Spending a day across the Indonesian border in Sajingan Besar
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
The best thing about Borneo is that it is shared by three countries – Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), Brunei and Indonesia – making the largest island in Asia a perfect place for a road trip.
When I found out that another Wonderful Indonesia Festival was taking place at Aruk in Sajingan Besar, Sambas last weekend, I immediately packed my camera and a spare T shirt, taking the chance for a day trip with some friends.
Located just a stone’s throw from the border of Kampong Biawak in Lundu, it is only a two-hour drive from Kuching to reach the Biawak security border and another 10 minutes’ drive to Aruk from the Indonesian security checkpoint.
Having left home around 8.30 in the morning, we arrived at Biawak security checkpoint around 11.30 as we made a couple of stops along the way; first for breakfast and another for snacks at some stalls by the roadside.
Upon passing the Aruk border, we were greeted by the sight of a huge Bank Indonesia billboard featuring the image of the governor of West Kalimantan Drs Cornelis MH and his wife Frederika Cornelis S Pd as part of their ‘Cinta Nontunai, Cinta Rupiah’ campaign and Wonderful Indonesia banners lining the road leading visitors to the festival site.
With our local Indonesian Consulate heavily promoting Kalimantan as a tourism destination this year, we shouldn’t have been surprised to see a large number of cars with Malaysian plates parked along the road with countless visitors opting to walk to the festival and flood the festival area.
Taking place at Lapangan Terminal Sajingan Besar, the Wonderful Indonesia festival was already in a full swing by the time we arrived, with a huge group of big bike riders flooding in to join the event.
Within the field where the festival took place were about 15 stalls with vendors selling their goods from handicrafts such as jewelries, baskets, mats, traditional costumes and their signature songket Sambas to cool drinks and food.
During the festival, the visitors were entertained by a dance performance competition and it was fascinating to see the dancers walking around donning their traditional costumes as they would sometimes stop in their tracks to take pictures with visitors upon request.
However, one of the interesting things going on throughout the festival was the terabai shield design competition as participants were seen carefully sketching designs on decorative wooden shields before meticulously painting them in.
We came across a stall selling traditional Selako costumes which, according to the salesperson named Ana, were made by her friend named Augustinus.
Having made everything from scratch, Ana said that while Augustinus would design the costumes, he was also aided by at least 20 other people – from collecting the raw materials to assembling the whole costume.
Taking an interest in making traditional vests made from tree bark about a year ago, Augustine or also known as Agus taught himself how to make them by watching videos online.
“I got inspired to learn how to make one when I went to see several ‘naik dango’ festivals around Kalimantan and I saw people there demonstrating how to make traditional costumes,” said Agus who is of Selako descent.
He then later started gathering several young people from the age of 17 to 21 years old about six months ago in his village to start making traditional vests.
“Collecting the raw materials such as the tree bark and the animal skeletons took about half a year as we do not go to the jungle personally to get it, but rather we buy it from the older generations from the village nearby who once hunted for their food in the forest,” he explained of the elements of the Selako costume.
Even though the costumes are decorated with animal skeletons, Agus said that hunting for hornbills was prohibited in Kalimantan and that they did not commission people to hunt for animals to make their costumes.
The Jakarta Post in May reported that West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis had called on residents to help protect the hornbill, which has become rarer due to excessive hunting.
“Most of the time, however, they would just give away the skeletons to us,” he added.
Agus said that costume is call ‘baju penulu’ and that people in the olden days would wear them when they went out hunting.
He explained that the vest indicated the wearer’s capability and skill of surviving in the jungle as they would hunt for food in the forest and decorate their vests with skeletons of animals they hunted.
Decorated with skulls of monkeys and fangs of wild boars, Agus also managed to collect a hornbill casque from the old people who kept it as a relic from their hunting days.
Inspired by his ‘naik dango’ ( a thanksgiving celebration to the gods for a bountiful harvest and is celebrated across all Dayak communities in Kalimantan) experiences which ignited his interest in making the traditional vest, Agus said that no one within the area were making them.
“I do not want to be the only one who is making them; I would like to have everybody participating so that they can learn about their own Dayak tradition. If Dayak communities from other areas know how to make one, why not those from Sajingan as well,” he added.
Besides the festival and its local people, one of the highly recommended places to go visit here is the Berasap waterfall.
(Unfortunately as we were not dressed for a hiking expedition, we did not manage to visit the place.)
However, we were told by a fellow Sarawakian who has visited the waterfall that it would take about a 15-minute drive to reach Kampong Sajingan from the Aruk border and another 45 minutes slow hike up a steep mountain trail to reach the waterfall, which is what anyone would like to dip into on a searing hot day.
Nevertheless, even without making a pit stop at the waterfall, a drive along Kampong Sajingan is fascinating by itself as we passed by houses, pepper farms and several buildings, soaking in the picturesque views along the way.
Only separated by a border, Sajingan is one of the many places in Kalimantan that has to be on every Sarawakian’s bucket list to travel to as there are people, places and cultures yet to be fully explored on the other side.