The long and the tall of it

The history of Sarawak is like something out of an old adventure novel. Populated originally by headhunting tribes and ruled by Malay sultans, a British adventurer James Brooke aided the Sultan of Brunei in putting down a rebellion and in return was given the governership of the territory. He was the first of the “White Rajahs” dynasty of Brookes who ruled until the Second World War when Sarawak was invaded by the Japanese. Since then Sarawak has seen further insurgencies, though is now (to the best of my knowledge) a largely peaceful state of Malaysia. It is still the territory of various jungle tribes, along with muslim Malays and descendants of Chinese workers brought in by the Brookes.

Walking along the waterfront and though the town you really can feel the impact of the various immigrant. The colonial architecture, the Chinese temples and shops, the minarets of the mosques. But what of the local tribes? We didn’t have time for a boat ride up the river for a trip to a jungle long house.  So instead we caught a minibus to the Sarawak Cultural Centre in the Santubong area about 45 minutes drive from Kuching.

The minibus was packed and stuffy and the ride extraordinarily bumpy. We passed Malay kampongs, small housing settlements under the coconut and banana palms. Small roadside stalls sold locally pickled fruits and drinks to travellers.

The Cultural Village is overlooked by jungle clad Mt Santubong. Around the grounds are tribal longhouses from the Bidayuh, Iban and Orang Ulu, a tall house of the Melanau, a small Penan settlement, Malay kampong house and a couple of Chinese buildings. Some were very impressive indeed, though the construction methods weren’t always genuine.

I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Iban longhouse

Iban warrior house

Penan work huts

Orang Ulu tall house
Orang Ulu playing a sape
Melanau tall house

Malay house

Chinese work house

Memories of B’s grandparents furniture


Soy bean press

Chinese pagoda

Alex delighted in climbing up the steep stairways made of a single log (and not large diameter ones either) and walking across a narrow bamboo bridge. I thought the experience worth it for getting a glimpse of different styles of local living, though it really didn’t feel particularly authentic.

Back in Kuching we all went out for dinner at Top Spot, though the seafood wasn’t quite of the same quality as the night before. I’m more disappointed by the fact that it was again more Cantonese style cooking, though I am rather partial to the local midin fern which we again ate.

Afterwards we caught a small sampan across the river to the Malay area directly opposite. The place was buzzing with young Malays cruising around on their scooters and dining at the food centre, which offered a variety of Malay style dishes. A pity that we’d had dinner. There were a few vendors of kek lapis, a many layered local speciality available in a huge range of flavours. We bought another one, then caught another sampan back. Alex and I waved goodnight to B and her Mum (her friend had returned earlier) and then took a stroll along the coloufully lit promenade in search of an ice cream.

On our way back we stopped by a Chinese temple which seemed to have a party going on, with Chinese singing alongside offerings of incense, all under many bright red lanterns.

Tomorrow we depart Kuching and Malaysia for Taiwan.


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