Long Bedian ~ Upper Baram, Sarawak Borneo
Long Bedian is located within the Kayan territory, up in the Apoh Tutoh region of the Baram district. It is in fact, reachable by 4WD in 4 ½hrs from Miri but through some real harrowing road conditions. We chose the scenic and slower way of getting there which is : Miri by speedboat to Marudi ; stayover at Marudi ; Marudi by speedboat to Long Lama ; Long Bedian by 4WD to Long Bedian ; Long Bedian by 4WD to Tenyok Rimba Resort.
Long Bedian’s community is made up of a population 1,686 with 180 houses. The majority are Kayan with a mix of Kelabit, Kenyah, Morek, Penan and other smaller tribes. Long Bedian is the main trading point for the nomadic tribe, Penans to trade their jungle ware with the middlepersons. However, although a few Penans still practice their nomadic ways, a great number of them now live in settlements.
A few Penan villagers can be found just outside of Long Bedian. Long Bedian still maintains a longhouse of which several members still live. Unfortunately like this one in Long Bedian, many of the longhouses in Sarawak and also in Sabah have lost its original designs and have opted for the more functional prefab look.
Longhouses in the interior always seem to only house the elderly and sometimes the very young and mothers. Many of the inhabitants have moved to larger towns such as Miri to make a living. This is because the strappy, able bodied men have been recruited by big Oil boys such as Shell, Exxon, BP to work on their offshore platforms outside of Miri. From there, several of the more experienced ones are sent overseas to other oil producing countries such as North Sea in Britain, Nigeria, South Africa and even off Terengganu in Peninsula Malaysia. A few would then leave their young families and wives behind at the longhouses. Therefore, villages such as Long Bedian would be provided with schools, clinics or hospitals and other infrastructures for the community.
The community also have resoted to agricultural activities to supplement their income. They have plantations or padifields on the perimeters of the village. Most leave for their plantations at the crack of dawn and bring along their lunch rations with them where they spend their entire day out and only coming home in time for a cold bath and a hot supper.
Spending time with the locals is an honour. Normally, visitors to Long Bedian are invited to stay at the Longhouse or for visitors who are not accustomed to staying at the longhouses, there is a community run resort on the outskirts of the village called Tenyok Rimba Resort. Wherever you stay, it is a must to try the local Borak or Burak (fermented rice wine).
It’s one of the best I’ve tried over my many visits to longhouses in other parts of Borneo. What a great idea to bottle this and sell it as a local souvenir. But alas, there are so few visitors coming to Long Bedian that by that time, the bottles would have been cracked open and its delicious juices consumed in celebration of any joyous occasion or excuses for an occasion that the villagers would have come up with.
The locals here pride themselves in their Borak quality. The longer it’s left to ferment, the better it will taste. One year will be a good amount of time but often, the will is weaker then the want and the jars will be emptied as soon as it’s reached an acceptable level of fermentation.
As we approached Long Bedian longhouse, we could see a few men cleaning out a longboat. We asked them why so many different length boats and the older gentleman replied that they were getting ready for the Baram Regatta.
The boat race is the highlight of the Baram district where participants from all villages will send their boats for the race. The regatta was only a month away and preparations were on the way. An elderly gentleman with long lobed ears and holes pierced at the top of his ear which once upon a time was adorned with leopard fangs or sharpened bones signifying him as a warrior or soldier. He held his parang or knife in one hand and a block of wood in the other. All chipping and carving is done through memory, no blueprints required. He had a huge task ahead of him.
About 350 wooden oars were required for the race and he had 1 month to complete them. Francis is his name and from what we saw, he was having a lot of fun doing what he best loved. The Kayans were well respected as the tribe who produced the best boats and carved the most intricate wood carvings. Today, such skills and talents are fast disappearing, left only to the aged who may well be taking their beautiful crafts and handwork to their graves if the younger generation doesn’t partake in preserving their heritage. With some help from the government, perhaps this may be halted..
The Penan village about 20minutes drive from Long Bedian houses a small community that has already been settled some years. The Penans are fighting very hard to exist day to day. Although they have settled in a village, their main livelihood and existence is intrinsically linked with the jungle. Penans who are still nomadic, retain their fair skin. In the old days where jungle was vast, the Penans were always sheltered from the harsh sun. They seldom left their jungle shade and unlike other tribes, had no need of the river as a means of transportation.
They survived solely on the jungle.
Today, the Penans are forced to exist in settlements and to work in plantations. The younger generations leave for large towns and cannot survive the harshness of civilisation and end up impoverished there.
The Penan men at Long Bedian can be seen walking around with their blowpipes and poison darts. They move through the secondary jungles like their forefathers have for generations – stealthily and with much freedom. They collect rattan; any animal that comes their way and even edible roots. Their much prized food which used to be their staple diet is the sago palm. When the loggers came through and took their jungle, they were robbed of their home, their food and their livelihood. Today, the pirates of the jungle are still robbing the area. The Penans would send out scouts to monitor their most important tree, the Ipoh or Ipuh tree of which the men would collect the poison for their darts. Even how much patrolling they do, the loggers still manage to raid the areas of the remaining large trees. In the old days, Penans seldom crossed paths with foreigners. Their nomadic ways and small groups also meant that they kept to themselves a lot.
The locals here pride themselves in their Borak quality. The longer it’s left to ferment, the better it will taste. One year will be a good amount of time but often, the will is weaker then the want and the jars will be emptied as soon as it’s reached an acceptable level of fermentation.Intermarriage with family members was a norm. So when the Penans were settled, they had more contact with the outside world and with that came other vises. In settlements, the Penan community is getting larger. There are more children and a lot of single mothers. These young Penan girls had relations with passing strangers along the way and now have borne children out of wedlock. The Penghulu or Headman of Long Bedian says that its not rare to see mixed Caucasian, Japanese, Chinese and Malay children running around in the settlements. The Penans are coping, but for how long remains to be seen. They, like the many species in the Borneon jungle may one day go extinct too.
best time to go
Monsoon season hits Sarawak from October till February. The drier months will be from March till August. The best time to go would definitely be during the Baram Regatta which happens every 3years. The other time would be during the new year festival or the Gawai Festival when most family members will return and the village and longhouse will once again be alive with laughter and chatters
Fly by Maswings to Marudi from Miri and from here take the express boat upriver to Long lama. From there hire a 4WD to take you to Long Bedian. This is an old logging road that goes through some really harrowing bends. Be prepared for a rough ride. The journey takes about 1 1/2hrs.
From Miri, take a taxi to Kuala Baram jetty. There are daily boats heading to Marudi and costs RM20 - RM25 per person per way (approx 3hrs travel time). At Marudi, take another express boat to Long Lama. This express boat to Long Lama may or may not leave depending on demand and weather conditions. Time taken is 4hrs and fare is also RM20 - RM25 per person per way. Scheduled time is at 10.30am leaving from Marudi.
For more information on the boat schedule, call Tinjar Express at +6 019 8755831 . This express provides transport from Marudi to Kuala Baram, Long Lama, Totuh and Tinjar