dayak culture

Dayak carvings in historic Bukit Rawi

The traditional sandungs or second burial houses of Dayak tribes around the Palangka Raya area, are brilliantly coloured, some with fantastic detail and finesse. The fearsome snake eater keeps troublesome spirits away. See them on our mid-week cruises.
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Brilliant river spectacle in Isen Mulang Dayak Cultural Festival

We had picture perfect weather for the decorated boats, Jukung Hias, competition on 20 May. Its an integral and dramatic part of the annual Isen Mulang Festival in Palangkaraya. Festival dates never change and are from 18-23 May, though the boats may sail on any of the days. Isen Mulang is ‘never give up! and it celebrates the independence of the province of Central Kalimantan as a Dayak homeland from South Kalimantan in 1957.

Ritual decorated boats or bamboo barges are used in tiwah or secondary burial ceremonies in some areas, symbolising the boat of the dead carrying the departed spirits to Lewu Tatau, the Prosperous Village. Rivers are the highways here in both the living and spiritual worlds!

These competition boats are sponsored by different local Government Departments, Provincial and Regional, or organisations. Rivalry is intense, giving decorations that riotous colour, dominating green, red and yellow, favourite colours in the Dayak pantheon. The smaller canoes, klotoks, carry judges, who follow the boats and rate them for the final prize giving, based on the appearance, themes, and quality of the dancers and musicians.

Why not join us next year! Drop us a line at

Homeward bound, poignant in the late afternoon light on the now quiet river.
Until next time, May 2017.


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A Tiwah in Bangkal – Dayak gotong royong

The Tiwah marks the passing of elders in a traditional Dayak village. It is an occasion for everyone to join in the preparations, the feasting and drinking, in the rituals, the festivities and the enjoyment – gotong royong.
Visitors are warmly included in all the events, and patiently led through the complex march of the ceremonies and introduced to the main participants.
In this tiwah, the elder had lain for months in the front room of his home, and when we arrived the room was crammed with women, sitting with the widow, preparing the palm leaf woven decorations for the casket.
Out the back, women were preparing the ritual food, sweet sticky rice topped with fresh ground coconut tossed with the local palm sugar. Cattle, buffalo, pigs and chickens were sacrificed at regular intervals and boiled in huge vats with spices and vegetables over open fires, stirred with canoe paddles. They were feeding their own village, a neighbouring community and visitors too.
Waves of masked and draped figures, called bukungs, wearing painted flamboyant masks, lake weeds or a bamboo batik covered frame for the giant bukung santiau, came by day and night. With the role to frighten away mischievous spirits. They are welcomed, and repeatedly fed with sticky rice
and the local fermented drink, baram.
With the vast Lake Sembuluh as a backdrop, and the impassive, timeless faces of the sapundu from past tiwah on sandung scattered about the town, the passion of all involved, it felt as if we had stepped into the past and were living the myths and legends we had only read about.
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Natural treasures of Borneo from the Rahai’i Pangun

This trip exceeded out expectations – wonderful food, great staff. Fantastic boat with a good blend of cultural and natural experience. We appreciate the way you are working with the local communities. This was a great trip to assist with learning the natural history of Kalimantan. The birds were great, especially the hornbills and colourful kingfishers. Seeing the orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and other primates was very special. It is a trip we would love to experience again” Paul, Ohio, USA

“The beauty of the river, the night sky, the morning mist, and quaint little villages, were all very special. Also the caring attitude of the staff helps to make this a special experience. It is important that the beauty and biodiversity of Kalimantan be preserved for future generations. What better way to do this than to introduce people to these world class natural wonders “Cathy, Ohio, USA

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Indonesian media visit

Going on the Rungan River in small traditional canoes with film teams and their heavy equipment to watch orangutans, is all in a days work for us at Kalimantan Tourism Development. Arranging the schedules, finding the best Palangkaraya hotel, getting the right permits in advance, and the best transport is only part of the challenge. Central Kalimantan is just opening its doors to tourism, and so each trip is an adventure, like looking at a new world.

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