When you visit Sarawak, this state’s rich cultural diversity will immediately impress you. With over 40 ethnic groups making up the population of Sarawak, this state is one of the most diverse states within Malaysia. You will be amazed to see the different people of Sarawak living together in peace and harmony despite the diversity. Sarawak is arguably the envy of all the other states in Malaysia for its wonderful ethnic relations.
The Sarawak people consist mainly of the Dayak, Chinese, Malay, Melanau and the Orang Ulu community. These unique Sarawak people group collectively numbers around 2.4 million out of Malaysia’s population of 28 million. It is unsurprising that due the diversity of the Sarawak people Sarawak has been blessed with such a rich cultural heritage. Discovering these unique cultures of the Sarawak people will undoubtedly make your time in Sarawak an interesting one.
The Dayak community forms the largest group amongst the people of Sarawak. The Dayak community is subdivided into the Iban and Bidayuh people. The Iban, also known as the Sea Dayak, are famous for being the warriors and headhunters of Borneo in the olden days. Another notable feature of the Iban is their unique longhouses where several families would live together in a longhouse forming a tight-knit community. The Iban are also famous for their famed rice wine, the tuak, which is served mainly during their main festival known as the Gawai Dayak. The Bidayuh, known as the Land Dayak, mainly populates the area of Bau and Serian. The Bidayuh traditionally inhabits the inland area of Sarawak, thus earning them the name Land Dayak. Like the Iban, the Bidayuh also live in longhouses. A typical Bidayuh community would consist of a longhouse or series of longhouses with a main house for ceremonial purposes called a Barok.
The Chinese people of Sarawak consist mainly of the Hokkien and Foochow group. The Chinese of Sarawak came here as early as the 6th century as traders and explorers. These second largest group in Sarawak are amongst the most successful people in Sarawak that are prominent in the fields of commerce. The Hokkien group is concentrated mainly in Kuching while the Foochow people are mainly based in Sibu. The Chinese people here use Mandarin as their common language as opposed to their West Malaysian counterparts who predominantly use Cantonese.
The Malay people of Sarawak are the third largest ethnic group living in Sarawak. These Sarawak people speak their own form of Sarawakian Malay dialect, which is slightly different from Bahasa Malaysia. The Malay people live mainly in the southern region of this state.
The Melanau people in Sarawak mainly originate from Mukah but are spread out throughout Oya, Dalat, Matu Daro and Rejang. The Melanau people is also said to be the earliest inhabitants of Sarawak. Being one of the few multi-religious Sarawak tribes, you will find that it is common for a family to celebrate both Hari Raya and Christmas. The Melanau are famous for their unique sago products and exotic cuisines such as raw fish called umai and the sago worms that are eaten either alive or cooked!
The Orang Ulu community refers to the small collection of Sarawak tribes such as the Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Penan people. The common identifying features of these unique tribes are their beautiful beads handicrafts and beautiful tattoos. These Sarawak tribes are also famous for the beautiful music played from their traditional instrument called the sape. The diverse Orang Ulu community ranges from the Lun Bawang living in Ba’Kelalan to the nomadic Penan hunter-gatherers in the rainforests.
With all these unique cultural blend making up Sarawak, it is no surprise that once you’ve discovered the warm and welcoming people in this wonderful state you might not even want to leave at all!