SARAWAK CULTURAL VILLAGE
EXPLORING THE CULTURE OF BORNEO
“See Sarawak in half a day”! Located just outside Kuching near Santubong, it gives the visitor a good insight into the day to day life in a typical village atmosphere, with displays of dances, music, crafts and artefacts. There are replica buildings representing every major ethnic group in Sarawak, staffed by members of those ethnic groups in traditional costumes, carrying out traditional activities.
Sarawak Cultural Village portrays “live” the state cultural diversity in one single place. It is a 7.5 hectare sprawling expanse on the foothill of the legendary Mount Santubong fronting the South Sea, with 7 authentic ethnic houses built around a man-made lake.
This water-lifeline is replicated as a focal point for water-based activities. There are handicraft-making demonstrations by skilled craft people.
Traditional games, household chores, rituals and ceremonies are performed within and outside the ethnic houses.
The young and exuberant Village artistes provide magnificent multi-cultural dance performances in the modern theatre.
The restaurant serves selected traditional Sarawakian food and the handicraft shop offers fine Sarawak handicrafts and souvenirs.
The Bidayuh, accounting for 8.4% of Sarawak population, live mainly within the catchment of the Sarawak and Sadong rivers. Early European travellers gave them the name and Dayaks because they live in the steep limestone mountains, near the watershed between West Sarawak in what was then Dutch Borneo.
Many Borneo natives live in longhouses, in effect a row of dwellings and a village street under one roof. The Bidayuh, a group comprising the Jagoi, Biatah, Bukar-Sadong, Selakau and Lara peoples of West Sarawak. built their houses in mountain fastnesses, tacked to a steep hillside like a gigantic staircase. This was partly for protection against marauding enemies, partly for access to pure, fresh water.
The terrain occupied by the Bidayuh inspired them to construct ingenious systems of gravity-fed water supply. A little river is dammed at a distance above the longhouse, and the water carried to the dwelling in bamboo conduits.
The lban 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 then, 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, scene of community and domestic activity. 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 their relative doors and make themselves at home.
The shy nomadic people of the jungle, the Penans, live in the dense virgin jungles of Central Borneo, among some of the State most valuable timber resources. Some are coming out and learning to farm the and, others still prefer their roaming life-style.
Penan shelters are quickly constructed to last for a few weeks or months. They are situated near a good stand of wild sago trees, the Penan staple food; after this has been used up, the family moves on.
Another Penan speciality is the manufacture of blowpipes. A wood beam of adequate length and accurate use adequate length is fixed in a drilling platform, and then bored by patient manual labour. 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).
Orang Ulu, “up-river dwellers”, is a useful, if vague term to describe the Central Borneo people living is Sarawak. Accounting for 5.5% of the total population, the Orang Ulu comprise the Penan, the Kayan and Kenyah, living in the middle and upper reaches of Sarawak’s longest rivers, the Kelabit and Lui Bawang groups in the highlands proper.
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.
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 for many generations.
The Melanau people 5.8% of Sarawak population now mostly living in the central coastal region, were once more widely scattered. They traditionally lived near the sea within reach of the pirates. The Melanau built massive houses forty feet above the ground.
The Melanau differ from most other Borneo people in one important respect: they eat sago in preference to rice. Sago palms originally grew wild in the coastal swamps, and they are cultivated. The ten metre high palm trunk accumulates starch. It swells just before flowering and that is the right time to harvest it 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 in 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 a gracious structure well adapted to the climate. Like all local houses it was built of wood. The Brooke era brought lofty ideas on columns, stucco, and indoor plumbing. Since the 1860s, a few leading Malays families commissioned professional builders, often Chinese, to construct their stately homes, a few which may still be seen in Datus Road in Kuching.
The area designated for the men, official occasions and the entertainment of guests, is a front room that takes up the width of the house. Windows cut down to floor level admit the breeze to circulate among the seated people. Much artistic skill is lavished on the decoration of the stair and window railings, fascia boards under the eaves, ventilation grills above or beside doorways.
Chinese farmers in Sarawak are likely to be of Hakka or Foochow descent. These hardy, frugal people migrated into 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 States population is now Chinese. The flourishing market gardens on both sides of the roads outside Kuching are almost exclusively cultivated by Hakka farmers.
Unlike local dwellings, the Chinese farm house is built at ground level. The floor is made of trodden earth, the walls of whitewashed sawn timber. The roof is thatched with leaf attap. The house is divided into two main part; the family room which contains the kitchen, eating and living area and is also used to store valuables like bicycle or agricultural machinery, and the bedroom
One of the focal points of the main room is the household shrine. A print or statuette of the god revered by the family is displayed here. surrounded by joss sticks, candles, little cups of tea and other seasonal offerings The doorpost is also divinely protected by the application of strips of red paper, inscribed with protection verses.
- 40 minutes drive from Kuching.
- 5 minutes walk from Holiday Inn Resort Damai Beach
- 5 minutes walk from Damai Lagoon Resort
- 6 minutes from Damai Golf Course
- A wide range of transport is available from Kuching.
- City/Damai Shuttle, Taxi, and Local Tour Agents
Guests are invited to arrive at the village at the start of each activity programme
Opening hours. 09.00 hrs – 17:15 hrs
Cultural Show: 11.30 hrs – 12.15 hrs
16:30 hrs – 17:15 hrs
subject to change – please confirm prior to travelling to Sarawak Cultural Village.
TDC Gold Award 1990
PATA Culture Gold Award 1991
ASEANTA Classic Award 1991
ASEATNA Best Cultural Preservation Effort Award 1992
The Hornbill Tourism Gold Award 1994
The National Dance Festival Award 1994
The National Dance Festival Award 1996
Photographs on this page are courtesy of Phil Youdale