Borneo or Kalimantan has always a special place on imaginations of the West. Brooding, fecund, teeming with strange creatures and unimaginable huge wilderness. Those are the exotic treasures of this majestic island to discover.
It is an island to explore, covering an area about 747.000 sq km, five times the area of England and Wales. Some areas are highland while others are low land, flowed by tremendous rivers, such as; the Kapuas, the Mahakam, the Barito, the Kayan, and others. The land is covered by one of the world’s largest stretches of tropical rainforest and inhabited by sub-ethnics of Dayak people, known as the indigenous of the land.
English calls the island as Borneo to describe the northern view side, comes from Malay “Buah Niyor”, means coconut. It is about 197.968 sq km, holds the East Malaysian State of Sarawak, “home to the kingdom of the famous “White Rajah/King” named James Brooke”, the State of Sabah, where the great Mount Kinibalu stands, and the Independent Islamic Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, which is one of the world’s highest per-capita income also gets share the small part of this island.
While Borneo or Kalimantan used by Indonesian to describe the two-third of the huge island at the southern, comes from Indonesian, “Kali and Intan”, means river of diamond, an apt description to the abundant resources of the land. Although the region just 5 percents of the national population, its 549.032 sq km represent 28 percents of the land mass on the nation, divided into five provinces;
Home to the Mahakam River, where the freshwater dolphin can be found. East Kalimantan is growing to be an industrially advanced region, which is contributed by its position as a major producer of oil and timber, and as one of the largest province in Indonesia. Also home to one of the famous headhunter clans of Dayak, called Kenyah Dayak. In this province we can find many of Dayak cultural materials.
The nickname is “land of the equator”, due to the geographic position of its capital called Pontianak, which lies exactly on the equator. Covering an area of 146,807 square km, the province has swampy low plains containing many rivers, lakes and villages, often linked by bridges, once an important cultural crossroads. Because of its strategic location in the trade route of neighboring countries, this province is easily accessible from Jakarta and Kuching, Sarawak. Like other Kalimantan provinces, this land is also rich of unexplored natural resources, such as minerals and precious stones.
Covering an area about 153,800 square km and consisting mostly of dense jungle. The terrain includes mountainous area in the northern part, dense tropical forest in the central part, and swampy area with many rivers crisscrossing on the southern part. Like other parts of the island, it has tropical climate on temperature ranging from 26 C to 30 C in day time and 15 – 20 C in the night with average humidity of 70 – 90%.
This rich fertile province is divided into two distinct regions by the Meratus Mountain. The eastern part is mostly covered by mountain and dense tropical rainforest, while the west part has more rivers and lowlands. The abundance of forests with their wide variety of trees had helped to make this province was one of the largest wood producers in Indonesia. The rich unique natural resources are found on this land can be seen from the exquisite traditional and commercial handicrafts which are completely made from local raw material. Some of the most exciting ways to experience on this region by traveling over hills and racing down river on bamboo rafts.Kalimantan’s dense rainforest supports a huge number of plants and animal species. More than 221 different types of mammals and over 450 species of bird are found here, with nearly 50 of those species found only on Borneo. Animal species include the long-nosed monkey, orangutan, clouded leopard, crocodile, monitoring lizard, and the unique fresh-water porpoise, etc.
This region is the newest Indonesian province, located in the Kalimantan region on the north of Borneo Island. Its northern border being Sabah State of Malaysia, the western side border with Sarawak State of Malaysia, the eastern border being the Sulawesi Sea, and the southern border with East Kalimantan province. This new province has been proposed to be a new province since 2000 and finally approved by Indonesian parliament on 25 October 2012. North Kalimantan consist four regencies and one city in what was currently considered East Kalimantan, including Nunukan Regency, Malinau Regency, Bulungan Regency, Tana Tidung Regency and Tarakan city. It covers an area about 71,176.72 square kilometers of Borneo, very much a frontier province.
The rainforest, coastal, and peat swamp habitats have produced a wide variety of flora, including unique orchid species, ulin (iron wood), meranti (dipterocarp tree), the gaharu (perfumed wood), swamp grass, etc.
Sanskrit inscriptions, Hindu remains, and Chinese histories show that this island had been on Asian trade routes for about two thousand years. By the fifteenth century AD, Islam had arrived in the ports and soon they were setting themselves up as sultanates. The Chinese are still here, and today there are rapidly-increasing numbers of Indonesian from other islands, government people, ambitious businessmen, or farmers who have transmigrated here from overcrowded Java and Bali. Kalimantan is said to have great mineral wealth, but for the moment, its economy is focused on mineral, timber, gas and oil, with a little rubber and fish to help it out.
Although nearly 12 million people live on Kalimantan, most of the region remains sparsely populated, with nearly half of the population found in West Kalimantan. Kalimantan was the focus for an intense transmigration program, initiated from Jakarta under the Soeharto regime. Nearly 100.000 people were sent to the island during the 1970’s, with the program expanding further in the following decades. The area is now home of two main groups – the predominantly Moslem Malay, who live mostly in the large cities and coastal regions, and the indigenous forest-dwellers called Dayak people, who are mostly Christian and Animism. While other groups are comers including ethnics of Chinese, Javanese, Madurese, Buginese, etc.
Nevertheless, examples of animistic mysticism still prevail throughout the area, frequently blended with Moslem and Christian religion. Rituals to call rain, a bountiful harvest, or the mystical recovery of the sick are practiced in the villages. The sincere enthusiasm shown towards visitors is strongly tied to the belief of welcoming good spirits to the village, and the Dayak way holding their society together, as well as perpetuating their ancient traditions.
The Headhunters of Dayak
Amongst the Dayak thoughts, the more heads one collected, the better for his village and longhouse. Heads bring good luck, prosperity, and fertility. Collecting heads can also reducing enemies and as a good judge of man worthiness.
Religious believed that when a loved one died, he would be lonely, by bringing heads the deceased will have companion to accompany him to heaven. Headhunting also give ‘the Bali Akang” or spirit of courage. Taking heads to prosper and being blessed by ancestors, not taking heads would cause sickness, death, hunger, disaster and misfortune to the village. It seems to be true, when first banning of headhunting by James Brook in 1841, the fortune of Dayak dwindled.
Although today their traditional swords “mandau” are no longer used to collect grisly trophies, but they are still having a varied and rich culture while some groups continue to maintain their traditional life and belief.
The name of “Dayak” is derived from the word meaning “inland” or “upriver” people. Many anthropologists have stumbled in their attempts to classify the variety of Dayak into neat categories. The variation in languages, art styles, customs and history are too great. Even the broad “inland tribes of Borneo” has important exception. Much of the confusion stems from a long history of large and small scale migration within Borneo, a result of population pressures, warfare and communications. Groups sometimes adopted language, rituals and other custom of their neighbors then brought this mixture of tongues and traditions with them when they moved on. Although warfare no longer exists, villages still shift location frequently in search of easier access to outside goods, markets, and jobs.
With the above in mind, Borneo’s Dayak can be said to fall into several broad geographical or cultural complexes; the nomadic Punan on the forest interior of the northeastern Kalimantan, then the Lun Dayeh and Lun Bawang on the northern of East Kalimantan, The Kenyah of East Kalimantan highland and the Mahakam basin, the Barito river groups on Central Kalimantan, the Iban on West Kalimantan and Sarawak of Malaysia, the Bukit on Meratus mountain of South Kalimantan, and the “Malay” or Islamized Dayak on coastal regions.
There are notable differences in the several of Dayak groups’ religious belief, the common environment of jungles and rivers, along with rice-based agricultural, seems to have led to similar Dayak faith. Spirits crowd the people of Dayak supernatural world. These powerful beings some beneficial or harmful are manipulated through rituals, presents, and various artistic expression.
The Dayak held a vague, generalized concept of a Supreme Being, the Creator, but no special importance was attached to this particular spirit, he had done his job, and that was that. There is no known representation of this deity. Emphasis on the Dayak, Creator came only with the evangelized of Christianity or Islam, which in the process of conversion, sought out points of similarity with the local religions.
Although many of Dayak convert to the new religions, Christian or Islam, but most of the Dayak are still maintaining their ancestor belief and tradition, so visitors are still having the possibility to come and see longhouses, long ears old ladies, traditional hunting, witch doctor, and others. Most of the Dayak practice nomadic farming, hack their rice field out of jungle, slash and burning the bush to provide the nutrient in the generally poor soil. The men do animal hunting and grabbing rubber latex, swift nest, cinnamon, gaharu, etc. While women weave the baskets of rattan using age old pattern and technique.
The Malay People
Most travelers in a hasty to head the upriver for sighting the Dayak, skip the predominantly Moslem Malay culture of the coastal area. Actually, the Malay sultanates had long dominated the Borneo history, their royal palaces and mosques are always interesting to visit. West Kalimantan has the most of these, with a few more in the South and East.
The word “Malay” was adopted into English via the Dutch word “Malayo”, or from Portuguese “Malaio”, which originates from the Malay word “Melayu”. According to one popular theory, the word Melayu means “migrating” or “fleeing”, which might refer to the high mobility of these people across the region.
Another theory holds that the name refers to the Tamil word Malai Yur which means “Land of Mountains” (malai means mountain and yur means land), a reference to the hilly nature of the Malay Archipelago.
The Malay people are believed to have originated in Borneo and then expanded outwards into Sumatra and later into the Malay Peninsula. These people were descendant of Austronesian-speakers who migrated from the Philippines and originally from Taiwan. The main foundation of this school of thought lies in the fact that the oldest Malay settlements have been discovered in Sumatra and not in the Malay Peninsula. This suggests an upward – south to north – migratory route. Malay culture reached its golden age during Sriwijayan times. Malays practiced Buddhism, Hinduism, and their native Animism before converting to Islam in the 15th century.
Everyday Malay culture is at its most colorful in Kalimantan, with its stilt villages, floating market, stone craft-making, grand mosques, and many more. Malay weddings can also be splendid affairs with colorful traditional costumes, music and dances.
Ten thousand years ago orangutans were found throughout Southern China. Since then their range has shrunk dramatically, and the species now only found in relic population on the islands of Borneo and Sumatera. Borneon orangutans are endangered and Sumateran orangutans are critically endangered. Large scale mining concessions, mechanized logging pose and the conversion of land into palm oil plantation are by far the most serious threats to the rainforest of Borneo. Sumatera rainforests, also severely affected by illegal logging are particularly susceptible to the added pressures of growing local populations. The destruction of tropical forests through out the world with subsequent global climate and ecological changed, is one of the most pressing environmental concerns for today. Continued habitat loss could drive this species close to extinction within a few decades.
Orangutan means “person of forest” in Malay, it is Asia’s only great ape. They are the largest arboreal (tree dwelling) animal in the world and live a semi-solitary existence unlike the two African great apes. They are largely eating over 400 kinds of food including leaves, bark, and flowers. They will also occasionally eat insects such as termites. Orangutans are vital cogs in the working of the rainforest ecosystem, playing a crucial role as seed dispersers helping to shape and preserve tropical rainforests.
On average females do not become sexually mature until the age of 15 and usually only reproducing once every seven years. This is the longest birth interval of any mammal. In addition, a female orangutan will usually have no more three offspring during her lifetime. The combination of these factors makes the orangutans particularly vulnerable to extinction. The disappearance of orangutan can be the signal to the loss of thousand other animals and plant species.
Orangutans and other great apes including human are the most intelligent beings to have evolved on earth. As individuals, orangutans display unique and rich personalities. They also provide models for human evolution, in term of physiology and cognition. As the great ape, orangutan deserves for respect and life.
Although the orangutan is the most celebrated inhabitant of Borneo forests, the island is home to many fascinating creatures, such as; the Argus pheasant, a relative of the peacock and just a well dressed, the king cobra that can attack human, sun bear, rhinoceros hornbill, sambar deer, wide eyed tarsier, proboscis monkey, gibbon, red monkey, even rhino and many more.
Many of the island’s creatures have adapted to the condition of the life in the rainforest canopy. Some have evolved the ability to fly, or really glide, from a tree to another tree for escaping from the predators, such as; flying lizards, lemurs, squirrels, and even tree species of flying snakes. To frustrate many birds, insects have developed intricate camouflage, resembling a leaf, twig, fungus, or being poisonous.
The island’s jungle is home to animals are just plain weird; the proboscis monkey, the male which is blessed with a most peculiar and disproportionate nose, the archer fish that can bring down an insect from two meters above the surface with an accurate missile of water shoot, and a crab spider which has reached an evolutionary pinnacle of sorts-it bears a striking resemblance to a glob of bird dung.
Vegetation life includes 70 meters trees, some of them do not have branch until 30 meters, and incredible variety of exotic species including carnivorous pitcher plant, bioluminescent mushrooms, the largest flower in the world named rafflessia, and many subtly colored orchids-including the rare black orchid are found here.
KALIMANTAN TRAVEL INFORMATION
National Parks and Nature Reserves
Kalimantan has a number of nature reserves to protect its unique flora and fauna. Kersik Luway is where the very rare ‘Black Orchid’ (Colongenia Pandurata) grows, located on upper the Mahakam River, East Kalimantan. Bontang, in the regency of Kutai with an area of about 200,000 ha, has a rare flora and fauna. The Kutai National Park near Bontang is worth visiting to see scenery especially those at Beras Basah. Derawan Island is approximately 3 hours boating from Tanjung Redeb (The Capital of Berau regency). It is also a good place for water sports such as scuba diving, fishing, and swimming. Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan is the oldest conservation site of Kalimantan’s flora and fauna, it is one of the highlights of Kalimantan tours. The park is inhabited by Orangutans, Gibbon/Owa-owa, Bekantan and other primates. Also found here the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre which is supported by the Would Wildlife Fund (WWF). In West Kalimantan, Gunung Palung National Park located in the Ketapang regency is home to miscellaneous flora and fauna. The Raya Pasi Mountain located in the Singkawang regency is also an interesting place to visit for exploring the Rafflesia or giant flower. Singkawang is also a nature reserve. The forest of Sanggau is worth a visit where hot springs, lakes and caves can be found. The other nature reserves are the forests of Baning and Kelam Hill in the Sintang regency. While in Kapuas Hulu, there is the Bentang Kerihun. In South Kalimantan, there is the Kaget Island, home to a wide variety of birds and monkeys, most notably the humorous long nosed proboscis monkeys. Loksado nature reserve, to explore the primary forest combined the unique life of Bukit Dayak who unites to the nature. Riam Kanan and Kahung nature reserve for boating and trekking trip while enjoying the beauty of nature.
In East Kalimantan, Berau and Marine Tourism on Derawan island is where we can see the remains of a kingdom called the Keraton Gunung Tambur and the Keraton Sarnbaliung. Tenggarong, up the Mahakam River from Samarinda, is the capital of the Kutai regency and was once the seat of the Kutai sultanate. The Sultan’s Palace on the riverside is now a museum where historical objects from the sultanate are kept. Every 24th of September, dance and music performances are given to celebrate the town’s anniversary. Tanjung Isuy, located in East Kalimantan hinterland where a traditional Dayak longhouse has been modified into a lodge for visitors. Visitors are usually greeted by a traditional Benuaq Dayak welcome. The place can be reached through the scenic Mahakam River. At Muara Ancalong – Muara Wahau visitors can watch traditional dances of Kenyah Dayak which are performed at a longhouse. In South Kalimantan, we can find unique river civilization on floating market and Martapura River, nearby the floating market is Kembang Island home to many macaques and an old Chinese temple place for Chinese bring offerings of fresh fruit and peanuts to a tribe of aggressive macaque in hopes of being blessed with even greater prosperity. An original Betang (traditional longhouse) can be seen in Saham village, 158 km from Pontianak, West Kalimantan. The measures of this long-house are: 186 m long, 6 m wide, inhabited by 269 people. A heritage to Kaharingan religion, a sect of Animism, can be found in Bukit Rawi, small village on Central Kalimantan.
Trekking and Water Adventure
A trip along the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan offers unique riverside scenery of rare flora and fauna. Floating markets of all sizes can be found everywhere on the estuary of Barito River, Banjarmasin of South Kalimantan, with the one at the junction of the Kuin and Barito rivers is considered one of the best in the world. Market activities usually end at 9 am. The traditional village around Loksado, at the east of Kandangan, is a wonderful place to explore by trekking while the Amandit River is an excellent place for white water rafting. The first stretch, from Loksado to Muara Hatip, has rapids ranked grades I to 2 1/2. The second, from Muara Hatip to Batu Laki, includes rapids of grade 3. White-water lovers can also find satisfaction in Gohong Rawai, Central Kalimantan, known for its beautiful and challenging rapids. Many cities in Kalimantan are best explored through rivers, such as Pontianak, Samarinda, and Banjarmasin.
Beaches and Resorts
Beaches and resorts at Kumai Beach, approximately 22.5 km from Pangkalanbun in Central Kalimantan has exotic views and serves as a transit place before Tanjung Puting National Park. Pasir Panjang, 17 km from Singkawang in the Sambas regency, South Kalimantan has beautiful beaches and islands on the southernmost of the region such as Gedambaan beach with comfortable cottages are available equipped with hot spring pond. In the vicinity of Singkawang, the Gunung Poteng hill resort with its fresh air is a good place for nature lovers. In East Kalimantan, Tanah Merah Indah – Lempake recreational park has a waterfall, located about 16 km from downtown Samarinda. Kijing and Temajoh island beach resorts near Pontianak of West Kalimantan, is also a good place for diving, fishing and sailing.
All visitors to Indonesia must be in possession of passports valid for at least six months with proof of onward passage, either return or through tickets. A visa is not required for tourists visiting Indonesia for a period not more than two months. Visa on arrival is available when you arrive in International Sepinggan Airport Balikpapan (East Kalimantan). Visa charges USD. 10,-/person for 7 days and USD. 25,-/person for 30 days.
Carrying narcotics, arms and ammunition, TV sets, pornographic materials are prohibited. On entry 2 litters alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 100 gram of tobacco are allowed.
Health equipment and Medical Items
No actual vaccinations are officially required. Malaria prophylaxis is no longer recommended but visitors are advised to check with their doctors or travel immunization clinics regarding the advisability of inoculation against typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A & B.
Although we do not expect you to get sick, it is better to be prepared. We do carry a medical kit with bandages, splints and others. However, our tour guides are not permitted to dispense personal medicines to clients.
It is important if you bring a complete, personal medical and first aid kit along with a few other essential items. We suggest the following (Note: You will need to pack sharp objects in checked baggage due to tightened airline security):
Aspirin or Tylenol Band-Aids and betadine ointment
Throat lozenges and cough medicine
Cold medicine and antihistamines
Cipro – an antibiotic for indigestion
Suntan lotion 100% UV effective (25 SPF or higher)
Biodegradable soap (The blue bottles of Mountain Suds are excellent)
OB tampons (women)
Facial breathing filters
The Indonesian unit of currency is Rupiah. Banks everywhere accept notes and travelers’ checks in major world currencies. Leading international credit cards are accepted by most of the major hotels, airline offices and certain stores.
It is warm and delightfully fresh all the year round. The dry season is in mid-April to September but in the wet season is still a time of clear, sunny skies with a few sudden, tropical showers.
Bring mostly wash and wear, light cotton clothes. No synthetics, especially for underwear and socks. Take woolen coat for cold mountain region trips or late night dance performances.
Tennis shoes and sandals are the basic footwear, but bring hiking boots for trekking, the best weapon to against wet, slippery, and leeches with hard rubber soles and a high canvas top, cap and raincoat are also needed for preventing from the sun and rain.
It is a good idea to bring decent clothes, for woman, a blouse, knee length skirt and bandana/veil to visit beautiful mosques.
There are three time zones in Indonesia. Kalimantan has two of them, they are; Western Standard Time (GMT+7 hours) covering West and Central Kalimantan, while East and South Kalimantan belong to Central Standard Time (GMT + 8 hours), the other one is Eastern Standard Time (GMT + 9 hours) not belongs to any region in Kalimantan.
Palangkaraya, Margasari and Amuntai are very proud of their rattan and matting handicrafts. Travelers can buy for souvenirs of the rattan pleated bags, hats and many attractive wall decorations. The trading centre for semi-precious and precious stones is Martapura, about 35 km eastern of Banjarmasin. Jewelry shops and diamond polishers line the road, where diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, topaz, amethysts, jade, turquoise, can be found easily.