Modang - Settlements



Modang villages ( ekung. ) are located on high river banks, usually near the confluence of a major river with a stream. Longhouses ( min ) of three to six apartments or individual houses ( msow ) linked by plankways are built in rows ( telsong min ) parallel to the river course; the ridge beam follows the upstream-downstream orientation. The rows of houses are situated on both sides of a central street ( lan ). They correspond to the two named moieties of the village: dya' min, the row of houses closer to the river bank, and lon min, the row of houses farther inland. The village as a unit has a territory ( lenih ekung ), where all households are allowed to farm. Villages range from 200 to 600 inhabitants. In the Mahakam area, the politically dominant Long Gelat are sharing multiethnic villages with vassal Busang groups. Within the village territory, settlements used to shift every ten or fifteen years in response to inauspicious omens, deaths, or bad dreams; this is no longer the case. Because population density is very low, the swidden system operates fairly well.

Among central Borneo peoples, the Modang have a distinctive house type (msow). It is built with a strong ironwood structure on two vertical levels: a low platform ( sun tah ) and living quarters ( maè msow ), linked by stairs or a notched log ( hesien ). The same principle is applied to the different buildings: longhouse, individual house, the chief's great house, and even farmhouses. The platform has the same uses as the gallery in Kayan-Kenyan-Bahau longhouses: economic activities and ritual and leisure space. In the past (nineteenth century) , houses were very high, 8 or 9 meters above the ground, for defensive reasons. Households of neighboring houses (or longhouse apartments) are related by ties of kinship; according to the Modang's conception, they cannot be separated by nonkin (see "Kin Groups and Descent").


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