Borneo is the third largest island in the world, behind only Greenland and the Island of New Guinea. It was always my dream to visit the island by four factors. First, it is one of the few places where our distant relatives can be sighted in their habitat, the orangutan. Secondly, in its forest is the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia Arnoldii, which can reach up to 1 meter in length. Third, one of its typical fruits is Durian, which is considered the most odorous fruit in the world. Fourth, the island is the home of the fearless Headhunters tribe, from where I will share this story with you.
February 2014, after going through 35 flights only in Indonesia, I finally arrive in Borneo by a flight to the city of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. This huge island has territories divided between three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The purpose of this trip was to visit the tribe Hunters Head. To go to this place it was necessary to get a boat and to do a trekking in the forest. Those were the only information I had. The rest would have to go by luck and ask to the locals I find on the way.
I love adventure, adrenaline, the sense of danger and exploring the unknown. One thing I have to confess, I had no idea what was to come. How could I guarantee that nothing bad would happen to me? But that’s just me, I risked my entire life, and I could not miss the chance to get to know this tribe I had seen so much in documentaries.
On my first night in Kota Kinabalu, I found in the hostel a French woman, an English man and a German woman, who were all traveling separately. I chatted with each one of them and introduced them to each other. I told them my plan to visit the tribe, and fortunately I convinced them to leave with me the next morning.
The journey to reach our destination was difficult. When we woke up, we took a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Limbang, where we had to spend the first night. The next day, we had to rent a car to take us to Medamit, from where we took a canoe in the deep of the forest. After hours on the river, we arrived at the trail that would take to the Headhunters Tribe.
After descending from the canoe, we began the trail under a cloudy sky and a strong fog. The boat’s man soon left and suddenly we were alone in the unknown. I felt like I was in an adventure movie where the unexpected was about to happen. What could we do? We entered the dense forest. Every noise the woods made, we stared at each other with a spooky face.
After a few kilometers trekking, the forest began to open and we entered a cleaner field. We were faced with three children. When they saw us, widened their eyes. With a friendly face, I took some cookies from my backpack and gave it to them. Very shy, they approached a little suspiciously. I reached out, they once again looked at me, looked at my hand, picked up the package, and run away. Well, the first contact was made, and I hope it was positive.
Then some men left the “long house”, which is a type of construction done where several houses are built jointed without the inner wall. We could not deny it, we were very apprehensive, and if they do something wrong with us? Nobody would find us. We were in the middle of the forest in Borneo Island. I felt mercy at the hands of the chiefs of the tribe.
As the men approached, I could see parts of their tattooed bodies. A tattoo style I had not seen anywhere else. Then, when the men gave us a big smile suggesting that we were welcome to the tribe, we got relieved. Luckily, that day was happening a wedding in the village. That’s why traveling is very good! What a chance we had to experience a wedding in a Headhunters’ village.
We went inside in the place where all members of the tribe were. They soon gave us a very strong local alcoholic drink, food and called us to celebrate dancing of their style. I felt that our presence made them very happy. That we were the special guests. What hospitable people! I always say, when less a person has, more detached of material thing this person is.
After we spent a few hours learning about their culture, the tribal leaders asked us to dance some western songs. I love dancing, cause I can express joy through my body. I was the first to go to dancing. Everyone there was very shy, but soon I was inviting them to join me. After some international songs, I put styles like forró, salsa and bachata. Every time I moved my hips, everyone was laughing so much of me. The best thing for them was when I invited a woman to dance together with me. Everyone was rolling on the floor, because of so much laugh. Women are very shy in Asian culture, especially when it is indigenous people.
We spent an entire weekend with these Indians and how amazing was this adventure! The knowledge and experience gained is totally priceless. The memories built on this journey will be one of the few things I will take with me from this life to the unknown. Do not let shyness and especially fear keep you from fulfilling your dreams in your only life. The world is too big to be in one place. Travel!