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Full Circle

Day 110: Nanga Sumpa, Sarawak

Michael Palin - Full CircleSeven o'clock. We're back at the longhouse. The Iban are sitting around cooking and chatting gregariously. The world travellers are silent and exhausted. Steve is at his diary, Fraser is at his laptop, I'm writing my notebook. The irony of a long filmed journey such as this is that the effort and energy, which all of us have to put into recording what we see, means we never see enough. I want to make the most of my limited time in this rich and remote place and yet my body knows I have two-thirds of the Pacific Rim still to go and it is rationing out stamina quite severely. Emong Tinsang, one of our Iban hosts, is dying to take me on a walk up the hill behind the longhouse - I'm aware of him pacing the balcony and sighing meaningfully - and, although I'm sure it will be an instructive, possibly unforgettable, almost certainly enjoyable experience, I simply do not have an ounce of energy left.

One hour later. Have just returned from an instructive, enjoyable, possibly unforgettable walk up the hill with Emong. He showed me the profusion of plants and trees in the forest and how almost every human need can be supplied if you know what to look for. There is a seven-candlestick flower whose leaf cures ringworm, a leaf called petai, which when ground up and taken cleanses the kidney, the ilbepi tree which produces a valuable emulsifying agent being gathered by a German cosmetic company and another tree, the pendok, a thin strip of whose bark is strong enough to carry a weight of fifty kilograms. At the top of the hill we came across a small burial area. A few Heineken bottles, a can of Coke and some dusty jam jars lay around cracked and crumbling graves. When I ask Emong why such a sacred place is so badly looked after, he tells me that the mess is deliberate. The Iban believe that a well-tended graveyard means you are happy that the people in it are dead.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 110
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Nanga Sumpa
  • Book page no: 157

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