Research / fieldwork in Long Nawang

In May 2012 a friend invited me on a trip together with members of his Long Moh community and others from Long Makabar to a Kenyah Lepo’ Tau cultural festival in a community called Long Nawang in Indonesia. Long Nawang is a relatively large community because it has been a military post since the early 1900s, but even so it can only be accessed either by small plane from the Indonesian side or via a network of logging roads across the green border from Sarawak. We chose the second route.

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The boat journey starts in Sibu, with a quick stopover in Kapit. Boats are loaded to capacity with everyone transporting gifts and many of the passenger bringing their shopping back to the village from their visit to town.

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There are many interesting things to see on the Rajang river, for instance these men floating logs downstream. This used to be a common method to transport timber from the logging sites to the log ponds and sawmills near the coast, but now large trucks laden with tons and tons of timber have become a much more common sight.

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We disembark at Camp Putai, a logging camp. Short of a jetty the boat driver rides the speedboat up the muddy embankment and everyone jumps ashore. From here we travel on with vans and 4x4s on the logging roads that connect this part of the state with Kalimantan in Indonesia.

Group picture in Camp Putai

Group picture on the way from Camp Putai to Long Beruang

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The first night we stay in Long Beruang, a Kenyah Lepo’ Tau community on the way. This photo shows the condition of passengers in the open rear of the vehicles we used to travel from Camp Putai – dusty! But the villagers take us in anyway.

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Dinner for everyone at Long Beruang

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The people from Long Beruang stage their own little festival on the evening of our arrival, and each of the visitors has to dance at least once, accompanied by the band.

Logging road in the north of Sarawak near the Indonesian border

The next day we travel on to the Indonesian border. I’m a bit concerned since I am a foreigner without a Visa,  but apparently the Long Nawang headman has written a letter to ask for permission for visitors from Sarawak and we cross the border without issues.

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On our arrival in Long Nawang we are greeted by a guard of honour made up of warriors dressed in war coats, rotan headdresses and parangs, or machetes.

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Over the next four days we witness cultural performances, song and dance competitions, talks and presentations and many, many many other events at the Long Nawang cultural hall. Hundreds of visitors fill the hall, all from different Lepo’ Tau communities in Sarawak and Kalimantan.

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Many villages have sent a delegation of performers, each group with their own adaptation of lavishly decorated cultural costumes. Each have trained for weeks to perform at the festival.

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The people from Long Nawang take care of our accommodation as well as feeding us three times a day with breaks between presentations for tea and coffee and sweets. With the number of visitors it is a logistic masterpiece, illustrated by the amount of small portions of rice packaged and prepared in leaves, which are handed out to visitors, which can be seen in this photograph.

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The people from Long Nawang also present their own culture in numerous presentations. Here, local performers change costumes between performances.

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Carving in the Long Nawang cultural hall

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Long Nawang cultural hall alone is worth a visit to the community. It is decorated over and over with traditional motives and carvings and hung from the ceiling are bundles of dried leaves.

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On the day of our departure everyone is sad to go but excited about the event we were able to attend. It was certainly an outstanding festival, and many visitors were happy to connect with distant family members and old friends, and to meet new friends and relatives they had not known before, and to exchange stories of family backgrounds, genealogies and the stories of each community.

Group picture before going back to Malaysia!

A final group photograph before our return to Sarawak

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