Sibu - Exploring The Rejang
Ethnic Kaleidoscope I Sibu
Although Kapit and Belaga can both be reached by MAS Twin Otter,
the only way to really see and enjoy the Rejang is to travel by
boat. The vast distances involved and the absence of roads have
given rise to a form of transpot unique to the Rejang, the Express
Bost, These torpedo-shaped craft, styled like airliners and powered
by thousand-horsepower engines, blast their way up and down the
Rejang and its tributaries at speeds of over 60km/h, their weather-beathen
skippers treating rapids and mud-flats with equal disdain.
The express boats are the lifeline of the entire Rejang Basin,
and are used by everybody who needs to travel, so you are bound
to meet a cross section of Rejang society, from elderly Kayan grandmothers
with their tattoos and elongated ears, to sophisticated Chinese
businessmen balancing their laptop computers on their knees. The
interior is comfortable, air-conditioned, and complete with "in-flight"
movies, but for the adventurous, the best place to enjoy the scenery
is perched on the roof, waving to other craft and catching a glimpse
of life along the river.
The most exciting part of the upriver journey is the Pelagus Rapids.
As you approach the rapids, a boatman will shoo all the rooftop
passengers inside, as the boat ploughs into 1.6km of fast, turbulent
water and sharp, rocky outcrops. Before the introduction of express
boats, passengers would have to disembark and walk through the forest
to another boat on the other side, but nowadays the express boats
glide through the rapids easily, the skipper skilfully positioning
and manoeuvring his craft with sheer horsepower.
Remote longhouses are accessible only by outboard-powered longboat.
Rejang longboats are narrow and highly manoeuvrable, so an experienced
boatman can negotiate very narrow and difficult waters, but you
should be prepared to climb out and help to push or carry the boat
past a particularly tricky set of rapids. Upriver travel on the
Rejang and its tributaries can be hard work at times, but it can
provide visitors with fond memories that last a lifetime.