Text and Photos by Thomas Henderson-Schwartz
I am now well acquainted with life in the rainforest. Over 8 months living in Kampung Buayan I have seen the cycles of the rice planting and harvesting, washed in the river when the pipes burst, fished for supper and drunk rice wine from the beak of a rhinoceros hornbill. However, one experience eluded me until now – the hunt for jungle meat.
We left early one morning, hiking the famous Salt Trail to the old village of Kionop. Along the walk the boys had picked fruits and a rest stop to open coconuts was welcome after the fast pace. At Kionop we split up: one team taking the river whilst I joined a team to follow the path. Total silence was required from this point onwards. We saw the tracks of some wild boar crossing the path but nothing seemed to be close by. We arrived at the old church in Kionop, which was to be our nights’ stay. A little later the river team arrived carrying a monitor lizard which was promptly cooked and eaten for lunch (surprisingly tasty!!).
After a short session sharpening the spear guns we went down to the river in search of fish and eels. The guys walked up the river casting nets in perfect synchronisation to catch anything that may lay beneath them. Any large rocks were carefully inspected: underwater torches scouring all the crevasses. What they were looking for was unknown to me but loud cheers indicated that they had found something. The spear gun was readied and a final check made with the torch before a single shot was fired. An enormous eel was ripped up from beneath the rock, writhing in its futile attempt to free itself. A parang to the head quickly took the last of the life out of it and it was placed in my bamboo backpack (carrying stuff was pretty much the only useful thing I could do, bar casting the odd net badly).
Later that evening we went for a night fishing session. The stars were framed by the forest canopy and the river beneath was lit up by the torch lights bubbling just below the surface. It was a truly magical spectacle. The hoard from all the fishing totalled over 70 fish plus the eel.
When we got back to base a wild boar was waiting there, killed by two of the young boys who had gone off with the guns. Jolius had also returned successful but empty handed: his boar was too big for one (even probably 2 or three people) to carry. After a bit of eating and joking around we retired.
In the morning we went to collect Jolius’s wild boar. After some slightly arduous river crossings we came to a clearing with the dead beast hidden under some leaves. The gory process of gutting and then chopping it up into manageable pieces made even an ardent carnivore like myself mildly queasy. My carrying duties were once again employed, this time for the head of the boar (which I estimated to be in the region of 10- 12 kilos alone). I was terrified that I would fall over crossing the river and have to start swimming after this head as it rolled down the rapids. Luckily I made it across without incident. We then built a huge fire on the river bank and partially cooked all the meat to make it last longer as well as enjoying some of the spoils ourselves. It was truly delicious.
In truth, life in the jungle had started to wear me down and I had been starting to look forward to going back to the comforts of home. This trip reminded me about how unique and special the experience I’ve had here has been. Anybody who doubts the ownership that indigenous peoples have over their lands, hear this: they own it, because they know it and understand it better than anyone else. People in Buayan are able to live on what the jungle provides, and although some modern conveniences have started to creep in, that doesn’t diminish the deep knowledge and love they have for the rainforest. It was a great honour to be able to accompany them, and I think a sign that I had been truly accepted as part of the village. Many thanks to the guys for a most memorable experience.