Living with the Village People


No, not those village people.

Last week a girl I’d met at the lodge told me about a tour she was doing – a 5.5 hour trek up a mountain and two nights living in a Bidayuh village. There was one space left, so I signed up, although with more than a touch of trepidation as I’d never hiked in my life and Cambridge isn’t really known for its steep ascents. I was pretty confident I was going to die.

The actual hike up the mountain wasn’t as harrowing as I’d thought. But it was still bloody hard work – I didn’t know you could sweat from your shins. The views were incredible and there was excitement with the thin bamboo poles acting as bridges high above the rivers – a little scary, but we all made it in one piece.

During the couple of days we spent there, we got up to climb above the village to watch the sun rise over the clouds below us.


My photos really don’t portray quite how stunning it was. We then hiked to a waterfall and spent the day swimming, God, it was glorious. We actually got goosebumps because we were cold.

We also got to meet some of the prominent village ladies, who wear traditional dress and arm/leg rings to show their beauty. They showed us how to do their traditional dancing, which basically involved shuffling round in a circle with our arms held out.

The Bidayuh people living in the village are soon to be relocated, as a dam being built at the bottom of the mountain will flood, meaning access to the village will be impossible. That sounds awful, right? For generations this tribe has lived in the same village, hunting and growing crops up on the mountainside and their deceased relatives are buried nearby. And now they’re forced to leave and live in a completely new environment.

But when you speak to the people, they’re mostly glad for the change. Anything that want or need has to be carried up the mountain. On our way back down we saw a guy lugging a wooden TV unit up past us. If someone gets sick, or injured, they have to be carried down the mountain. The flying doctors only come for pregnant women about to pop, so if you break your leg or cut open your head you have a 4 hour hike, then a 45 minute drive before you can get to a hospital.

Plus, I imagine they won’t have nosey tourists coming to stay in their village and take photos of their children. That must be a bonus too, although they were too polite to say so.


2 thoughts on “Living with the Village People

  1. Hmmm… globalisation is always a tricky issue. It normally means that Eskimos learn how to use iphones, rather than the rest of us learning the richness of their folklore and native language. Thankfully, from the sound of it, the Bidayuh won’t be suffering from *too* much culture shock (if they’re already lugging TV units up the mountain).

    • They’ve also been corrupted by those pesky Christians already – they went with Christianity because it’s cheaper to dispose of their dead that way! But they sort of mix it in with some of their traditional spiritual beliefs. Quite interesting.

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