Pleasant surprise at Fort Lio Mato as villagers work together to keep it in shape (Travelogue Day 3)

(From left) Colin, Tingang, and Emilie pose for a photo outside of Fort Lio Mato.

By D’Drift Team

BARAM, Mar 24: After having breakfast at our homestay for the night, Wedgwood Inn, and exchanging well wishes with its manager Edward Erang, we left Long San at around 8.30am and continued D’Drift Team’s journey to hunt for Fort Lio Mato.

To get to the fort, one needs to pass by plenty of villages, such as Long San/Long Akah, Long Selatong and Tanjung Tepalit, Long Selaan, Long Semiyang, and Long Tungan.

And of course, we had to reach Kampung Lio Mato first.

A faded signboard shows the way to the surrounding villages and Fort Lio Mato.

After a journey of three hours, we finally saw the signboard that points to Kampung Lio Mato and Fort Lio Mato. And even so, it was another journey of three kilometres to Kampung Lio Mato.

Kampung Lio Mato, where it’s quiet and residents are welcoming

Kampung Lio Mato is a quaint village where the fort gets its namesake. Once we entered the village, it was as if we had been transported into a movie set of a quiet and peaceful town.

The houses were scattered across the small valley, by the Baram River, surrounded by lush jungles. These houses, each having their own unique design and style, were bathing under the sun as if part of the grand nature.

One can tell the efforts the villagers put in to make Kampung Lio Mato scenic just by looking at the bridge leading to it.

To enhance safety, used tyres were piled up on each side of the road leading to the bridge. The awkward, black, ugly and used tyres were coloured in yellow and white, giving them an earth hue that somehow, blended with the general scenery.

The bridge that spans River Baram.

While we were admiring the houses that exude friendliness and coziness, we came to one where a group of villagers gathered under its shade, relaxing and chitchatting. They greeted with bright smiles and warm welcome and hence, there was no hesitation on our side to approach them to ask for the direction to Fort Lio Mato.

They happily pointed it out to us. But after a few minutes of trying to explain to us, one of them, by the name Colin Tingang, 40, decided to guide us on his motorbike.

We passed by a few landmark buildings of Kampung Lio Mato – Lio Mato church, Lio Mato health clinic, and Lio Mato kindergarten before we reached Fort Lio Mato.

Fort Lio Mato.

Fort Lio Mato, ancient but well-maintained

The two-storey Fort Lio Mato somehow resembles Fort Long Akah, with its white-washed wall and rectangular box shape design.

Knowing that we hoped to take a peep on the interior of the Fort, being kind and friendly, Colin notified his relatives, Tingang Gelung, 50, and Emilie Apoi, 49, a senior couple who have been the main caretakers of the historical Fort.

After unlocking the door, Tingang, Emilie, and Colin gladly showed us around inside and shared some parts of Fort Lio Mato’s history with us.

“According to my memory, the fort was used as a place to prevent enemies entering from the Indonesian border.

“It was also used as a trading centre where the locals conducted barter trade of their jungle produce with traders appointed by the government,” Tingang said.

One unique feature of Fort Lio Mato is a jail cell that is located underneath the staircase. What was even stranger was that when the Fort was guarded by an assistant no so long ago, the jail cell was actually used to keep some juveniles who tried to break into the Fort and caused troubles.  Such practice however, stopped following the passing of the assistant.

“Sometimes kids will break into the Fort so I had to nail the doors shut here,” said Tingang.

Fort Lio Mato is still relatively well-maintained.

Fort Lio Mato was built by the British before the independence to defend the Lio Mato settlement in general. During the Confrontation in 1963, it was again used to defend the newly formed Malaysia against the intruding Indonesian troops.

Forts of similar design are also found along the Baram river. They are in Marudi, Long Lama, Long Akah (downstream of Lio Mato) and Long Bangga (upstream of Lio Mato).

Lio Mato, the land of hundreds of islands

Our story on Fort Lio Mato did not stop here.

After visiting the Fort, Tingang and Emilie were so kind as to invite us to their home for a chat and lunch. We sat down with their family and was introduced to one of their relatives by the name Ungau Njau, 70, who shared the interesting folklores handed down from their ancestors.

Ungau told the folklore of a giant by the name Alan who lost his toddler son when crossing the Baram river.

Standing in the river where the water level only reached his waist, Alan dug and dredge the river with his giant hands, searching frantically for his lost son. Where mud from riverbed accumulated, mounds were formed, which later became islands.

Following Alan’s frenzy search for his son, many mounds were created and many islands came into being. Lio Mato, literally means “hundreds of islands”.

The sad story of Alan the Giant, the historical fort, the whole-heartedly prepared lunch and the kind hospitality of the villagers had made today special.  It was a day of sweet surprises –  invitation to a warm meal, fun company and a sad but worthwhile story for us to share with our readers.

Today was the second day of our trip.  The kindness and acceptance we felt from the villagers somehow made us feel rejuvenated and refreshed, and we regained our strength to continue our journey in search for the next destination — Fort Hose which is also in Baram. — DayakDaily