If you are cruising the Mahakam River, most probably one of your primary goals is to experience Dayak Culture. And what is most valuable than visiting the traditional dwelling of this former tribal etnhic group indigenous to Borneo, in particular if still inhabited? After attending a Dayak funeral ceremony the previous night, we had the chance to visit the longhouses of two different Villages, Eheng and Benung, both in the surroundings of Melak. We started with the longhouse in Eheng, home to Tanjung and Benuaq Dayaks, that is also the only we have visited inside.
Eheng Longhouse is a really simple building, with no attractive architectural features. Nothing to do artistically with the famous longhouse in Macong, of which we'll write a separate article later. But in the longhouse in Eheng it's possible to experience Dayak life, since there are still people inhabiting it, and that's not something so easy to find anymore.
The first thing to catch our attention were the traditional Hampatong wooden sculptures in the garden, erected in honour of the dead members of the community, and representing a peculiar characteristic of each one.
The longhouse is built on stilts, and animals were traditionally kept in the space below the the house. From wooden ladders, easily retractable in case of need, we gained access to the balcony and from there we accessed the dark interior of Eheng Longhouse.
While Indonesian can enter for free, our friends had to contract a price to let us in, that as far as I can remember was 30.000Rp for both of us.
The first room of the house is a big common space, extending along all the extension of the house, whit kids playing, dogs relaxing, (quite unusual since Dogs are "dirty animals" for Muslims, but Dayaks are usually Christians or Animist), women weaving rattan and groups of people paying cards.
The communal space is connected with several perpendicular private units. The apartments are really frugal, with the first room solving the function of sleeping, with a mattress on the floor, and cooking, with a simple kitchen and wood stove. From the private room it's possible to exit on a partially open space on the back.
Something we noticed quite distinctly in Kalimantan, was that while Indonesians were always noticing our presence, trying to interact and maybe asking for a selfie, Dayak people were usually more reserved and unperturbed by our presence. We experienced this same behaviour also in Eheng longhouse, with most people totally indifferent to us, continuing their task whatever it was. This despite in the longhouse they didn't have that many foreign visitors, according to the guestbook that we signed and read. But we still managed to quickly establish a relation of trust and curiosity with a part of the Dayak inhabitants: we talked quite a lot, and they were also interested in us, and in our attention towards them. In the end they wanted to thank us of our approach donating two bracelets that they had hand made to sell to tourists.
Also the "Grandpa", a sweet but proud member of the Dayak family, wanted to take a photo with us, and of course all of the kids didn't miss the occasion to join.
What actually impressed us the most, was a vertical cradle moving up and down thanks to a suspension-spring system, automatically taking care of the baby needs. An ingenious system, that we would have seem many more times along the Mahakam River.
Once we were done with the visit to Eheng longhouse, we visited the small Dayak cemetery with wooden graves just across the road It looked almost abandoned, with just a few tombs slowly taken back by nature and covered in garbage. We went also to some handicraft shops, with authentic Dayak artifacts, and where surprised to see so many Hornbill peaks, a glorious bird, risking extinction.
Our experience at the longhouse in the village of Eheng was no doubt positive and we would suggest it to anybody in the area: we learned a lot about the longhouses architecture, Dayak people and their daily life!