Thursday, July 24, 2008

Watery Grave

Balleh River, in the upper reaches of the Rejang, is one of the main gateway for the timber industry of Sarawak. Logs were transported by means of huge boats locally known as tongkang.

Balleh River is normally dangerous and treacherous to navigate during the dry season. At various places, the river is narrow and have many rapids. But the lure of huge profits and high demand for timber, the tongkangs have to brave those rocks and narrow water ways.

It is also during the dry season that the production of timber is at it's highest point. This is so because logs could be transported easily from the hinterland to the log ponds. Logging roads were rugged and they are constructed along the contours of the hills and as such the road conditions were almost impossible to access during rainy days.

The hazards of navigating the treacherous rocks and narrow water ways are very great. At various points along the river you could see sunken tongkang and what is left of them. Even though the losses in terms of property and human lives are high,the timber industry has to go on.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


The sight of skulls hung from the beam of the ruai is a very rare. Only some long houses in remote places still practice this tradition. As the act of head hunting was eradicated many decades ago, those who still have skulls in their possession will just store them up in the sadau.

Due to the need of tourism for attracting visitors, these skulls were put on display. But then, these were on special arrangements with long houses which still has post modern era set up.

Have you ever ponder how is the head being prepared to become skull? Many ways could have been used for the preparation, and the version that was relate to me might differs from what the others did.

After the head have been chopped off, the hair is shaved and kept for decorating the sword of the victor. The skin, flesh and all were removed. Some said, the blood and grey matter of the brain was actually drank by the victorious party. By doing so, the soul of the dead man will not harm them.

Then the skull will be smoked over open flame for a long long period. Whatever flesh, muscle or skin that was left on the skull was removed. Finally only the skull and teeth are left.

Finally the individual skull is weaved by using rattan vine, covering and keeping the skull firmly inside. The whole bunch of skulls will then hung ,together with the rest of the stock by him, infront of his the ruai.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Luffa aegyptiaca

The sponge

The fruit.

Luffa aegyptiaca

The luffa has many names, both common and scientific. It is known as luffa sponge, loofa, loofah, sponge gourd, and many other common names. Also known as Luffa cylindrica, Luffa aegyptiaca, or aegyptica.
These natural sponge wonders of the vegetable world have many uses. They'll make your skin squeaky clean or shine up your dirty dishes. The luffa fruits are soft and edible when young and can be cooked and eaten like squash or okra. When mature, the fruits become a tough mass of fiber that makes a great sponge. When crushed, they produce a noxious smell that seems to repel insects, animals, and even other plants.

Luffa are most excellent in the bath or shower. The exfoliating action leaves your skin feeling the cleanest and tightest it could possibly be. Having someone scrub your back with a luffa sponge is an incredibly pleasurable experience. Home soap makers can include slices of luffa in their creations to add an extra cleaning boost to their soaps. A sponge on a handle or rope makes a great back scratcher. They can be cut into many shapes for scrubbing pads, bath mats, and other craft items. Cut the sponges lengthwise and remove the core to make sheets of sponge material.

Luffa sponges are great for washing items like Tupperware®. Could be used for cleaning almost everything, including cars, boats, plastic buckets, and anything that needs scrubbed but can't withstand steel wool. Non stick cookware is one example.

Luffa sponges will last a surprisingly long time if they are allowed to dry between uses, usually a few months. When they stay wet all the time they tend to deteriorate more.

Most commercial sponges are a light color from being bleached. Natural mature sponges can be any shade of brown to white in color. If you want to lighten sponges, then soak them in a weak chlorine bleach solution for about an hour or so. Commercial growers often use a hydrogen peroxide solution. Bleaching them for too long can significantly weaken the fibers. Bleached sponges look better for commerce. They are also cleaner and less likely to contain insects or other organic matter. Slightly green and/or stained ones can benefit from bleaching. Most sponges are fine in their natural state, without bleaching. Exposure to sunlight can also lighten the color some but not as dramatically as bleach.


Most garden varieties of luffa are less dense and more flexible than the large white chunks of commercial sponges. The commercial luffa is bred for size and strength. Most are also grown in a warm climate and have the benefit of a long growing season. Harder dense sponge would be better for things that require strength. A less dense sponge is more flexible and good for making things like luffa soap. The thickness and number of the individual fibers can vary greatly among sponges. A hard or soft sponge can have thin or thick fibers. Usually the more fiber the stiffer the sponge. There are also varieties that are grown primarily for eating and these tend to produce weaker fiber. Luffa cross pollinate easily so it might be difficult to grow different varieties together. Whatever characteristics the luffa have, they can be altered somewhat by careful selection of the seeds. The plants do seem to have a lot of natural variability among different plants grown from the same sponge and even between sponges grown on the same vine.

Luffa can grow arrow straight, slightly curved, or very curved. Seeds from straight ones tend to grow more straight ones, but a few curved ones usually appear. The curved ones make good back scratchers in the shower. When small, the fruits are very flexible and will conform to whatever shape they are against. This can result in some very unusual shapes. Sponges can also be much wider on one end, usually the bottom.

Growing your own sponges is fun and rewarding. Once they get established, the plants are quite vigorous. They grow on vines that can reach 30 feet or more in length. A strong supporting trellis is a must. Chain link fence works great. Lattice will also work well. Luffa will survive in partial shade but tend to produce more in full sun. In a very hot dry climate they may do better with some shade as they tend to wilt if it gets too dry. After the roots have developed, the vines don't usually need to be watered. If the leaves are wilting noticeably, then they may need additional water.

These plants are tropical in origin, believed to have originated in southern Asia. They need a long growing season. Starting the plants indoors may be necessary for cooler climates. Putting the seeds in a moist environment before planting helps increase germination rates. There can be a lot of variability in the time needed for germination. Typically it is around a week. The time it takes for luffa growth, flowering, and maturity can vary widely between plants. It usually requires around 130 days or more, but it could be anywhere from 110 to 180 days.

The small seedlings grow very slowly while the roots become established. Once they are about 6 inches tall the increase in growth rate is phenomenal. After about 3 months of growing, the flower clusters appear. The flowers bloom in an orderly progression, one at a time. When the vines are blooming, the bright yellow flowers attract many pollen gathering creatures. Bumblebees absolutely love them. Ants enjoy cruising all over the vines. Some flowers will wilt and fall off while the lucky ones will form a luffa sponge. The flowers are quite pretty and abundant.

When the flowers produce, slender cucumber-like vegetables appear. The vines continue to grow and produce fruit until the sponges begin to mature. They can be harvested whenever they feel ready. Typically they turn a yellow/brown color and become lighter in weight from drying out. Mature luffa sponges can be any color from green to nearly black. Very small sponges can be mature and very large ones may not be ready. Size and color doesn't matter much. The important thing is that they start to dry and lose weight. The more mature they are, the better the sponge fiber quality. Some smaller ones may mature more quickly, yielding a small soft sponge, good for washing delicate skin.

If the vines die before the sponges are ready for peeling, they can be hung in a dry place to cure before peeling. If the weather is dry, then cutting the vines to stop the flow of sap and letting the sponges hang may work. Hanging them in a dry place is the best way to get them dry. Generally if the sponges are good they will dry enough to peel. If they are really immature they may rot no matter what you do. Peeling green luffa is difficult but can be done if needed. When the sponges are ready for harvest they can be peeled. If they have matured they are usually easy to get open. Soaking in water will help the opening process. After peeling, high water pressure from a hose sprayer can remove much of any remaining green and brown coloration. Wash them with soap and water, lay out to dry, rotating occasionally, as the water settles in the lower side. Placing them in sun and wind outside dries them quickly. The sun tends to lighten them some.

If they are stained, a soak in some bleach and water will lighten them considerably. A wet harvest season tends to cause more rot and brown spots in the sponges. Getting all the seeds out can be a challenge, but the drier the sponges are, the easier the seeds will fall out. Save the best ones for next year. You can also cut open the sponges in any shape you want to remove seeds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Fresh fish, especially the ones that you catch in fresh water river are rescaled and chopped into small pieces. Then you seasoned them with some salt, tamarind and herbs such as "bungai kenchala". Then it is left to marinate.

After about half an hour later, the fish is pushed into bamboo stems. Do not fill it up and allow some space for breathing and plugging.

The plugging is done by using leaves of tapioca. Use the young shoots and completely plug the open end of the bamboo stem.

The bamboo stems are then placed over a slow burning fire. Ultra care must be taken to ensure that the fish inside the bamboo stems are evenly cooked. To do so, the bamboo stems are from time to time must be rotated and the fire must not flame too much. A burnt bamboo stem will does not necessarily mean that the fish is cooked.

As the colour of the bamboo stem changes from green to dark brown, there must be no more flame. Only the heat from the charcoal is left to heat the fish inside them bamboo stem. Experienced folks can expertly tell you if the fish is fully cooked just by shaking the stem a bit and hear the sound from inside. For others, they have to unplugged the top and peeked through or just pour a bit into the plate to determine if it is cooked or not.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cement Brick: II

Those cement-brick are then placed nicely. They are left to dry out and covered with plastic sheet when it rains. Later these cement-bricks were kept in a shade until they are ready to be used.

This is how the finished product looked like. For inner walls of the long house, the cement-brick have to be smooth and evenly surfaced. This is because, here the plastered layer need not be too thick.

The outside wall of the long house needs thicker plastering. That is why the layering and the surface of the cement-bricks is much rugged and uneven. This is true so that, both the plaster and cement-brick could withstand both cold and hot weather.

Cement Brick

Ordinary brick is made from earth. Usually these bricks were baked in a huge kiln. Bricks are one of those essential building material for the construction of a permanent dwelling house.

The size of a brick is usually 8x4x3 inches and weight about 500g. Thousands were needed for the construction of a long house.

Rural folks usually move about by means of 'perahu' or boat. These boats are small as they have to travell through shallow rivers, rapids and 1001 more other obstacles.

Naturally the cost of transporting bricks from the kiln to the long house is very high. Some body suddenly have a brilliant idea of making bricks from cement. So now we have "Cement-Brick".

This is the mold for making cement-brick. It's just a simple wooden framework which they put on an even surface. Underneath, it is usually lined with plastic sheet .

Wet cement is then poured into the slots. After a certain layer, small pebbles were arranged on top of the wet cement. Then more cement is poured in to top it up. When the cement is drying, the top part is scratched so as to make the surface rugged.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Magifera pajang

Rare wild mango, also known as Bambangan,Embang or Membangan. It is native to Borneo Island, particularly grown in Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei. Also found grown wild in the Kalimantan part of Borneo.

Tree has huge majestic column which can grows to 15-33 meter high. Has huge trunk with diameter of 30-70 cm. Supports a dense canopy of dark green leaves which is 17-45 cm. in lenght and width of 7-15 cm.

Tree prefers well drained alluvial soils but will also trive on upland soil.

Flowering is usually in March and the entire crown is covered with brilliant red inflorescence. Fruits sometimes rounded but usually egg shaped with length of 9.5-20 cm. and width of 6.5-17 cm.

The tough outer skin of the fruit can be remove easily. After making longitudinal cuts, the thick skin can be peeled from the peduncle to the apex. The bright orange delightful mango fragrance flesh is juicy and fibrous. Some cultivator's have less fiber with smooth juicy flesh.