The Penan Tribe and the Canopy Walk
The early morning mist covered the mountains and the river lending mystery to the surrounding areas. Soon the sun burned up the fog. I sat on the balcony overlooking the river having my breakfast . The free-ranging chickens were pecking some fallen fruits and jumping over some boats parked on the bank.
Maria and I sat on the longtail boat with the boatman down the river to fetch a family and then we proceeded to the Batu Bungan settlement for the Penan tribe. This tribe is one of the remaining nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in the world and the only nomadic tribe of the rainforest of Sarawak. There are only 10,000 Penan and only 300 still lead a totally nomadic life. Their staple is the pithy rich starch of the sago palm of the forest and they supplement that with fish, wild games and jungle fruits. They made temporary huts called “sulaps “ of timber poles held together by rattan with palms for roofs.A few families live together in two rooms, one for sleeping and the other for living.They live in the sulap for a few weeks until the resources are depleted in the area and they pack up and move on.
The British convinced the Penan to settle down to begin some agriculture and taught them to trade with crafts. Now the government build communal housing in the style of the long houses in the Penan settlement and they make crafts for sale to tourists; mats, beads, straw hats, bags, blow darts...
From there we took the boat upstream to visit the Cave of the Winds which has many slender stalagmites and columns.
I left for the Gunong Mulu National Park for a canopy walk, the longest one in the world about 450 meters long with 16 canopy walks up at a height of 45 meters. The guide gently shook a thorny branch which resulted in the distinct sound of sand falling in the hollow of the stem. It was the sound of ants scrambling and falling inside. There were many species of tall trees with buttress roots and I stood next to an impressive gigantic Pelai tree. However I did not see any animal at the canopy walk.
In the afternoon I went back to Benarat Lodge for a quick lunch and then to the Mulu airport for my flight to Kuching. When James Brooke was first made Rajah of Sarawak, it consisted just of Kuching, his successors extended it to the current size. Kuching means cats in Malay but historians do not think that it actually means cat city. There is speculation that Kuching is a variation of cochin, an Indo-European word for port. However the true meaning for Kuching is unknown. Despite that the city has about four cat statues scattered all over the city. The biggest one is near the entrance to one of the two China towns where I stay.
I took a walk along the water front of the Sungai Sarawak on the promenade in the evening. On the north bank is the Astana (a local name for the Malay word, Istana, for palace), the impressive palace built by the White Rajah, Charles Brooke for his wife, Margaret, now the governor’s mansion. Just across form it in the south bank is the court house, a beautiful cluster of white colonial buildings with regal Romanesque columns and in front is the column with the Charles Brooke Memorial and at the four corners are statues showing the four major ethnic groups: the Dayaks, Chinese, Malays and Orang Ulu.
My walk took me to the second Chinatown. Most of the eateries were closed because of Chinese New Year except for the Malays’ stores. I had a plate of Char Koay Teow (fried broad rice noodles) and Ais Kachang (shave ice with red beans, corns, pandan chendol or green bean noodles, syrup and condensed milk). In the cool evening, I slowly made my way back to my hotel.