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Full Circle

Day 111: Nanga Sumpa

Michael Palin - Full CircleAfter ritual sharing and passing around of a cup of palm wine, a spear is handed to Masing. Some politicians have to kiss babies, but if you want to get re-elected in Borneo, a passing knowledge of butchery is useful. With admirable cool, Masing places one foot on the pig's head and swiftly punctures its throat.

The ladies in the silver head-dresses and sturdy brassieres then precede him up the plank to the door of the longhouse, where a white cockerel is passed backwards and forwards over his head to ward off evil spirits - though I should imagine jet lag is his main problem at the moment.

Despite having arrived back in Sarawak only the night before, Masing seems to have time for everybody. I talk to him in the guesthouse before the evening celebrations. He defends the building of the Batang Ai dam, saying that before the water level was raised, a place like this would have been virtually inaccessible. (Naturally he regards this as a bad thing.) He's more cautious about Prime Minister Mahatir's much vaunted aim of a developed (i.e. fully industrialized) Malaysia by the year 2020. He doesn't think the Iban will be ready to play much of a part in such a society.

They are an egalitarian people, he says. An Iban headman only holds his power by consent. They dislike being told what to do and will not accept hierarchies, which is why he thinks they have not produced many politicians. Nor are they willing to give up their animist beliefs despite great efforts to bring them into the Muslim or Christian fold. 'They are pragmatic,' says Masing. 'They will see what a god has to offer and take what they want.'

The evening party is a bit of an anti-climax. Most of the men of the longhouse have been drinking throughout the day and the presence of so many politicians and administrative officials seems to have dampened whatever spontaneity they have left.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 111
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Nanga Sumpa
  • Book page no: 161

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