Fighting Cocks and Jungle Ferns

4 Aug

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We took three boats to Gunung Mulu, the serene and beautiful national park deep in the forests of Sarawak, with ancient caves carved deep into Borneo limestone and jagged karst pinnacles towering over the whole.

One of the best things about travelling upriver in Sarawak is watching what folk buy and sell in the trading towns en route.

In Kapit, on the Batang Rejang, you can buy pretty much anything you’d care to think of. From badminton rackets to sofas, from hunting rifles to rubber rings. And sell, too. Upriver folk come down to Kapit in narrow longboats, almost daily, with goodies they have foraged from the forest and the rivers.

They’ll set up a tarp on the fringes of the market. Spread out their produce. And wait, patiently, sometimes three generations at a time, until the goods, or the customers, are all gone.

Fiddlehead ferns and shoots of jungle plants laid out on a blue tarpaulin. Kapit, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

Like these fern shoots, lovingly sorted into the three different types which sprout, year-round, in the forest. (Cooked, they are crunchy and succulent, like young asparagus with notes of spinach: made into salads, as in the Philippines, or fried up with garlic, shrimp paste, chilli…)

Also: wild ginger, native tobacco, wild banana leaves and the smaller leaves they use for food wrapping, morning glory leaves, wild yams, lengths of bamboo, rattan berries, medicinal barks and roots, river clams, snails, fishes dried and fresh…

Baby chicks clustered around a scarlet feeding bowl in a cage. Kapit, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

One block from Kapit market, in a pedestrian(ish) street aspirationally named “The Mall”, they sell baby chicks, plastic raincoats, wellington boots, schoolbags and cookware.

Oh, and fighting cocks.

The fighting cock salesman was doing good business that day. There were two funerals in progress in nearby Iban longhouses.

Young fighting cock stretches his neck out of his cage to drink from a bowl of water. Kapit, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

Fights to the death between cockerels armed with razor-sharp steel spurs are an essential part of a funeral among this tribe, the largest single ethnic group in Sarawak and the expansionist aggressor in the old head-hunting wars.

This cockerel, not yet fully grown, weighs over two kilos already and will weigh over three when he reaches fighting weight. In cockfighting terms, he’s a prize heavyweight. He has long legs and a long neck, vital for reach.

Fighting cock, with comb razored off, tethered by one ankle on the village green. Belaga, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

In Belaga, a town of 2500, yet still a district hub, fighting cocks are big business, too. The breeders keep their cocks tethered on a square of grass not too dissimilar to a village green, and razor off their coxcombs in preparation for their fights.

The squawk and crow of the strutting roosters, straining on their leashes, puffed up, squared up, continues until after nightfall and starts again before dawn.

Tall, folded, fresh green betel leaves and orangey areca fruits on display in Belaga, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

This is part of the street display at a sort of minimart in Belaga. Besides cigarettes, crisps, tinned fish, dried fish, packet noodles and planta bread rolls, they sell the local stimulants, betel (and accessories), native tobacco and banana leaf rolling papers.

The scungy orange fruit is the fruit of the areca palm. You open it up, carve a chewable chunk out of the woody kernel, smear the green betel leaves with a white, ashy gunk that looks like soap, and bundle the whole lot up with filaments that look like dark saffron and turn your lips and gums a shocking carmine.

The taste is bitter but not unpleasant, tangy, with that alkaloid, nicotine edge. It’s got a surprising kick to it, in fact. Raises your pulse rate. Accelerates your thoughts. It’s surprising the old folk look so meditative on it.

Brightly coloured spirals of plastic packing tape on sale individually. Belaga, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

The other thing they sell a lot of in Belaga, whether as reels or individual lengths, is plastic parcel tape.

One of its uses is to individuate the cardboard boxes which head up- and down-river on the roofs of the express boats. But it holds together fences, boardwalks, plankwalks and the crisscrossing network of logs and timber which work as jetties and booms in smaller communities.

Gas canisters secured with packing tape swing onto a boat. Marudi, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

Not to mention items which, in the safety-conscious west, might be held together with something more robust. Like, y’know, canisters of inflammable gas.

In Marudi, on the Baram River, in the shadow of one of James Brooke’s wooden forts, a gang of kids, a crane driver and a guy with a forklift loaded up a boat, holed with rust right down to its plimsoll line, with gas for the longhouses upriver.

Canisters of cooking gas being loaded onto a boat. Secured with plastic packing tape. Marudi, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

The one on the boat, smoking (safety first, and all), is maybe fourteen or fifteen. The two securing the lifts to the pallets are three or four years younger.

They’re fascinating, these little towns. Alive with mercantile chaos from 6am. By 3 or 4, the cafes are out of food, the boat terminals shuttered.

After dark? There’s little but the fighting cocks. The odd snooker hall. Perhaps a “karaoke pub” or two. And conceivably the town prostitute, plying the oldest and harshest of trades in the tropical rain.

Similar Posts

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

How To Get To Mulu National Park By Boat

If you have time, the boat trip upriver from Miri to Mulu National Park is well worth doing. There are three boats a day from the Kuala Baram jetty (45 minutes and 30-40RM in a taxi from Miri) to Marudi: at 8am, 11.30am and 3pm (20RM, 2 1/2 hours). Be aware they sometimes leave early.

From Marudi, one boat a day leaves for Long Terawan at noon, arriving around 5pm. The 8am boat from Miri connects directly.

From Long Terawan, a small longhouse community with no formal accommodation, you will need to charter a longboat. The journey to the park takes 1 1/2 hours when the river is high, more when it is low.

Prices are fixed by the park at 250RM for a charter for 1 to 4 people, or 45RM per person with 5 or more in a boat. The boatman will try and charge you more.

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Fighting Cocks and Jungle Ferns”

  1. nicole curry August 4, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    Oh, reading about your time in Malayasia is inspring me to go back… Our trip there was sort of a waste… Philip had something come up at work and he needed to spend the week working so we stayed in KL the whole time! Yuck, did not get a real sense of the country at all…We did see some great parks, science center etc… but not what I was planning! When do you leave? Whats the next stop? We fell in love with a school in Bali and are trying to move over there next week. Philip is back in the states so the boys and I have to pull it off before our visa’s expire here on the 12th (don’t want to pay again if were leaving)if were going to go for it. If your coming to Indonesia we will have to meet up and check out The Green School it seems like a great place to spend 6 months or a year…

    • MummyT August 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

      I am thinking next stop is Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), then over to Papua via the Moluccas, then back to civilisation, hitting Bali mid-Oct. But need to check ferry schedules and plot it out. We’re in Sabah right now. Going to be here for another ten days or so, but not spend too long, as it’s very expensive (for Asia: we’d be looking at dorm beds at 20-25RM per bed). Also, most of the exciting stuff — diving Pulau Sipadan, hanging with the nesting turtles on Turtle Island, accommodation at many national parks – gets booked up MONTHS in advance. And even for what one would consider a day trip, like the proboscis monkey sanctuary, you have to book through a tour operator and pay through the nose. Sort of wishing we’d spent longer in Sarawak now. Though we are going to climb Mount Kinabalu (arranged that at the beginning). Totally up for meeting up in Bali. How are you finding visas? They seem to have relaxed it. I think we can get 60 days in Tawau with only a credit card and some photos. Do you know if you can renew? Seems that you can now. Or will we need to schedule in a visa run? Would love to hear more about Bali and why you settled on it…

      • nicole curry August 9, 2010 at 10:43 am #

        I have a friend here in VN from borneo says it’s one of the last wild places left… I hope to get to Moluccas while were living in Bali…the Portugese influence is really interesting to me. I know they have some serious human rights issues http://www.michr.net/ …. Yogakarta looks really fascinating too… So many places to see:)
        I think we may head back to Malayasia in Dec. spend a month traveling around…I will book ahead.
        Visa issues in bali are a bit of a headache… you can stay 30 days for 25usd and can renew once I think after that you have to leave a lot of people fly to singapore for a few hours and then come back in and get another 30 visa… this would be way to difficult/expensive for our family of 5. So, the school sponsors us and we can stay for 6 months then repeat..if we wanted to stay longer we could apply for kitas…but 9 months is about all we will stay.
        We wanted to travel and see the world get the kids out of the usa but we own a business and couldn’t leave it behind so, our slow travel allows Philip to work and for us to really get to know a place and do some traveling around the region. Philip set up a design office here so it was the place to start after 9 months in Vn I can say I truly have experienced it and seen a lot southern asia. next step was going to nz but we weren’t really ready to put Asia behind us there is still alot to see.
        Why Bali-We fell in love with the Green School, its a short flight back to VN for Philip (he will spend a week here every six weeks or so) and they have a birth center that I could do some volunteer work at(im a homebirth midwife in the states)and the kids are ready to get out of the city and surf play outside ect.. so we decided NZ can wait lets do a school year here get to know the indonesian culture and plan some trips back to malayasia, cambodia, burma and then NZ and the south pacific next june….so, thats how we settled on Bali. The boys and I move thursday Philip is in the states and will meet up with us later. You’ll have to check out the school.
        http://www.greenschool.org/what/
        n

      • MummyT August 10, 2010 at 8:56 am #

        The school looks AMAZING. Slow travel is a brilliant idea, I have to say. I’m going to have to start working a bit next year (freelancing), and am wondering how the whole thing is going to fit together. I will definitely check it out when we get to Bali.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: