Tuked Rini, Cosmic Traveller: Life and Legend in the Heart of Borneo

$45.00 SGD

by Monica Janowski

The focus of this book is a legend that has been recited for centuries around fires in longhouses in the Kelabit Highlands, the highest inhabited place in Borneo and part of the area designated the 'Heart of Borneo’ in 2007 with WWF support. The legend relates the adventures of a powerful hero, Tuked Rini. He and his wife Aruring Menepo Boong (pictured on the front cover) are said to have led the people of a longhouse called Luun Atar long ago. While Tuked Rini led the men into battle against powerful spirits, she led the women in growing rice – the central crop nutritionally, socially and cosmologically. The Legend of Tuked Rini is used as a springboard to explore highland life, kinship and hierarchy, the significance of rice and forest products, and cosmological beliefs – all now changing rapidly under increasing influence from the world outside.


Monica Janowski is a social anthropologist who has been carrying out research in the Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak, Malaysia since 1986. She lived in the Highlands for two years from 1986–1988, with her husband Kaz and her daughter Molly. She has made many visits since then, most recently with a team of archaeologists and environmental scientists as part of the Cultured Rainforest Project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK. Her research interests are focused on the relationship between human societies and the natural environment, on the role of wild and cultivated food in structuring human kinship and hierarchy, and on cosmology. Among her recent publications are Why Cultivate? Anthropological and Archaeological Approaches to Foraging-Farming Transitions in SE Asia, which she edited with Graeme Barker (McDonald Institute 2011) and Imagining Landscapes, which she edited with Tim Ingold (Ashgate 2012).

Stephen Baya is a Kelabit artist who lives with his wife Tine and son Noah in the longhouse of Bued Main Beruh at Bario in the Kelabit Highlands. His paintings express a deep sense of what it means to be an inhabitant of the forests and mountains of the highland area. Ten of his paintings are included in the book, including that on the front cover. Five of these were commissioned by Monica Janowski for the book, and illustrate events in the Legend of Tuked Rini. The other paintings are abstract paintings containing figurative elements relating to the traditional cosmology of the people of the highlands.

Publication year: 2014
182 pp / 254mm x 203mm
richly illustrated
ISBN: 978-87-7694-130-7, Paperback
ISBN: 978-87-7694-181-9, Hardback

NIAS Press