Apo Kayan

Part of a journal kept through out a brief stay in the high central mountains of East Kalimantan in 1991

Arrived at Long Apung from Samarinda at around twelve to an earthen airstrip edged by a muddy river, pineapple plants, tall grasses and a few Dayak women wearing huge bright hats. As we pulled to a halt in the centre of the field the plane was quickly surrounded by locals streaming out of the vegetation. We were quickly lost in the confusion of greetings and departures and began our walk to the village proper.

Plane at Long Apung 500
Plane at Long Apung

Twenty minutes later, after following a narrow dirt track through the forest, fields, past a burnt out longhouse and several healthy ones, we tracked down the Kepala Desa’s house, the only building with Ngok (carvings) on the roof: No kids milling, everyone quite shy and the village seemed almost deserted — everyone still out at the airfield. The husband of one of the Kepala Desa’s daughters bade us welcome and showed us to a room which already contained the bags of two Americans (who we later found had been here a week.)

Our host, wearing a Dayak baby carrier (Baa‘) containing his small son on his back, offered us water and a hand of small bananas, keeping us company until his father-in-law, an old man with elongated ears, a slightly Chinese cast of features and teeth blackened by the Lombok chewing tobacco that seems to be appreciated up here, could return and welcome us more formally.

The old man, the Kepala Desa, accompanied by his wife and three grandchildren, were soon seated around us on the floor of the “guest room”. Their jet black eyes watched us with a generous if wary friendliness as we talked a while about The “Festa Panin” (Harvest Celebration) that was planned for the following night and introduced ourselves all-round.  When the conversation began to lag, we excused ourselves and went for a walk around the village.

Scarecrow 500

My Belgian friend Frans and I first made our way through three large wooden school buildings and a football field surrounded by pineapple plants and huge palm trees, into a maze of rice fields planted on gently rolling hillocks and scattered with small temporary shelters built for the workers use during the harvest and planting seasons. Strung with single ‘rope’ fences, some of the ‘rope’ looking suspiciously like cassette tape, and festooned with pieces of cloth stiffened with sticks, some full-blown scarecrows complete with trousers and wooden mask and even a plastic pump—up toy plane, most of the rice still looked green .

Returning to the village, we entered an old longhouse where we were bid welcome. We quickly found out an Italian photographer and his Spanish journalist friend were staying here, but they were out at that time. The children were very wary of us, a reaction we were to find repeated where ever we went in the Kayan Hulu, and ran off at the sight of my camera. Dogs all over the place but very peaceful, not barking like normal Indonesian dogs – though being hunting dogs, they had been probably trained this way.

And old man, the head of the Longhouse, and his wife, both with the famed Dayak elongated earlobes, came out after twenty or so minutes of us walking up and down the huge roofed in veranda, talking with the women and children, who slowly grew bolder and dared to venture closer. The old man introduced us to the Jenai – a glutinous rice dish cooked in bamboo pieces and remarkably similar to the pa’piong of Toraja in South Sulawesi -which they were cooking in large quantities all over the village, in preparation for the harvest feast. Young people no longer seem to stretch their ears, everyone has the baby carriers and everyone seems to have babies.

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