The town of Bario, located on the northern part of Sarawak, is not only the home of Kelabit and Penan tribes (both belonging to the Orang Ulu ethnic group) but also the source of exotic food and crafts. Located at the altitude of 3,280 metres above sea level, Bario is blessed with cool weather with temperatures that could go down as low as 11° Celsius. It has 14 villages with the population of 2,000 people.
The name Bario is a combination of the words ‘Ba’ and ‘Rio’. ‘Ba’ means paddy field, while ‘Rio’ means wind. The majority of residents in Bario is of Kelabit descent, formerly known as headhunters and warriors in the past but now successful planters and farmers. Gaya Travel team had the opportunity to visit the town to attend the Nukenen Fest, which has been organised annually since 2005.Nukenen means food in Kelabit. It was relatively small when it first began but now it has become larger, made popular with the fact that visitors could get the chance to savour the famous Bario rice and pineapple during the festival while taking in the wonderful highland setting.
This year, the festival had grown larger in scale and included jungle-trekking packages, historical site visits and longhouse homestay experience. It attracted visitors not just from Malaysia but also as far Japan, England, Australia and Denmark. All visitors were pleasantly surprised to find that the local food that they savoured not only cooked traditionally albeit using wooden stove, but also served on leaves and bamboos, making the entire experience refreshingly eco-friendly. Fish, venison and other hunted animals were also cooked in the mixture of various ingredients indigenous to Bario.During Nukenen Fest, various products – from crops to wild products to Orang Ulu crafts – were exhibited and sold at the E-Bario Telecentre beginning from the 1st until the 4th of July 2011.
Friends Alice Ngaang, 45, Sina Nuuh, 60 and Sina Mekakatu, 75, from Kampung Ulong Palang, sold all sorts of Kelabit traditional delicacies such as pickles, pucuk labu, bayam hutan, tengayen (a sort of wild plant that can only be found in the highlands), umbut rumbia and tepus (a type of root belonging to the ginger family that is cooked in bamboo and wrapped in leaves).“Our income is not that much when divided among the three of us but what’s important is our satisfaction in promoting our exotic food to the tourists,” said Alice.For Penan ethnic, Helda Melai, 28, along with her aunt, Uding Laweng, 60, her uncle, No’ Balan, 60, and her cousin, Santi Opok, 20, from the village of Pa’Tik, travelled on foot to Bario for two days just to participate in the fest.
There were also handmade beads – the ethnic pride of Kelabit – selling up to RM1,000 per string, depending on the quality of the beads and length of time spent making them. On the same note, the Penan handicrafts – mostly made out of bamboos and rattans that are turned into bracelets, anklets, baskets and sumpit (blowpipe) – sold for as low as RM1 for bracelets and up to RM900 for a used sumpit. According to No’Balan, the used sumpit was more expensive compared to the new ones that sell for RM600 because the former successfully killed dozens of hunted animals thus become valuable to the Penan community as an enabler of sustenance.Newly wedded Australian couple from Melbourne, Adi Diner, 29 and Sheryl Cardozo, 39, made Bario their honeymoon destination since they love being surrounded with lush greenery and the opportunity to savour various exotic delicacies.“We knew about the fest from the internet and instantly decided to come here. This is our first experience in Bario and we enjoy savouring the exotic delicacies that are on offer during the fest,” confessed Adi.David Obsorne, 28, a tourist from England, also thought that the event was truly unique and interesting since tourists can simply witness the beauty of nature by partaking in jungle-trekking to observe wildlife and tasting the exotic delicacies served during Nukunen Fest.