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Niah National Park

Rumah Libau (Chang)

This relatively short detour off the boardwalk takes you to a lively Iban longhouse community, located just outside the National Park boundary,not far from the Great Cave.

Niah NP
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> Boardwalk to the Caves
> The Great Cave
> The Painted Cave
> Rumah Libau
> Bukit Kasut
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> Bako NP
> Gunung Gading NP
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At a Glance

Difficulty
3/10
Distance
Scenic value
6/10
Walking Time
20-30 minutes from first turnoff, 10-15 minutes back to the Boardwalk Trail by the bridge.
Flora & Fauna
5/10
Trail Markings
None - boardwalk
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Trail Description

Note: This trail description leads on from the first turnoff described on the Boardwalk to the Great Cave.

The boardwalk initially passes through some very scrubby disturbed secondary forest, dense with creepers and undergrowth, and very few tall trees. It then leads into slightly more open swampy areas, with occasional limestone outcrops and large fig trees (some of which appear to be attempting to strangle the rocks!). Pretty begonias grow on the limestone - they are a limestone specific species.

The boardwalk passes in and out of disturbed secondary forest and swampy riverine forest. In the secondary forest macarangas and wild raspberries are common. In the swampy patches, there are some large, long-stalked and broad-leafed palms, some bearing massive bunches of fruit. These are aping (Arenga undulatifolia).

Aping is a type of wild sago palm (but it does not actually produce sago). The Iban use the leaf spines to make blowpipe darts, and the stems are used for making baskets and fishtraps. The cabbage can also be eaten.

After about 25 minutes, the boardwalk gradually climbs a small rise, with a remnant patch of mixed dipterocarp forest, and some beautiful big trees. The forest floor is much more open, and the area is a striking contrast to the low, overgrown scrubby patches of disturbed forest.

The boardwalk then returns to lower swampy ground for perhaps 10 minutes, before reaching a T junction, in the middle of tall pandanus fronds. Rumah Libau is only about 100m along the trail to the left, across a small creek (which provides the washing and cleaning water for the village). It's hard to miss - you will lready have heard the squealing of playing children and the thumping of Iban pop music from stereos from some way off.)

The name Rumah Libau is a relatively recent name for the longhouse community: Iban longhouses take their name from the current Tuai Rumah (Headman), and when the Tuai Rumah dies and is replaced, the name also changes. (This custom makes map making in Sarawak a nightmare.) In mid-2003 the old Tuai Rumah passed away, and a new one was selected, so the community previously called Rumah Chang is now Rumah Libau.

Rumah Libau is a lot more than "a longhouse" - it is in fact a large community with a school and soccer field, and numerous outlying buildings. But the heart of the community is still the two impressive wooden longhouses running parallel to each other. Although now enjoying electricity, phone lines and satellite TV, the fundamentals are still very much traditional. Each longhouse has the long enclosed public verandah (the ruai), where public events and celebrations take place, and where guests are entertained. Behind the ruai is the row of bilik (or "rooms"), the apartments in which the longhouse families live. The placement of the bilik is not random, and depends on status and relationships to others in the longhouse (for example, the Tuai Rumah is usually located near the centre; and a non-family-memeber will not be placed between two brothers). Underneath the lonhouses (along with the parked cars), are fighting roosters in cages or on tethers, and hens scratching in the dust, and the ubiquitous village dogs.

The best way to visit a longhouse community is with someone from the longhouse, rather than just showing up (although people at Rumah Libau are used to tourists dropping by). You might be able to hire one of the guards in the Great Cave to take you - many of them are from Rumah Libau.

There are two options for returning to the Boardwalk Trail. The first is to go back the way you came. The second follows the old trail to the longhouse, which meets with the main Boardwalk Trail at the bridge (ie much closer to the Great Cave). Instead of turning back right down the boardwalk at the T junction, continue straight ahead. The boardwalk on this trail is in very poor condition in many places. If it is dry, it is probably easier and safer to walk on the ground next to it. The trail passes through some stands of large pandan, and then into older secondary forest, with some nice trees. It only takes about 10 minutes to reach the bridge and junction with the Main Boardwalk.

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Special Considerations

Be very careful on the old boardwalk back from Rumah Libau to the bridge - it is old and unstable in parts. Consider walking beside it instead.

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