Kalimantan is the name given to the Indonesian side of Borneo, Kalimantan Barat is the western province (one of 4) on the island. To the north it borders directly with Malaysian Sarawak.
In April this year we made a trip there to find the point from which the Iban tribe crossed into Sarawak about 600 years ago. The Ibans believe that the the original settlers came from a longhouse which on today’s maps would be close to the Indonesian town of Entikong. And since there is a considerable amount of oral history being passed down together with some decent descriptions of the area they came from it seems that the area where the longhouse was is fairly well known. Today the area is just outside a Bidayuh tribe kampong called “Tampung Juah”. There seems to be no conflict between the two tribes about the land, the Bidayuh are happy to receive visitors and take care of the site, while the Ibans on their part do not lay claim to the land.
Going into Indonesia from Sarawak has been much easier in recent times, in the past you had a choice of either applying for a visa in Kuching and waiting for a week or flying into Indonesia through one of nine airports which had the authority to issue a visa on arrival. Now days you show up at the border, fill out the paperwork and hand over the payment for the visa. Within 30 minutes (no one is in a hurry) you are across to the other side of the border. Going towards Entikong from the border you will find a settlement stretching along both sides of the road, not quite a town yet but no longer a kampong. It is amazing how much the thin red line on the map changes what you actually see on the ground. The architecture is different, the layout of the settlement is different, the roads are different and the cars are different.
The people are still of the same dayak origin and every bit as friendly and helpful as the people in Sarawak, but on the Indonesian side of the border English is rarely spoken to any serious degree. So if you want to do something more than rent a room, buy food etc you should look into the Bahasa Indonesia dictionary before you go. I am currently learning Bahasa Malaysia which in theory is the same language…but theories on their own don’t take you very far. Where Bahasa Malaysia has inserted hundreds of English terms for most implements of modern life Bahasa Indonesia has either derivatives of Malay words or Dutch terms. This is due to the fact that most of today’s Indonesia used to be Dutch colonies.
Getting back to the differences though, the major thing that stands out is the way the buildings are built all along the road perching dangerously over the edge. From the road they usually look to have one or two floors, actually if you look from the other side there could be another 2 or 3 floors hugging the cliff below the road level. One of our friends from Entikong explained that land here is very expensive and most families have to struggle to buy even a couple square meters off the road, so when they do they build a vertical house instead of a large horizontal one. And since the land is not stable enough to build up they build down…
Our trip was quite short, We started out from Kuching in the afternoon of one day, crossed the border and spent the night just before Entikong in a small hotel. The stay there was not expensive, and was surprisingly comfortable, there are few places to stay there, as far as I am aware only 2 small hostels and one small hotel in Entikong.
We arrived right in the middle of a local election so there were election posters everywhere, somehow we got connected with one of the local candidates, and he was our guide for most of the trip. This made the trip much more smooth (it’s always much better to know someone where ever it is you are going) and enjoyable. Apart from the local election campaign we also saw a farm established by one of the local politicians which was both an example and a working farm which delivered vegetables and fish to Malaysia.
In the evening we ate at one of the small restaurants not far from our hostel. The food here is very different to that served in Kuching. Most of the food you find in Kuching is either Chinese in origin or Malay but with a very heavy dose of meats and coconut. The people here were a lot poorer than those in Malaysia so although the food in the restaurant was also Malay in origin it was a lot simpler, including a lot of vegetables, very hot sambal and a small amount of fish and chicken. Very good, going back into the restaurant the next time I am on the other side of the border.
In the morning we started off with a visit to the party headquarters (as you do), where we had some drinks and also met with a few of the local people including the Temengong (honorary title) Hassan, one of the leaders of the Ibans on this side of the border. He also kept us company through out the day.
From here we moved on to eat breakfast in Entikong then set off for Kampong Tampung Juah. The road led along the border with Malaysia so we could see the border mountain range to our left side the whole time. We started out with a four wheel drive and it took as about 2-3 hours to reach the end of the road. We had a small mishap on the way there as it seems we went “hunting/shopping” with the car in one of the villages. Or you could say the pig committed suicide. But to our defense the roads in this area are narrow and a bit rough in places and the driver was concentrating on not hitting any of the kids, bikers, pedestrians, goats, dogs, cats, chickens etc. I guess that pig was just one too many times for the driver.
Anyhow, we paid for the pig (including an extra charge for the pottential growth) and continued onwards. After a short while we finaly reached the junction where the road leads to the kampong we wanted to visit. From here we had to switch to bikes since the road further in was in even poorer shape.
Just as we had got on the bikes it started to rain, so we got a little damp but luckily it stopped after 20 minutes or so. Once in the village we were welcomed with tuak (although of course the local name was different) and spent a while in the village while the pig we had “bought” on the way was being prepared and cooked.
In the village we were shown some artifacts which had been fished out of the nearby river as well as some objects which are thought to have some special powers by the locals and which are stored in a special place in one of the houses.
Once we had eaten and the weather cleared a bit we went on to visit the site where the Iban longhouse used to stand. The longhouse was there about 600 years ago so there is nothing you can see on the surface which will suggest the exact location. The forest in this area had been cut down some time in the past 50 years, so the forest that is on the ground now contained mainly the fast growing species, especially bamboo.
In one area (which is believed to be the longhouse area) there ware 3 large fruit trees, now they were not 600 years old of course but they certainly had about 100 to 200 years, which may not be an indication where the site is but certainly suggests continual occupation of the place for a long while back. This means at least that the area is a good settlement spot since the settlement was much more sparse in the past and you could walk for days without meeting people.
When we arrived on the spot a celebration was held, the villages knew of our coming of course but mainly the celebration was held for the local politician who was with us. It was nice to see that everyone sat down and ate together both the muslims and the christians, a scene like this is increasingly rare in Malaysia.
After the celebration which included speeches, a mini political rally, food drink, dancing and karaoke we went to take a look at a couple other interesting land features located near by. The first one was a petrified coconut palm stump, which is at the bottom of a near by stream. It can be seen on some days and not on others, today it chose not to be seen 😦 but we did see a small cave in the side of the river bank where according to local legend a dragon lives. We also took water from the river to bring back to kuching, since Ibans generally believe that water from historical places has special powers to heal or bring good luck to those who will drink it or wash in it.
Soon we were back on the way to the village, the celebration had taken most of the middle of the day so it was nearing time to go back to Entikong. We had one more meal in the village and were given more rice wine, pork, and other food for the way back and headed off on the bikes again. This time the road was much more slippery from several short shower which kept up for most of the day and we passed some bikers who were not as lucky as us and were just getting back onto their bikes after falls slips etc.
Back at the site where the car was waiting we saw a cock fight…well not really, just a couple of young cocks (sorry that is the correct word to use 😉 trying out their strength against each other.
The road back to Entikong was quite uneventful, we came back to town just as it was getting dark, had a good dinner and went back to the hotel. it was not yet very late however the border posts close at 6 pm so we had to wait for the next day to go back to Malaysia.
Despite the trip being fairly short it was afun, Indonesia looks surprisingly different when you consider how near to Malaysia we were. Still the people are just as friendly, the food is good and you can see creative energy everywhere (most trucks and cars were painted individualy). If you are ever in the area it is well worth taking a few hours to stop in the area and explore a little more off the main road than usal.