Into Malaysian Bor­neo

What to do when you hear the siren call of beau­ti­ful Sabah and Sarawak

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Contents - Words by Muna Noor Photo by Muna Noor & istockphoto

Although by no means a large na­tion, Malaysia is an in­cred­i­bly di­verse one. Whether your in­ter­ests are culi­nary or cul­tural, whether you’re a na­ture lover or bar­gain hunter, the coun­try has it in spades. This is why we’ve al­ways felt tourists are miss­ing out when they by­pass the Penin­sula for Malaysian Bor­neo. But when you have limited days and a long jour­ney time, can you blame them? In con­junc­tion with Malaysia Day, which falls on Septem­ber 16, we explore the rich cul­tural and natural her­itage of these two amaz­ing states, and urge you to do the same.


The land of the white Ra­jahs and horn­bills, Sarawak’s in­trigu­ing mix of eth­nic cul­tures, colour­ful his­tory and land­scape has long en­thralled vis­i­tors. While we are not sug­gest­ing Kuch­ing is the cul­tural cap­i­tal of Sarawak, its liv­ing her­itage of in­dige­nous cul­tures and prac­tises, and sup­port by both state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment tourism boards, has helped turn ‘Cat City’ (lit­eral trans­la­tion of Ban­dar Kuch­ing) into a

cul­tural hub to con­tend with. No won­der Trip Ad­vi­sor tips it as one of three places in Malaysia to visit in 2017.

Sarawak State Mu­seum

Be­gin your jour­ney at the Sarawak State Mu­seum where lit­tle has changed at the Eth­nol­ogy sec­tion. Lo­cated in a beau­ti­ful 19th cen­tury colo­nial build­ing set on the edge of a pub­lic gar­den, its col­lec­tions will re­mind you of Vic­to­rian cu­riosi­ties in­clud­ing dusty stuffed and mounted an­i­mals.

In stark con­trast is the The Urang Sarawak: Pam­eran Ten­tang Kita (Sarawakian: an Ex­hi­bi­tion About Us) ex­hibit. Sit­u­ated in the ad­ja­cent build­ing, this highly in­ter­ac­tive and imag­i­na­tively dis­play delves into Me­lanau, Kayan and Iban cos­mol­ogy, pro­vid­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing frame­work for prac­tises like tra­di­tional medicine, shaman­ism, burial rites and head­hunt­ing. It also ex­plains the im­pact of the Brookes (the White Ra­jahs) on cul­tural prac­tices and tribal loy­al­ties. We learned more here than we had in any his­tory class!

Rain­for­est Fringe Fes­ti­val

We were in­vited to the in­au­gu­ral Rain­for­est Fringe Fes­ti­val in July this year, and were so bowled over by what we saw and heard, that we’re al­ready ex­cited for 2018. Bring­ing to­gether mu­sic, arts, film, crafts, and cul­ture in a se­ries of events, ex­hi­bi­tions, talks and screen­ings, or­gan­iser Joe Sidek and team (the same cre­ative force be­hind the fan­tas­tic Ge­orge­town Fes­ti­val and Butterworth Fringe Fes­ti­val in Pe­nang) have cu­rated a thought-pro­vok­ing event against a back­drop of grad­u­ally van­ish­ing in­dige­nous cul­tures and bio-di­verse ecosys­tems that lent a sense of ur­gency to pro­ceed­ings.

Held over ten days and pro­vid­ing a perfect pre­lude to the Rain­for­est Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, high­lights in­cluded a talk on British Nat­u­ral­ist Al­fred Rus­sel Wal­lace (famed for hav­ing col­lect­ing spec­i­mens and writ­ing Sarawak Law, which pro­posed ideas on evo­lu­tion pre­dat­ing Dar­win’s Ori­gin Of Species); lo­cal artist Raphael Scott Ah­beng’s emo­tive Sarawakian land­scapes; ac­claimed wildlife and na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher Chien C. Lee’s breath­tak­ing cap­tures of Bor­neo’s amaz­ing flora and fauna; and a fash­ion show in­clud­ing de­sign­ers like Kuch­ing’s own Tom Abang Saufi, and tra­di­tional tribal tat­toos. Mark your cal­en­dar and dis­cover this fes­ti­val for your­self next year. rain­forest­

Rain­for­est World Mu­sic Fes­ti­val

Now in its 20th year, the Rain­for­est World Mu­sic Fes­ti­val has un­der­gone var­i­ous per­mu­ta­tions but re­tained its laid-back charm and earthly en­ergy. Held an­nu­ally in July, its rous­ing mix of world and in­dige­nous mu­si­cal per­for­mances by world class artists and in­ti­mate work­shops make it un­miss­able. Ad­di­tion­ally its lo­ca­tion in the Sarawak Cul­tural Vil­lage at the foothills of Gu­nung San­tubong pro­vides a chance to wan­der through the var­ied tra­di­tional houses of Sarawak’s many eth­nic groups.

In­vited to the in­au­gu­ral Rain­for­est Fringe Fes­ti­val, we were so bowled over that we’re al­ready ex­cited for 2018”

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