Longhouses - Visit at Home with
The People of Sarawak
One of the most memorable experiences Sarawak has to offer is a visit
to a longhouse, where you can observe a unique way of life and enjoy
legendary Dayak hospitality. These thriving communities, whole villages
under one roof, are not relics from the days of tribal warfare - they
are the preferred way of life for a large percentage of Sarawak's
rural people, particularly the Iban, the Bidayuh and the Orang Ulu.
Nowadays most longhouse dwellers are hard working farmers, and wear
practical modern clothing for work and leisure. However, if you
visit as part of an organized tour group, they will take great pride
in wearing their traditional costumes and regalia and performing
elaborate dances and welcoming rituals for their visitors.
The long covered gallery that runs the length of an Iban longhouse
is called the ruai, and this is where you will be greeted. A miring
ceremony is frequently conducted to welcome visitors, where offerings
of food and drink are presented to the local deities to ensure their
good will. After the miring, guests will be invited to sample a
glass of tuak, a potent local rice wine, and drink to everybody's
Visitors are then entertained with traditional music, dances and
games. After the locals have had their turn, the guests are expected
to join in the fun. Anyone who refuses will soon find themselves
dragged to their feet by the young ladies of the longhouse and forced
to take part in the dancing.
After the entertainment is finished there are a number of options,
depending on how adventurous you are. Some tour operators arrange
for visitors to eat a traditional longhouse dinner with their host
family and sleep on mattresses in the ruai, according to Iban tradition.
Others may put their guests up in a simple guesthouse nearby, with
more familiar cuisine prepared by the tour guide, who is always
an accomplished cook. For lovers of luxury, a few 'longhouse resorts'
are now operating, managed by professional hoteliers and serving
international cuisine in resort style comfort.
Visitors who stay more than one night can get to see Iban culture
at first hand, visiting the rice fields and pepper gardens, and
learning how the Iban make use of the rainforest for all of their
everyday needs. Some tours can last a week or more, with visits
to a number of longhouses and a fair amount of jungle trekking.
Second and subsequent evenings are more low-key, with visitors sitting
in the ruai, drinking tuak or coffee and chatting with their hosts.
The Iban are very sociable people, and many can speak English, so
some fascinating conversations are guaranteed.
The journey to and from the longhouse is a very interesting and
enjoyable experience. After a ride in an air-conditioned bus, a
short trip in a traditional longboat introduces you to the pleasures
of upriver travel. These narrow wooden craft are safe and very sturdy,
and the Iban are expert boatman.
There are four main areas for visiting Iban longhouses - the Skrang
River, the Lemanak River, Batang Ai, and the middle Rejang River.
Most tour groups will generally visit the first three, which are
half a day away from Kuching, whilst independent travellers usually
opt for the Rejang area around the town of Kapit, a half day's travel
A few specialist operators also visit Orang Ulu longhouses deep
in Sarawak's interior, where visitors are seldom seen, although
these trips require quite a lot of time.
Another interesting possibility is a trek through the beautiful
Bario Highlands, staying overnight in remote Kelabit longhouses.
Visitors with little time to spare can visit a Bidayuh longhouse
on a day trip from Kuching, or an Iban longhouse from Sibu or Miri.
However, overnight stays are strongly recommended, to get the most
from your visit.