Sunday, May 25, 2014

Annah Rais Bidayuh Longhouse - Not all lost to modernisation

SOME are related, some are not but they all share a common lifestyle at a countryside longhouse.

The families live side by side at the settlement set up about three centuries ago, and grow crops.

At Annah Rais, there are two traditional longhouses raised on belian posts and are home to about 80 families of the same clan.

One is called Batang Sijo (upstream row), about 150 feet long and 50 feet wide, and the other, Batang Saba (downstream row), about 100 feet long and 50 feet wide.

The floor of the longhouse verandah (or tanju in Bidayuh dialect) is made of about threeinch wide strips split from large bamboo, and belian planks about eight inches wide.

The nearly fl at bamboo strips are tied down firmly with rattan or lianas or woody vines to either the woody or bamboo joists beneath, making the fl oor delightful to walk on – even barefoot.

In fact, the rounded surface of the bamboo, being smooth, is quite agreeable to the feet, at the same time, affording a firm hold.

Putting a rattan mat over the floor can make for an excellent bed as the elasticity of the bamboo and its rounded surface are superior to a flatter and more rigid floor.

The bamboo-strips floor, both in the open and sheltered verandah, could have been at the longhouse for a year or two already.

Constant rubbing of the feet has made some of the bamboo strips and woods dark and polished like walnuts – so much so that the original material sometimes can hardly be recognised.

Bamboo strips kept under the roof may last up to two years.

The longhouse rooms are quite simple – equipped with a kitchen, dining and sleeping areas.

The attic may be used to store handicrafts like the tambok, a basket strapped to a carrier’s back and used to carry produce, and rattan mats.

“Annah Rais longhouse is the oldest Bidayuh longhouse in Sarawak – about 300 years old,” said Edward Kurik, who claimed to be the ninth generation of the longhouse dwellers.

He said centuries ago, the traditional longhouse structures were tied with rattan, woody vines or creeper fibres and roofed with sago leaves.

As time went by, renovations were carried out, resulting in some changes to the materials, especially for the roofs, he added.

Sago leaves can last five to six years.

As they are considered not long-lasting, constant maintenance is necessary after their lifespan.

Nowadays, metal roofing materials – zinc and aluminium – are occasionally used for repairs.

The main pillars, forming the basic structure of the Annah Rais longhouse, are made of belian.

The pillars have withstood the ravages of time, remaining strong till today – and can be expected to last hundreds of years more.

Looking at the belian posts and other wooden structures, which have stood for centuries, one can’t help but marvel at the high level of construction skills involved, considering axes and parang were only the tools used back then.