swak-in-the-50-60_03

This is how a typical Orang Ulu longhouse look like till late 80s in the central region of Sarawak. Orang Ulu is a catch all phrase frequently used by scholars referring to the various tribes including Punan living in these isolated parts of Borneo.

Despite the availability much more durable wood such as iron wood ‘belian’ wood most opted for round wood, a less durable material to build their longhouses. Why? A British colonial administrator, zoologist and ethnologist Charles Hose explains.

‘Although the more solidly built houses, such as those of the Kayans,would be habitable for many generations, few of them are inhabited for more than fifteen or twenty years, and some are used for much shorter periods only. For one reason or another the village community decides to build itself a new house on a different and sometimes distant site,though the new site is usually in the same tributary river, or, if on the main river, within a few miles of the old one. The most frequent causes of removal are, first, using up of the soil in the immediate neighbourhood of the village, for they do not cultivate the same patch more than three or four times at intervals of several years; secondly, the occurrence of a fatal epidemic; thirdly, any run of bad luck or succession of evil omens; fourthly, the burning of the house,whether accidentally or in the course of an attack by enemies.On removing to a new site the planks and the best of the timber of a well-built house are usually towed along the river to the spot chosen,and used in the construction of the new house.’ Hose, C (1912): ‘The pagan tribes of Borneo‘.