Malaysia is a federal country composed of 11 states in West Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia), two states in East Malaysia (Borneo Island) and three federated territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya). Sarawak, located in the northwestern coast of Borneo Island, is the largest state in Malaysia, with 26 tribes and a population of 2.6 million.
Sarawak is a rich repository of cultural and biological diversity. The rich intangible cultural heritage of Sarawak’s various ethnicities illustrates the cultural diversity, and the natural world heritage, such as its ancient tropical forests, caves and ocean, provides habitats for a variety of species.
Textile Arts of the Iban Tribe
Puak Kumbu, which means Iban (Puak) blanket (Kumbu), is an intangible cultural heritage that is most representative of the Iban tribe. Traditionally, it was used more for ceremonial purposes than for everyday life. Puak Kumbu symbolizes the birth of a newborn baby, and was merged with Iban tribe’s traditional rituals and used to receive head offerings during the headhunting tradition or covering the dead during Gawai Antu, a festival for the departed souls.
The production of Puak Kumbu was a kind of ritual in and of itself, and the masters were regarded highly within the society. Masters design Puak Kumbus with inspiration from their dreams, and the designs are composed of various motifs from the Iban tribe. Following Iban traditions, beginners are only allowed to work on simple designs, and only experienced masters are able to create elaborate designs by combining different motifs. Since Puak Kumbus require a high level of care to preserve them well, traditional knowledge on storing them has been passed down through generations.
Tun Jugah Textile, Museum and Gallery
Tun Jugah Textile Museum and Gallery is run by Tun Jugah Foundation, which was set up to honour Tun Datuk Patinggi Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng, Malaysian politician of Iban descent. The Museum and Gallery runs various national and international programmes to transmit and protect Iban’s textile arts, and one can learn about Iban’s ancient history, which encompasses not only textile arts but also crafts, ornaments and hunting tools.
Ngajat, Iban’s Dance
While no one knows the origin of Ngajat for sure, it is estimated to have been around since the 16th century. Ngajat was the dance of the warriors returning from the war. In present day, Ngajat is performed at Gawaj, the most important harvest festival, to welcome important guests at Longhouse. Male dancers wear headgear with a large feather, and hold chains, marbles, a rope called cawat and a long shield, while female dancers wear elaborately decorated headdress, chains, marbles and a knee-length dress. Ngajat is performed showcasing male dancers’ dramatic jumps.
The music for Ngajat is performed by Malaysian traditional instruments, such as the ‘enkeromong’, ‘bendai’, ‘canang’ and ‘dumbak or ketebong’. Ngajat’s repertoire includes Ngajat Induk, Ngajat bebunoh, Ngajat Lesong, Ngajat Semain, Ngajat Berayah, Ngaja Ngemai Antu Pala, etc.
The Instrument that Heals Kenyah Tribe’s Mind and Body
Sape, Sarawak’s most representative instrument, is played at special occasions and rituals, such as weddings, births, harvests and rain ceremonies. Sape is also used as accompaniment for traditional dances, such as Ngajat and Datun Julud. For performances in which Sapes are the main instrument, they are played together with Jatung Utang, wooden zylophones; for dance accompaniment, two Sapes are used, one tuned to a higher tone and one to a lower tone. Performers create their own variations and pass down the tradition of Sape performances. Sape is an intangible cultural heritage that is passed down from generation to generation through music.
Dance of the Orang Ulu Tribe
Datan Julud is a traditional dance passed down in the Orang Ulu tribe, and is called by many names: “Long Dance” in Kenyah, “Hivan Joh” in Kayan and “Arang Kadang” in Kelabit. It is said that Datun Julud was created to express a Kenyah prince’s happiness and gratitude.
Datun Julud was traditionally performed as a ritual or at ceremonies by the Orang Ulu women in Borneo. Dancers hold accessories made with feathers of sacred birds and dance to Sape’s beautiful tunes, with elegant movements.
Nowadays, Datun Julud is performed to welcome visitors to Sarawak and its traditional culture, presenting visitors with an unforgettable experience.
Manik Bawang Beading Crafts
Manik Bawang beading craft is Lun Bawang tribe’s tradition. Lun Bawang, an ethical minority composed of around 160,000 people, continues to keep its identity alive by transmitting its own unique intangible cultural heritage. Women of Lun Bawang tribe show their tribal pride by decorating their hair with accessories made of marbles; Lun Bawang tribe transmits craft arts for these marbles, and also undertakes various activities to transmit and protect the communal culture.
Kendang, Malaysia’s Traditional Drum
Kendang, Malaysia’s traditional drum, is a traditional musical instrument from Sarawak. While Kendang tradition is commonly believed to have started in the early 19th century during the Brooke dynasty, some say that it was actually started in the 15th century when Islamics first arrived at Borneo Island. Kendangs, also known as “Sarawak Malay Drums”, play a vital role during traditional wedding ceremonies, inviting village people to come and join in the festivities.
Kendang craftsmen use goat hide and rattan to make Kendangs. To make a Kendang, a craftsman selects goat hide of good quality, then selects pieces of rattan and trims them so that they are all the same size and shape. To create a Kendang with good patterns and designs, all rattan pieces must be trimmed into the same size. Kendang craftsmen, in their own unique ways, usually mark the spot that would make the best sound when rapped on. When the sound does not meet satisfactory levels, craftsmen try their utmost to create Kendangs of best quality by fixing ends of the rattan to the drum.
There are several kinds of Kendang performances, including solo performances, or Pukulan Induk, or ensemble performances, such as Pukulan Nanak and Pukulan Tingkah. Kendang performances usually compose of duet performers, or can be performed as an ensemble of three or four performers or also with violins or accordians.
Longhouse is a traditional form of housing, and Bidayuh Longhouse refers to traditional housing style of the Bidayuh tribe in Sarawak. Longhouses are built 2 to 3 metres above ground, without gaps between houses, to prevent wild animals and insects from coming in and flooding during rainy season. Bidayuh Longhouses, which are made of bamboo that are several hundred years old, house hundred-some households while maintaining community spirit and identity.
Sarawak Folk Village
Sarawak Folk Village is Malaysia's most representative cultural attraction, where visitors can get a glimpse of the culture and life of various ethnic minority tribes. Also called a living museum, there are displays of housing styles, customs and artifacts of seven tribes in Sarawak, including Iban, Bidayuh, Penan, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay and China. The tribes actually live within the village, so one can visit the houses of the seven tribes and experience their crafts, foods and traditional dances.
There is an expert storyteller at the traditional houses, who explains Sarawak’s traditional culture and their ways of life, helping visitors better understand the Sarawak tribe’s diversity. Sarawak Folk Village is a place where, within an era of globalization, intangible cultural heritage of ethnic minorities is protected, and various ways of life are respected by understanding the different tribes’ intangible cultural heritage.
Miri Handicraft Centre
Miri Handicraft Centre is a place for displaying traditional arts and handicraft of the Northern Sarawak people. Visitors can visit stores managed by individual manufacturers and can purchase various handicrafts from Sarawak, including mats, baskets, beaded artifacts, Pua Kumbus and wooden artifacts.
Gunung Mulu National Park
The World’s Longest and Most Bizarre Cave
Gunung Mulu National Park, located in Borneo Island in Sarawak, is the most studied tropical karst region in the world and a paradise filled with various wildlife. There are about 3,500 species of plants, 8,000 species of fungi and 20,000 animals; of these, 60 mammals, 262 birds, 23 lizards and 75 frog species have been reported. In addition, Gunung Mulu National Park possess the world’s most diverse collection of limestone caves, which was why it was inscribed on UNESCO’s list. Total length of the caves, of which there are more than 20, add up to over 290km so far, and more than half of the caves have yet to be explored. Of these, Deer Cave, which provides habitat for 3 million bats, is a favourite selection for books and nature documentaries.
Within Gunung Mulu National Park, which is one of the most popular attractions in Sarawak, Deer Cave, Wind Caves and Clearwater Cave System are the most famous, and visitors can enjoy pinnacle trekking and Deer Cave trekking.
Bako National Park
The First and Oldest National Park
Bako National Park, established in 1957, is the first and oldest national park in Sarawak.
Its diverse wildlife, jungle, waterfalls, tranquil coast and geologically intriguing seabed provide visitors with a variety of activities, making Bako National Park one of the most popular places in Sarawak.
Its flora encompasses almost all of the species found in Borneo, and among its fauna includes the endangered proboscis monkeys, of which there are only about 150 left. In addition, leaf monkeys, plantain squirrels, Bornean bearded pig and monitor lizards can also be found in the park.At Bako National Park, visitors can observe wildlife, trek through jungles, sea bathe on the beautiful coasts and enjoy the beautiful nature.
Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is the largest orangutan rehabilitation center in Sarawak. The center takes care of endangered orangutans and rehabilitates them so that they can go back into the wild.
Established in 1975, Smenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center takes care of orangutans that have been rescued from poachers, orphaned orangutans and babies that have been born at the Center. The Center feeds orangutans twice a day (between 9 and 10 AM, and between 3 and 3:30 PM), and visitors can watch from the visitors’ platform.
In 1998, the state of Sarawak enacted an ordinance to protect endangered orangutans, and anyone in violation of this legislation can be sentenced to two years or fined up to RM 30,000.
Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park
Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park was officially designated by the city of Miri in 2007, and encompasses 186,930ha, which is equivalent of 350,000 American football fields.
Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park, which is situated in the marine boundary between Bintulu and Miri City, is the largest marine national park in the state of Sarawak. Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park is most famous for its coral reefs and being an ideal spot for diving.
Its diverse coral reefs and other marine life are best in the area, and are in par with those in Papua New Guinea and Maldives. Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park is home to more than 800 species of hard corals and soft corals, and more than 40 species of Nudibranchs have been found in the area.
There are more than 40 diving spots in Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park. With waters 7 to 30 metres deep, 10 to 30 metres field of view, 30 degrees water temperature and a weak ocean current, visitors can enjoy the beautiful coral reefs from superb diving spots at Miri-Sibuti Coral Reef National Park.