A Story by bailish

A visit to the Penan of the state of Sarawak on the northern side of the island of Borneo


There were four of us in the slow motor-powered longboat.  None of us had met before this trip, and yet here we were, traveling through the jungles of Borneo together in the 1980s.

We were on our way to visit the Penan, one of the more ancient tribes of the island.  They are a peaceful tribe who had historically lived in harmony with other tribes along most of the coastal areas.  But then the Iban arrived, whose savage and unwelcome violence is how the island is most often remembered today.  All the other tribes moved deep into the jungle in order to avoid confrontation with these cannibals, who even today occasionally feel the need to exercise their traditional ways in protest against the Malaysian government.

Our expedition party was not expected, but when we arrived, we were treated as honored guests.  They taught us how to use poison darts in a blowpipe, which at that time was still their primary method of hunting, since bullets were an expensive and rare commodity, as were the guns needed to fire them.  Later that evening, they had a traditional welcome party, where the native girls danced in a traditional style, and then the guests were invited to participate.  Over the course of the evening, their locally fermented rice drink gave me the illusion that I was getting better at the dance steps, while my friends who had accompanied me laughed harder at my attempts.  I must have slept soundly that night, for I awakened the next morning still in the dance hall.

But like all good times, this trip was coming to the end, and while our guide sold such coveted items as perfumed soap and fake jewelry, I purchased a couple of traditional steel swords and baskets, still manufactured by the ancient methods.  Only later did I understand how unique these items were when small drops of water on the sword rusted within a matter of minutes.  It was my first experience with steel that wasn't stainless.

For our departure, I recited a few words which were prompted by my guide.  Our hosts roared and cheered in a manner more often associated with the arrival of a rock star at the beginning of a concert.

That was truly the passing of an era, for the next year, the Malaysian government built dams along the rivers so that they could harness the power for electricity generation.  The Penan as well as the other tribes were forced to move closer to the coastal cities to aboid being cut off completely from civilization, thus requiring them to alter their way of life and lose many of the traditions.

© 2008 bailish

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register


Is this a true story? Sadly enough it ends sadly.....even though revolution is supposedly a good thing....cheers,lea

Posted 12 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


1 Review
Added on July 29, 2008
Last Updated on July 29, 2008



You've seen one polluted city, you've seen them all., Thailand

I want to be a writer, just like you. My goal is to write 10 pages a day. I often fall short, but I just try harder the next day. more..

Let's play! Let's play!

A Poem by bailish