The supernatural is ubiquitous in children’s entertainment, from Grimm and Hans Andersen to Disney and ‘Harry Potter’.— Richard Dawkins, English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author
We are all born storytellers, but some tell the story much better than others. So it was interesting when I discovered a book in my possession signed and autographed by world-famous American travel writer and
adventurer Eric Hansen.
I met Hansen in Kuching in 1993 promoting his book, Stranger in the Forest, about his journey in Borneo.
Stranger in the Forest was ranked 50 in National Geographic Adventure’s “100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time” (2004).
National Geographic Traveler listed the book on “Ultimate Travel Library” (2008) and the “Penguin Travel Library” series.
Hansen’s Borneo exploration started in 1976 when he first visited Kapit, fell in love with Sarawak and returned six years later.
A decade later, I had the honour of exploring the Rajang River, travelling as far as Long Singut, the last longhouse on the Baleh tributary.
I befriended a famous Iban Temenggong (paramount chief) who at 16, ate the heart of a Japanese soldier who had killed his uncle during WW2.
From Kapit, Hansen headed for Bario on his way to East Kalimantan where he met a Lun Bawang born-again Christian army chief.
Armed with an illegal home-made shotgun and 250 cartridges, Hansen was lucky to have escaped arrest because today, you can face the death penalty for such an offence.
Fortunately, the Lun Dayeh of Kerayan have been beholden to white missionaries since Reverend John Wilfinger (1938-1942) introduced Christianity to the people.
Hansen stopped over at Long Layu — a stone’s throw across the main range of the Central Highlands — and met Pa Lewe, the Ketua Adat (cultural affairs head).
So when Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser and another European leader from Bruno Manser Funds (BMF) visited Pak Lewe in May 2000, albeit with a sawn-off shotgun, they were received with open arms.
To share my own travel stories, I have attended many a ‘tuak’ drinking ceremony, including Gawai Antu at Lubuk Antu which glorified the Iban headhunting heroes.
On my journeys, I have been regaled with tales of strange creatures — a 200-foot long Nabau river serpent, flying Remaung tigers and even the funny story of Hantu Telansat, a hairy orangutan type of creature that moves around by dragging his buttocks on the ground.
In Bario, I learnt about a tribe of Seluyah and Pun Tumid a 13-foot tall friendly giant who only hunted hairy animals.
However, if a hairless one such as a human being strayed into the forest, he would end up as lunch or dinner for one of Pun Tumid’s cousins.
Another interesting tale is about the testicle-grabbing Hantu Kok Lir, female vampires.
Kok Lir or witches such as the Puntianak of Malaysia and Kuntilanak of Indonesia, are blood-sucking witches.
The only difference is that Kor Lir confine themselves to the jungle and pounce on hunters while Puntianak are beautiful vampires who ply the streets of big towns with their wares.
If you met one and took her out for a drink, beware because at any time she could turn into a witch and suck you dry — both physically and financially.
During a hunting trip 50 years ago, I pursued the cry of a vampire whose chant went, “Kok…Kok…Kok..Kok…Kok.”
It led me further into the jungle and then I decided to stop — just in case it was a trap!
Apart from Hansen and Manser’s exploits, I know an English couple, Richard and Valarie Bradley, who trekked from Kuching to Pontianak, then up the 1,100km Kapuas River to remote Putussibau region in West Kalimantan.
During their journey in the late 1980s, they spent several months trekking through the unexplored jungle, across Mueller Range with two local guides.
By the time they reached the east coast of Borneo, Valarie was down with malaria and lucky to survive.
Now a business consultant in London, Richard istoying with the idea of publishing their story.
If there are budding modern-day explorers who may want to follow in the footsteps of Eric and Richard, think again.
Don’t forget that it’s no fun trekking through an unknown jungle where there are unfriendly denizens of the dark, and ghouls beyond your wildest imagination.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.