The heritage city of Sarawak, Kuching, is beautiful within and beyond. In the city centre, one might be mesmerised with old colonial buildings that meet modern infrastructures but wait till you meet the people.
Over the years, Kuching has undergone steady urban development and it is no doubt that the local community are also affected by such change.
Regardless, one thing that remains and will never go away is its Sarawakian ethnic identity.
The land of the hornbill is home to seven ethnic groups namely, the majority Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Penan, Melanau, Malay and Chinese.
To have a closer look at the groups and enrich your experience, have a trip north Kuching to witness Sarawak’s iconic cultures all in one place.
Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV)
A trip to Kuching is not complete without visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village – a living museum showcasing replicas of traditional dwellings of the ethnic groups and lets you immerse with the diverse local culture.
The journey to the cultural village is approximately 30 minutes from the centre by road and along the way, you will get to see the view of the legendary Mount Santubong.
The award-winning cultural centre which sits on a span of 17-acre land on the foot of Santubong allows visitors to get a glimpse of local lifestyles in just half a day tour.
It is open daily from 9am to 5pm which entrance tickets bought at walk-in are priced at $20 (RM60) for adults and $10 (RM30) for kids aged between 2 and 12.
For online purchase, fees are slightly cheaper which are at $17 (RM50) and $8 (RM25) per adult and child, respectively. Tickets can be bought online at www.scv.com.my
Half-a-day cultural tour
In the olden days, the way of life was simple and communities were close-knitted, living in robust and tall wooden longhouses, stilt houses and farm houses.
At SCV, visitors have the chance to tour each of the seven houses, playing its role in preserving the local culture and history from being forgotten.
Each ethnic house has several SCV’s staff members wearing traditional costumes, carrying out activities such as making traditional cakes, costumes, carving and playing musical instruments. You can also approachable them for some photo ops.
To ensure that you visited all houses and for memorabilia, you are encouraged to stamp your SCV passport at every house prior entering.
As you enter the village and start the tour, first thing you should do is to walk on the Bidayuh bamboo bridge, made entirely from natural materials which was used to cross rivers and terrains.
1. Bidayuh Longhouse
The first bridge crossing brings you to the first longhouse at the village. What makes the trip to the longhouse unique, you need to first enter the Bidayuh’s circular head house known as ‘baruk’.
In the past, the baruk which was built on stilts and at higher ground served several purposes to the Bidayuh community. It was a lookout tower for warriors to keep watch on their enemies from afar.
But the common purpose was a place for Bidayuh warriors to gather and meet who were mainly men.
The Bidayuhs, just like the Ibans, were headhunters. So, the baruk was a place to keep skulls of enemies killed during attacks.
Next to the head house is the longhouse which is built on tall stilts whereby in the past, the houses were built in mountain fastnesses and attached to a steep hillside.
Inside the longhouse, you get to see the exact representation of the land dayaks’ bedroom, kitchen, storage room and common space.
Although it is called a longhouse, you do not need to explore the entire house as some spaces are out of bound and used for other purposes.
For this longhouse, you might spend about 15 – 20 minutes before proceeding to the next stop, the Iban longhouse.
2. Iban Longhouse
The Ibans or also known as “Sea Dayaks” built their longhouse in an area where they farm and cultivate food which house could last for about twenty years until the land is exhausted.
Unlike at the Bidayuh longhouse, you do not need to climb up steep stairs to go the Iban longhouse but up a notched log instead that served as stairs.
The attempt to go up and down the stairs can be tricky and slippery if not careful due to its small stepping space.
Upon entering the longhouse, you will hear the instrumental Iban traditional music, giving a warm welcoming atmosphere to visitors.
A longhouse comprises of many households which can reach up to 80 bilik or apartments if not more. It is like one village living under one roof – the same concept applies to other ethnic longhouses.
Just outside of the personal living quarters, situated at the centre part of the longhouse is the ruai or long veranda which is a common area used for social gathering, rattan basket weaving, and relaxation, among others.
At SCV, you will get the opportunity to see the traditional way of making Kuih Chap, Kuih Jala and Pua weaving at the kitchen and ruai shown by the staff members.
3. Orang Ulu Longhouse
The Orang Ulu longhouse is the third stop at the cultural village, captivating visitors with its artistic stilts that are carved out, measuring about 30 feet tall.
The interior of the longhouse is even more colourful and aesthetic as it is pleasantly decorated with murals found on the walls and warrior shields on display.
There is always some fine craftsmanship at every corner of the house.
The Orang Ulu ladies are known for their intricate beadworks which skills are passed down from one generation to another.
Some of the beaded items include necklaces, headgears and bangles with designs centre around the Tree of Life and animals like hornbills and tigers.
4. Penan Huts
In the past, the Penans did not live in permanent households as they were nomadic hunters and gatherers, roaming around in dense jungle in search of food and resources.
The shelters or huts were built to last just for a few weeks or months, portraying how basic their lifestyle was.
They usually move in small groups and lived in one area until resources are fully used up before moving to a different location.
As the shelters were temporary, the huts were made from palm leaves and tree barks, sited near wild sago trees.
The Penans specialty is making blowpipes used for hunting and is usually about eight feet long. At the cultural village, you can try out the pipes by blowing non-poisonous darts onto a target.
As the Penans are simple indigenous people, they do not wear full decorative gears or costumes like the others. The men wore chawats (loincloth) along with accessories on their legs and wrists and elongated pierced ears.
In the modern day, the Penans now live in settled communities but still rely on the forest for their existence.
5. Melanau tall house
The tall structure of the Melanau house was made for protection from pirate attacks in the past as Melanau were once seafaring tribe who lived at coastal areas.
The replica of the tall house at SCV is an exact original built from single hardwood timbers known as belian for the stilts standing as high as 40 feet.
It consists of three levels; first, main and upper levels. Every level has multiple bedrooms and the first level is occupied by unmarried men bedrooms.
The upper level is for married couples and unmarried women while the main level houses the family’s ceremonial items and assets.
The Melanaus were fishermen, sago and padi farmers. They are different than most Bornean people as they eat sago in preference to rice.
6. Malay House
One of the finals houses as you approached the end of the cultural village stood the gracious wooden Malay House.
The house is also built on stilts and today, most of the houses in our community are designed and structured in such way.
Although the modern-day Malay houses are different than in the past, the architectural forms and designs are somewhat similar and one can still find traditional Malay houses in the kampungs (villages).
Different states in Malaysia have different types of Malay houses but have similar features.
Apart from stilts, the Malay houses have stairs located at the front of the house for entry, partitioned rooms, vernacular roof and detailed roof ornament.
The stairs lead to the verandah – a small common space that takes up the width of the house which area was for men, official occasions and entertaining guests.
The windows are cut down to floor level, allowing breeze to enter and circulate inside the living room. You will also notice that the stair and window railings are also crafted and decorated with motifs.
7. Chinese Farmhouse
The last house at the cultural village is the spacious, build on ground level home of the Chinese.
The floor of the house is not made out of fancy marble but bare flattened soil with walls made from whitewashed sawn timber and roof made from long lasting rumbia leaves.
As you enter the house, you will first see the main room that places the household shrine containing statuette of the Chinese god, surrounded by joss sticks, candles, cup of tea and other offerings.
The house is divided into the family room which has the kitchen, eating and living area as well as for storage, and the bedroom.
The cultural village personnel can demonstrate some traditional methods on processing bird’s nest, grinding black pepper and making Chinese tea, among others.
If you are a fan of the Chinese steamed kuih Ang Ku, you can purchase the freshly made delicacy at the farmhouse.
Colourful cultural show
End your visit at the cultural village by watching a cultural performance by the award-winning dancers and musicians showcasing routines from all seven ethnic groups.
There are two shows playing daily at 11.30am and 4pm, entertaining guests for one hour at SCV’s theatre.
You must not miss the graceful moves of the Orang Ulu women following the pattern of hornbills, the rugged Iban warrior performing the ngajat holding a shield and a parang as he moved to the rhythms of the sapek, gong and other ethnic percussions.
By the end of the show, enrich your cultural experience when the performers invite you to join them on stage to dance along with other guests.
Direct Kuching flying recommence
Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) has resumed its direct flight to Kuching on December 28 and flying twice weekly to the Sarawakian capital.
Kuching was one of RB’s first destinations in 1975 before its last flight suspended in 2011.
The recommencement of the route is a strong reflection of Brunei and Sarawak bonds and the collaboration is between RB, Sarawak Government, Sarawak Tourism and Malaysia Airports.
The Bruneian | KUCHING, SARAWAK