The Melanau of Sarawak
Processing sago pearls at the communal bake house.
The conical 'terendak' sunhat is still very popular.
A Melanau man donning the 'Baban' attire during special occasions. -
Photos: Catharine Goh
Melanau youths performing the 'Alu Alu' traditional dance.
KUCHING - Long distinguished from other Borneo tribes because of their
staple diet of sago, the Melanau in Sarawak now make up almost six percent of the state's
two million population.
Besides being sago eaters, they are also synonymous with "umai"
their marinated raw fish dish, which is somewhat similar to the Japanese sushi.
Many present-day Melanau are either Christians or Muslims, having abandoned
the original religion called Liko which meant "people of the river".
Considered by anthropologists to be among the original settlers of Sarawak,
their culture can traced to the Hindu influence of the Majapahit empire in the Malay
According to a Melanau community leader, Ali Suhaili, their culture has
survived the passage of time.
This is reflected in our traditional attire known as "baban" and
the conical sunhat called "terendak", which is still very popular, he revealed.
He said the traditional "Alu Alu" dance is another way to
preserve their culture for posterity while traditional festivals like the Kaul is still
Incorporated into the Sarawak Tourism Calendar, the colourful Kaul is a
traditional purification and thanks-giving ceremony celebrated in the second weekend of
April every year.
The 'tibou', a traditional giant swing and ethnic games like Melanau
martial arts are usually played during such occasions.
In fact legend has it that the name "Melanau" was given to the
inhabitants of the coastal swamp flats and river banks of Central Sarawak by one of the
former Sultans of Brunei.
Apart from being well-known as sago farmers, they are regarded as fine
boat-builders and fishermen.
Their economy is supplemented by padi, rubber and sago palm cultivation.
In their heartland of Mukah, better known as the 'Cradle of Melanau
civilisation', the Melanau have abandoned living in their traditional tall houses and now
favour coastal kampung-style villages, having adopted a Malay life-style.
The Melanau differ ethnically from the Sarawak Malays, but their dialects,
which are distinct from Malay, do not differ sufficiently to constitute a barrier to
Before their conservation to Christianity and Islam, the Liko regarded life
and the environment as one.
Followers worship the spiritual world, including the superior tou spirits
and the lesser belum spirits that cause sickness.
The pagan Melanau use effigies of sickness spirits when practising healing.
The healing are called berbayoh and berayun.
TO LEISURE PAGE