What comes to your mind when the word ‘kampung’ (village) is mentioned? For me, my impression of a ‘kampung’ was based on my grandma’s house in Batu Pahat, Johor. There are water and electricity supplies, telecommunication and adequate road access. With the inevitable urbanization, shophouses, McDonald's, and 7-11 are set up nearby. What I understood from the word ‘kampung’ was a place with fewer cars, lower Internet speed, and lots of trees.
My time in Bario was really an eye-opener. It was my first time witnessing the abundance of the Borneo rainforests. I could see the transition in development through the topography. There are more shophouses and buildings erected in Miri. As the plane slowly approached inland, the terrain changed from flat land to mountains, and along with it the settlements and buildings decreased. I also witnessed the green lung in Borneo and the vast areas of rainforests was seriously no joke.
The view from the MASwings plane on the way to Bario
Upon arriving in Bario, there was no highway, no tarred roads or road lines. There were just cemented road, and some of the roads were mud road approximately 3 meters wide. Although it appeared as if there was no strict enforcement of road regulations, all the road users, pedestrians and motorists alike, paid attention to each other and used the roads in a harmonious manner.
One of the cement roads in Bario
Although the designs of each unit of the longhouse varied and do not follow a standard design, nevertheless the residents live in an orderly manner. They rely on each other if anything happens. I could also see the trust among the community members, something uncommon today.
Not to forget, there is a practice among the Bario community which is to wave at each other. I was assigned with Tepuq Lun Anid and her paddy field was walking distance from our homestay, I always walked to the paddy field with her in the mornings and back to our homestay alone during lunch break. Even during the times when I walked alone, the locals would always wave at me. Although they could have been greeting me out of courtesy or tradition, I enjoyed the feeling. It felt inclusive and I felt as though I was treated as another local from Bario.
Daily walks with Tepuq to her paddy field
As I was tasked with collecting data and information on the paddy farming systems in Bario during my time in the Bario: Growing Food, Sustaining Culture project, I had to work with Tepuq in the paddy fields. I spent five days in the paddy field helping her to harvest the ripen paddy grains while carrying out my task. Working in the paddy field requires a lot of bending. However, every time when I looked up, I kept getting surprised by the landscape and scenery. The vast blue skies and clouds surrounding the mountains were like a gift from heaven.
Tepuq Lun Anid’s paddy field, with her little hut!
A different type of ‘kampung’ has been added to my knowledge after spending time in Bario. Bario is unique; it shares some similarities with other villages yet the Kelabits preserve and maintain their culture in a good condition. One lesson to myself is to always minimalise my impact to a community. Regardless of being a tourist or a volunteer in a community, I believe we should preserve the authenticity of a community's culture.