Into Malaysian Borneo
What to do when you hear the siren call of beautiful Sabah and Sarawak
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. rainforestfringe.com
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. rwmf.net
Invited to the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival, we were so bowled over that we’re already excited for 2018”