Bung Jagoi: A village with only one resident

Jema ak Nopis is the only resident in Bung Jagoi village. She lives there for a variety of reasons, chief of which seems to be that she has a house up there and none below in the valley. -- PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG
Jema ak Nopis is the only resident in Bung Jagoi village. She lives there for a variety of reasons, chief of which seems to be that she has a house up there and none below in the valley. -- PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG
The baruk, or a traditional ceremonial house in Bung Jagoi village. - PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG
The baruk, or a traditional ceremonial house in Bung Jagoi village. - PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG
The springy bamboo pathway through the abandoned village - PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG
The springy bamboo pathway through the abandoned village - PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG

The story of Bung Jagoi is one that is so common, yet so intriguingly unique.

Bung Jagoi is the remnants of a once-thriving village on Jagoi mountain, about an hour from Sarawak’s capital Kuching.

There are now just empty houses there, and only one resident, after the people migrated downhill to more convenient locations.

Sarawak has a long history of people living in areas that would be regarded as inaccessible today because they are far from the settled coasts.

But Bung Jagoi is different because the old village still survives intact. Its one resident, Jema ak Nopis, stays there for a variety of reasons, chief of which seems to be that she has a house up there and none below in the valley.

Her lone presence on the mountaintop intrigues many people who have taken the steep walk to meet her. It’s a pleasant walk up on a good trail under a shady forest canopy.

I first visited her some years ago, together with several Sarawakian friends, out of curiosity. We found Jema to be friendly although perhaps, somewhat bored of telling her story.

It was only much later that I learnt the story of the work being done to restore and preserve the old village by the descendants of the people who had first lived there.

The effort taken is impressive, especially since there is really no need for anyone to maintain the empty village or the steep path there, let alone improve it. Some villagers do go back to tend to their fruit trees but otherwise, hardly anyone takes the 45-minute walk up there.

Still, the people had sought grants from various organisations to keep the village as it had always been, as far as possible. Neglect has left its inevitable mark but by and large, it is in good shape.

The people have built steps on part of the trail which is kept so clean that it can rival any national park. Resting places have been built along the way, including one by a spring where people can refill their water bottle.

Many signboards have also been put up, and new amenities built such as the village’s new baruk or ceremonial house for the skulls obtained in the head-hunting days of old.

It’s an impressive effort in this era of a throw-away culture.

Thanks to the energetic people, the story of the Jagoi people remains well known, and their centuries-old culture stays relevant.