The Exotic Birds of Borneo

Brahminy kite
   In the largely untouched rain forest of Borneo, the relationship between birds and men continues in a pattern set over centuries. Bornean mythology is full of bird gods, like the hornbill, whose stylized form appears in the icons of war. The Brahminy kite has strong magical powers for Dayaks; should it perch on the peak of one of their long houses, all in it are doomed. So respectful of it are they that one Dayak tribe, the Ibans, extends its powers to seven other birds that they mistakenly consider to be its in-laws—totally unrelated species like the scarlet-rumped trogon and the rufous piculet, whose behavior they observe carefully before making any important decisions. For the Kelabit tribe, which lives in the interior of Sarawak and has no calen­dar, the year begins with the arrival of the migratory yellow wagtail.
   Bornean trade began with avian products. Cen­turies before Christ, Chinese traders were carrying glass beads and iron implements to the islands in exchange for hornbill ivory, ornamental feathers and edible birds' nests—the basis of birds' nest soup. The collection of these nests, produced by swifts, continues as an important industry today.