This blog is part of a series of three that focus on the people and culture in the Kudat region of Borneo, particularly the Rungus tribe. It is based on my limited experience and subject to my creative interpretation…
Longhouses are the focal point of the Rungus culture. The longhouses provide homes (up to 75 in days past) and social spaces for residents. They are the tribal equivalent to terrace houses in UK council estates – but with less satellite dishes.
The old longhouses were traditionally on wooden stilts, made of timber and are still evident today. Modern longhouses are made with more up-to-date material but retain the key elements of private and social space. The social areas are raised bamboo platforms at the front of the houses which are shaded and allow for the cooling breeze to flow through.
The Government are in the process of modernising the longhouses in local areas (well there is an election looming!) and had already rebuilt the ones in the village of Tinagol where we volunteered. This initially filled me with concern as I’ve heard of Government projects in other countries which force modernisation onto communities with disastrous results. It seems to have worked well here, however, the front raised platforms need to be built and paid for by the owners which I think is a miss by the government due to the social benefits they bring.
The communities enjoy their modernised homes. The raised platforms allow families and neighbours to socialise frequently – groups are often sat enjoying a drink, food and/or lively chat. We were really lucky to be invited to a ‘Mirung’ – similar to a Fuddle where everyone brings some food and it all gets shared around.
Sitting with the locals outside their homes was an enjoyable and lively experience. We were told it was customary to say a prayer which consisted of what seemed to be a song in Malay. After that the food was passed around with much gusto. The highlights were definitely the delish Sting Ray curry and the green mango which was amazingly sour. However, there were also some Unidentifiable Food Objects which led to me saying another little prayer (does “God, I hope I don’t get the sh!ts from this” count as a prayer?!).
What I took away from the village of Tinagol, and particularly those who live in the longhouses, is that everyone seems to have a sense of community, a zest for life (albeit in a slow living way) and a welcoming outlook. There’s a lot we can learn from their way of life…and in return maybe we can show them how to cook ham, egg and chips rather than pregnant crabs…