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Sarawak Cultural Village Iban People

Sarawak Cultural Village Iban people and their culture are the highlights when visiting this unique village in Kuching, Sarawak. The Iban tribe is actually the largest of the tribes in Sarawak with almost 30% of the states population and are also the original inhabitants of Borneo Island. Originally animist followers, most of the Iban people are now Christians or Muslims and are found throughout the entire Sarawak Borneo.

Sarawak Cultural Village Iban Longhouse

The Iban people are also called 'Land Dayaks' and are well known in history as fierce head hunters back in the day. These days, the Iban tribe are more known for their ethnic traditional dances, farming, weaving skills and making Pua Kumbu (a traditional hand-weaved cloth). Most of the Iban people still reside in longhouses throughout Sarawak. Some of them still in the original state where most of them have been relocated to more modern government supported longhouses. At the Sarawak Cultural Village, you get to see a traditional ethnic Iban longhouse. Following the walkways at the village, you will be lead to each of the tribe houses here.

Main entrance to the Iban longhouse

Inside the Ruai (main hall) of the longhouse

On entering the Iban Longhouse, you will see that it is divided into three areas. A main hall in the middle (Ruai), multiple rooms (Bilik) and a veranda (Tanju) outside. An Iban longhouse usually has about 30 to 50 families living in individual rooms of the longhouse. The longhouse has a chief or headman (Tuai Rumah) who acts as the sheriff. I recently read somewhere that there was one longhouse which was over a kilometer long with a thousand families many years ago in Sarawak. Can you imagine the length of that longhouse? I would have loved to visit that place.

Iban weapons, parangs and shields

Inside the main community space or hall of the Iban Longhouse, you will see an assortment of items such as hand carved birds, gongs, jars and weapons mounted on the walls. These weapons are called Parangs, forged by the Iban warriors for their head hunting days and nowadays used mainly for ceremonies and traditional Iban dances. The old tradition of head hunting has been replaced by Berjelai or "journey", where the current young man would leave the Iban community to prove himself in the outside world and then returning to community with modern amenities like clothes, electrical items and other material items instead of beheaded skulls.

Iban Gongs and Hornbill (Kenyalang) carvings

A section in the corner of the Iban longhouse displays a number of antique gongs and a beautiful carved Iban Burung Kenyalang (Hornbill Bird) in various colors. I would love to have one of these in my house but they cost in the thousands of ringgit. I ended up getting a smaller one from a real Iban village which I will share with you on another posting.

Iban traditional pole

Walking inside the Iban Longhouse, you will see various poles, looking like coat hangers, I never did get a chance to ask what they were for but they looked really beautiful.

Iban Pua Kumbu weaving

Deeper inside the longhouse, you will witness an actual Iban lady weaving the famous Pua Kumbu cloth. It is a dying trade where very few people know how to do this. A very tedious process, an intricate Pua Kumbu cloth can take up to 3 months to be made. And this is one of the reasons the price of the Pua Kumbu is really expensive. Some of the shops in Kuching town do sell them if you are interested.

"Pua Kumbu represent the soul of Iban culture. It is a woven mythological tale about the weaver and her affiliation with the spirit world. The weaving is considered sacred and is believed to be able to mediate between man and the spirit world when spiritual power is woven into it with its designs conceived" - Taken from MySarawakCraft

Pua Kumbu weaving of Sarawak

Iban Girl dressed in ethnic attire with puffy balls

One of the biggest celebrations throughout Sarawak is the Gawai Festival. For the Ibans, the Gawai Dayak or the Rice Harvesting Festival is celebrated on a national scale for the state which falls on the 1st of June yearly. This public holiday is also treated just like the Christmas holidays for the rest.

Iban girls in traditional costume

During the Gawai Dayak festival, Iban people will get together celebrating by visiting each other, dancing, catching up and offering Rice Wine (Tuak) to visitors. If you ever plan to visit Sarawak, try to make it during the Gawai Festival which lasts for about a week. Most villages and towns would be celebrating this event on a large scale so check with the local tourism on festive activities during this period.

Iban people are also talented musicians and dancers. During the main festivals of Gawai Dayak (Harvest), Gawai Kenyalang (Hornbill) and Gawai Antu (Festival of the Dead), the people will bring out their traditional instruments and celebrate but playing and dancing. Some of the Iban dances (Ngajat) are pretty amazing when you see them live. By the way, I will also be making another posting as I visited a real living Iban village deep in the jungles of Sarawak on one of my trips.

Traditional Iban dance (Ngajat)

At the village, you will witness the basic Iban lifestyle and see how they used to live. Performers will be there to show you some of the dances, culture and also weaving of the Pua Kumbu. Please note they have timings for this at the Iban Longhouse as they have special shows at the auditorium featuring all the Sarawak cultural dances.

Iban Longhouse Veranda (Tanju)

Traditional Iban Longhouses are built from timber and tied with creeper fiber where the roof is usually made from thatch leaf and the floors are made from strips of wood. If you visit a traditional living longhouse out in Sarawak, the flooring's are usually made from stripped jungle bamboo.

Inside the Iban Longhouse

One thing at the Longhouse here, you will not be able to try to Tuak (Rice Wine) drink as this is a show village. But if you visit an actual Iban Longhouse, you will be served the real Tuak or even a more potent brew called Langkau. Many travel agents arrange for actual longhouse trips so if you are interested, please inquire with them as it is worth the visit.

Iban people are very hospitable and welcome you to the longhouses with open arms. Some of the longhouses even have a homestay program. The nearest longhouse you can visit around Kuching is about an hours drive where the deeper ones can take up to 6 hours by road. Finally, if you are short of time when visiting Sarawak, make it a point to visit the SCV as it is here that you can see the multi-tribes of Sarawak in one day. A visit well worth every cent paid and no regrets I promise.

On the left is a picture of a traditional Ibn decorative pole which can be found in most Iban Longhouses. You can also read about my other articles on each of the ethnic tribes found around Sarawak namely the Melanau people,Penan Tribe, Bidayuh Tribe and the Orang Ulu People. You can also visit the official website for the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Entrance Fee to the Sarawak Cultural Village
  • RM 60.00 (Adult)
  • RM 30.00 (Child : 6-12 years old)
  • Free for Children aged under 6.
  • Tickets can be purchased at the entrance of Sarawak Cultural Village.
  • You can also get it from the authorized local travel agents around Kuching town and Sarawak.
Sarawak Cultural Village Opening hours are:
0900 - 1715 daily
They are two Cultural Shows per day which are:
1130 - 1215
1600 - 1645

Sarawak Cultural Village Address;

Pantai Damai, Santubong,
P.O.Box 2632, 93752 Kuching,
Sarawak, Malaysia.
Telephone: (6082) 846 411
Fax: (6082) 846 988
Email: enquiry@scv.com.my

If you plan to visit Sarawak, the land of the Hornbills, you should make it a point to visit the village as this place is one of the most amazing places I have visited. Technically if you were to try and visit the original tribes around Sarawak, it would take you a few weeks while you can do it in just one day here at the Sarawak Cultural Village.


Unknown said...

Hi David, tks for visiting. You've got a nice blog here...something in common both us, having interest in travelling. I miss east malaysia much and would love to go for another trip soon. Happy weekend.

Anonymous said...

The women's traditional costumes are beautiful. That beaded thing they wear over the shoulders is pretty too.

Malaysia Asia said...

Hello M.Kate, thank you for the kind words and yes, both in common. I kinds miss East M'sia too which reminds me that I have a trip there in a few months.

Mei - They are absolutely gorgeous, especially the ones I saw at the real Iban longhouse. I will make a posting on that one of these days. Sorry I totally forgot what they are called, te beaded thing.


Tiffany said...

wow. Looks nice. Maybe can visit next time.

CathJ said...

Thank you for the info.. ^_^

Malaysia Asia said...

Tiffany and Cath, thank you and hope you make it there.


Greatfriendforever said...

wow..such a nice pic for a nice blog..hehee

Greatfriendforever said...

wow..such a nice pic for a nice blog..hehee

js said...

Please note Ibans are called Sea Dayaks while Bidayuhs are labelled Land Dayaks by Brooke.

Anonymous said...

Iban-sea dayak..bidayuh-land dayak..as per rajah james brooke labelled..welcome to sarawak..y'all welcome to my village at betong..having gawai dayak(harvest feast)