Skandis Longhouse 4 / Sarawak

We ate very well in the longhouse. We had jungle ferns, of course (we sometimes get them in western Malaysia too), a variety of greens such as spinach and kailan, chicken, fish, and of course, always, rice. A marvelous fresh condiment always accompanied lunch and dinner: It consists of crushed garlic, red onion, fresh hot chilis and the juice of kalamansi limes. We all loved this and heaped it over our rice. At breakfast we had hardboiled eggs and noodles or fried rice. We ate breadfruit, soursop, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, bananas. One day for tea we had deep-fried tapioca sticks, which tasted fabulous. Whenever the food was ready, one of the women came looking for us, and we gathered in the kitchen and sat on the floor around the many dishes set out for us. The women did not sit with us but went to their rooms to feed the same food to their family.

Sally, our group leader, told us that in the early days when Intrepid Travel brought people to this longhouse, the women cooked only noodles for them and gave them only apples and oranges as fruit. They were certain that Western people would not like their local food. Intrepid eventually convinced them that we would eat what they eat, and part of our trip to the longhouse included a stop at a market where we bought lots of fruit as well as garlic, onions, chilis, limes, dried beans and other food to give to the people in the longhouse. The night we arrived, after eating dinner, we each carried bags of food and officially presented them to Unsa, the headman.

What's going on in the photo above is what follows the presentation of food from us. It must be divided equally among the 13 families, so 13 containers are brought out and placed in the center of the women, who separate each type of food into equal portions and add one portion to each container. Some sweet toasted rice cakes were cut into pieces because the number was not equally divisible by 13.

After the food was sorted and distributed, a similar distribution took place for donated clothing brought from Intrepid (collected from travelers). Much time was spent created 13 equal piles, each of which was numbered. Matching numbers were then drawn from a bowl, and each family got one stack of new clothes.

When the clothes and food had been taken away to the family rooms, it was time to begin the rice wine party.