Stalking the Punans in Southeast Asia

We welcome Melissa Vitti to our blogging ranks. She will be adding her take to the Travel Reader blog. Below is an example of an article she didn’t select, but that captures the essence of this blog., from Escape Artist Magazine., by Harold Stephens.

“That night we stayed at the Kapit Hotel, our last bit of luxury for some time to come, and early the next morning we went to the shops along the river to negotiate for long-boats to carry us up river. Luck was with us. The Iban chief of Ruma Dilang, a longhouse near the mouth of the Balleh,
invited us to travel with him and his family in their longboat. We could spend the night in his longhouse. We didn’t have the chance to refuse, for instantly a dozen natives picked up our supplies and carted them down to the waterfront to be loaded into the boat.

When I saw the boat, I wasn’t too sure we would make it. The frail craft was hollowed from a single tree trunk, and after we were seated, a dozen of us, it had only an inch or two of freeboard above the waterline.

The boat was about thirty feet long, propelled by a twenty-horsepower outboard motor. A young Iban boy who served as lookout sat on the bow. The helmsman sat in the stern and interpreted the arm signals from the boy in front. They threw off the mooring lines and we drifted out into the current. The helmsman cranked up the engine and nosed the bow upstream. He then gave it full throttle. The boat lunged forward and appeared to leap out of the water.

We moved like a surfboard over the swirling water. The bow rode high and the river hissed and slapped beneath us. It was exciting, but also a bit frightening at times. Half submerged logs appeared suddenly. The lookout would signal and the helmsman would turn, just in time.

We left the Rejang and started up the Balleh. In places it was as wide as a lake. We arrived at Ruma Dilang at dusk. As our supplies were being unloaded and carried up the mud banks, a servant from the chief’s quarters came to lead us to the longhouse.