Pilius, the Dayak Kenyah Elder

Pilius was born in paradise, in a place called Long Saan, deep in the heart of North Borneo. I interviewed Pilius recently in Setulang, the village where he has lived for the past 44 years. Pilius talked to me about growing up in Long Saan as a young boy.

“I was 15 when I made the very difficult four week journey to Setulang. My parents did not join me. They stayed in Long Saan as they were very reluctant to leave. They eventually joined me here in Setulang, six years later,” he said.

“It was a hard but a very satisfying life growing up in the forests. We lived totally off the land. I remember playing in the crystal clear rivers as a young boy. There was plenty of game in the hills and huge fish in the rivers. The soil was very healthy and nature provided us with an abundance of fruit and we grew many different kinds of vegetables. I remember my parents telling me about the Iban and Berau Dayak tribes that used to come on head-hunting raids and that is why we lived high up on a ridge, so we could see if they were coming and this gave us a chance to protect ourselves,” he reflected pensively. “That was the only real fear our people of Long Saan had.”

I asked why they moved from their ancestral home and Pilius explained, “Two reasons; health and education. We were two days from any medical care and for example, when woman had birth complications, they would die. The leaders in the village agreed it was time to resolve that problem, so we moved to be closer to a hospital.”

Pilius when to high school in the nearby town of Malinau and just three years later at the young age of 18, got married to a Dayak Kenyah lady. They had four children over the proceeding five years, three of whom still live in Setulang. Pilius is very happy with his life now and thinks the recent advent of 24 hours of electricity is a good thing. He can watch TV and loves the football, especially from Europe.

However, he is concerned that, as the younger generation are moving into the cities to live, they are losing touch with their culture. The further away from their parents and family, the more they lose touch with their stories, their dance and the traditional music.

I spent many hours talking with Pilius. He is a strong, proud Dayak man, but I can’t help but feel some sadness that the old ways are dying out and with this, great wisdom and knowledge will be lost forever.

Recently, I had an opportunity to venture into the nearby forests with Pilius and I marvelled at the way in which he connected with nature. His love for the environment and knowledge of the jungle plants and rivers was quite captivating. He took me to the old growth of “sacred trees”, where we offered a prayer to the spirits of the trees, that they would be kind to us on our journey.

“I fear for the future of this beautiful place,” he told me. “If this sacred place is destroyed then our culture is destroyed along with it.”

 

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Dave Metcalf is leading an expedition with Rex Urwin from New Zealand to take Pilius and five other Dayaks from Setulang back to their original home in Long Saan on August 20, 2014. The eight-day expedition will raise awareness about preserving these forests and the Dayak culture. Joining the group will be Robi Supriyanto, a talented Balinese musician from the band Navicula, Kevin Locke, a Cultural Ambassador and hoop dancer from the Lakota Indian tribe, Martin Holland, the founder of The Heart of Borneo organisation, Gregorio Von Hildebrand, from Gaia Amazonians (South America), and two Australians.

David plans to make a documentary film about the journey and invites you to follow this journey on:  http://www.thejourneyback.info

David is seeking help and support by way of donations for film funding.

He can be contacted directly at davidmetcalf3@mac.com

Pilius will be in Jakarta on August 19 and will speak and perform with Dayak dancers and Kevin Locke at @America in Pacific place at 6 pm. This is a free event open to the public.

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David Metcalf is based in Bali and welcomes you to visit his photo gallery — Taksu on Monkey Forest Road, Ubud. He provides half and full day photography tours in the Ubud area and longer 7-14 day workshops to Myanmar, Java, Borneo, US, Japan, Vietnam and other destinations. David’s photos appear in three books on Indonesia. More info can be found about his books and tours on his website www.davidmetcalfphotography.com


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