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Full Circle

Day 111: Nanga Sumpa

Nanga Sumpa, Malaysia 
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Welcoming the Minister outfit.
Michael Palin - Full CircleInside the longhouse, where plaited palm leaves are being wound round the central columns and bunting hung from the roof beams, Along, the headman, is well enough to talk to us. He is a tiny, stick-like figure, skin hanging slack from his arms, which like his back, neck and throat, are copiously tattooed. His face is strong and alert and he has a head of thick grey hair. Emong interprets for me as the old man describes the stomach operation he's just undergone, proudly hoists his shirt, peels off the dressing and shows me the wound.

I am introduced to his friend Badan, who is, at eighty-six, one year older than the headman. He says their tattoos were done many years ago and very painfully, using the traditional method of soap, a pin and soot from the fire.

Both Badan and Along are old enough to remember the time when head-hunting was part of the Iban way of life. They witnessed it as recently as the Second World War and the emergency with Indonesia. The heads would be smoked and there would be a festival to celebrate the event. But the chief dismisses the practice now. 'It was useless. Not good. It was only to show you were stronger than the next man.'
Nanga Sumpa, Malaysia 
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Famous pigs and front steps, Nanga Sumpa longhouse.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 111
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Nanga Sumpa
  • Book page no: 160

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