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Bidayuh was formerly known as Land Dayaks, came from West Kalimantan (Indonesia) as early as 13th century. It can be divided into five (5) distinct sub groups which are Jagoi, (Bau and Singai), Biatah, Bukar-Sadong, Salakau and Lara. Each of distinct sub groups speak different dialects. The Bidayuh live in Southern Sarawak in the countryside of Kuching where they grew staple foods and cash crops such as pepper, cocoa, rubber, as well as fruit and vegetables. Most Bidayuh are Christian because they were the first people in Sarawak to convert to Christianity. Some of them became Muslim because of mixed-marriage with Malays. But the traditional feasts are still celebrated, although the practice of animist and traditional influences would be decreased. Now, the majority of Bidayuh lived at the city yet their preserved longhouses still existed for family gathering, annual meeting and special events.
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Iban are the most numerous ethnic group in Sarawak and speak distinctly related to Malay. The largest groups can be seen around Batang Lupar River and Middle Rajang River areas but they also spread up thorough the state and closely to Sabah. They were formely known as Sea Dayaks, most of them were fighters and warriors in the past and they were also known as Borneo's most feared headhunters. They migrated from Kapuas River in Kalimantan around the end of 15th century and conquered the vast area of old forest of Sarawak. Most Iban still live in longhouses, practicing the traditional life such as Gawai Kenyalang or Gawai Antu, and applying the culture into the daily life. They actively cultivated hill rice and grow cash crops. Nowadays, most Ibans are Christian but the spirit of Singalang Burung is remain strong among young urban Ibans.
Penans are still true hunter gatherer, inhabiting the Sarawak's rainforests, the Upper Baram, Upper Rejang and Limbang areas. There was the 'civilization' issue of Penan during late 80s, increasing the pressure of development which encouraged them to give up their nomadic life, with the involvement of the activist, Bruno Manser. In 1950s, the consistent programmes made by the government to improve their life and to settle Penan into longhouses-based village like other indigenous groups. Few Penans are now converted to Islam or Christianity but most still practicing traditional beliefs and revolves around animism. Their staple food is the wild sago, as well as tapioca and cassava. They also catch fishes or prawns at the river, hunting, and grew crops. They prefer to more at home and often reluctant to emerge into sunlight, as they lived behind the jungle's shade. Their distinct language are close to their native neighbour which is Kenyah, Kayan, Murut or Kelabit. Those groups are known as Upriver People and broadly classified as Orang Ulu by the government censuses.
4. Orang Ulu
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Orang Ulu, also known as Upriver People is a collective term for twenty (20) different tribes and sub tribes who inhabit the interior of Sarawak. Kenyah, Kayan, Murut and Kelabit is part of this grouping. The biggest grouping is Kayan and Kenyah, 50000 all together. The balance is made up of Lahanan, Kejaman, Punan, Punan Bah, Ukit, Berawan and others. Most of them sharing the same lifestyle such as fishing, hunting and grew staple crops. Kelabit and Lun Bawang known as genuine highlanders who grow wet rice and rear buffaloes. The origin of Orang Ulu is still in research but many are believed they were migrated from Yunnan, Southern China between 10th-12th centuries according to some language they shared with the people from that region.
Melanau form 6% of the population and many have moved to the urban area. They speak different dialects, mostly Mukah dialect. Their ancestry is still vague and under research yet many are believed that they migrated between 10th and 12th centuries via Phillipines but according to linguistic similarities, they are close to Yunnan, Southern China. During Brooke era, most of them refused to assimilate with white Rajah's forces so they moved into less population coastal areas and developed unique lifestyles and culture. According to Brooke's entry, they thought that Melanau girls are particularly pretty- "with an agreeable countenances, with the dark, rolling, open eyes of the Italians, and nearly as fair as the most of that race..." Melanau people the most religiously diverse and tolerant community, the Muslim, Chistian or Pagan Melanau lived together and respecting one another. Mostly they had a very significant on politics and entertainment. Nowadays, they lived like Malay people, the original old Melanau longhouses burnt down in the 1970, yet the replica can be seen at Sarawak Cultural Village and rebuilt. As usual, Melanau is famous with sago, and umai (also pronounce as 'umei'), the absolute fishermen and also the best boat builders.
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The Malays are exclusively Muslim, converted to Islam in the 14th century with different descendants of migrants such as Sulawesi, Sumatra, Mindanao and East-Middle-West Java. They practicing Sunni branch of faith like Malay people in Peninsular Malaysia and most of them are wet-rice farmers. The coastal Malays of the Saribas area have an excellent relation with Iban neighbours and joined forces to challenge James Brooke during Brooke era. According to history, Sarawak's malay people can be traced through the Brunei Sultanate but when the sultanate's decline in 18th century onwards, they became more independent. The Brunei heritage can be seen clearly among Malay people such as Abang, Awang, Pengiran and Dayang. Although they were generally loyal subject of the Brooke, they also an anti-colonial and lead the anti-cession movement until Sarawak joined the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Sarawak Malays are multiculturalism to heart, speak and mix all kind of dialects with some deep 'r' sound like French and Brunei influence such as 'bah' or 'pun'. But still, everybody can speak crystal clear in Bahasa Malaysia and English.
Surprisingly, Chinese people is widely known as part of Sarawak's group as a strong backbone of economy and possess a vibrant culture. There are eight (8) major dialects groups at Sarawak such as Hokkien, Foo Chow, Hakka and Teochew. At first, they come to Sarawak as traders and explorers, visiting sarawak since 6-7th century AD. But the large immigration happened in the 18th century during Brooke's era. unstable administration at China and Bau's gold mining, mostly from Southern China. Chinese people at Sarawak encompassing Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians, as well as Islam.
Khaidir Ahmad (1993). Selamatkan Kaum Penan.
Mike Reed & Wayne Tarman (1998). A Short Walk Through Sarawak.
Wikipedia: Penan people
Wikipedia: Melanau people
The ABC tours: The People and Culture of Sarawak