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West Kalimantan

The vast province of West-Kalimantan is mainly shaped by the catchment area of the Kapuas, the longest river of Indonesia. West Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat) has a surface of 146.807 sq.km. and counts only a few million inhabitants. Traveling in this area is demanding, adaption to local problems and delays is required. Tourism in this province, almost unknown to the main public, is not encouraged as well.


Sintang
Entrance to Kalimantan Barat

With it's several hundred-thousand inhabitants, governmental buildings and Chinese shops, Sintang dominates most of the Kapuas. The city used to be, and still is the entrance to the hinterlands of Western Kalimantan, in special the rivers of Melawi, Kayan and Pinoh, which can be reached by longbot from the city.

The Pinoh springs in the Schwaner Range, the natural border between the provinces West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. Near Nanga, the Poinoh merges with the Melawi. A little north, the Kayan does the same. Seventy km northwest the Malawi merges with the Sintang, which eventually merges with the biggest river in KalBar, the Kapuas.

Sintang stretches over both banks of the Kapuas river, on the location where the Melawi merges with the river. It's location on the merge of both rivers made the city into a center of the Chinese trade with the hinterland. At the end of the 19th century, Sintang consisted of three separate, but dependent parts. The Malay kampung was located on the left short, along both sides of the small palace of the sultan. On the other shore was a big Chinese compound. Upstream, just past the Melawai river was a small, Dutch fortress, surrounded by a heavy wooden palisade. The Europeans lived behind the fortress, where nowadays are still the offices and houses of the civil servants.

The main center of the city is the former Chinese quarter; the most important piers, bus stations, cinemas, stores and trade are managed by Chinese Indonesians. The Dara Juanti Museum, built in 1937 on the location of the former palace, contains heirlooms, state objects and things from the hinduist period. Sintang also has a military museum, the Alambhana.

The Dayak of Sintang

In the district Sintang live some of West-Kalimantans most traditional Dayak-populations. Along the upper stream of the Melawai, Kayan and Pinoh still live animist Dayak. Longhouses are still in use and sometimes a big burial ceremony is held, in which the bones of the deceased are placed in a decorated grave. Several populations know seeding- and planting festivals or gawai (around July), in which many participants wear traditional dressing.

American protestant missionaries have entered as far as several of the most isolated areas. These fundamentalist preachers almost demanded complete abolishment of all traditional habits. The Catholics, which have been here longer in the more accessible areas, were more open against their original culture. In the most remote areas many Dayak still practice Kaharingan religion, which sometimes frustrates the protestant missionaries.
Picture: Sintang house
More than 20 populations live in the 20,000 sq.km. Melawi basin. Almost without exception they practice self-sufficient agriculture, with some trade in rubber and rattan as well.

The most conservative Dayak of the region are the about 10,000 Dokoio (belonging to the Ot Danum), which live along the upper-stream of the Melawi and it's side rivers. Their relatively strong isolation has saved them from any Islamic influence. From all Dayak populations they differ most from the Malay in the coastal plains in language and culture.

Some Ot Danum in the Melawi basin support the Kaharingan-religion, just like the Dayak across the Schwaner Range. Their habitats (the Melawi Basin in West Kalimantan and the upper-stream of the Barito and Kahayan in Central Kalimantan) are connected trough mountain paths. The Dayak of the Kayan and the Melawi are influenced by the Ot Danum from the Barito and Kahayan, as can be seen in the ritual burial.

The 8,000 Kebahan Dayak live in the subdistrict Kayan Hulu around the town Nanga Tebidah along the upper-stream of the Kayah. They have known a independence for a long time and never paid taxes to the sultan of Sintang. Only when the Dutch arrived in 1891 and sent a military expedition to the neighboring Tebidah Dayak, the Kebahan were somewhat placed under centralized rule.

To the 'Dark Mountain'

In what way you arrive, by boat or plane, everyone will see the big, flat mountain, which rises from the dense jungle near Sintang unexpectedly. The bald, 900 meter high rock, the most remarkable aspect of the landscape, has the name Gunung Kelam, which means as much as 'Dark Mountain'. The view from Gunung Kelam is unique: in the south you see the Melawi valley from Sintang to Nanga Pinoh, as well as a part of the Schwaner Range; in the north the Kapuas, which lingers like a snake tough the vast lowlands. As an extra you can see two other mountains: Seran (1758 meter) and Kujau (1355 meter).

The Dutch geologist G.A.F. Molengraaff wrote in is Borneo Expedition: 'The Kelam has the honor to provide a nice and interesting ascend for the visitor, but the experienced climber is safe. The mountain made a big impression on me and proved to be worth it's name 'Dark Mountain' when a thunder-cloud covered the mountain. With little imagination the thunder, which seemed to come from the rock itself, sounded like the groaning of spirits which are said to live in the mountain. It's not a miracle that the mountain is seen as sacred.'


Last revised on December 02, 2009
    
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