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Vanishing Act of a Much-Fabled Lake

Twice a year, the lake dries up completely

Twice a year, the lake dries up completely.

By Jacqueline Raphael

LOAGAN BUNUT: Twice a year, the largest lake in Sarawak vanishes. For two to three weeks each year, it becomes so dry that you can drive on the cracked mud. This phenomenon usually occurs in February, in May or June.

Then comes a startling resurrection. Raging floodwaters from the Baram River, Sungai Bunut (a tributary of Sungai Teru) and Batang Tinjar fill it to the brim, and once again it teems with life.

Environmentalists view the 650-hectare lake as a must-see in Sarawak. A steady stream of tourists are heading that way. Many are bird watchers hoping to catch a glimpse of the mind-boggling variety of water birds.

Seasoned bird watchers never fail to marvel at the large numbers of darters, bitterns, egrets, herons, hornbills and kites. The park comes alive in the morning with the plaintive moan of gibbons.

The lakeside scenery is perfect for photography. Photographers never miss the opportunity to shoot spectacular sunsets.

To get to Loagan Bunut National Park, you need to travel about 100 km southeast from Miri. Gazetted as a national park eleven years ago, its boundary is marked by Batang Tinjar on the northwest, Sungai Teru on the east, and a cut-line boundary of 1.22 km on the south.

The ‘salong’ or log crypts have remained upright for centuries

The ‘salong’ or log crypts have remained upright for centuries.

The lake is the centrepiece, and the park is a wetland paradise. About 94 per cent of the total area is covered by wetlands, with low-gradient hills accounting for the balance, especially towards the southern tip.

As elsewhere in Borneo, local legends abound. A native narrated that before the formation of the lake, the location was occupied by a Berawan longhouse. As part of the Bruneian sultanate, as was a large swathe of Sarawak back then, the locals had to pay a monthly tribute.

One day, when the tax collectors arrived, villagers had nothing to offer them. But the headman promised that he would collect it and send it to the Sultan. Since they were too poor to pay the tax, a villager suggested they send a slaughtered wild boar. That, he figured, would put an end to the demands for tax. The boar was duly offered, wrapped in yellow cloth.

The headman who presented it, left instructions that the Sultan should open it only in the bedroom. On seeing what it was, he was incensed, and cursed the village with a wild boar stampede. Not long after that, the village came under a mysterious attack by a large horde of wild boar. The attack lasted the entire day, and the village was totally destroyed. The trampling by hundreds of hooves left their mark. Soon, the ground turned muddy. As days went by, water from Sungai Bunut flowed in, gradually turning it into a lake.

It was said that pythons, deer and crocodiles helped the Berawans defend the village. To this day, the tribesmen do not hunt these wildlife.

Today, the lake reaches to a depth of three metres. Southwest of the mouth of Sungai Bunut river, about a five-minute boat ride from the national park, is Pulau Tengah.

This is an ancient Berawan burial ground. According to a resident there, only five noble Berawan families are buried there. For the Berawans, aristocrats are provided with special burial grounds.

Another attraction at Loagan Bunut National Park is the ‘Salong’, an ancient tomb containing the remains of a couple who were exiled by the Brunei Sultanate.

Local folklore claim that the aristocratic couple had travelled from Brunei to live among the Berawans at Loagan Bunut.


SECRET HIDEAWAY...lakeside private lodge beckons eco-tourists

SECRET HIDEAWAY...lakeside private lodge beckons eco-tourists


They were apparently from a noble family, and had been exiled for an undisclosed reason. The childless couple pledged to make Loagan Bunut their new home, and never to return to Brunei. Their generosity won over the locals. When they died, they were buried with much ceremony, and on a specially-selected site. Their tombs were two hollowed-out tree trunks.

Today, on a boat ride about three minutes from the National Park, you will not fail to notice the tombs. Scattered on the ground are fragments of bowls and plates, apparently used in ritual worship by the Berawans.

Today, the site has been transformed into a lakeside resort. The self-contained resort promises visitors quality services.

Peeking out of the verdant site are an administration block, chalets, a hostel, staff quarters, barracks, boathouse, a water treatment plant, jetty, a day shelter, plankwalks, and a seven-km tar-sealed road.

The national park shall be open to public only after construction works are completed.

In the meantime, visitors wishing to become better acquainted with the wildlife at Loagan Bunut could arrange to lodge at nearby Iban, Berawan or Penan longhouses under a homestay programme.

Get to watch the Berawans use a unique method to catch fish during the low-water period. It will be an experience you’re not likely to forget.

It’s amazing: the burial grounds for an unknown Bruneian aristocratic couple is breathing life into eco-tourism in this remote part of Sarawak.

SOURCE: Borneo Post

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