DID you know that there are close to 30 different ethnic groups in Sarawak? Me neither! But yes, the Land of the Hornbills is so rich with diversity, little known facts about the state like these continue to surprise every day.
This is why many Sarawakians abhor very much the term “Others (lain-lain) used by those in peninsula to conveniently term the many native tribes of Malaysian Borneo.
So here’s a brief introduction to Sarawak’s indigenous groups.
The largest race is the Iban, NOT Kadazan!
Some well-known Ibans include sprinter Watson Nyambek aka The Flying Dayak, Commonwealth gold medalist boxer Sapok Biki and most of our state leaders. Hollywood heartthrob Henry Golding has also proudly proclaimed his Iban heritage to the world.
The Iban language is widely spoken that many non-Ibans, including Malays and Chinese, have a basic grasp of it. Many Sarawakians know the words to Andrewson Ngalai’s karaoke cum poco-poco hit Biar Bekikis Bulu Betis, which I think is our pseudo state anthem.
The Iban language is not the same as the Sarawak Malay language. The latter is how Sarawakians speak Malay (Kamek sayang kitak) – as opposed to the Malay spoken in KL (Awak kat mane?), Sabah (Bulih bah kalau kau), utara (Hang pasai apa?) and Kelantan (Mu pehe ke dok?).
Then we have the Bidayuh (like yours truly), who are mainly rooted in the Kuching division. Did you know there are at least five different Bidayuh dialects? Each have significantly different words and terms that a Bidayuh from Serian can sound nothing like people from Lundu, despite being only two hours apart from each other.
Olympian diver Pandelela Rinong is a Bidayuh, and so is Malaysia’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Westmoreland Edward Palon. (As you can tell, Bidayuhs love their fancy names).
Then you have the people of the interior, or the Orang Ulu – which comprises tribes that inhabit the hinterlands of Miri, Limbang and Kapit divisions.
These tribes include Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Penan, Lun Bawang, Berawan, among others.
Works Minister Baru Bian is a Lun Bawang, a tribe of 16,000 people that reside in the interiors of the Limbang division.
There are more! The Melanau are a tribe mainly found in coastal areas in the Mukah division. Over 70% are Muslims and have a lifestyle similar to Malays. Meanwhile, the remaining percentage are Christians, but many have Malay-sounding names with “bin” or “binti”.
But wait, isn’t there about 30 ethnicities in Sarawak? Indeed, so we have barely scratched the surface. There is so much more to learn and the best way is to read and be friends with everyone.
On that note, Happy Sarawak Day!