The Melanau - Sarawak, Borneo Malaysia

Melanau Tallhouse

The Melanau people make up 5.8% of Sarawak 's population, mostly living in the central coastal region. The Malanaus used to live close to sea and as a result were exposed to many pirate attacks, hence they built sturdy houses some 40ft above ground. Sago is the staple diet of these people, unlike other natives who lived on rice. Originally grown wild, the sago palm was later cultivated by the Melanaus. The process of making sago flour can be seen at the Melanau tallhouse at the cultural centre. Visitors may also savour some of the sago delights that are produced there.

Although most Melanaus are now Muslims or Christians, their forefathers' religion was Liko, which means 'people of the river'. The religion advocated that life and environment are one and believed in the spritual world. The Melanaus used effigies of sickness spirits in healing processes called berbavoh and beravun.

the interior. dizzying heights of up to 40ft above ground. Not for those suffering from vertigo

The Kaul is the most important ceremony for the Melanaus and is held at the end of the Northeast monsoon (and that would be in the 3rd week of April). The Kaul used to be regarded as a religious annual ceremony to appease the spirits of all surrounding the people - the sea, the forest, the land and the farm. Today, it is more a tradition where families return for the year's reunion. The end of the monsoon marks the beginning of the Melanau calender as many of these people are farmers and fishermen. In the past, Kaul was held at the beginning of the month of Pengejin (in March). Pengejin in the local Melanau language refers to the fishermen's slippery hands after landing fish. This is also the month when the Melanau move upriver to fish for eels. Jekan Jin means freshwater eels in Melanau, hence the word Pengejin.

fishtraps, adze, axes - everyday tools used

It used to be a part of the ceremony where every household prepares food offering for the spirits as well as the people attending the Kaul. On the day of the Kaul, the seraheng (a decorated flat basket) is filled with offering for spirits and raised on a bamboo pole. After a session of chants and incantations, the seraheng is transported by boat downriver towards the estuary. A gong orchestra accompanies the fleet of decorated boats, playing in tune with the chants of the ritual leader (Bapa Kaul). The ritual leader would invite spirits to join the villagers for a meal. When the boat reaches the estuary, the seraheng on the bamboo pole is planted on the riverbank. The offerings are placed on the floor next to the seraheng. The aged, sick and the young gather close round the seraheng in hope that when the ritual leader pours water over the offerings and sprays of water will also wash away their misfortunes, and bad omen will also be 'washed' away.

sago flour

Food brought from all the households for the ceremony is then served to everyone at the ceremony. Leftovers are always left at the Seraheng. During the festival, traditional games and the giant swing called the 'Tibou' is set up for those brave enough to try. Usually the young men would particpate. Visitors to the Melanau Tallhouse at the cultural centre can also try the tibou located in the grounds next to the house. The end of the feast, also marks the end of the Kaul ceremony.

For more on the culture and Melanau people, click to . (Lamin Dana means 'traditional house' in Melanau). Take the opportunity for a homestay at the Melanau tallhouse and partake in the daily activities of the local people. Help the Melanau retain their culture by showing an interest in their activities and perhaps one day the younger generation may see a better future instead of pursuing a generic MTV culture.