Bung Jagoi: A piece of Borneo Bidayuh native history
A First Timer’s Hiking Journal to Explore the Forgotten Borneo Bidayuh Natives’ Settlement
Hiking up a mountain is not something I am familiar with, perhaps it is due to the fact that I was born in the city, in the middle of all things concrete and polluted air, or I am just a lazy person. I have been working with Backyard Tour for a while now and I am no stranger to the lush forests of Borneo; having spent quite a bit of time trekking into the jungle around Kuching, Sarawak with the local guides and my fellow travelers. Going for a hike however, is a different story, a daunting prospect perhaps. You can imagine my reaction when my work partner cum life partner; Abbie looked at me with her dazzling (and hypnotic eyes), asking me to join her for a hike at Bung Jagoi (translated as Mount Jagoi) in Bau. Not wanting to disappoint her, I had to comply with that request.
The day of hike started out beautifully, which was not a good thing as that gave me no reason to run away from the hike. I drove in a rather tired mental state due to the fact that we had to get up really early to beat the scorching afternoon heat. The drive to Bau took us about an hour or so to reach. The drive was relatively pleasant with the exception of having to tail heavy vehicles at some point; it could be daunting for slightly inexperienced drivers.
We drove past Bau town area and headed straight to the Duyoh village which is located just around the foothills of Bung Jagoi. The interesting part of the visit to this particular village was that Abbie’s mother was from this village. We parked our car at the old house where Abbie’s mom used to stay before she moved to the present village Abbie grew up in. We welcomed a new member; Abbie’s cousin, Anir into our group before we started our hike at around 9.30 a.m, an hour late from our scheduled time. Typical Malaysian timing.
Here we go!
The sun was barely noticeable and that’s a good thing; no one wants to be burnt by the sun while doing such a physically straining task of doing a hike up a mountain. As we started our slow-paced ascend up the steps; which were built as part of a project done by the government and private companies in collaboration with the local villagers, I started to feel that I am dragging a very heavy weight up a very steep slope. I looked at my out-of-shape body and I swear I could feel my flabby stomach jingling as I struggled to make headway. That probably told the tale of how an unfit person tried to do hiking. If it wasn’t for the steps, I wouldn’t even have made it past the first part of the hike. And by the way, a dog joined our little hiking party and although it was fun to see it running up and down, to the bushes and to the hill sides, it kept on reminding us that we were playing catchup with a dog that was always ten steps ahead.
The interesting features along the hike
It’s a solace in midst of our rather tiring journey that we were able to see many different types of plants and some really big trees. Normally we would just walk past these beautiful wonders of nature but today something caught our eyes: some of the trees lining up the sides of the walkway actually had wooden signs stating their scientific names and local names; how interesting. Our local guide Anir grew up with this mountain and she would hike up once every few months. It was good to have her along as she gave us a lot of insights regarding the different plants; including those that were not tagged, and how Abbie’s grandparents used to come to these parts of the forest to work on their farms. I was rather intrigued with the fact that someone has actually done farming in these mountainous region, which contrasted my own understanding that farming can only be done on vast, flat land, with a lot of irrigation. Anir also pointed out the direction to some old Japanese army camps used by the Japanese soldiers during their occupation of the region during World War 2. How fascinating.
We continued to forge on despite our bodies growing weary by the minute. The funny thing about hiking was that even after you have scaled seemingly the last slope, you will see a higher and steeper one in front. Oh, the lies I told myself all along the hike. Fortunately there were rest stops along the way, perfect for first-timers like myself. One of the stops even had modern toilets and ironwood benches.
Reaching the site of past relics
And finally after an hour or so we finally reached the old Bidayuh settlement of Jagoi. We were greeted by 2 more dogs and a rooster, with no sign of human presence. It was said that there used to be Bidayuh natives who had been living in the settlement for generations. However, as time went by, the villagers wanted easier access to modern facilities and they subsequently moved down from the mountains; one family at a time. It was just earlier this year that the last villager on the mountain; an elderly woman came down from it due to illness.
What’s left behind
As I walked across the abandoned settlement, I could see traces of the villagers’ daily lives: barrels of water storage tanks, bamboo walkways, old chicken coops, traditional washing boxes, and the most obvious of all; the houses still left standing even though their inhabitants have long left the place. Slightly further from the main village area, there stood the ceremonial house which stood out from the rest of the village structures with its unique design and pastures of carpet grass. I was told that the ceremonial house still held human skulls from the head-hunting past of the people. It was scary to look at the skulls but in truth, they no longer hold any spiritual power as no one worships them anymore. Still it was a rather cool thing to see a real historical artifact with my own eyes.
Going higher up..
I groaned and whined when my companions told me that we would go to the prayer site cum viewing point and guess what; more hiking! I was literally dragging my feet as I followed my mates to the foot of Bung Tesen, the higher part of Bung Jagoi. This time round the hike was slightly more difficult as we scale almost vertically on some pretty rough terrain; the type that has no cement slabs, just tree roots and dirt. It wasn’t an easy ascend at all but thankfully, it was a rather short hike of around 15 minutes.
The view was awesome!
Once we reached the top, I was glad I came for this hike as the view from the mountain was magnificent; it literally killed any sense of fatigue. It’s amazing how exhaustion can just fly away like that. I was overlooking the horizon where I noticed another village tucked somewhere on a hill as well. Then Anir told me that would be Stass village, another Bidayuh settlement in Bau. The longer I looked down from the hill, the more it felt like I was on the top of the world, it was that good of a feeling. We took some customary pictures, had some of the bananas we took up with us, and soon we were on our way down.
Going down the hill posed another challenge as it really required us to be 100% focused to prevent ourselves from tumbling down as far gravity can take us. It also took quite a toll of my leg muscles as I could feel the strain and muscle fatigue with every step down the mountain. That’s where we began chatting about random topics among each other and it distracted us quite well from the tiredness.
Post hiking thoughts
We came down the hill at around lunch time and despite the exhaustion, I was feeling quite good as I have finally scaled my first mountain; though it’s not a very difficult climb to begin with. We took a shower at Anir’s house and soon departed back to Kuching.
Along the way back, I couldn’t help but think about the abandoned settlement back in the mountains. To me, walking past the houses; some still looked like they have just been built recently, really gave me a rather nostalgic feeling. It was once a place populated by people carrying out their traditional farming activities in the mountains, children playing hide and seek among the bushes, young couples spending their evenings watching sunset from the viewing point, I imagined. Could things be different if the people continued to stay up there? I would never know the kind of sacrifices the people had to make to get closer to development, or for the sake of their children’s future. I just felt privileged to be able to visit such a beautiful place, to get close to a piece of the people’s history, and to be able to share my experiences to other people.