To the untrained eye, Mendaram Besar might just be another village located deep in the rural area of Belait District. Still, as with the other rural villages and mukims in Belait District, it also has its fair share of stories, legends, and generation-old cultures.
One centre that is home to countless stories and legends is Mendaram Besar Longhouse, nestling beside the road from Kampong Labi to Teraja Longhouse.
As a traditional dwelling of villagers who have lived in the area for generations, longhouses such as the one in Mendaram Besar have served as residential and communal hubs.
Mendaram Besar Longhouse Head Berandi Anak Jamau shared about the longhouse’s history and culture with the Bulletin.
Asked about the name of the village, which not only include Mendaram Besar but also neighbouring Mendaram Kehcil.
He said: “The word ‘Mendaram’ means the presence of a lot of mosquitoes in an area.
People back then associated being stung by mosquitoes with being rubbed with salt (garam), which slowly changed over time to mendaram.”
Recalling the early days, Berandi said the area where the longhouse now sits used to be an open field. It was built by residents using wood logged from the surrounding area in 1970.
“Each plank was hand-picked from wood obtained from trees in the surrounding area and crafted to make the walls and floors of the longhouse. It took two years for the long house to be completed and we moved in (to Mendaram Besar Longhouse) in 1972.”
He said each tree was logged by residents who settled in the area. The descendants now carry on the tradition in modern times with 11 doors or (pintu), each door representing a household living at the long house.
Berandi said longhouse residents commuted by boat using the Belait River, which meanders through rural Belait, before the road was constructed to connect the area to the rest of the district.
“Back then, we did not have easy access to boat engines, so we hitchhiked to get to our destination -Mendaram Besar Longhouse. At best, it took a day to get to our longhouse as we also had to consider the changing river tides,” he said.
Berandi added that the river represents a lifeline for the community. “In the past, the Belait River was one of the main sources of water, in addition to water acquired from rainfall,” he said.
With the additions of modern roads, he said, “We are now more connected with the rest of the district and less travel time compared to the past. Additionally, the quality of life has improved with the availability of electricity, telephone, TV, and more that many take for granted. These helped to close the gap.”
These improvements have also created better access to the longhouse, opening doors to those wanting to experience diverse cultures and traditions.
It has led to initiatives made in the tourism sector to further showcase and highlight the diverse cultures and traditions in the Belait District such as the Belait Destination Package, led by the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism.
“Before COVID-19, Mendaram Besar Longhouse served as one of the main hubs for tourism activities in rural Belait including offering guided expeditions and tours into the rainforests using our knowledge and expertise to safely navigate the many waterfalls in the area.”
Other activities at the longhouse include showcasing the handicraft made by longhouse residents to homestays.
While the global pandemic has slowed down activities, the advent of the staycation coupled with the relaxing of restrictions in the endemic phase means Mendaram Besar has been able to bounce back as the longhouse welcomes visitors to experience its culture and traditions while giving them a glimpse into the lush rainforest of rural Belait.
“While other rural areas in Tutong and Temburong might have similar environments and resources, it is the stories told that are different. The cultures, history, tradition and values, are what people can experience when visiting Mendaram Besar Longhouse.”