Even today, the name Borneo evokes a sense of the exotic-of adventure and a journey into the unknown. Visions of impenetrable jungle, of headhunters and jungle-dwelling tribes, of white rajahs(kings) and great riches refuse to fade. And yet today’s Sarawak , in the heart of Borneo, is a fast-changing reality.
While the white rajahs and headhunters are long gone, Sarawak’s tradition of open hospitality continues, making Kuching southeast Asia’s friendliest city. You’ll always be made welcome, whether by Chinese women offering free samples in the market, or in an Iban longhouse, where you might sit chatting with the chief over a glass of tuak, Sarawak’s ubiquitous home-brewed ricw wine.
While Sabah and Sarawak share a common heritage, each with a different history that involved the British, their developments took different paths. Sarawak’s white rajahs had great respect for their Dayak subjects and their rule took their predilections into account. Sabah grew as a trading post, with more pragmatic and certainly less romantic attitude towards it’s native inhibitans. As a result, modern Sarawak retains its cultural integrity and pride in traditions.
The sprawling atate makesa a great introduction to Borneo. Even those with little time to spare can gain a rudimentary understanding of the country and the cultures of its people by visiting the award-winning Sarawak Cultural Centre just outside Kuching. But those w
ith more time can look forward to some rich experiences: the enigmatic caves of Niah, with their relics of cave dwellers from 25,000 years ago; the World Heritage Site of Mulu with caves so large that their statistics astound the senses; further afield, the cool Bario Highlands, which bring contact with the warm hospitality of the Kelabits and the chance to trek through pristine jungle.
After a longboat trip upriver, visiting a longhouse, and perhaps even witnessing a longhouse celebration or gawai, the taste of Borneo is firmly instilled. If you are lucky enough to hear the haunting music of the sape and witness the dance of the hornbills, memories of Sarawak will live in the heart forever.