Bridging the old with the new at Rumah Entalau
By Patricia Hului
Sarawakians are often praised for our generous hospitality.
Perhaps that was one of the reasons why celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain came back to Sarawak again after first taping Travel Channel’s ‘No Reservations’ back in 2005.
Besides his tour through Kuching which included a revisit to Choon Hui Cafe for a dose of his favourite Sarawak Laksa, a sparring session at Brazilian Jujitsu academy Studio 23, and a pleasant evening at Magenta Restaurant, he also made the return trip to Rumah Entalau to film a segment for an episode for CNN’s programme ‘Parts Unknown’ from May 30 to June 2.
At Rumah Entalau, he rounded off his Sarawak experience of old and new with a traditional hand-tapped tattoo in the form of a durian flower. Bourdain was also seen in the ‘ruai’ shooting with six production crew members and hanging out with the residents of Rumah Entalau.
Longhouse residents such as Kelumih Abat also had work to do like Bourdain this festive season.
Like most of the residents of Rumah Entalau, 52-year-old Kelumih is a pepper planter and even on Gawai morning she was busy drying her pepper pods.
According to Kelumih, there are not many people living in the 24-room longhouse as most of them chose to move to the cities such as Kuching, Miri and Sri Aman to look for jobs.
During the Gawai holiday break, however, the longhouse is much livelier and merrier than usual with family coming back to celebrate and meet up with each other over food and drink.
Just next to the longhouse within two minutes’ walk is SK Nanga Entalau, a humble school with some 40 students and about 18 staff including teachers and a clerk.
Kelumih said only seven children from Rumah Entalau attended that school whereas other pupils were from the nearby longhouses.
Visitors and residents alike will have to settle for being out of touch for a while during their stay in Entalau since there is no cellphone connection there.
Maxis users previously had cellphone connection in this area, but the communication tower went down two months ago.
Kelumih said although the connection was not widely available at least they could still make proper phone calls in select areas of the longhouse but she still wishes there were proper phone lines connecting them to the outside world.
The nearby school also provides free Wifi connection with mediocre speed in the compound.
Although the school was empty during this school holiday, some of the younger generation who rely heavily on the internet would walk to SK Nanga Entalau to get connected.
Unfortunately, their Gawai celebration took a slightly somber turn this year as Kelumih explained that one of the elders of a Sri Aman longhouse nearby passed away a couple days before Gawai.
Somber or not, for visitors like Marius Joscha Maiwald the Gawai festival in Rumah Entalau was still merry.
“The people here know how to party,” he said.
Clad in a white T-shirt and shorts, the 23-year-old German student from University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) looked comfortable mingling with the locals.
The Zoology undergraduate student said this year was his third Gawai in Sarawak, the last two years were spent in Lundu and Lubok Antu.
Maiwald visited Rumah Entalau to fulfill a promise he made to his friend to celebrate Gawai in Ulu Skrang two years ago, but due to prior engagements he was not able to fulfil his promise.
He noticed that Rumah Entalau did not perform the ‘miring’, a traditional Iban ritual offering ceremony unlike the longhouse he visited in Lubok Antu last year.
Maiwald also shared he liked Iban traditional costumes and food, hardly turning down any drinks offered.
First Gawai with electricity
For Jaeng Omar, 60, this year’s Gawai in Rumah Entalau was special as it was their first Gawai with 24-hour electricity.
They bid goodbye to diesel-run generators last January after Sarawak Energy built a solar power station behind the longhouse.
Rumah Entalau is the only longhouse in the area to have this privilege but Jaeng has another concern in mind, the washed way bridge across Sungai Tebulus.
“The bridge was built when the construction of Ulu Skrang road started about two years ago,” he said.
Last December, flood washed away the bridge. The Tebulus bridge measured about 20 feet in length and was wide enough for a four-wheel-drive vehicle to cross. As a result of the flood, one of the steel tubes that made up the bridge was swept away to the Ulu Skrang river while the other is located not far from what used to be the bridge.
Residents have complained to the contractors in-charge but to no avail.
Jaeng explained that several longhouses needed the bridge to cross the Tebulus tributary from Ulu Skrang road including Rh Entalau, Rh Tabau, Rh Seladong, Rh Panchor, Rh Emperan, Rh Sungai Paya, Rh Lepung Kepayang and two primary schools, SK Nanga Entalau and SK Nanga Menjuau.
Without the bridge from Ulu Skrang Road to the longhouses, people have to park their cars either at Rumah Murat or Rumah Sungai Pinang and then take a three-hour longboat ride to the longhouses.
It takes three hours from Kuching to Murat and another 40 minutes’ drive to Sungai Pinang.
For motorcyclists, they can carry their motorcycles across the stream through water that can be knee-deep during low-tide.
The journey upriver to Rumah Entalau can be an hour from Sungai Pinang and up to three hours from Murat, but then it also depends on the weather and river conditions.
Occasionally, thanks to the rain, soil runoff from the road causes sedimentation in the Ulu Skrang river, making it difficult for longboat paddlers to see the rocks underneath the chocolate-coloured river.
But for some experienced 4X4 drivers; they choose to take a mildly bone-jarring drive through the logging road from Sebeliau to reach Rumah Entalau.
For teachers who commute to the longhouse schools, they park their cars at Murat for RM2 a night and take the longboat trip to the longhouse areas where they teach during the weekdays and return to Murat to take their cars or go to town during the weekends.
Back in 2012, RM27 million was allocated for a 7km bitumen stretch. The people wanted more, so a stretch of 54km gravel road was built instead.
The road has yet to be finished and a few parts of the road are still cut off because there are no bridges in some areas.
On top of that, they need to build eight bridges together with Ulu Skrang road.
During the recent state legislative assembly, Infrastructure Development and Communications Minister Dato Sri Michael Manyin Jawong said the Ulu Skrang road was 92 per cent complete and the only things not complete were bridges linking the roads. He said that work had started on them.
Hopefully the self-reliant longhouse dwellers will get what they wish for before the next Gawai Dayak.