Nestled in the hills alongside the border with Sabah, Malaysia lies Krayan. Isolated by lack of connecting infrastructures, the highland promises rich natural, cultural, and historical beauty and tremendous potential for tourism in North Kalimantan. This article glimpses into the greatness based on stories of the people who have experienced it.
Semaring Hill (± 1,100 asl) is one of the popular tourism sites in Krayan. Standing on the hilltop, people can catch a sight of the five sub-districts that make up all of Krayan. The hill itself is located in Krayan Induk Sub-district. In the absence of fog, people can also enjoy beautiful sunrise and sunset from the top.
Hiking takes around 30 – 45 minutes, depending on the person. For a more experienced hiker, it is possible to reach the top within only 15 – 20 minutes. Local villagers worked together to build steps for the first 300 meters. But, the rest is a narrow, steep, and slippery dirt trail.
“As a legend, Yuvai Semaring is deeply admired by the Krayans. In his time, he was a hero to the people of Dayak Lundayeh in Krayan,” said Alex Balang, our tour guide, at the beginning of his story. Yuvai Semaring is believed to be the guardian of Long Bawan. He would signal for the village men to get ready and the women and children to hide when enemies came to attack from different directions.
It is also said that Yuvai Semaring is an adept carver. Many left their machete sheaths or handles in front of his cave to be carved. Strangely, no one ever saw him. People only heard him in the morning from high up on the hill and before enemy attacked.
Alex continued, “The cave where Yuvai Semaring lived is underneath this hill, right below our feet.” Villagers named the hill after him and call it Bukit Yuvai Semaring or Buduk Yuvai Semaring
(in local language). Now, the site is a tourist attraction. The Airport in Long Bawan, Krayan is also dedicated to his name.
Preserving Traditional Culture
Most Dayak Lundayeh people live off farming, mainly organic rice. Planting season, however, is limited to once a year. Researchers also concur that lands in the area are not suitable for multiple planting seasons of organic rice.
So, what people do when not farming?
The answer lies inside a wooden stilt house in Lembudud Village, West Krayan Sub-district. There, Mahda Elisa and her fellow members of Mada Fudut Weavers Group were seen busy weaving. At first, they made household items for their own needs, but soon many took interest in their works. Today, weaving is a source of livelihood for the people in the village.
Mahda explained, “We use reeds as raw material, which can be found on the side of the streets. Or known locally as Temar."
Production can take up to two weeks from collecting raw material. All products are handcrafted inside the stilt house using traditional tools.
“We need a more modern loom to step up production,” she added. It is amazing that the group’s works are getting well-known domestically, and even internationally.
The intention is to continue to pass this local culture to younger generations. Angel, for example, is already a skilled weaver at 8 years old sitting in the 2nd
grade of elementary school. Gracefully, the beautiful olive-skinned girl started to show her mastery of working with a loom and playing with threads. “They need to be taught weaving from a young age,” Mahda emphasized.
From History to Folklore
Entering the forest and trailing around the villages of Krayan, we came across historical artifacts that have been revered by locals for hundreds of years. In Pa’ Rupai Village, Krayan Sub-district, Alex introduced us to Grandfather Melud, as he was called. At the age of 73, the man was full of life and eager to tell us the folklore behind the forest relics.
“For our ancestors, crocodiles are a symbol of valor or power and victory after winning a battle,” he told us describing an ancient inscription they call Ilung Buaya
. The symbol is made of soil and scattered around certain spots in the forest.
It is believed that their ancestors would have a victory celebration every time they won a battle. Neighboring villages were invited and barrels of drinks would be served. While celebrating, they would handmake the crocodile symbol, which could take weeks or even months to finish.
We were also taken to see an ancient stone tomb. “This tomb was built for an heirless noble. All their treasures and belongings were buried wit them because no one to inherit the estate,” Grandfather Melud told the story of Batu Perupun
. The tomb can be up to 4 meters deep and is covered entirely by stones brought from the river. Each tomb buries one person.
highlights another facet of their ancestors’ life. Different objects were chiseled into the stone, such as humans and animals. The engravings narrate the tales of their life and used to also be discovered in rice barns.
Another lore is about Air Bunga
in Tang Paye Village, West Krayan Sub-district. Water never stops flowing from the village’s mountain spring, even in times of drought. People believe that the water can cure diseases. “Washing our face with Air Bunga
helps keep us looking young,” Alex claimed.
All these stories are a small part of the beauty and richness that is Krayan. Limited time is ultimately the reason we were unable to explore the entire region. Let’s go visit Krayan and experience yourself the wonders of nature there!