You get a sense of scale of the longhouse from the drone footage but it was much more impressive in 3 dimensions – it just goes on and on! 26 biliks or rooms next to each other. I stayed with Mama Jessie in bilik 16. We were warmly welcomed by the community and with the imminent expectation of Candido Mezua’s arrival, indigenous leader from Panama, a pig was slaughtered in his honour and preparations were made for a formal welcome ceremony.
Apai Janggut donned his ceremonial waistcoat and the youth lined up in ceremonial clothing and led the way to the far end of the longhouse. The procession was led metaphorically upstream by a rhythmic dance from the boys and girls. Bad spirits were chased away before we formally entered the longhouse. Raymondus Remang, village leader, made a speech inviting us into the community and over rice wine (arak) and food we introduced ourselves.
Solar power recently arrived at Sungai Utik through a partnership with Greenpeace and AMAN, so now the ruai (the communal area) is lit throughout the night. Generators supplied power to separate biliks for personal use.
Reading Dayak Dreams during my stay I visualised even greater longhouses from bygone times, dimly lit and more than 20 feet off the ground to keep away from enemies. Few longhouses remain today and vast palm oil plantations encroach on community land.