I could have titled this blog “I shook hands with the descendant of a REAL head hunter!“. That would have been a punchy headline – and a true statement. But a bit long!
In the few days we spent on the Malaysian island of Borneo, I have done some of the most exotic things I have done in my entire life. A few of them could be easily added to a top 10 list! I have:
- yes, shook hands with the descendant of a head hunter;
- lived high in the jungle in a little house which could only be accessed by a one-lane dirt road with an immediate drop of at least 350 meters (1000 feet) on each side (see photos);
- of course, took cold showers with just a little bit of hot water in a kitchen pan;
- planted an avocado tree;
- cut a pineapple right from the garden and ate it one hour after;
- photographed monkeys sitting two meters away from me along the road;
- saw cinnamon sticks (see photo) about 1 meter long (3 feet) sold for 10 ringgits ($3) a kilo;
- visited a village market where the “white face” (me) was the attraction of the day and where the main thing they were selling was actually tobacco;
- saw a show of traditional dances and choir at a book launch attended by the chief minister (governor) of the province of Sabah (where I was the only white person in a crowd of probably 1000 local Malaysian people);
- traveled around in a car full of vanilla to be planted (I thought I would actually plant some but they had to soak for a few days prior to planting)
- and finally went to a local hairdresser where you have to bring your own shampoo and where you are sitting in a regular chair, sitting straight when they shampoo (with plenty of foam on your head! They only take you to the sink to rinse your hair. Oh well, yesterday in Xiamen, China I had to lay down to have my shampoo done!).
I am sure that by now you wonder “How did this all happen?“
Good question! I usually try to keep my blog postings short, but I think this is an exceptional story, worth some details!
Well, after our honeymoon on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia, with its beautiful landscapes and beaches, we were off to “the Malaysian jungle”! Truly.
The trip’s purpose was an amateur radio expedition (my husband’s hobby). We flew to Kota Kinabalu (KK for the locals) on the Island of Borneo, Malaysia.
For those of you who are not quite familiar with the geography of South East Asia, Malaysia is divided into 2 parts: the Malay peninsula in the West (south of Thailand) and East Malaysia on the island of Borneo, north of Indonesia. The capital Kuala Lumpur is on the Malay peninsula. It is from KK that we drove through the mountains to the countryside, to the little town of Keningau, in the province of Sabah. And after helping my husband set up radio antennas at that house, high up the jungle road, I was down to the town for the big celebration of the day.
The whole town of Keningau was attending a major event: an important local family gathering, celebrating a famous ancestor and all its descendants and launching a book about this family (and trust me there are a lot of descendants to one single man when men have several wives and many children!). That famous man was a Malaysian warrior… and head hunter. So, after having been “forced” to the hairdresser by my local host (I am not too keen on having my hair done in strange places but the result was a nice blow dry for 7 ringgits ($2)), I was off to the event.
Fascinating. All the town was invited and there were probably 1000 to 2000 people (hard to count). Surprising layout: in a large gymnasium, many banquet tables have been set up (for the VIPs) on the basketball court, but the stands were also filled with people (the non-VIPs!).
My host explained to me that the tradition was that when you invite people to an event you have to feed everyone and everyone brings his WHOLE family: uncles, grandparents, children, etc. No wonder we were so many.
After all the speeches and the presentations, dancing, and singing, everyone ate!
Sitting at one of the VIP tables (my host knew the person who launched the book), I stroke up a nice conversation with a sophisticated local businessman.
As we were talking, he casually mentions: “I am actually a direct descendant of this warrior… and head hunter“. “Of well, then I really need to shake your hand,” I said, “so I can tell my friends that I shook hands with the descendant of a head hunter!“
And with a smile, we shook hands across the table. After a few minutes, he added: “Well, I should really get the story straight here, my ancestor was not going out and beheading people, he was fighting his enemies, and keeping the enemies’ heads was the proof to his village that he was truly doing a good job as the leader protecting his village“…
For sure, my stay in Malaysia was anything but boring!