Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Exploring the Malaysian part of Borneo

Borneo is the world’s third largest island after Greenland and New Guinea. Can you find all three on a map? Three countries call Borneo home: Brunei, two states of Malaysia, and a state of Indonesia. We visited the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Orangutans live on Borneo. They are the largest of the arboreal mammals. Arboreal means they live in the trees. We went to visit the Semmenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. The Center is a safe haven for injured and orphaned Orangutans that were rescued and are now learning how to live in the wild. The orangutans are free to move about the rainforest. They are fed each morning but not all of them show up because some have learned how to survive in the wild. Most of the ones who showed up have babies. The mothers grabbed the food, stuffed it in their mouth and then climbed higher and ate it. The staff has named them. One is called “Hot Mama” because the hair around her face is fancier than the others so she thinks she is more beautiful. Before she was rescued she had been mistreated; sometimes she gets angry and bites but not very often. Our guides, Azihari and David, told us that one of the abused orangutans became very attached to a volunteer helper from Europe. When it was time for the helper to return to Europe the orangutan must have sensed she was leaving because he became angry with the volunteer and then very sad. Orangutan’s emotions are a lot like ours.

The area has more than 40 different groups of people with their own language and lifestyle. We visited the Sarawak Cultural Village where they have built samples of seven typical native houses. When we arrived at the Village we got a passport. It was stamped in each of the homes we visited. We had already visited a real Bidayuh longhouse village near the orangutan center. The village is built on stilts with the houses connected by a walkway which is like a long, wide porch. Today in the Bidayuh longhouse they have TVs and other modern conveniences. One boy was playing with his Game Boy.

We visited several different homes in the cultural village. We had to climb a notched log to the get into the Iban house where women were making rice treats. At the Orang Ulu house the women were deep frying slices of tapioca root. They tasted like potato chips. There were macaques climbing on and around the house. In the Malay home we had to wait on the steps until we were invited in. Each house was different and very interesting.

At the Village they have a wonderful show of dances from the various groups. The dances tell the stories about their culture. The Iban dance showed the strength of the warrior as he lifts a large wooden board with his teeth. We were very impressed with the Penan boy’s skill with a blowpipe. Most impressive was the man of the Melanau tribe who balanced atop a bamboo pole while it is turned around and around. Our visit to the village was a wonderful way to learn about the people of Borneo.

We also visited the Cat Museum. The capital of Sarawak is Kuching, which means cat. It seems when the first foreigners arrived in the area they saw cats under a tree so now the city mascot is the cat. The museum had all sorts of cat books, statues and other information about cats.