02/06/2023 10:37 PM

By Rozlin Rusharmeen Rosmin

PADAWAN, June 2 (Bernama) -- Usually, the practice of holding open houses during the festive season is synonymous with feasts for family and friends, but in conjunction with the Gawai Day celebration, Kampung Sibakar has organised an open house for tourists to enjoy the refreshing cool waters of the waterfall in the village.

Visitors, who started gathering at Balai Raya Kampung Sibakar as early as 9 am, were greeted with Bidayuh ethnic dances accompanied by the beating of gongs before starting the trek to the Sibakar waterfall and then feasting on the festive food prepared by the villagers there after returning from a dip at noon.

According to the head of Kampung Sibakar, Siang Rant, 52, the open house programme that took place yesterday was the first to be held with the cooperation of the villagers and it was able to boost the ecotourism industry in the area which is located near the Malaysia-Indonesia border, about 65 km or drive of an hour and-a-half from Kuching city.

“By registering and paying only RM5, visitors have the option of choosing whether they want to hike for two hours using the forest road or follow a short path which is 10 minutes from the community hall and back the same way.

“For lunch, they are served open house dishes cooked by the residents here using their homegrown foods such as rice cooked in bamboo, ‘ayam pansuh’, ‘terung asam’, ‘tempoyak goreng’ and ‘sayur midin’,” he said, adding that the villagers, whose majority are ethnic Bidayuh, prepared the meal together since 7 am.

With a population of 224, Siang said the village is always visited by guests, especially from the city who are willing to brave the paved but hilly road to get there to experience the green atmosphere and serenity of the pristine Sibakar waterfall on weekends and public holidays.

He said the construction of a bridge and pedestrian lane to the Kampung Sibakar waterfall area under the Sarawak Rural Transformation (RTP) project, which was fully completed last February, made it a breeze for the public to enjoy recreation there.

The Gawai Dayak celebration in Kampung Sibakar is indeed a unique and new experience for visitors because the tradition of visiting relatives and friends or ‘ngabang’ in the Iban language and ‘nemi’ in the Bidayuh language is often associated with the festive atmosphere in a long house or village only.

For student Muhammad Izzat Muslim, 22, he initially only intended to take advantage of the public holiday with the panoramic beauty of the waterfall in Kampung Sibakar, but he did not expect to bring home a valuable experience when he made a visit there.

The Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) student, who hails from Terengganu, was inspired to go to Kampung Sibakar with his classmates after seeing a post on Facebook by one of the local residents inviting people to celebrate Gawai Day there.

“This is my second year in Sarawak and it is the first time I celebrated the Gawai festival in this kind of atmosphere because last year I was mostly in college, so this is an unforgettable experience because I was able to get up close to see the local culture with my own eyes while enjoying the beauty of nature,” said the hiking enthusiast.

Villager Marin Bakong, 48, who posted the invitation on Facebook said the programme received an overwhelming response as it managed to attract 60 visitors.

However, Marin, who is also a tour guide there, acknowledged the issue of lack of telecommunication and internet networks in most isolated villages, making it difficult for villagers to connect with outsiders and vice-versa.

Cognizant of the importance of the internet network for remote residents, notably for online learning, Puncak Borneo MP Datuk Willie Mongin, who also attended the open house, said that the Ministry of Communications and Digital has promised to solve the issue of non-functional towers in Kampung Sibakar and its surroundings such as Kampung Simuti and Kampung Sadir, by the end of this year at the latest.

In addition, he also provided an allocation for the construction of a surau room at the community hall to facilitate Muslim visitors to pray when engaging with activities at the village.

“I also gave immediate approval for RM30,000 in funds under the Mesra Rakyat Project to upgrade the multipurpose hall facilities in this village. I see that this village has the potential to be developed in terms of its ecotourism products as well as taking into account its proximity to the Indonesian border,” he said.