Sunday January 20, 2013
Different kind of Christmas
By B.H. ONG
Despite the lack of amenities, the Kayan tribe in Sarawak celebrate on a community scale that touched the lives of urban city folks.
LAST Christmas, my daughter and I, together with a group of friends, were invited to celebrate the festival with the family of a good family friend at Long Atip, in the interior of Sarawak.
The people of Long Atip are of the Kayan tribe. Christmas is celebrated on a large scale there, over four days, and family members make a point to return home, be they from as near as Miri or as far as Moscow.
Long Atip takes about six hours of rafting and a roller coaster ride in a 4WD through logging trails from Miri. The ride itself is an adventure as we passed oil palm plantations, quarries, several longhouses of different tribes, small towns and cross rivers along the way.
Our first sight of Long Atip was a long row of double-storey building with a wide verandah, where older folks and children were chatting and playing. It seemed surreal in its tranquillity.
We discovered later that the longhouse has over 100 doors, making it one of the longest in Sarawak. One door represents one family home. The longhouse itself is quite wide and takes close to a minute to walk from the front door to the open kitchen at the back.
Long Atip, which has a population of a few hundred residents, swells to over a thousand people during Christmas.
There were church services, open-houses, parades, games, dances and competitions during the whole four days that we were there.
Our group of city folks didn’t quite know what to expect, but we certainly did not anticipate this well-run and organised village which has its own generator and water storage facilities for the use of the whole longhouse.
Their garbage disposal system was so efficient that there was hardly any rubbish or overflowing bins around the village.
As a close-knit community whereby everyone is either a family or friends of family, safety was never an issue.
Children ran in and out of homes freely. Needless to say, we were welcomed warmly as special guests, and invited to all events which we happily took part in. Our children, used to the hazards of living in a big city, felt the freedom of going anywhere, any time without having to account for their whereabouts, liberating.
Did I mention that there were no Internet connections, very minimal phone service and no TV?
It was refreshing to see people interacting with each other without the interruptions of cell phones. Instead of crowding around a small screen, the kids were inviting each other to a game of darts, table-tennis, water balloons, football and cards. They also had a chance to explore and pluck fruits from the trees around the village.
It was an amazing stay at Long Atip. We felt humbled and privileged to experience the simple kampung life, where community living is about the people, their tradition and culture.
The sense of pride among the Long Atip folks is clearly apparent as they eagerly travel back to their kampung every year to celebrate with their loved ones.
But development is coming soon to Long Atip. We were told that the telco Maxis is putting up a base station and the next time we visit, getting a phone service will not be a problem.
I’m not really sure whether this is good for the village as there will definitely be more people talking on their phones rather than to each other.
Perhaps, a better road system might be more beneficial for them.
It was a heartwarming experience that we will all remember and treasure, thanks to the warm hospitality and generous spirit of the people of Long Atip.
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