Sarawak Culture

The Bidayuh race, accounting for 8.4% of Sarawak's population live mainly within the catchment of the Sarawak and Sadong rivers. Early European travelers gave them the name “Land Dayaks” because they lived in the steep limestone mountains, near the watershed area of West Sarawak, in what was then Dutch Borneo.

Many Borneo natives live in longhouses, (a row of dwellings and a village street under one roof). The Bidayuhs, 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 is partly for protection against marauding enemies, and partly for access to pure, fresh water.
The Iban race, , once known as the “Sea Dayaks”, built their longhouses to last 15 to 20 years, or, until the farm lands in the surrounding areas were 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 Ibans; while some of them live in towns or individual houses, a large number still prefer longhouses.
Orang Ulu or “up-river dwellers”, is a term to describe the central Borneo people living in Sarawak. Accounting for 5.5% of the total population, the Orang Ulu comprises the Penan, the Kayan and Kenyah, living in the middle and upper reaches of Sarawak's longest rivers, the Kelabit and Lun 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 and forged it into excellent blades which they tempered in the cold mountain streams.
The Malays make up 23% of the population in Sarawak. Traditionally fishermen, these seafaring people chose to form settlements on the banks of the many rivers of Sarawak. Today, many Malays have migrated to the cities where they are heavily involved in the public and private sectors and taken up various professions. Malay villages, known as Kampungs, are a cluster of wooden houses on stilts, many of which are still located by rivers on the outskirts of major towns and cities. They play home to traditional cottage industries. The Malays are famed for their wood carvings, silver and brass craftings as well as traditional Malay textile weaving with silver and gold thread (kain songket).

The Malay in Sarawak have a distinct dialect which is called Sarawak Malay (in some official cases, it is recognised as a separate language). The culture of Sarawakian Malay is also somewhat unusual such as 'bermukun', Sarawak zapin, and 'keringkam' weaving. In the Federal Constitution, Malays are Muslim by religion, having been converted to the faith some 600 years ago with the Islamification of the native region. Their religion is reflected in their culture and art and the Islamic symbolism is evident in local architectures – from homes to government buildings. In Malaysia, for statistical purpose, the Javanese and Bugis including some other Indonesian-origin ethnics like Banjar are categorised under the Malay ethnic group.
The Melanaus or A-Likou (meaning River people) are an ethnic group indigenous to Sarawak, Malaysia. They are among the earliest settlers of Sarawak. They speak in the Melanau language, which is part of North Bornean branch of Malayo-Polynesian languages. In 2010, there are estimated to be 123,410 who consider themselves Melanau, making it the fifth largest ethnic group in Sarawak (after Iban, Chinese, Malays and Bidayuh). Even though a minority in Sarawak, the Melanau forms a large part of Sarawak's political sphere, 5 out of 6 of the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sarawak are of Melanau ethnicity including the current Yang di-Pertua Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and 2 out of 5 of Chief Ministers of Sarawak are ethnic Melanaus.
The Penan are the only true nomadic people in Sarawak and are amongst the last of the world's hunter-gatherers. The Penans make their homes under the rainforest canopy, deep within the vast expanse of Sarawak's jungles. Even today, the Penans continue to roam the rainforest hunting wild boars and deer with blowpipes.
Chinese people first came to Sarawak as traders and explorers in the 6th century. Today, they make up 24% of the population of Sarawak and consist of communities built from the economic migrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries.