Sungai Utik Longhouse, Kapuas Hulu: The Beauty And Magnetism

The best destinations in Borneo
In the long courtyard of the Sungai Utik long house, Kapuas Hulu, West Borneo.

BORNEO TRAVEL : If you ever visit West Kalimantan, or deliberately embark on an adventure to explore the wilderness, make sure to visit Sungai Utik. 

Besides enjoying the camaraderie of the friendly Iban people in their traditional homes, you also have the opportunity to learn about environmental matters from a "living teacher," Apai Janggut.

Sungai Utik, Kapuas Hulu, West Borneo. Have you ever heard that name, and where could it possibly be?

There is not a single resident of West Kalimantan who is unfamiliar with it. The Iban community here has been honored with the Kalpataru award. 

Even one of their tribal leaders, Apai Janggut, whose real name is Bandi Anak Raga, was awarded the Equator Prize in 2019.

Apai Janggut has become an icon of the Sungai Utik longhouse and the pristine region protected by the Iban people. The world recognizes the contributions of this elderly bearded gentleman. 

On Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Lisbon, the Gulbenkian Foundation, through Angela Merkel, awarded Apai Janggut the international environmental honor known as the Gulbenkian Award.

The land belongs to the Iban people and serves as a historical testament to their rightful ownership of this incredibly fertile Borneo land.

Here, not only do traditional longhouses and Dayak cultural heritage still stand proudly, but they are also vibrant with inhabitants.

If you ever visit West Kalimantan, or deliberately embark on an adventure to explore the wilderness, make sure to visit Sungai Utik.

Sanitation is well-maintained, and cleanliness is a priority. Additionally, special rooms, meeting one-star hotel standards, are available for tourists who wish to stay.

As nightfall gradually envelopes the day, the wind gently sways the tapang leaves. Outside, the air retains a chill from the solemn weather.

Rows of longhouses stand tall amidst the proud and verdant areca nut trees. Mandik mala flowers bloom, and resin lamps illuminate the night. It's as if they are keeping vigil for the peacefully slumbering angels in their abode.

Kumang, like any typical Iban teenage girl of the past, was kept in seclusion until she encountered a boy. The faint glow emitted by the resin lamp briefly brightened and then faded, much like a lamp on a cypress tree.

"Kumang is the goddess of heaven, the Sinta of the Iban tribe," Apai Janggut continued his narrative. The golden moonlight streamed into the room through the gaps in the bark of the house.

According to the stories passed down by the elders, the Iban people recognize three types of houses: the sepan house, the arbor house, and the bulai house. Kumang resides in a sepan house at the base of the hill, while Keling lives in the strategically located arbor house, not too close to the riverbank or at the hill's base. Bulai houses, on the other hand, are constructed along the riverbanks to accommodate migrants.

The Ibanic longhouse is divided into seven sections:

  1. Bilek: These rooms are inhabited by core family members and are further divided into lower sections for children and upper sections for parents.
  2. Sadau: Located above the bilek, it serves as storage for household items such as mats, baskets, machetes, and family belongings.
  3. Los or Ruai: These are open areas separated by roof poles.
  4. Tanju: The outer part of the ruai is built without a roof and is used for drying agricultural products, including gum and resin.
  5. Kitchen: Situated near the fire, it serves as a place to warm the heads of enemies taken in battle, a practice known as "antu nutmeg" (head trophy).
  6. Padong: A type of chaise lounge for relaxation and sleeping.
  7. Tempuan or Corridor: A connecting passageway.

Children who grow up and establish new households continue to live in the same bilek as their parents. However, they are required to build additional bilek at the rear. This pattern continues, resulting in an elongated longhouse with numerous bilek, hidden from view from the front.

Much like the betang houses of that era, the sepan house consists of rooms. Despite living together, residents are not free to enter each other's rooms; there are established rules and boundaries, with each room having its own privacy.

Residents share common living spaces, responsibilities, and resources for the greater good, but personal belongings are not shared. Even so, there are distinct private areas that should not be accessed by others.

One such private space is the main sleeping area, which is divided into two sections: the new booth and the atuih chamber. The former is located on the ground floor, while the latter is on the upper floor. Children sleep in the lower section, while the parents occupy the upper section.

Entering a girl's room is considered disrespectful, and anyone caught yawning will be subject to parental intervention, potentially leading to an arranged marriage and celebration.

No specific guest rooms are provided for sleeping; instead, a designated area or corner of the booth is usually covered with mats, with a mosquito net suspended above it.

The night undresses itself. Immerse yourself in the profound silence. The melodious call of the ketupung bird fills the air.

With Apai Janggut in front of the longhouse cubicle.

The rest of the wine lingers inside the teapot. One sip, and our glasses were left untouched.

We retreated to our separate chambers. There, Kapok Island awaited us. In an instant, we were gently embraced by a myriad of dreams.

Sungai Utik/Ibanic Longhouse
Sungai Utik, Batu Lintang

Kecamatan Embaloh Hulu
Kabupaten Kapuas Hulu, West Borneo.

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