Travel Features > Up the Ulu

Day 2 -Kapit/Rumah Achan
(Evening 21st August 1998)

Iban man performing a welcome dance. Rumah Achan, Kapit.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
For such a small town, Kapit has bags of character. As the largest of the many small towns and bazaars that line the Rejang upriver from Sibu, there is always something going on. Torpedo-shaped express boats constantly arrive and depart from the jetty, as do small longboats and other river craft. The coffee shops along the river front seem to be forever full, with a motley collection of people sipping thick black coffee or tucking into a plate of rice and unfamiliar-looking jungle vegetables.

Kapit is also one of the best places in Sarawak for 'people watching'. A diverse range of people make Kapit their home and an equally diverse range of people pass through the town each day. Some come to trade, visit friends or just visit the 'big city', whilst others pause briefly before travelling further upriver. Sit at a old marble-topped table in a river-front coffee shop, or on a bench near the jetty, and within a short space of time you will see the many faces of Sarawak. Iban men and women, both young and old; Kayan ladies with elongated ears and tattoos running from their fingertips to their elbows; assorted young dudes of various races clad in designer sun-glasses and walking along with youthful 'king of the world' swaggers; neatly dressed Chinese businessman from Sibu; tough looking Chinese timber workers with dark brown, sun-tanned faces; government officials and a host of other interesting characters that make up the ethnic mosaic of Sarawak.

Kapit was certainly a good choice of stopover for the Sarawak Safari. As we were on the Rejang, one of the Iban Heartlands, it was only right that we visit an Iban Longhouse. After checking into the Meligai Hotel, the whole crew jumped into the waiting mini buses and headed to Rumah Achan, a sizeable Iban longhouse, a 5 minute drive from the centre of Kapit.

Iban girls with offerings at Rumah Achan, Kapit.

© Wayne Tarman, 1998
With a host of VIPs - including Dato' Dr James Masing, the Minister for Tourism - set to arrive, the longhouse was out in full force. A line of Iban girls in ceremonial dress guarded the entrance to the longhouse compound, holding various offerings. A crowd of people, including the longhouse elders, patiently waited nearby for the arrival of the Minister. When Dato' Dr Masing arrived he greeted the longhouse leaders and the participants of the Safari and was asked to 'spear the pig' before we could all proceed into the longhouse.

The longhouse was decked out with an incredible number of pua kumbu, intricately woven Iban blankets. I've never seen so many of these exquisite textiles displayed in one place. With a good pua kumbu fetching RM 1,500 in the antique shops of Kuching, there must have been over RM 1,000,000 worth of family heirlooms displayed around the ruai, the covered verandah of the longhouse. The warm longhouse welcome set the tone for a enjoyable night of hearty food, speeches, traditional dances, fun and interaction. A miring, a traditional Iban ritual, was conducted to appease the spirits and pray for a safe journey. As the night wore on and the tuak flowed and flowed, some people drifted back to Kapit whilst the die-hard party crowd stayed on until dawn.

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