Location : Nanga Sumpa, Batang Ai, Lubok Antu District, Sri Aman Division, Sarawak, Malaysia.
We’d originally weeks earlier planned on a Spaya/Ukom joint seva program but when the fire incident happened in nearby Sumpa, plan B had to be enforced to the plight of the fire victims of Sumpa which is a stronghold of local tour agent Borneo Adventure. Our group consisted mainly of 18 medical students from Burmingham and Oxford University, 3 MMA doctors, 1 MAS pilot, 5 volunteers from Sai Baba & 2 from Bombastic Borneo. The biggest contingent we’ve ever participated in, 5 vehicles plus 1 truckload of donated supplies. In fact I was a little worried that too many cooks would spoil the soup. But things turned out ok.
The boat ride was more than an hour from the Hilton jetty and with the dry season and shallow water, we had to disembark a couple of times to push our perahu through.
One disabled lady died in the fire and several cases of burnt skin.
Li Yin believed these burns could be caused by the synthetic material of the shirts these villagers were wearing at that time. I talked to one of the burnt victims William ak Silong who said he lost 16 antique gongs to the fire.
He could not even enter his house due to the intensity of the heat and there was nothing he could save. The fire was just too fast, bringing the whole longhouse down in 15 minutes! 23 units and one closeby separate unit perished. William said that the fire started from the chief’s kitchen and it had happened 4 times before and this time it was the last straw. Sumpa folks will have to start rebuilding soon but the dilemma will be between a ‘traditional wooden’ or a concrete one which will not catch fire. Tourism money has always been good here. In fact the best compared to all the other longhouses. It will be a very tough decision to make. To make tourists happy or to protect themselves? To take the middle path, some very drastic architectural change in the way they design their longhouses will have to take place. Perhaps, Sarawak’s universities should step in to encourage their architecture students to come up with a design to minimize losses due to fire and at the same time maintaining that Iban traditional features. Challenging but not impossible.
Sumpa longhouse before burnt
Community service / Seva