Helping departed family members reach the highest place in heaven is what the tiwahceremony enables in Dayak mythology. It is also a right of passage for the survivors to show their worthiness and financial ability to plan and carry out the tiwah ritual, which will in turn bless them with greater harvests and wealth. Background planning over 3 months has gone into preparing every detail for the giant send off ritual pesta tiwah over the final 3 days.

The colour of the banners, the placement of ritual objects and of the totem poles, all made during the lead up, the constant throbbing of gongs, which animals are sacrificed and the way meat is shared and the heads are suspended from the totems, is prescribed. Any variation is shunned. The ceremony is orchestrated by kaharingan or local religionbasir who are rare and highly sought after these days. The basir prays to Ranying Hatalla Langit, the Kaharingan God, in the old Dayak language.

The hornbill symbol is placed above all as a reminder of how the soul is transported to the next life in lewu tatau, the bejeweled village. The sacrificial animals accompany the souls on their journey and symbolic weapons give them the means to overcome seven challenges on the way.

Carved, personalized totem poles, quirky and brilliantly adorned, are made for each soul, and are offered baram and other favourite foods and drinks during their last meal.

Imagine holding a pesta tiwah and inviting not only your own village, but all the villages nearby, the local council members and their families, Dayak adat leaders and elders as well as opening your doors to strangers and curious tourists who happen to turn up. All are warmly welcomed inside the community, fed and given lodging. But visitors have to pass a test, well, many tests, many related to determining that they have come with good intentions, not to disrupt the ritual.

Spirits are taken seriously. Wearing sack cloth and sababuka, or frightening masks, painted a few days before, and staying anonymous throughout, two bukung prowl the village scaring the kids and disruptive spirits. The good spirits are welcomed and housed in structure of bamboo poles decorated with batiks and the spiritual yellow banners in the centre of the activities.

The music keeps all at a pitch of excitement, as families farewell and keen over their ancestors, whose cleaned bones are placed in newly carved and decorated coffins before the final transfer to the sandung, or family bone house.

These days resonate with with parades, sacrifice rituals, vast cooking areas, sharing of food, drinking the rice wine or baram, chewing betelnut, gossip and gambling. The Kaharingan tiwah is still very much alive in this area.

Note that I have used the more commonly known language of the Dayak ngaju tribe or the peoples living near Palangkaraya. This tiwah was held in the Katingan region, where the language and customs differ. There are in fact some 40 different Dayak tribes, with their own languages and customs in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

Tiwah are held at irregular intervals. WOW Borneo can help you attend one.



    Last week WOW Borneo (KTD) arranged our trip and accompanied by our wonderful Dayak guide Dodi (and ’trainee’ guide Jonathan) we travelled upto see the long house (*betang*) at a little village called Tumbang Gagu, right up in the headwaters of the Sampit (or Mentaya) River.

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    We had a wonderful 3 days and 2 nights on the beautiful Rahai’i Pangun. The whole crew looked after us every minute with great food, cool drinks and all the comforts to make our trip memorable. Thanks to Lorna, Sayful, Suryadi, Patirwin, Anto, Ujeng and Ready!

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    This Jungle River Cruise gave us a great present! The river and time pass slowly on the boat. Not only orangutans and jungle but also the people, especially the children of the village moved us so much. I was impressed!

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    To all on the Rahai’i Pangun, thank you for introducing me to the wonders of Central Kalimantan over a fantastic few days. Loved the boat, loved the concept, loved the food – and the company was pretty great too!

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    It was the trip of a lifetime!

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    It was so moving to visit the two villages. Kanarakhan and Gaung Baru were memorable in their exchange of culture with us.

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    Thank you very much for an unforgettable jungle experience. The long boat journey through the flooded jungle was great. The food was excellent as well.

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    The river cruise was beyond awesome. We had a great crowd on the boat. We had fantastic food and nothing was seen as too hard to do for us from all the crew.

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    Thank you again for taking such great care of all of us during our recent visit to Kalimantan. You and the crew were so professional, kind, generous and fun. Our group really enjoyed getting to know you, eating the delicious food presented to us each day, and relaxing on your boat.

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  • SUE HEWETT (21-24 DECEMBER 2012)

    This cruise was everything we’d dreamed and more. The boat is very comfortable, the crew efficient and courteous and the food delicious!  The guide couldn’t have been better – fun, passionate, thoughtful, knowledgeable and great company!

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    This tour was one of the best vacation and wildlife experiences I have had (and I have seen pretty much everything in Africa). Despite all it has to offer, Kalimantan is a tough place to vacation in so I was not expecting much. However, I was blown away by this trip.

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