Experienced the history, tradition, lifestyles and architecture of the
indigenous people of Sarawak. Spend the night in a traditional longhouse
build with axe hewn timber, tied with creeper fiber, roofed with leaf
thatch. The joyous atmosphere of the longhouse will sweep you away with
drums and gongs, Pua weaving, Kuih jala (a traditional dessert), tuak
(rice wine), hanging skulls carrying tales of headhunting days gone by.
|Sarawak's indigenous people have traditional way of living.
The Iban race, once known as Sea Dayaks, built their
longhouses to last fifteen to twenty years, or, until the farm land
in the surrounding area was exhausted. Then they packed up their
goods and chattels and moved inland, upriver, along the coast, wherever
fresh farm lands looked promising. About one-third of all Sarawakians
are Iban; while some of them live in towns or individual houses,
a large number still prefer longhouses.
A traditional longhouse is built of axe-hewn timber, tied with
creeper fibre, roofed with leaf thatch. It is nearly always built
by the bank of a navigable river, and the visitor approaches it
from the boat jetty. He climbs up a notched log that serves as a
staircase and finds himself on the open verandah face to face with
a scene of community and domestic activity. The long covered gallery
that runs the length of an Iban longhouse is called the Ruai. This
is where guest are usually greeted.
Several doorways lead from the outer to the inner verandah under
the roof. This is the village street of the longhouse; the individual
family rooms or doors front the common walkway. A casual
visitor is invited to sit down on a mat here for a chat with the
longhouse elder; family members enter through their relatives' doors
and make themselves at home.
The Bidayuhs, known as the land Dayaks, account for more than
8% of Sarawaks population, comprising of the Jagoi, Biatah,
Bukar-Sadong, Selakau and Lara peoples of West Sarawak. They primarily
live near the Sarawak and Sadong rivers. They built their houses
in mountain fastnesses, tacked to a steep limestone hillside like
a gigantic staircase. This was partly for protection against marauding
enemies, partly for access to pure, fresh water.
|The shy nomadic people of the jungle, the Penans, live
in the dense virgin jungles of Central Borneo. Some are 'coming out'
and learning to farm the land, others still prefer their roaming life-style.
Penan shelters are quickly constructed to last for a few weeks
or months. They are sited near a good stand of wild sago trees,
the Penans staple food; after this has been used up, the family
Another Penan specialty is the manufacturing and accurate use of
blowpipes. Watch blowpipe making or try blowpipe shooting with the
Penans. A wood beam of adequate length is fixed in a drilling platform,
and then bored through patient manual labor. The pipe is trimmed
by axe and knife, and finally polished. The bore is smoothed and
ground by pulling lengths of rattan through it.
Blowpipe ammunition is a softwood plug tipped with a hardwood dart.
Blowpipe poison, carefully dosed to suit the prey, is made from
the sap of the upas tree (Antiaris toxicaria).
Do not blow from your mouth. Blow from your chest and your stomach."
So says the Penan warrior on the art of shooting with the blowpipe
at the Penan Huts.
The gentle and graceful Orang Ulu, up-river dwellers,
is a useful if vague term to describe the central Borneo people
living in Sarawak. Accounting for 5.5% of the total population,
the Orang Ulu comprises the Penan, the Kayan and Kenyah, living
in the middle and upper reaches of Sarawaks longest rivers,
and the Kelabit and Lun Bawang groups living in the highlands.
In the past, the Orang Ulu were famous throughout the region as
sword-smiths. They extracted iron from the ore found in their area,
they forged it into excellent blades which they tempered in the
cold mountain streams. They are known for their intricate beadwork
and the melodiously haunting tune of the sape, their stringed musical
instrument . Other interest include the art of body tattooing, parang
ilang, their fighting sword, klirieng, their burial pole.
Traditionally, an orang Ulu longhouse was built to last. Many of
these people practice settled agriculture, and have developed rice
field irrigation to a fine art. This makes the search for new farmlands
unnecessary. The solid ironwood houses are designed to last for
The Melanau people making up nearly 6% of Sarawaks population,
now mostly living in the central coastal region, were once more
widely scattered. They traditionally lived near the sea within reach
of pirates. As a means of protecting themselves, the Melanaus built
massive houses forty feet above the ground.
The Melanaus differ from most other Borneo people in one important
aspect: they eat sago in preference to rice. Sago palms originally
grew wild in the coastal swamps, and the Melanaus took it upon themselves
to cultivate these plants. The ten-meter high palm trunk accumulates
starch. It swells just before flowering indicating the right time
for harvesting by felling.
The pith is grated to a fine mash. This is soaked in a long wooden
trough, then trodden through a mat to leach out the sago starch.
The off-white sediment settles at the bottom of the trough it is
spread on mats to dry into lumps. These are broken up and finally
ground into flour.
The house of an urban Malay family is built of wood. The Brooke
era introduced lofty ideas on columns, stucco, and indoor plumbing.
From as early on as the 1860's, a few leading Malay families commissioned
professional builders, often Chinese, to construct their stately
homes; a few which may still be seen today in Jln. Ajibah Abol in
From the humblest to the highest, Malay houses share certain characteristics.
They are built on stilts and a visitor approaching from the front
comes up a staircase. He announces his presence before he reaches
the verandah. This may be quite small, leading along from the front
of house. It permits a stranger to wait until somebody welcomes
The area designated for the men, official occasions and the entertainment
of guests, is a front room taking up the width of the house. Windows
cut down to floor level admits breeze for the seated people. Much
artistic skill is lavished on the decoration of the stair and window
railings, fascia boards under the eaves as well as the ventilation
grills above or beside doorways.
Chinese farmers in Sarawak migrated to Sarawak in the early 1900s,
at the invitation of the Rajah who wanted to build up a solid farming
middle class. Many came, most stayed; one-third of the state's population
is now Chinese.
Unlike local dwellings, the Chinese farm house is built at ground
level. The house is divided into two main parts; the family room
which contains the kitchen, eating and living area as well as a
storage area for valuables such as bicycles or agricultural machinery,
and the bedroom.
Before you head upcountry to visit a longhouse, we recommend an additional
half day tour to the Sarawak Cultural village to learn about the customs
and history of the Sarawak's indigenous peoples. It is located just outside
Kuching and is included in City Tour of Kuching
or may be purchased separately.
|SARAWAK CULUTURAL VILLAGE:
||A morning pick-up at your hotel brings you to the Sarawak
Cultural Village, a living cultural museum. Here you can learn
about the various ethnic groups and visit the different style community
housing of the seven groups. Located about 40 minutes away at the
foothills of Mount Santubong and referred to as the "Living Museum",
this lakeside village offers a unique opportunity to experience the
diverse cultures of the Land of the Hornbill. Here, you can tour replicas
of traditional ethnic houses, see how local handicrafts are made and
enjoy "live" performances of cultural dances
2 DAYS/1 NIGHT
Tour code: KCH/LH/01
Leave Kuching City by road. The 225 km journey by road takes you past
lush scenic countryside dotted with small towns, farmhouses, Malay, Chinese
and Bidayuh villages, pepper orchards and rubber plantations. Stop over
at Serian for lunch. Continue your journey to Lemanak River where you'll
board a motorized longboat for a thrilling ride upstream. Arrive at either
Serubah or Nanga Kesit longhouse and experience for yourself a way of
life that has gone on for centuries.
In the evening, you'll be entertained by the longhouse residents with
traditional dances and be offered tuak, their native alcohol. Spend the
night in the specially built guesthouse in the heart of the rainforest.
After breakfast, take a short trek into the jungle accompanied by the
Ibans dressed in traditional gear and armed with blowpipes. Depart for
Kuching via the same route that you arrived.
WHAT TO BRING
Bring along sturdy walking shoes, rain gear, hat, sun block, change of
clothing, insect repellant, torchlight, swim wear, bottled drinking water
and personal toiletries.
1 night's accommodation, 4 meals, return transfer and boat ride. Accommodation
at the Iban guesthouse is necessarily sparse due to its location away
from civilization, although you can be assured of fresh sheets, towels,
toilets and shower facilities and electricity.