New Year’s Eve in a Long House – Bario, the Kelabit Highlands, Borneo

Having shared my best Xmas eve I should also mention my best New Year’s Eve which, interestingly enough happened on the same journey.   Having been wined and dined by the citizens of Miri we boarded our plane for Bario and the Kelabit Highlands.  I’ve already written about the unexpected hospitality of the Kelabit people when they invited us to one of their naming ceremonies but haven’t mentioned Peter, the brother of Reddish who we stayed with.   One cold night Peter came to visit the hostel to meet up with some old friends from England.   He was the leader of the  oldest longhouse in the village, a trained engineer, spoke a variety of different languages including Penang (nomadic tribe of the area), an avid conservationist with a passion for the preservation of his culture, could drink rum and coke until the cows came come and expected us to be able to do the same.  Many of the longhouse occupants, he informed us, now lived in Miri and only came home for traditional gatherings and Xmas.  They had adapted to city life and many had had surgical procedures to take away the huge holes in their ear lobes in order to ‘fit in’.  The village’s population consisted mainly of the older generation and those who made a living out of tourism.

After a few hours of lively discussion, entertaining stories and 2 bottles of rum, Peter asked the group what they were doing for New Year’s Eve.   When he found out that we planned to head out to the local pub he informed us that it was not the most salubrious place to go due to soldiers in the area who visited and got very drunk.  He invited us to dinner at his long-house to meet his family and the people under his protection.  It sounded better than getting caught up in a local verses army punch up so we agreed readily and sent out for more beers.

New Year’s Eve.  Having stocked up on Rum and Coke we headed off into the dark with only the moon and a couple of rubbish torches to guide us along the rutted pathway.  The longhouse was amazing and we were allowed to wander around and talk to the occupants who were busy cooking their meals in their own individual parts of the house.   Our own supper consisted of traditional food, including roasted boar cooked in bamboo over an open fire.  Drinks were obviously more of a familiar nature!

Cooking over the open fire in the main hall of the long house

After dinner Peter donned his hunting dress and performed a war dance for us.  The older generation of ladies then sang us a traditional song which welcomed us to their home, apologised for the humbleness of it and made us honoury family members – which entitled us to food and shelter whenever we passed through.

Peter performing war dance


Peter’s father

It was an immense honour. When the singing was over each member of the house came up to us one by one and welcomed us into the family    The six of us got a bit emotional – after all  these people had very little and they were offering to share it with us –  it was a humbling experience.   Such generosity of the heart from total strangers – it was overwhelming and something that our own society could learn from.   A very special night.


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