There is a sense of ruggedness & suspense when we arrive at Ukum Longhouse jetty that night at Batang Ai. I prepared myself for what is supposed to be a ‘real’ traditional longhouse. We were made to wait at the jetty, made off floating logs held together with long wooden poles at the edge of the water. A sudden movement on the jetty sends a tilt on the entire floating ‘pontoon’. When we finally got the good to approach the longhouse, I began to wonder if any of us in the group (except for the guide) is as jittery as I am.
So…what’s the story behind this longhouse? Well, it is old. For years the village’s generator was broken and they went to the village nearby to borrow a set for us visitors. The wooden flooring we were walking on creaked as we made our way to the central gathering area where an old oil lamp shed its flickering lights, surrounded by curious eyes that followed us. It got brighter when the ‘generator on loan’ arrived.
The people of Ukom longhouse wanted to abandon this long house. They felt that their longhouse no longer is an attraction to visitors (tourist) and that they needed to ‘upgrade’ their longhouse to make it more attractive. They felt that some proper (modern) TVs, factory milled floor boards and perhaps a fresh coat of paint on the wooden walls would make the difference. How remote is this Iban village? Well, as we were cruising on the long boats towards the village, my GPS was showing us traveling on dry land. It’s almost uncharted territory.
Well, the first order of the day was or course food, booze and entertainment. And yes, we got a lot of that alright. The women and men got busy with the food that we brought. Rice boiling on the wood fire, pork meat grilling on the pit outside the longhouse and bottles of Langkau starts making its way around the crowd.
Dinner came and went quick. Everyone was obviously hungry and the atmosphere was filled with cheers and laughter. With dinner out of the way, we were ushered to the main gathering area, were a performance was about to begin. Though our group was small (only 4 of us outsiders), the villagers insisted on having a small ceremony to celebrate our visit to their village. And while the traditional music played and dancers in traditional costumes parades themselves, more local whiskey made its way around the crowd, fueling the atmosphere with chatter of guffaws and cheers of half drunken men and women alike.