and plant around them as best you can. It’s not worth investing in full-on clearing, because the whole area is abandoned after a few years, or converted to growing rubber.


The work was done with a lot of humour and laughter, and sometimes seemed to be more about bonding the community than getting the job done. Everyone got their faces smeared with charcoal at some point in the day, and there were breaks for coffee, fried pork and rice, and sweet cakes (all delicious).


Even with the breaks, we were all finished by about noon. Just as well, as the day was getting seriously hot by then. Members of Lelie’s family, especially her sister and one of her uncles, spent a lot of time explaining things to us – as well as they could with our limited Indonesian language and non-existent Dayak Ngaju!


So then it was time to pack up and head back the way we had come, no longer too concerned about keeping our clothes (and faces) clean. We knew there was a mandi and a change of clothes waiting back in the village.


The mood was very relaxed on the way back, everyone seeming content with the morning’s (modest) work effort. There was much hilarity as the three ces raced across the river, each driver trying to spray the other boats in their wake. Halfway across I was asked if I could swim. “Yes”, I replied. “But my camera can’t”. This meant I got excused from the all-in splashing and dunking battle that erupted as we reached the home shore.  Tewan_Rangkang_20141025_0173 

We stayed back in the village for a wash, lunch, and to meet some of Lelie’s huge extended family. (Our standing joke is that she doesn’t have a pohon keluarga (a ‘family tree’) like most people – instead she has a hutan keluarga (a ‘family forest’)!

As we headed back home later that afternoon, feeling warm inside from all the hospitality (and good food!), we had no idea that we would be back for a three-day visit less than a week later. But that’s a story for another time.