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Middle Mahakam
Long Iram to Long Bagun

Who follows the Mahakam upstream, will enter the original habitat of the traditional Dayak of Kaltim. However many of them have converted to Christianity, the Dayak along the middle-Mahakam have kept their old religion and used for the biggest part. The Bahau are mainly Catholic, but they also have kept most of their traditions. The Benuaq and Tunjung have been influenced by the kaharingan religion.

Long Iram

Just before Long Iram is Tering, a cluster of three villages along the banks of the Mahakam river: Tering Baru and - just upstream - Tering Seberang are on the southern bank and Tering Lama is on the northern one.
Tering Baru has been the center of a mission since the 1920's. A Dutch priest leads a good clinic and school. In Tering Lama is an old communal room, decorated with Dayak motives. Furthermore, some old woodcarvings remind of a dissappeared longhouse.
In Tering Lama, four wooden antique statues under a tin roof watch over the Mahakam. Here, a woodworker creates traditional Bahau Dayak woodcarvings, especially shields. They are sold in Samarinda, the capital of Kaltim, but it's also possible to order something locally.
Long Iram, the capital of the kecamatan with the same name, is the final destination over water with Samarinda. Not too long ago, a true gold rush took place here, but since the government has forced out the 6000 - mainly Banjarese - goldhunters from the downstream Kelian, the city no longer has the characteristics of a boomtown. An Australian company has set up a big digging location.
In Long Iram, there are several simple hotels and losmen. One of the few restaurants offers traditional Jawanese food. It is usually full when a handfull of foreigners are watched by loads of locals. You can also get your food at a warung of source. A must do is pisang goreng for the evening hours.
Sometimes there are special shows, organised for the tourists. Information about that (and about events in the neighborhood) is available at the head of the subdistrict (camat). It's also possible to arrange a private show. The organisation of this takes a few days.

The Dayak of Long Iram

The habitat of the Benuaq and Tunjung reaches as far as Long Iram, where it neighbors to the Bahau territory. Between Long Iram and Long Bagun there are several Kenyah villages, founded during the big migration from Apokayan in the 1960's and 1970's. Each of these villages was founded by separate, strong communities under aristocratic leadership.
As said before, the Dayak along the middle-Mahakam have maintained much of their traditional culture. The Benuaq and Tunjung do speak different languages, but they have a common culture, which has been influenced by the kaharingan religion from Central Kalimantan. This religion was acknowledged by the Indonesian government, and named Hindu Dharma, but a Balinese temple-festival is very hard to find here.

The Benuaq, the biggest group in the district Kutai, are most likely the most traditional Dayak in Kaltim. They mainly inhabit the southern siderivers of the Mahakam and belong to the Lawangan Dayak, which live along the Barito in Central Kalimantan.
Funerals are very important for people who support the kaharingan religion. They often have two phases. The first takes place after the death. In the second phase, which usually follows later on, and is much more important, the spirit of the deceased is guided out; his bones are cleaned and placed in a very richly decorated grave.
The Benuaq do know a third phase, named kwangkei, with a dance for the spirits and food sacrifices of the ancestort. During the ritual, a decorated pawl is erected, in which a slave used to be hung, which was sacrificed afterwards, but now it's a karbau which is killed. Before the animal is killed with a javelin, a high priest explains in too many words why the aninmal has to die. The men which fullfill the sacrifice sometimes wear skulls of the ancestors on their backs. The Benuaq and Tunjung also perform a ceremony called behempas, a traditional fight with ratten sticks and shields.

Headhunting Ritual

The roman-catholic Bahau Dayak have kept much of their traditional religion and rytes. The most impressive ceremony of the Bahau is the hudoq-dance, performed by men which wear big masks and clothes made from banana-leaves. The dance is part of the rytes which are performed during the planting of rice. They take place somewhere between September and the end of October, it depends on the expected start of the wet season.
The Kenyah, which just recently settled along the Mahakam, have converted to Protestantism. Their conversion in the 1920's was started by the Dutch. After that they were influenced by strict American fundamentalists, which had very little to do with local traditions. Nevertheless the traditional Kenyah-art has survived all the conversion-anger, and is just recently revived due to the governments decision to revive a big number of old traditions.

Picture: Benuaq fight

The mamat is the most spectaculair of them. Originally this one took nine days after a successfull headhunting trip to clean a village. Nowadays the Kenyah sometimes perform a very short version, which lasts somewhere between half a day and three days. The ceremony consists of music, dance and the sacrifice of pigs and chickens. Participants, in full dressing, wear a cape of leopard skin, a shield and - exclusively for the warriors - earrings.

Upstream from Long Iram

Past Long Iram, travelling gets tough. Just a few boats make the trip to Long Bagun and delays are very common. Until Long Bagun, where rapids stop regular traffic, travelling still is cheap. An advice for those who want to travel upstream from Long Iram: inform yourself about the place and time of departure all the time when a boat leaves. It is also very handy to board the boat early, because they tend to get overcrowded.
Sometimes, the Makaham is very shallow due to low volumes of percipation in the inlands, and big boats are not able to continue their entire route. In that case, you have to go ahead with a longbot, a wide canoo with a strong outside motor, which offers place for about eight people and luggage for them as well. When there are not too many people waiting for a spot, you can really enjoy this trip. It's very smart to bring a hat and a jacket in case of any rain. Where a normal boat takes about two to three days for the trip from Long Iram to Long Bagun, the longbot will complete the stretch in about eight to ten hours.
Another profit is that the boat can stop in villages on demand, even for a nights stay in a village without making the trip much more expensife. The expenses of the trip, several hundred US$, are mainly based on the extremely high fuel prices in the region. The return trip is included. A longbot always returns to Long Iram and that is also kept in mind when pricing the trip for you. For longer trips its best to hire an assistant besides the shipper, and to get much food and drinks in Long Iram. On the way there are no restaurants and the few shops often don't offer much more then the very basic goods. A return trip by longbot will take about four to six days, and will cost you several hundred US$, including two shippers and a cook.
The cheap replacement of the longbot, the small canoo, is not very god. Many travellers have seen their boats flooded by the first big ship that passed, or just by inexperiencedness. Their luggage went to the bottom of the Mahakam.

Data Bilang

On about one third of the trip to Long Bagun, lies Data Bilang on the southern floor. The more than 3000 residents are Uma Jalan Uma Bakung Dayak, orinally from Apokayan, and are part of the Kenyah.
There are no traditional longhouses, but the two huge communal houses are decorated with traditional Kenyah motives. The wealthy decorated pawl across the end of an wide, open field was erected to celebrate the visit of Suharto. The president celebrated that the village was completed after the migration from Apokayan was completed. The pawl, on which a dragon and several warriors are displayed, is on the location where the mamat-ritual is performed irregularly. Several pigs are offered then. Older women in the village always wear huge earrings and many of them are tattooed. The kepala desa helps to find a place to stay for the night if you ask him to.
A visit to the Bahau village of Long Hubung, just past Data Bilang, is for sure worth while. The catholic priest of the village, a Bahau Dayak which stimulates the traditional culture, can arrange a traditional hudoq dance. Furthermore there are two longhouses in the next Kenyah village Rukun Damai, upstream. Sundays are days for dances, at least sometimes.

Long Bagun

The last part of the trip before Long Bagun takes you through spectaculair hilly areas. In some of the steep limestone rocks between the wealthy, tropical vegetation, you can find caves in which swallows make their expensife nests.
Ujoh Bilan is the main place of kecamatan Long Bagun. Besides the office of the camat, there also is a police post and a clinic (don't expect to buy much medicine here), a few shops where you can also buy some snacks, but no losmen. If you ask the police, they will most probably help you to find a place to sleep. The population of Ujoh Bilang is mixed, there are Bahau and Aoheng Dayak, Kutai Malay and Jawanese.
Five kilometer past Ujoh Bilang is Long Bagun, which in fact constists of three villages close to eachother: Long Bagun Hulu (upstream), Long Bagun Tengah (center) and Long Bagun Hilir (downstream). The last named village is mostly populated by Aoheng Dayak. Some of them are traditional woodcarvers. The graves along the riverbanks are worth while bringing a visit. A few minutes upstream, beside a woodloggers camp, is a stone statue of the holy hundu-bull Nandi.
Every once in a while a longbot dares to pass the rapids to Long Pahangai or even more ahead. It will cost you several dollars. It's also possible to rent a longbot for a trip through the rapids, besides there is one available and the waterlevel isn't too low. The renting prices are not cheap, but includes fuel and a big day of fun and excitement.

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