Book: Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O'Hanlon

Late twentieth-century British adventurers travel into central Borneo

Redmond O'Hanlon
Into the Heart of Borneo
Vintage, 1987
ISBN: 0-394-75540-5
183 pages (main text)

I'm used to the idea of British people from a while ago deciding to go somewhere that's very uncomfortable and dangerous to them just for fun and then writing books about it. But I thought that they had pretty much gotten out of that habit around the beginning of the twentieth century. It seems that at least two of them didn't. Redmond O'Hanlon, a naturalist, and James Fenton, a poet, went on a trip into central Borneo in 1983.

For those Americans who are as geographically ignorant as I am, Borneo is a large island of around 300,000 square miles which is about 500 miles southeast of Vietnam across the South China Sea. It sits in the middle of the Malaysian and Indonesian archipelagos. About three-quarters of it belongs to Malaysia, about one-quarter to Indonesia, and a tiny portion is the sultanate of Brunei.

Messrs O'Hanlon and Fenton arrive on the Malaysian side, at the city of Kuching. They then travel relatively comfortably by water a few hundred miles across a bay and upriver to Sibu and then to Kapit. From there, the real journey begins.

The local authorities find them three charming and indefatigable local guides, Leon, Dana, and Inghai, and they begin an arduous journey upriver in a native boat. Eventually they get a bit beyond the Indonesian border and climb a good-sized mountain. They return to Kapit and make a rather less arduous journey up a different river where the locals have somewhat different customs.

There's nothing very remarkable about the trip except that they made it. There are the expected leeches, whirlpools in the river, and near-death experiences, but no species found that were previously thought extinct or encounters with hostile headhunters. Still, as a record of a difficult journey to an exotic place, the book holds it own. And there are some entertainingly comic moments.

Posted: Fri - September 1, 2006 at 06:07 PM   Main   Category: