Visiting Heartland Of The Kelabit Uplands In Bario, Sarawak
KK Ong shares with SmartDory his adventures to the Kelabit Uplands in Bario, Sarawak.
A hundred years can change many things.
For one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak, the Kelabit tribe were once feared head-hunters out to prove their manliness, valor, bravery, courage or just to get even with their enemy.
After their conversion to Christianity during the 1940s, they have left their old ways behind and are now a changed people, well known for their friendliness and hospitality.
The home of the Kelabit Uplands is in Bario in the northern region of Sarawak, the most remote and last frontier bordering Kalimantan in Indonesia. Access to the highlands is via logging routes on a 4WD or via flights, and the 16 seater twin otter planes are fantastic!
COOL FLIGHTS VIA MAS WINGS
Spread over a beautiful valley, the Kelabit Uplands has an altitude of 1500m above sea level which makes the weather always pleasantly cool and almost temperate, despite being in the tropics.
In the day the mean average temperature hovers between 16 to mid-twenty Celsius and gets really cool come nightfall and goes as low as 11C on some nights.
Bario is an unlikely highland paradise, a secluded picturesque flat plateau with miles of paddy fields.
The easy-going hospitality of the Kelabit people is apt to win you over to extend your stay by days, weeks or even year in splendid isolation from the rest of the world.
It is good in infrastructures such as an airport, internet access, and computer services, schools, churches, clinic, police station, and shops despite its remoteness.
There is an estimated 1200 Kelabit are still living on the highlands, in the longhouses.
The Kelabit community’s main agricultural economic activity is growing Bario rice or “Adan rice” which is rich in minerals and vitamins and has an exceptionally rich starchy content and taste sweeter compared to other rice varieties.
The cool climate at the average 20°C enables the community to cultivate citrus fruits, pineapples besides rice.
BARIO SALT SPRINGS
One of the fascinating jungle industries of the Kelabit people is extracting salt from the salt springs. Lubang Garam Pa Umor is one of the best-known Bario salt springs which produces the highly sought natural mineral content salt.
Salt extraction is simple. The drawn spring water is boiled in a big pot over firewood. After the water evaporates the residue salt is then inserted into bamboo pipes. These are burned over a fire for 24 hours to harden the salt.
The harden salt cylinders are wrapped with big leaves and secured with rattan strips to keep it dry for transportation.
The way to Pa’Umor Salt Spring.
We passed by squalid huts where the community lives in extreme poverty.
The people in the Kelabit Highlands eat fruits and wild foods gathered from the surrounding jungles. There is sweetly fragrant and refreshing passion fruit. These fruits make up a large portion of food eaten by the locals.
Steamed rice, pineapple, and passion fruit are normally served for breakfast at the homestays in Bario.
In the Kelabit Longhouse, the ‘tawa’ or corridor is utilized as a function area during celebrations.
Each room has the family portraits displayed outside rather than in the room. There are many homestays available in the village where board and meals are included in the price.
The Kelabit also play the pagang (tube zither). This is made from a length of the bamboo tube closed at both ends by its natural bamboo nodes. The strings are finely cut strips from the surface of the tube, which is still attached at either end.
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