Rumah Bundong is a 60 year-old, 50-door longhouse near Kapit in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is inhabited by about 40 families of Iban ethnicity, who are famed, amongst many things, for headhunting.
Yes that’s right—headhunting—and 40 families means there are a lot of them. Still, I’m encouraged to learn they ceased the practice around WWII because I’ve elected to stay with them for two nights and frankly I don’t want them getting any ideas.
When I first arrived at Rumah Bundong, one of the first things I saw were skulls swaying from rafters in front of the headman’s bilik (door). Whether it was a warning for unruly guests or a gruesome souvenir for tourists, who knows? In any case I soon took little notice of it because there were so many other things to take in.
The longhouse was located about an hour’s bumpy drive from Kapit and across a suspension bridge; in many ways a dramatic arrival that added to the experience.
A ruai (verandah) connected the 100-metre long structure with doors leading to individual family areas. The verandah was a communal area where women dried grains, divided the fish catch, worked on handicrafts, minded children and chatted. The men also grouped together to smoke, mend fishing nets and carve hooks. There was a real sense of a close-knit community.
I was given accommodation for a fee with the headman, Tua Rumah Bundong Tajok, and his family. His married children lived with their own families in a series of rooms in the same quarters, while single members slept in the lounge or near the guest quarters – a loft above the living area.
There was electricity, a television, they had mobile phones and lived in basic but comfortable rooms. An outhouse was used for washing and toileting, but most people bathed down at the river.
Few in the family spoke English but it didn’t matter. The headman’s wife and daughters prepared delicious meals of meat and vegetables that we ate communally on the kitchen floor. It was wonderful to be included in family life and not treated differently and I dived into the bowls with everybody else.
The first day I spent playing with the headman’s grandchildren, bathing in the river and exploring to get a sense of the rhythms of the longhouse. Most people were farmers and spent the days working in the fields. There was also a school on site for younger children. In the afternoon the workers would return home and gather on the verandahs.
Continue reading (incl. Pics) at: Enjoying the hospitality of headhunters in Borneo