It’s always polite for you to bring gifts to your hosts’ house, but when you are visiting a Sarawak longhouse just make sure it’s something that’s easily shared, as longhouses are usually communal, and nearly everything will get divvied up into equal parts. This isn’t always an easy task: typically, longhouses are commonly home to around 150 people and contain at least thirty family apartments, each one’s front door opening on to the common gallery, hence the tag “a thirty-door longhouse” to describe the size.

Many longhouses members do enjoy stunning locations, usually in a clearing next to a river, so you’ll probably have to travel to yours in a longboat that wanders between the jungle-draped banks, dodging logs being floated downstream to the timber yards. Look carefully as you’ll see that spots of neighborhood that have been cultivated with black pepper vines, rubber and fruit trees, plus the occasional square of paddy, all of which are crucial to longhouse economies.

Having first met with the chief of your longhouse, you will climb the notched tree trunk that serves as a staircase that led into the stilted wooden structure and enter the common area, or ruai, a wide gallery that comprises the entire length of the building and is the focus of community social life. You can expect most things to happen here – the meeting and greeting, the giving and sharing of gifts, the gossip, and the partying.

Finally, after everybody is exhausted, you may hit the sack – either on a straw mat right there on the ruai, or in a guest lodge next door.

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