The largest state of Malaysia, Sarawak spans over 124,000 square kilometres of land along the northwest coast of Borneo. Pre-eminently described as ‘classic’ Borneo par excellence, there are few other places in the world that will soothe the adventurous soul so fittingly. The Land of the Hornbills is a blend of clannish custom and unencumbered nature; its splendour lies in the lush greenery of the Kelabit Highlands to the Niah Caves well known for its birds' nests.
The Land of the Hornbills
Rich in history and heritage, this quarter of Borneo – the third largest island in the world – is home to a populace comprising of local ethnic groups including Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Bidayuhs and many more, who live together in total harmony.
Once upon a time the tree-smothered hills were Sarawak’s supreme treasures, yet in recent years the bleak realism of contemporary capitalism has put paid to many of them – unremitting logging has taken its toll and resulted in a thinning tropical forest.
Nevertheless intrepid explorers will be glad to know that the fundamental flavour of the region continues to inundate most features of life here – unscathed crooks of rough country still flourish, age-old longhouses are plentiful, murky rivers are abundant and secreted caverns and outlandish creatures abound. Most people love the idea of this Borneo masterpiece because of the legends of the head-hunter and blowpipes that permeate about it.
The Living Museum
Tucked away on the foothills of legendary Mount Santubong, the Sarawak Cultural Village lets you immerse in true Sarawak culture and heritage. The village – located 35 kilometres from Kuching – is a living museum which depicts the heritage of the major racial groups in Sarawak. This award-winning exhibit portrays the different ethnic groups’ respective lifestyles amidst the 14-acre tropical vegetation.
Also featuring fascinating 45-minute cultural performances – the song and dance performances are not something you’ll want to miss – the Sarawak Cultural Village is the venue for the renowned annual Rainforest World Music Festival. Handicrafts are proudly displayed and the authentic longhouses are the perfect way for you to get a tempting glimpse into true indigenous tribal daily life.
The Sarawak Cultural Village has seven unique houses scattered across the 17-acre landscape, each housing information and insight into each ethnic group’s daily life.
Each house is interconnected by the Plank Walk – a circular blueprint that unites each domicile; the first longhouse beside the main entrance is the Bidayuh Longhouse. At this house you’ll get to crush sugar cane, pound paddy, winnow rice and watch bamboo carvers at work. The Iban Longhouse – located next door – is a wholly different experience; watch an Iban warrior perform a traditional war dance, listen to the drums and gongs and watch as the womenfolk plait exquisite pua – a mat weaving.
Further along the Plank Walk is the Rainforest Stage – the site for the Rainforest World Music Festival; the Penan Hut lies beside it – it houses the last of the hunter-gatherers and here you can try your luck at blowpipe shooting. Enjoy the cool mountain breeze amidst the humid tropical air as you walk to the next house – the Orang Ulu Longhouse. Home to the Kayan peoples – the gentlest and most graceful of the indigenous tribes – you can check out the amazing displays of wood-carvings and ‘tree-of-life’ murals at this abode.
At the Melanau Tall House next door, you’ll be entertained by shaman tales, watch traditional sago-palm processing and get to taste sago-based titbits. You’ll get to experience a truly traditional Malay experience at the Malay Town House where you’ll get to play traditional Malay games such as gasing and congkak. Finally at the Chinese Farm House you’ll get to sample true traditional farmhouse life, visit the pepper and vegetable gardens and taste conventional Chinese herbal tea while enjoying the view of the sprawling countryside.
Beyond doubt a visit to the Sarawak Cultural village is more than worth your time and a true treat for those seeking to experience Sarawak at its most authentic. The village represents the best of this slice of Borneo heaven and encompasses everything that the state has to offer – nature, culture, customs and tales to thrill.