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My first visit to the Iban longhouse of Nanga Kesit, on the Lemanak River, was a
business trip; it was the year 1990 and I was a dare devil European (woman!) in the midst of setting up a tour agency in Borneo. I was looking for a friendly longhouse to take tourists in small or large groups. First trip then, and first lesson: with Iban people, it’s never quite about business; but it is always, quite simply, about hospitality.
In the years that succeeded, as I often accompanied groups, Kesit became a kind of second home away from Kuching; not only was I always welcome, my young sons were instructed in the arts of blow-pipe shooting, jala (net) fishing and well… balancing while walking along the edge of a longboat. I even joined a paddy planting party, a risky job on a tall hill slope after countless gulps of tuak (rice wine) “induced” by a clique of persistent and cheeky old ladies.
It took me ten years after I sold my business, for health reasons, to be able to go back to visit my Iban friends in Kesit. Nothing much had changed in and around the longhouse and thank God all my friends, especially the ancient ones were still there and in good health. When I sat down on a mat with most of the villagers around me, I was scolded for having taken too long to come back and visit. Catching up after such a long absence was easy; the ancient ones had lost weight but not their sense of humour; my friend and namesake Annie had “prospered” and had added a few too many kilos, but she was happy and excited to see me.
There was a miring (thanks giving ceremony) as the gods require when visitors come to a longhouse. The women served cakes and tuak and we talked, and we danced and talked again until it was time for me to leave again. As I sat on the longboat that was to take me back to the road where I’d left the car, I knew for sure that I would always find my way back to Nanga Kesit.
NANGA KESIT IN PICTURES