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11 August, 2011

Annah Rais Longhouse in Kuching Sarawak


Annah Rais Longhouse in Kuching Sarawak  - Venture into the Cultural World of the Bidayuh Tribe in Sarawak

The ultimate beauty of Malaysia does not really lie on its towering buildings; newest shophouses; Western-brand fashion houses; newest technologies; growth of the IT industry; and influx of Europeans, Americans, and fellow Asians. It depends on its people who have learned to adapt themselves to the twenty-first century but have never forgotten their sense of history, of where they came from. A trip to Malaysia therefore can be as intimate as exploring the territories of Sarawak Borneo where you will find the Annah Rais longhouse, home of the Bidayuh tribe.

Annah Rais Longhouse is situated around 60 kilometers from Kuching City, also known as Cat City, the capital of Sarawak. Though a lot of stories have already been told about Sarawak, not many are able to understand its real beauty. Sarawak, in particular, is blessed with a good amount of rain and sunshine all throughout the year. Thus, there’s no point in choosing the best date to visit here (every day is a good one!). Though the main city has caught up with the fast-paced changes of Kuala Lumpur or Penang, a vast majority of its land still remains almost virginal.  

An elderly Bidayuh lady performing a dance

A ride to longhouse is around an hour from main city of Kuching. However, the long-distance travel may be so worth it, knowing that it is going to be a deep immersion for you once you reach there. The longhouse is the present dwelling for the Bidayuh tribe, who are also called Land Dayak. They have successfully preserved not only their homes but also their culture, such as their music, dance, and even their source of livelihood, which usually consists of pepper and cocoa planting, as well as managing their paddies.

This particular longhouse is maintained and lived by close to 80 different families, who may have inherited it from their ancestors. Thus, do not be surprised to find the longhouses somewhat huge and really long. Though continuous, the longhouse is subdivided into tiny dwellings or doors, and every one of them is further divide usually up to three rooms, some of which have already been designated as guest rooms for travelers who want to immerse themselves into the culture. The materials that are utilized to create the longhouse are all organic and natural. The floors are constructed with the bamboo. However, since they rarely last for more than 5 years, they have to be changed regularly as maintenance. It is a good immerse experience if you can participate in one of these activities. 

Bidayuh Head Hunters Skull

Speaking of activities, you’ll never run out of things to do in the longhouse when visiting there. A lot of its previous visitors even whine on how short their time in village was. But that doesn’t mean you can make the most out of your trip here. You can begin by exploring the indoors. The Bidayuh are people who love to share their traditions to their guests, so don’t be shy to join in their cultural, usually ceremonial or ritual, dances, if you happen to visit them during the Gawai festival (Harvest Festival). You can also have the chance to hold and play some of their native instruments while donning their traditional costumes.

You’ll know more about their day-to-day lives by dining together with them (if you happen to stay back or participating in one of the homestay program there), perhaps along with a bamboo chicken or rice. To warm the coldness, you can take a sip of their personally concocted tea made up of several special herbs as well as honey, or you can be part of the revelry while drinking their rice wine called tuak. To top it off, the Bidayuh are already a very diverse group, so you don’t simply experience a one-dimensional culture, religion, or tradition.


Small shallow stream with crystal clear cold running water beside the Annah Rais longhouse

Since the longhouse is not very far from Kuching, many opt to take a trip here by morning and go home in the afternoon. You can do that too, but you’re going to miss out on the essence of being in the longhouse in the first place. It is highly recommended you take advantage of the homestay program which offered by the several families there, that lasts at least for two days and one night. This will also give you ample time to venture into the wilderness outside, along with a guide. There, you can swim in the three-tiered waterfall, relax in the jungle spa (natural hot spring nearby), train for blowgun use, or simply observe the wildlife and the abundant vegetation and foliage. 

Inside the Bidayuh Longhouse

Moreover, to ensure you do not let go of the opportunity, most homestay owners price their program for very cheap. For around RM298 or less than a hundred dollars per person (with everything inclusive, meals, adventurous jungle activities and accommodation), ones can already stay in there, remove themselves from the hustle and bustle of city life and rejuvenate their minds, souls, and bodies.

The experience at a longhouse here is more than just a dwelling. It is a testament of the past and the efforts of the Bidayuh people to preserve the gifts of their forebears not only for them but for the next generation. For more information about the Homestay Program, please visit the official site for Annah Rais Longhouse in Sarawak.
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