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Shelter at Long Rapung

Long Rapung

Long Rapung has been abandoned for many years. Only a small shelter remains. After bathing in the river, Joshua showed us “wild asparagus” and fern shoots that we could collect for dinner. A large, hollow bamboo tube was used to fetch cooking water from the river. We had no cups, so Joshua took out his machete and made us some from leftover bamboo. It started to rain, probably because we hadn't finished our rice the day before! We found a few sour oranges in a nearby tree. Joshua made a fire, then improvised a way to hang our cooking pot with a spare piece of rattan. We made another mountain of Bario rice and ate it with boiled wild vegetables. Passing around a bottle of cheap whisky mixed with some sour citrus juice, we sat by the fire and talked about Kelabit life in Bario. Joshua, always joking, loved to talk about the forest and the mountains. We talked about the fate of Bruno Manser, a Swiss environmental activist who had lived with the nomadic Penan people of Sarawak, and encouraged them to take direct action to defend their land. Everybody had a different opinion of how he disappeared in 2000, and whether he was still alive. Joshua, who knew the nomadic Penan well, claimed that Bruno was still alive and under their protection. As the last unprotected forests were being logged, though, it appeared that the Penan had lost their struggle to retain ownership of their traditional lands.

Dinner in the shelter Wild pitcher plant

The next day we hiked back to Pa Lungan. On the way, Joshua tried to attract barking deer by using a small leaf to make a crying sound. Without dogs to track and flush out game, it was impossible to hunt anything along the trail. Back in Pa Lungan, Joshua took us to see the nearby megalith, Batu Ritung. A stone “table”, it was erected by a great Kelabit king. Since the arrival of Christianity the megaliths, fallen into disrepair, have been reclaimed by the forest. Nabun took us to the nearby fields to point out the three local species of pitcher plant. When it started to rain, we took refuge in a nearby house. On the wall was the skin of a giant anteater. Nabun winked and whispered, “Don't tell the locals, but I buy up the scales to sell as Chinese medicine in Kuching.” Nabun was also collecting damar, in the hopes that it would someday become valuable again. That night, after a spectacular dinner of locally hunted and foraged food, we polished off a bottle of Supang's rice wine, a Kelabit specialty.

Landscape Kalabit megalith

We took a rough trail through the jungle to return to Jaman's lodge. After we washed our clothes and shoes, Jaman's wife cooked a big meal for all the guests. There was more sweet pineapple in curry sauce and plenty of local produce. Jaman commented on Kelabit customs and life in the highlands. We were sad to leave the relaxing and friendly atmosphere of Bario.