Writing Without Words – A Lesson in Communication from Tribes in Borneo

I'm wide eyed, nervous, and alone for six weeks in a remote jungle village where only two tribal inhabitants speak fluent English. I stand opposite Rickson Richard. Between us are two upright sticks and a pile of leaves, which Rickson organises in a 'V' shape as diligently as if this is an arrangement of flowers. He points at the layout. 'We've gone that way. You wait here,' he says. He touches a small twig which rests horizontally on one of the sticks. 'It means they're coming back.' I'm shocked but intrigued, and if the word tribe didn't conjure in my mind an expectation for mystique and unexpected discoveries, perhaps I wouldn't have believed it: this simple layout of wood and plants translates into a sentence. I've just been taught an ancient, fading language known as Oroo'.