Exploring Malaysia’s Tribal Traditions In Sarawak’s Cultural Village
Sarawak’s Cultural village provides an excellent opportunity to learn a little about Borneo’s rich cultural diversity and many tribal traditions.Many guides describe the Cultural Village as ‘a living museum,’ a term which can seem slightly misleading at first. There are no permanent inhabitants of the village; instead, tribes-people are paid to greet guests and demonstrate cultural dances and skills in the excellent recreations of their traditional houses, purpose-built on site.
At 60 Ringgit per adult for entry, it is not one of the cheapest attractions on offer in and around Kuching; in fact, it is probably one of the most expensive. However, as it is situated several miles out of town, a shuttle bus can easily be arranged to transport tourists to and from Kuching, for a minimal extra cost. It is also the site of Sarawak’s famous annual Rainforest Music festival.
Sarawak Has a Diverse Population
Sarawak’s population is perhaps one of the most eclectic and diverse of all the Malaysian states. It may come as a surprise to learn that ethnic Malays are not the majority in this state, with the Iban making up almost one third of the state’s population and the Chinese making up another third. Other tribal or ethnic groups represented at the Cultural Village are the Bidayuh people, the nomadic Penan tribe, Orang Ulu, (or river-dwellers,) and the Melanau people, who traditionally live in ‘tall’ houses built several meters off the ground. In total, there are seven different houses to visit, all of which can be read about and recorded in the ‘passport’ supplied on entry.
An Iban Longhouse
While in Malaysian Borneo or Brunei, it is very easy to arrange a trip to see a ‘real’ longhouse, one that is actually a home for several families. However, the cultural village models allow visitors to see what a longhouse might have looked like before the advent of electricity and other modern luxuries, as well as the chance to see traditional crafts such as cooking and weaving on display. There are plenty of photo opportunities and the tribal hosts are very obliging when it comes to answering questions and explaining their customs. There are also some ‘genuine’ shrunken human heads on display inside the longhouse, not for the faint hearted!
Blowpipes, Sword-making and Cultural Dances
Many traditional crafts and practices are also on display in the Cultural Village, some of which can even be tried out by tourists as they walk around. A sword-making area is on display next to the Orang Ulu longhouse, and a Sago processing hut can be viewed behind the Melanau Tall House. Visitors to the Penan temporary shelter, (temporary due to the nomadic nature of the Penan people,) can even try their hand at using a blowpipe, traditionally used to hunt animals. An excellent way to finish the day is by visiting one of twice daily performances situated in the on-site theatre, all included in the ticket price. Some elements of this are a little on the touristy side, but on the whole, the show is great family entertainment, made even more interesting by the anecdotal explanations behind each dance noted in the village ‘passport.’