Saturday, 12 July 2008

Blowpipes, Mushrooms & Friendship

Seven weeks have passed since our arrival on the Tulai River. The first few weeks were frantic, including a wedding here at longhouse Rumah Lidam plus the Gawai Dayak celebrations. In early June we were also invited to our first Gawai Antu (Festival Of The Dead), held at nearby longhouse Rumah Labang. The images from Gawai Antu are available here, and in the photo gallery in the right hand column.

Life settled down just a little after that. With help from local friends Hillary & Jampie we were able to acquire a good quantity of hand made "laja" (blowpipe darts), and the people of Rumah Lidam turned their hands and lungs to a very unusual competition. This was a first for almost all of them - a blowpipe hadn't been used by these people for more than a generation. After the first day's entertainment several old blowpipes appeared out of the local biliks (homes), though all were warped or damaged, and unuseable. Using Neil's new (& straight) blowpipe, the competition final was held on June 30.

On June 28 the world turned upside down again with the arrival of family friend Diana Farrell and her friend Charlotte (at left). Two 18 year old aussie girls certainly caused a stir on the river, and in the local towns. They were delivered to the longhouse in great style, carried aboard an Iban longboat. That night was the end of Gawai, and the celebrations included dressing Ley and both girls in traditional Iban costume. Thats "Princess" Ley in the photo at right.

Our friends here keep us well supplied with local foods and are eager for us to sample everything from local river snails to Pangolin and tapioca leaf. The wild mushrooms shown here look red and dangerous to the newcomer, but taste delicious when cooked (lightly spiced). Last week Jampie cut a large bunch of fruit from the Napa Palm along the river bank. The nuts were separated from the bunch and then cut open on the dock. Inside is a delicious clear milk, just like coconut milk. Surrounding the milk is a clear gelatinous layer that can be scraped out with your finger nail. To our surpise it tastes like Lychee fruit, only milder. Two days in a row we slurped and scraped our morning tea of fresh nappa fruit, sitting on the dock, with Jampie wielding his long knife to keep everyone fed. Incidentally, if you want a knife sharpened really well, give it to an Iban ... Jampie has honed our large galley knife to a very fine and dangerous edge. His own long knife knocks the top off green coconuts in a flash, as Charlotte & Diana saw last week. The girls returned to Australia yesterday, though the local boys are still asking after them...see the photo's here, or in the gallery at right.

Our presence on this river sometimes generates an unusual amount of interest - in the past month we've been visited twice by local Chinese language newspapers, who each devoted a full page in colour to our presence here. Read about it here, & here. The courtesy and generosity of the local people is difficult to describe - I've lost count of the food and drink we've been offered by locals, both Chinese and Iban. Even in local restaurants we sometimes find our meal is paid for before we even finish it .... Sarawak is unique.