Pastoral trip to Belaga - 2017

Pastoral trip to Belaga 2017
Rt Rev Bishop Richard Ng

Also known as 'sons of the lake' the kayan people who form the majority of the populaion dwelling around Bakun Dam live near the dam, as well as along the Rajang river. The Bakun Dam is an embankment dam located in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the Balui River, a tributary or source of the Rajang River and some sixty kilometres west of Belaga. In 1980, the population of kanyan and Kenyah was 28,925. Kayan are closely related to the Austronesian languages.

The missionary trip by Right Reverend Bishop Richard Ng to Uma Apan. Long Mejawah on Saturday 16th September 2017 was a 275km challenging drive through steep hills and winding roads full of deep pot holes. Uma Apan is a Kayan longhouse a stone throw downriver from the mega Bakun hydroelectric dam.

Right Reverend Bishop Richard Ng and Fr. John McAulay, the newly installed parish priest of Belaga Parish celebrated sunset mass at Gereja Roh Kudus, Uma Apan/Long Mejawah. Around 150 parishioners participated in the sunset mass followed by a welcome dinner at the longhouse.

The following day Sunday 17th September 2017 Right Reverend Bishop Richard Ng celebrated Sunday mass at St Francis Xavier's church, Belaga and officially installed Fr. John McAulay as parish priest of the new parish. Belaga town used to belong to Sibu diocese and the priests from Kapit used to visit from time to time. With the building of the Bakun and Belaga roads, Belaga became much more accessible from Bintulu side. Hence it was given over to the jurisdiction of Miri diocese.

The new parish has over 20 outstations and Fr. John is helped by a full time catechist.  The setting up of the new parish will mean better and more effective pastoral care for the Catholics living in the deep interior of Sarawak.

History and culture relations.
Kayan people consider the head of the Kayan River their point of origin. The Kayan, a mobile and conquering group, came to central Boreno relatively much later than the kenyah. The Kayan enslaved and assimilated the Murut and other groups in the area. In the early twentieth century, the Brooke regime put an end to the headhunting and warfare practiced by these peoples.

The kayan people reside in long houses that comprise from 30 to 1,148 inhabitants. A village may consist of a group of long houses. Each village has a section of river as its own territory. As a result of soil degradation, a village will move along the river, returning after 12 to 15 years.

The Kayan longhouses are impressive for their size and durability. They are raised on pilings (originally as part of a defense strategy), are constructed of ironwood planks, and may be as long as 300 meters; they may house 500 people each (although the average is 200-300). Each family owns the planks and beams that make up its part of the longhouse. Unmarried older boys and men sleep on the veranda, while unmarried girls, women, and female slaves live with their respective families.

Rice, raised in swiddens, is the staple; corn, yams, pumpkins, cucumbers, and tobacco are also raised.  Fishing, which is more important to the diet than is hunting, is accomplished primarily by poisoning with tuba root. Hunting is mainly done with dogs and blowguns, and the most important game is the wild pig. Goats, dogs, pigs, and chickens are raised domestically, the latter two for sacrifice. The Kayan are skilled woodworkers, metalworkers, and canoe builders. They trade their knives and swords, which are famous throughout central Borneo.  A Kayan individual who clears primary forest land has undisputed ownership of it.

Today most of the kayan community are devout Christians. In the early twentieth century, the Brooke regime put an end to the headhunting and warfare practiced by these peoples. In kayan culture, a central feature of their life of these peoples was the mamat, or head feast, which is now rare owing to Christian influence. The mamat required a new head; its purposes included ritual purification, marking the end of a period of mourning for a deceased kinsman, or the ritual completion of a new longhouse.

Photography: Alvin Wong
Story compiled by Ben Chang

16 October 2017 - Rumah Uma Apan, Long Mejawah

17th October 2017 - St Francis Xavier's church, Belaga

New Sop Eff 01May2022 ... Watch here.

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