Random News

Sarawak Cultural Village Orang Ulu

Sarawak Cultural Village - The Orang Ulu are also known as the Upriver People (People who stay way up in the interior rivers) and generally the name Orang Ulu describes the numerous tribes from the uprivers of Sarawak. Namely the Kayan, Kenyah, Klemantan, Kelabit, Penan and Lun Bawang tribes, these Orang Ulu people are the most artistic of all the tribes with amazing designing skills shown in the longhouses, murals and woodcarvings. They are also well known for their Sape (traditional guitar) making, weapon crafting, intricate bead-work and also tattooing.

An Orang Ulu longhouse on stilts

At the Sarawak Cultural Village, there is a living longhouse of the Orang Ulu and when visiting this longhouse, you will find the artwork simply amazing here. Even from afar, one can see the details which outshine the other tribe longhouses. Built on tall stilts measuring around 30 feet high, the Orang Ulu longhouse is made mostly from hard ironwood and berlian wood which last for generations.

Walkway up to the Orang Ulu longhouse

Longhouses are also built on uneven terrain so there will be a wooden staircase that leads up to the main entrance of the longhouse. As you walk up, you will notice intricate carvings and painted murals on the longhouse stilt poles.

Longhouse Entrance

As I reached the main entrance of the longhouse, a single log staircase lead me to the door. This hand carved log can only take one person up at a time and you then enter the amazing world of the Orang Ulu people.

Orang Ulu Tree Of Life mural

A very unique mural of 'The Tree Of Life' with nature-inspired creepers reflected in overlapping curves in different directions is painted on the main walls of the longhouse. This is one of the best art works I have seen from all the tribes. It is also the most photographed mural of all the tribes. The meaning simplifies the three levels of the people. On the top is the higher class, the middle is the average and the lower portion is the general class of people.

Orang Ulu warrior shields and vest

Inside the longhouse, there are various sections where a variety of items are being displayed. You see most of the Orang Ulu craft and even some weapons there. What caught my eye were two old Orang Ulu Warrior Shields mounted on a wall. They must have been at least a hundred years old. In the middle of the two shields, there was a protective vest made from an animal skin.

Orang Ulu tattoo kit

At one of the tables lies an authentic traditional Orang Ulu tattoo kit. A guide there will even show you how traditional tattoos are done without piercing your skin. From what was explained, it sounded very painful and I think I will just pass if the offer came up to get a traditional tattoo.

Several other hand crafted items like baskets and mats are also displayed inside the longhouse and none of the item are for sale, just in case you decide to want some of them. You can get some of the items at the souvenir shop just before you exit the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Orang Ulu Sape making process

The veranda of the longhouse is most interesting. I found that this is my favourite place in the entire Cultural Village. The chief of the Orang Ulu Longhouse actually stays there and he makes ethnic traditional Sape (sa-pay) and is one of the few master Sape craftsman left in the tribe. (Update May 2012 - The former Orang Ulu chief has since retired and gone back to his village to live. There is a new person that learned from the chief and taken over as house chief.)

Spending his free days carving and painting the Sape guitar, the master craftsman then fine tunes it, tests it and then it is put on sale at the souvenir shop. If you have a passion for guitars or stringed instruments, you should really consider getting the Sape as a souvenir like I did. To date, I have three traditional Sape's in my collection and hung on my home wall.

 Sape playing by mural

Video of Orang Ulu playing the Sape

The Sape is a mandolin-like instrument with a peculiarly Celtic sound when played. Some professionals actually rig it up to a speaker for a better effect. The strings alternate between high and low keys and are not similar sounding to the common guitar. When the Sape is being played, it would sound like a melodic trance with a deep echo to it. The sounds were so beautiful that I bought a collection of Sape music from all around Sarawak. I now own about 6 CDs of just ethnic Sape Music.

Orang Ulu women

The Orang Ulu women are mostly skilled in various crafts like weaving and bead-working. Some of the bead-working from the Orang Ulu are considered the best among all the tribes. I took a close look at some of their work and found they are really intricate and colorful.

Orang Ulu beadwork

The bead-working skills of the Orang Ulu are handed down from mother to daughter and among the items they would bead are bangles, necklaces and headgear which are often given away as gifts to others. Most of the bead-work designs center around the Tree Of Life design and various animals like Hornbills, Tigers and even Dragons.

Also at the longhouse, Orang Ulu girls in traditional costumes or uniforms wait for guests to arrive where they will perform a traditional dance at the veranda of the longhouse. This can be seen during certain times of the day so please check with the SCV or guide about the performances at longhouses. If you miss this, you can always catch it at the main theater show.

When you leave the Orang Ulu longhouse and make your way to the next place, you will come across one of the huts where a weapon smith is seen making some traditional weapons. The Orang Ulu people were once well known throughout the region as master weapon smiths. According to stories, ore was collected from around and forged into excellent blades at cold mountain streams.

Finally, I would recommend this place to those interested in Sarawak's culture and heritage. The main reason for visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village is that not many people ave the luxury of exploring deep in the interiors of the Sarawak jungles to visit the original longhouses. Therefore the SCV is a wonderful place to see most of the tribes in just one day. ou can also read about my other articles on each of the ethnic tribes found around Sarawak namely the Iban Tribe, Penan Tribe, Bidayuh Tribe and the Melanau People. You can also visit the official website for the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Entrance Fee to the Sarawak Cultural Village
  • RM 60.00 (US$20)  (Adult)
  • RM 30.00 (US$10) (Child : 6-12 years old)
  • Free for Children aged under 6.
  • Ticket can be purchased at the Entrance of Sarawak Cultural Village.
  • You can also get it from the authorized local travel agents around Sarawak.
Sarawak Cultural Village Opening hours are:
0900 - 1715 daily

They are two Cultural Shows per day.
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
Website: http://www.scv.com.my/

For those interested in the cultural history of Sarawak, you should not miss visiting this place when you are in Kuching. As you can easily spend half a day here, it is advisable to visit the SCV in the mornings so you have ample time to visit all the various tribes found around the Sarawak Cultural Village.


Anonymous said...

These people are really gifted artisans. I have heard about the sape but have never heard it played.

Malaysia Asia said...

Hello Mei, indeed they are. I have jkust added a video of an Orang Ulu man playing the Sape. Do take a listen to it.


Ihsan Khairir said...

Such wonderful artwork! I went to Sarawak last month but didn't get the chance to go to any cultural villages because I was too occupied with the martial arts tournament... sigh.

Malaysia Asia said...

Ishan, such a waste, but then again, now you have a reason to go, one more time or on your next martial arts trip, extend a couple of days :)


Ben said...

David! You post made me feel proud as a Malaysian that we have so many unique and beautiful cultures ... very glad to learn about the Orang Ulu and they are indeed pretty talented woodcraft artisan and strings musicians!

Malaysia Asia said...

Hi Ben, thank you and glad you feel proud. I will be bringing 2 more tribes to my posting to complete the Cultural Village. Do watch for it.


Healthcare and IT Professionals said...

This is really nice collection of Ashia culture.I have just read your web site about to the Orang Ulu tribe.This is very useful.
Karachi Hotel

Malaysia Asia said...

Thanks Mazhar, love what you're doing for your Karachi Hotels site.


ColinJong said...

This is my favorite house in SCV. It is tall enough where the visitors can view almost half of cultural village, most importantly the sape music and the beautiful dance.I like the wooden piano too.