Escaping into the mountains on the Puncak Borneo belt in Padawan, BorneoTalk’s own Farihah Fuaad experiences the laid-back lifestyles of Senah Rayang, an outskirt Bidayuh village located 95 km from Kuching City.
It was 10 in the morning, and we were just a couple of minutes away from Senah Rayang. Looking out the window, it felt like we were on top of the world – driving on hilly roads. Senah Rayang was in front of us, hidden amidst the circling mountains of Padawan: Sepadang Mountain, Spaoh Mountain and Sebumbor Hill.
After arriving at the village, we went for a long morning session with the village headman Johari Mohd Jeffrey Din at the village hall. That was when I learned that the villagers were originally pagans before they embraced Christianity in the 1960s and Islam in the 1970s. Though the majority are now Muslims, the villagers still live harmoniously to this day.
After the session, we were assigned to our respective homestays. A tall, tanned Bidayuh elder named Jiris Temboh of my host family – awaited me outside the hall with a big smile on his face.
Fun in the outdoors
There’s plenty of fun to be had at Senah Rayang, and the locals spend their time doing a number of activities; ladies weaving rattan mats, a ‘pillow fight’ by the river, children running around in muddied puddles and walking on ‘kaki hantu’ (bamboo stilt walk). Curious how it felt to walk that high, I hopped on a pair of bamboo stilts, only to find myself having to jump off them and land onto the ground the minute I traversed. “Both your hands and legs must move in sync,” said Raden Faizuan, a new acquaintance from National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) telling me how it’s done. Having fun here is hard work but enjoyable to the max. For example, the telematch we participated in got us all drained of energy and covered in mud.
A night in the longhouse
As expected, dinner in the longhouse was communal – the villagers were all there, and there was a full spread of Bidayuh delicacies such as chicken cooked in bamboo and fried tempoyak (fermented durian), all wiped clean within a matter of seconds!
Being a multi-faith community does not deter these jolly Bidayuh folks from practising their native customs. It was a joyful night. They showed us how to dance the Tak Gugor, perform the Mesakh (an ancient martial art) and play the Pratuong (a traditional bamboo musical instrument that mimics the sound of a gong). The highlight of the night was when three men wearing monstrous Kadam suits made of shreds of wood and exotic red tribal masks came out to perform us a dance. According to the villagers, when they were still pagans, they believed that a Kadam could heal sick children. Today, the Kadam dance is performed as mere entertainment, and yours truly was dragged to dance along with them that night.
Venturing into the forest
Second day in, the morning was misty, and the ground was muddy as we trekked 15 minutes into the forest of Senah Rayang to arrive at Piranggi. It is a sacred place that the villagers believe used to be a fort to safeguard the village from harm and potential enemy attacks. That was where we laid eyes on ‘Batu Tunai’, a ‘magical’ stone covered in moss that has been there since Brooke’s era. “There were attempts to throw away this stone, but it reappeared the next day at the very same spot,” said our guide Omar Limik. How fascinating, I thought.
Making a turn back to the other side of the forest, I lost count of how many bamboo bridges we’ve crossed. Seemingly out of nowhere, a Bidayuh lady walked past us with a juwah (rattan basket) filled with Padawan’s famed durians – there were probably 10 in there. We stopped her and broke open one durian. Its fatty flesh was creamy, with just the right combination of savoury and sweet all at once.
The forest greeted us with more of nature’s bounty: rambutans, belimbing hutan (red starfruit), a pepper orchard, and more varieties of bamboos. “We use pisa bamboo to make flutes and baskets,” explained Johari, slitting the middle of the thin bamboo open with his knife. The many pit stops and stories by Johari and Omar along the 10-minute trail made me not realise that we had arrived at the gushing Jengga waterfall.
Refreshed and soaking wet after a dip there, we headed to a hut five minutes away from the fall. There, some village elders did a ‘gotong-royong’ to prepare a lovely barbecue lunch just for us. Joining the others, I grabbed a plate covered in marun leaf, and piled on some rice cooked in bamboo and siok badang (barbecued chicken in Bidayuh dialect). The food smelled (and tasted) so divine that it was simply impossible to resist the temptation of going for a second round – which I did.
Back to reality
With my belly full and my soul invigorated, I bade my goodbyes to the Bidayuh elders at the hut, thanking them for the wonderful hospitality (and food) before going back to my homestay, packing up for the trip back to the city and saying goodbye to Jiris, my host in Senah Rayang. The whole experience made me wonder, with the current trend of mass migration to the city, fewer people know how beautiful life is in places like Senah Rayang. A trip to this village is a rare experience for city dwellers like yours truly, and one that will change the way you look at life, unlike any ordinary holiday.