BORNEO, the third largest island in the world and 4th most populous, is divided up between Indonesia, Malaysia and the tiny nation of Brunei. Malaysian Borneo occupies around 26% of the island, containing the states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Of Sabah’s 3 million plus inhabitants, divided officially into 32 ethnicities, the largest indigenous groups are the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut and Baja. The first two are hill tribes, which are comprised of many sub tribes, while the Bajau are a nomadic sea-faring people who live throughout the Maritime (island) region of Southeast Asia.
“The largest indigenous tribes are the hill tribes, the Kadazan and Dusun tribes and their sub-tribes, often referred to the Kadazandusun, and the Murut. The Kadazandusun live mostly in the interior of Sabah, they are mountain people who believe the mountain is a resting place for the spirits of their departed, and thus it is sacred to them. The Rungus are arguably the most traditional of the indigenous tribes, a sub-tribe of the Kadazandusun the Rungus live mostly in the north near Kudat, many still live in longhouses. The Murut a group of several related tribes once lived in the longhouses like the Rungus, now they have mostly moved into single-family houses in the Tenom area and make a subsistence living from small-scale agriculture.”
The state of Sarawak is geographically larger than Sabah, but has a smaller population, giving it the lowest population density in all of Malaysia. Sarawak is home to 40 ethnicities, each with its own language and customs. Major ethnic groups include the Iban – the state’s largest group who were formerly known as headhunters. Iban are a longhouse-dwelling people with an impressive knowledge of the flora and fauna of Sarawak. Other groups include the Melanau – fishers and farmers believed to be one of the original settlers of Sarawak and who still practice many traditional animist customs; the Bidayu – land-dwellers mainly concentrated in the west of the island; and the Orang Ulu – a group including many river and plateau-dwelling tribes. The majority members of most tribes have adopted either Muslim (Melanau) or Christian (Iban, Bidayu and Orang Ulu) beliefs, though some still practice traditional tribal religions.
Sarawak – and Malaysian Borneo as a whole – is often referred to as “Asia’s best kept secret” due to its wide variety of cultures and rich biodiversity.
Thankfully there are several ways visitors can experience the traditional lifestyles of the inhabitants of both Sabah and Sarawak. One method is to visit Sarawak Cultural Village, located just 35km from Kuching in the foothills of Mount Santubong. This center showcases and supports the ethnic traditions of Sarawak, including dance, music, arts and crafts. It is also the venue for the World Harvest Festival and the Rainforest World Music Festival.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Experiencing Borneo’s Tribal Cultures.