Hansen, Eric. Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo. Vintage Books, NY 1988.
(42) So much had changed in six years. Resource-development. projects based on agriculture, timber, oil, and natural gas had changed traditional village economy. The longhouse communities used to live in what anthropologists call “primitive affluence.” With few exceptions everything the people needed came from the jungle. There was an abundance of fish and wild game and building materials; medicine and plant foods and fruits were easily obtainable. Jungle products such as rattan, tree resins, and edible bird nests were traded on the coast for steel tools, salt, brass gongs, cooking pots, and rice-wine jars from China. Until the 1930s these jungle products were the primary commercial products of Sarawak and Southeast Asia. By 1982 the villages were tied to a coastal cash economy and Western subculture that I had no interest in whatsoever.
(45) The two most important things I learned were persistence and patience. By patience, I’m not referring to the grin and bear it, the Western sort, or the patience of resignation, but rather the fatalistic Asian variety that has a meditative, soothing quality. Patience, the use of silence, the art of masterful inaction - these are very important skills in a society where so much is communicated on an intuitive, nonverbal level. I was beginning to understand how the inland people thought.
(64) Of the first few days in the jungle I remember the muddy slopes and river rocks coming up to meet my face with astonishing regularity. My fears concerning snakes, leeches, and the possibility of not being able to find food vanished within hours. This part of the trip became an exercise in relearning how to walk. I was reduced to a childlike state, totally lacking in coordination and the ability to anticipate the ground surfaces.
(66) The week we had spent in each others company made me realize how helpless and dependent I was: I had no jungle skills, and as a result, my admiration for John and Tingang Na grew each day. Their uncanny and seemingly effortless ability to live off the jungle filled me with excitement and wonder. This was a feeling that would never leave me. A piece of thin bark placed between two small river rocks became a drinking fountain; a leaf plucked off a certain tree, folded double, and sucked on to create a vibrating sound, would call the inquisitive barking deer to within shotgun range; a vine known as kulit elang, when funded and dipped in water and scrubbed on our ankles, would keep leeches from climbing up our legs. As we advanced through the rain forest, fruit trees laden with loquats, giant grapefruit, durians, mangosteens, guavas, rambutans, and jackfruit appeared at regular intervals, and it rarely took more than an hour to set up camp and collect food. It was so easy - in the company of experts. On my own I would have died of hunger.
(68) Before Christian burials become common in the highlands at the end of World War II, the dead were placed in wooden coffins and allowed to rot on the longhouse porch. Holes were punched in the bottom of the coffins and bamboo poles inserted to allow for drainage. It was considered an expression of love and respect to put up with the stench of putrefying flesh. Each day at noon kayu udjung panas would be burned to scare away the spirit, the departed soul, and it was hoped, some of the frightful smell.
(70) “Tidak apa” (it doesn’t matter), they said, laughing at my predicament. As long as I wasn’t hurting myself seriously, my poor balance and bad luck on the trail were a continual source of amusement to them. Tidak apa is more than an expression. In a world filled with so many uncertainties and difficulties, tidak apa has become a philosophy of life in Borneo - the universal “it’s all right.”
(71) Each morning they ran their fingers over the lengthening [moustache] whiskers and asked if I used abat (medicine/magic) to make them grow. They were always asking about my abat. What magic had I brought with me? White people are clever enough to build airplanes; surely they must have powerful potions or magic to help them?
(71) At midday we heard the sounds of flapping wings somewhere above the green canopy of leaves and branches one hundred feet overhead. John and Tingang paused, smiled knowingly, and after identifying the unseen birds as belingan (rhinoceros hornbill), they asked whether i would like to try one for lunch. Feeling slightly incredulous, I said, “yes, certainly.” We squatted comfortably, and Tingang Na began to call to the birds with a loud “kock…kock…kock” sound. Within a few minutes two large, black birds were perched overhead.
There was a slight click as the thumb hammer of the shotgun was pulled back, followed by a pause just before the straining inner tube that ran the length of the barrel was finally unleashed to drive to firing pin home. There was a loud explosion, the smoke cleared, and one of the birds (last seen perched inquisitively on the branch), plummeted to earth not more than twenty feet away with a dull, feathery thump. We plucked the feathers from the warm bird, and a swarm of lice covered our hands and forearms. An hour later we were picking the last of the bones and finishing the steamed rice before setting off again.
During this first foray into the rain forest, I learned to adapt my appetite and tastes to such foods as bee larvae and rice soup, roasted rattan shoots, boa constrictors, lizards, monkeys, bats, and the large animals - pigs and deer. I drank the river water and ate whatever my guides could find. I never got sick.
(75) Jungle talk - similar to bird and insect calls of the area - is used by the Penan to avoid scaring the wildlife and to conceal messages from strangers. Here in the montane faunal area (four thousand feet) my lowland guides were unfamiliar with many of the natural sounds that could have been people talking to one another. I had been taught to use a soft, high-pitched “oooh” call or a quiet whistle if I wanted to attract someone’s attention when we were hunting or walking. The tremor set off by a human voice quickly disrupts the tranquility of the rain forest. A ripple of warning by the wildlife, inaudible to the untrained ear, radiates for hundreds of yards in all directions.
(76) After dinner, John had announced that he was going our to shoot a mouse deer. He walked into the pitch black night with a tree resin torch and his gun. Five minutes later there was the sound of a distant shot. John returned with what looked like an overgrown rat with long legs and tiny cloven hooves. The body was riddled with pellet holes.
“Plandok” (mouse deer), he said.
Without disemboweling it he threw the carcass onto the fire, and the fur began to burn. It smelled horrible. He scraped off most of the hair and left the singed body on the wooden drying rack above the fire for the night. By morning the mouse deer was black and bloated, and the eyes were bulging in their sockets. We chopped up the body and boiled it in a pot with river water and salt. My anxiety mounted as the stench from the bubbling pot increased. Our morning’s repast was dumped onto a bed of steamed white rice, and we began to eat. Tingang Na pointed out the delicacies - the stomach, lungs, liver, head, and what looked like the aorta. He handed me the head and told me how to eat it. “First the lips, then the tongue, then the eyes..”
My appetite faltered as I looked into the mouse deer’s eyes. They had glazed over, and there were singed whiskers around the mouth. A meal with stubble was too much for me. I politely returned the avocado size head to Tingang Na, who was touched by the generosity of my offer. He split the skull neatly in two with his parang and handed half to John. They scooped out the brains with their index fingers as I attempted to savor the aroma of burnt fur. I tried a lung; it was the texture of an old sink sponge.
(78) [upon arriving at a new village] The children were terrified of me, and the women feigned disinterest. In typical Borneo fashion everyone waited for “the mood to be right.” There were no frantic handshaking introductions, nor was there an urgency to establish who we were or why we were in the jungle.
(80) The Penan do not practice any sort of meat preservation other than heat smoking. When there is food, they eat; when there is none, they search for it.
Every family brought leaf bundle after leaf bundle of barbecued, boiled, burned, fried, mashed, and skewered pig meat to us. It was an amount impossible to consume, but since we had provided the gun we kept receiving a large share of the meat. Every man wanted to use the gun, so for the next week we continued to eat, cook, tell stories, sleep, and eat again. Ba’Talun camp took on a holiday spirit.
(88) Eyes glazed over as the great rice wine parties of the highlands were recalled, parties that are no longer held since the arrival of the mission. Bario has become a good, clean, upstanding, sober, hard-working Christian community. What a loss for these fun-loving and generous people.
(89) We waved goodbye, but after all of our intimate and humorous experiences their departure seemed rather abrupt. It was not their intention to be thoughtless - the problem was that I was still judging people’s actions by sentimental Western standards. Lingering farewells and elaborate thanks aren’t part of Penan behavior.
- no sense of desperate aloneness as seen in western civilization (Fromm, Marcuse)
(125) When we were sitting by the camp fire the first night [with new guides], I asked what they thought about the knife attack on Pilot Paul. From their expressions it was obvious that there were confused and troubled by the incident, and they admitted they did not know why people downriver did such things. We discussed acts of violence and crime beyond the jungle. Theft they could understand, but rape, mugging, suicide, and murder were completely foreign to their way of living. Neither one of them could remember a Penan committing any of these acts.
“What would be a serious crime in the Penan community?” I asked.
They conversed for a minute, as though they were having difficulty thinking of any crime. Then Weng explained the concept of see-bun, which means to be stingy or not to share. An accusation of stinginess, I was told, could cause arguments and very bad feelings. Both Bo ‘Hok and Weng expressed great surprise by clicking their tongues when I told them there were no laws in America regarding stinginess and that, in fact, stinginess or hoarding for oneself is esteemed and rewarded.
(126) Through observation and discussion I eventually discovered the purpose of their intentional vagueness. They frequently used the Penan expression tie neet-neet, which, roughly translated, means “we’re going to go to the jungle and pull our foreskins back.” I assumed this was a rather crude way of announcing they were going to have a pee. After these announcements, however, they would often take their shotguns and disappear for hours, returning later with game they had shot. Tie neet-neet, I discovered, actually indicated “we’re going hunting.” I questioned them further about their indirect manner of speaking, and they explained that it came from their great fear of forest spirits. Not necessarily fear of personal harm, although that was a consideration, but fear that if the spirits were forewarned they would hide the game or food. Before hunting men will therefore not talk directly about guns, dogs, or spears.
- connote vs denote in S Diamond’s In Search of the Primitive
(127) These guides were vague for other reasons. It used to frustrate me when they couldn’t tell me how long it would take to arrive at a particular place that they knew well. The confusion arose from the fact that I was thinking in terms of miles and hours and they were thinking in terms of hunting. If there was a lot of game, a short distance could take a long time to cover because they would hunt. Equally, we could travel long distances quickly if there were no animals about or if they wanted to reach a place where they felt the hunting would be better. Their concept of distance was also dependent on mood or need. A destination “not too far away” could mean a five day walk through difficult terrain to a friendly village where they could buy tobacco. A “long journey” might turn out to be a four hour walk in the hated sunlight through flat farm land.
It was equally as difficult for them to understand my idea of time as it was for me to understand theirs. They took little interest in days and minutes and seconds. They were led by their moods and circumstances, whereas I was still controlled by my expectations.
- Beyond Culture, polychromic vs monochromic time
(127) I asked them about the moon and stars, but they had no stories or explanations of the celestial bodies.
(128) Bo ‘Hok and Weng used to play a game with me that I called Where Are We? At random times during the day, when we weren’t hunting and when they felt like amusing themselves, they would ask me from which direction we had come that day, or a question such as “which way is Sarawak,?” I would nearly always point in the wrong direction, and that would elicit great hoots of laughter from them. They couldn’t imagine being so disoriented.
(133) I have always been a compulsive map reader and have always had an overwhelming fear of being lost, needing the printed map, however inaccurate, to give me confidence. So this ease I felt in what was potentially an extraordinarily vulnerable situation came as a very real pleasure to me. It was a relief to unburden myself from the problems of destination, time, and direction. Bo 'Hok and Weng would sort out those things, if they could be bothered to do so. By relinquishing this element of imaginary control over my surroundings, I suddenly found the immediacy of my experiences greatly intensified. I became blissfully preoccupied with the present tense. It was at about this time I finally came to accept the fact that the rain forest was not a chaotic wilderness to be battled and conquered. There was nothing to conquer, and the chaos was entirely due to my inexperience.
- Beyond Culture, Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes “extreme empiricists” Piraha, P Radin’s “primitives live in a blaze of reality.”
(133) The main problem we faced while hunting, apart from the noise I made while walking, was finding an animal small enough, one we could eat in a reasonably short time. The hunting was good, too good, and in our wake we left a meandering trail of evenly spaced, half-eaten carcasses.
- myth of primitive subsistence, always in a state of desperate hunger
(134) ..we soon found ourselves two weeks from the nearest settlement with enough food to last only two days. Bo 'Hok and Weng appeared unconcerned with this dilemma. How could people live with such uncertainty, I wondered?
- Western quest for absolute certainty is rooted in the separation from/distrust of the natural world
(154) “If you haven’t been to this part of the forest before,” I asked Bo ‘Hok, “how do you know where we’re going?”
“Mal-can-uk” (we follow our feelings), came the reply.
(231) Two months earlier a young boy had thrown a grass bomb at the regular mission plane as it was taking off. The harmless clod of soil and grass missed by a wide margin, but the pilot had noticed the childish gesture, and it was decided at the coastal head office to teach the people of Long Lebuson a Christian lesson. Air service to the village was immediately suspended. When I arrived in the village by dugout canoe, the people had run out of salt, fuel, and medicine; they had not received mail for eight weeks.
(248) We continued to haul the boat, and as we worked our way upstream, the dogs combed either side of the river trying to detect the scent of game. The men whistled and called to the dogs to keep them within hearing distance, and occasionally we stopped to listen to the tone of the dog barks. The dogs will let our a distinctive bay when they have located an animal, and the men respond with a whoop to let the dogs know whey are on the way. With the exception of large boars, two good hunting dogs can pull down any animal or chase it back towards the waiting men.
(249) We were quickly gaining onto unseen animal when suddenly through the trees there was a flash of movement, Pa Ubang accelerated ahead of me, leaving me temporarily alone. Pa Ubang’s second dog had arrived moments before, and as I stumbled onto the scene, Jep took the giant deer by the throat and brought it to the ground. The deer had a full set of antlers and was immediately on its feet again. Ignoring the dogs, the deer went for Pa Ubang, who was ready with his spear, sinking it into the deer’s shoulder, but a flurry of vicious thrashings kicks knocked him flat. The dogs sank their teeth into the deer’s haunches, and int eh ensuing scuffle of legs, teeth, antlers, and flailing hooves I realized I was standing there like a dumb spectator while Pa Ubang was in trouble. Still I hesitated; then everything shifted into slow motion.
I felt as detached from the scene as if I were watching a movie. Pa Ubang’s hands went up to protect himself, and my own hands tightened on the spear shaft. Dogs, man, and wounded deer blended into one. In a dream I saw myself step forward and ram the spear tip into the deer’s side. It slid in easily, and I pressed the shaft home. Hooves flashed by, and the life went out of the animal. It was so simple. The dogs backed off, and Pa Ubang sat up. I looked at him and the dogs and realized we were all panting heavily. I had never killed an animal with a spear, and at that moment it felt like a very sophisticated weapon.
(250) ..Only then did I understand why these people preferred to hunt with spears and dogs rather than with guns. Guns are impersonal. Anyone can pull a trigger. By hunting with a spear the hunter is giving the animal a chance. It may be a small chance, but the accompanying element of doubt created for me, at least, the most exquisite sensation of being drawn back into man’s past.
..We dragged the carcass to a nearby stream and butchered it. When Pa Ubang disemboweled the carcass, he removed the penis and set it aside. I had never seen that done before, and was surprised that it was more than a foot long. Pa Ubang told me that it would be sold to a Chinese pharmacist downriver.
“For deer penis whiskey,” he replied nonchalantly.
(252) Physical labor in Kalimantan is often rated in terms of how many pieces of sugee are required to complete a specific job. For everyday tasks men place a pinchful of the stuff behind their upper lips. Like coca leaves in South America, sugee makes the work easier.
(259) Many of the people in Long Busong had relatives in Long Nawang, so there was a great deal of news sharing. I liked the way people told stories. There was never any urgency or competition to blurt out the gossip before someone else did. The storytelling had a gentle pace. It always unfolded slowly, building up a momentum of its own.
(260) I was always impressed by how people could remember the most minute details of a journey. I once commented on this ability to people in Bario, and they laughed at my ignorance. “This is nothing compared to the old stories,” they told me. “A good singer or storyteller could continue for three days. Only a few old people still know these things. Everyone else has forgotten.
- another way how machines/technology make us “dumber,” slow down our synapses, like the artificial high of drugs. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, N Carr
(268) Jungle travel had become timeless and exhilarating. In contrast, my arrival in [the town of] Belaga was like going over the handlebars of a bicycle and slamming into the concrete.