Borneo: Land of hospitality, old practiced culture, and orangutans

Brothers bring Borneo stories to life


So you are graduating from Sparta High School; what do you do next?  For the Brohmer brothers; Rick, class of 1975, James and Dennis, both class of 1977, it was into the United States Marine Corps.  By pure chance, all three served together at the Marine Corps Air Station in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. All were promoted to Sergeant and then ended their time in the Corps, but “Once a Marine, always a Marine … Semper Fidelas (Always Faithful).”  Eventually, the brothers settled in different parts of the world. Dennis ended up in the Green Bay area, James in Las Barillas, Mexico and Rick settled halfway around the world on the island of Borneo, in Indonesia.  Rick, now retired, was the Vice President of DSG Asia Operations, a leading provider of innovative technology solutions and data management services for the global clinical research community.

         Borneo is the third largest island in the world behind Australia and Greenland.  It sits on the equator, so temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees, with 100% humidity.  On the offer to visit Borneo, Dennis and his wife Jill travelled 9,700 miles and through 12 time zones to visit Rick and his wife Paulina for three weeks packed with adventures. The people of Borneo are extremely gracious, kind and hospitable. Seeing an American was quite a treat for them, so Dennis and Jill found themselves being constantly photographed and asked for selfies. Their trip even included being invited to an Indonesian wedding, with the traditional sip of rice whiskey before the ceremony.

In the city of Putussibau, the travelers met the last known female in Borneo who still wears the long stretched ears and ornamental tattoos on her arms. She is the last of her people, “Dayak Taman”, who have practiced this tradition for over a thousand years. They called her Grandma Buua. She is flown by the government to many Indonesian schools, universities and city governments so that they can witness a part of their history that soon will be gone. 

On another adventure they visited the Dayak Taman people, who live in a Long House that was built over 106 years ago. One long house was over 900 feet long and there were 360 family members living in it. Family is very important to them, and in keeping with Indonesian hospitality, they welcomed the Brohmers into their home. The kitchen area still used wood to cook with. They sit and sleep on weaved mats, with no real furniture to speak of in the house. To get to the longhouse you have to cross a wooden foot bridge that is over 300 feet long and stretches across the Kapuas River. The inhabitants of the longhouse use the river as a source of water, and they bath in it twice a day. Even those inhabitants in their late 70s still trek up and down the log ladder to shower in the river. A school and a clinic cover the two different long houses, and also the scattered houses in the local area.

Within a ½ mile from where Rick lives is the equator. Dennis was able to straddle the equator with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and one foot in the Southern Hemisphere. Both Jill & Dennis received certificates of crossing the equator. He is now the third brother to cross the equator.

The highlight of the trip was a 17-hour bus ride to where civilization stopped and the jungle began. From there it was a 2-hour fast boat ride into the jungle to the see the Tanjen Puting National Park, which is the largest park in the world for orangutans in the wild. Orangutan means, “People of the Forest.” While traveling up river in the fast boat to visit the orangutans, two monkeys jumped over the bow of the boat to cross the river. They know the noise of boat motor would make the crocodiles go to the river bottom and it is the safest time to streak across the river and not to be killed.  After the river adventure, it was a 90-minute walk into the jungle, at 100% humidity … not for the faint of heart. The jungle is not a zoo, but a wild habitat for native animals. A U.S. park ranger once said, “The animals are not tame, they just tolerate us.” Some of these species will attack and eat humans, so great care was taken while negotiating the jungle trails. Besides the orangutans, there are crocodiles, various species of monkeys, rather large snakes and komodo dragons. The komodo dragons live primarily on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motang.

In the National Park, the group encountered 30 orangutans, and it was up close and personal as the orangutans passed within three feet of the jungle trekkers. Dennis said, “The most astonishing experience of being with Orangutans is looking at them and them looking at us. When eye contact was made, it was obvious that they were evaluating and measuring us to determine whether we were or were not a threat. We kept our distance allowing the orangutans to set the limit as to how close were going to get to them.  It was an amazing experience very few Americans will ever have the opportunity to experience.” 

Monroe County Herald, Borneo, Thursday, front page, John Gessner


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