Borneo’s Longhouses

“Are you sure this thing won’t break?” asked an aunt, as she cautiously stepped onto the floor made from split bamboo. This happened a very long time ago, and I giggle each time I remember the look on her face. I was quite used to that floor. It’s an old house in the Phillipines. The house was raised off the ground by sturdy posts.  I remember that when I first walked on it the floor felt strangely delicate under my feet, yielding and creaking gently as I walk, and I could feel the breeze come up from underneath.

When I read Ben Cowles’ account on Borneo’s longhouses, it immediately reminded me of that old house in the Philippines. It’s been almost a decade since I last visited that house.

Image captured by Peter for Peregrina’s Journey.

Typically made from tree bark and grass, the longhouses are raised several feet above ground by numerous sturdy stilts for several reasons—ventilation in all rooms, to house animals like goats and chickens beneath, and protection flash floods and rodents, etc.

Now the longhouses aren’t built for tourists; these are permanent homes to the Iban and Rungus tribes of Borneo. It is therefore imperative that you do not simply show up at one of the longhouses unannounced. Tourists are encouraged to hire a guide, preferably someone who knows a local. The guide could get you a personal invitation to spend the day (and even a night) and dine with the family. You should, of course, come prepared mentally to sleep on the floor and not expect a hot shower. Do a quick Google search of Borneo longhouses along with the words ‘tour’ or ‘stay’ and you’ll find pages of tour operators.

Besides eating and chatting with locals, you’ll also get to explore the surrounding areas and learn how they weave baskets so skillfully. I’ve read how the families will then display all their crafts in front of you, hoping you’d buy a few. I think it’s worth buying at least one item, knowing that you’re supporting the local craftsmen.

If you would like to find out more about shopping in and traveling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website.

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