CHAPTER XXI

AN EXCURSION DOWN THE RIVER - LONG PAHANGEI - THE OMA-SULINGS - THE GREAT TRIENNIAL FESTIVAL - HOSPITABLE NATIVES - INCIDENTS IN PHOTOGRAPHY

It is significant as to the relations of the tribes that not only Bukats and Punans, but also the Saputans, are invited to take part in a great triennial Bahau festival when given at Long Tjehan. Shortly after our arrival we were advised that this great feast, which here is called tasa and which lasts ten days, was to come off immediately at an Oma-Suling kampong, Long Pahangei, further down the river.

Though a journey there might be accomplished in one day, down with the current, three or four times as long would be required for the return. However, as another chance to see such a festival probably would not occur, I decided to go, leaving the sergeant, the soldier collector, and another soldier behind, and two days later we were preparing for departure in three prahus.

What with making light shelters against sun and rain, in Malay called atap, usually erected for long journeys, the placing of split bamboo sticks in the bottom of my prahu, and with the Penihings evidently unaccustomed to such work, it was eight o'clock before the start was made. Pani, a small tributary forming the boundary between the Penihings and the Kayans, was soon left behind and two hours later we passed Long Blu, the great Kayan kampong. The weather was superb and the current carried us swiftly along. The great Mahakam River presented several fine, extensive views, with hills on either side, thick white clouds moving slowly over the blue sky. As soon as we entered the country of the Oma-Suling it was pleasant to observe that the humble cottages of the ladangs had finely carved wooden ornaments standing out from each gable.

We arrived at Long Pahangei (h pronounced as Spanish jota) early in the afternoon. Gongs were sounding, but very few people were there, and no visitors at all, although this was the first day of the feast. This is a large kampong lying at the mouth of a tributary of the same name, and is the residence of a native district kapala. After I had searched everywhere for a quiet spot he showed me a location in a clump of jungle along the river bank which, when cleared, made a suitable place for my tent. Our Penihings were all eager to help, some clearing the jungle, others bringing up the goods as well as cutting poles and bamboo sticks. Evidently they enjoyed the work, pitching into it with much gusto and interest. The result was a nice though limited camping place on a narrow ridge, and I gave each man one stick of tobacco as extra payment.

During our stay here much rain fell in steady downpours lasting a night or half a day. As the same condition existed higher up the river, at times the water rose menacingly near my tent, and for one night I had to move away. But rain in these tropics is never merciless, it seems to me. Back from the coast there is seldom any wind, and in the knowledge that at any time the clouds may give place to brilliant sunshine, it is not at all depressing. Of course it is better to avoid getting wet through, but when this occurs little concern is felt, because one's clothing dries so quickly.

The Oma-Sulings are pleasant to deal with, being bashful and unspoiled. The usual repulsive skin diseases are seldom seen, and the women are attractive. There appears to have been, and still is, much intercourse between the Oma-Sulings and their equally pleasant neighbours to the east, the Long-Glats. Many of the latter came to the feast and there is much intermarrying among the nobles of the two tribes. Lidju, my assistant and friend here, was a noble of the Long-Glats with the title of raja and married a sister of the great chief of the Oma-Sulings. She was the principal of the numerous female blians of the kampong, slender of figure, active both in her profession and in domestic affairs, and always very courteous. They had no children. Although he did not speak Malay very well, still, owing to his earnestness of purpose, Lidju was of considerable assistance to me.

The kampong consists of several long houses of the usual Dayak style, lying in a row and following the river course, but here they were separated into two groups with a brook winding its way to the river between them. Very large drums, nearly four metres long, hung on the wall of the galleries, six in one house, with the head somewhat higher than the other end. This instrument, slightly conical in shape, is formed from a log of fine-grained wood, light in colour, with a cover made from wild ox hide. An especially constructed iron tool driven by blows from a small club is used to hollow out the log, and the drum is usually completed in a single night, many men taking turns. In one part of the house lying furthest west lived Dayaks called Oma-Palo, who were reported to have been in this tribe a hundred years. They occupied "eight doors," while further on, in quarters comprising "five doors," dwelt Oma-Tepe, more recent arrivals; and both clans have married Oma-Suling women.