Experiencing Borneo’s tribal cultures
BORNEO, the third largest island in the world and 4th most populous, is divided up between Indonesia, Malaysia and the tiny nation of Brunei. Malaysian Borneo occupies around 26% of the island, containing the states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Of Sabah’s 3 million plus inhabitants, divided officially into 32 ethnicities, the largest indigenous groups are the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut and Baja. The first two are hill tribes, which are comprised of many sub tribes, while the Bajau are a nomadic sea-faring people who live throughout the Maritime (island) region of Southeast Asia.
The state of Sarawak is geographically larger than Sabah, but has a smaller population, giving it the lowest population density in all of Malaysia. Sarawak is home to 40 ethnicities, each with its own language and customs. Major ethnic groups include the Iban – the state’s largest group who were formerly known as headhunters. Iban are a longhouse-dwelling people with an impressive knowledge of the flora and fauna of Sarawak. Other groups include the Melanau – fishers and farmers believed to be one of the original settlers of Sarawak and who still practice many traditional animist customs; the Bidayu – land-dwellers mainly concentrated in the west of the island; and the Orang Ulu – a group including many river and plateau-dwelling tribes. The majority members of most tribes have adopted either Muslim (Melanau) or Christian (Iban, Bidayu and Orang Ulu) beliefs, though some still practice traditional tribal religions.