The southern state of Malaysian Borneo’s Sarawak, being known by the cultural presence of the largest ethnic group in Sarawak, the Iban, famous for their longhouses, a sort of common home to several families and center of all the activity of a community, but currently they serve almost exclusively for tourism purposes.
But the city of Kuching pleasantly situated along the river, is a point of confluence of various cultures, with a strong British colonial presence visible in some buildings that are landmarks in the city for its whiteness and imposing architecture, and also by the religion where Christianity has a strong presence in contrast to the rest of the country were dominates Muslim religion. Along the Main Bazar align the shophouses, made for commercial proposes, but with the first floor reserved for housing, typical from the Chinese community that lives here for generations maintaining a very present culture. Not far is Little India (Jalang India), where along a street are concentrated shops, selling Indian products, grocery, clothing and textiles. In between some shops selling shirts and fabrics with traditional patterns of Indonesia.
But along the Main Bazaar many shops selling the crafts of the Iban culture, particularly woodcarving, baskets and weaving fabrics made with the typical geometric patterns of this ethnic group whose culture is being rapidly replaced by Malay culture.
Kuching means “cat” and everywhere there are references to these animals, either sculptures or street-art… but there are many cats in the neighborhood…
Sarawak and to sarawakians
The third largest island in the world is divided by three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia (which owns 73% of the territory) and Brunei (with 1% of the territory).
The long history of this territory what is now Malaysia, include Portuguese, Dutch, and English; with II World War came the Japanese troops and only in 1963 Malaysia became independent, grouping the Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, as also including Singapore, which two years later was excluded from this territory became independent.
During the British presence, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century it was strongly encouraged the arrival of immigrants from China and India, which soon doubled the population in the territory.
Currently 30 million people in Malaysia, 50% are Malays, 23% are Chinese, 12% indigenous, 7% Indian and the remaining 8% are resident but do not hold citizenship is common the presence of Indonesian immigrants.
Despite the apparent harmony and tolerance that exists between different ethnic groups, and even the country consider as the official religion Islam also accepts the practice of other believes, in reality there is a discrimination between Malay who hold power and the most important positions in administration of the country, and the other ethnic groups.
In Borneo, particularly in Sarawak, is evident a desire for autonomy or independence from Malaysia because the different indigenous population, all grouped under the name of Dayaks, do not consider themselves recognized as full citizens in relation to the largest ethnic group the Malays.
The Iban are the largest indigenous group in the region of Sarawak and struggle to maintain their culture, but currently few speak the native language that is not taught in schools, leaving the indigenous culture practically reserved for festivals and some handicrafts. With the British presence also animist practices that dominated the spirituality of these people has been replaced by Christianity. Very quickly this indigenous culture will be erased by the dominant Malay culture and the fast economic growth that the Malaysia governments are imposing in the country, based on the dilapidation of natural resources, affecting irremediably the jungle, the oldest rain forest in the world.
Kuching offers a wide range in terms of accommodation and good options for backpackers, where it is not hard to find hostel with dormitories.
The choice was to Kuching a capital de Sarawak:
First floor, 3 Jalan Green Hill T082 / 237062
A double with en-suite: RM 65 (breakfast included, free wi-fi). Nice and friendly staff.
Laundry: one bag 10 RM, and ready in the same day.
Where to eat:
The center of activity in terms of restaurants is Chinatown (Jalang Carpenter) as also Jalang Padungan, situated further to the east.
But for more economic options is the restaurant situated along the Waterfront in the historic center of Kuching, a stretch of gardens along the river were the population gather and walk in the evenings. Here in the middle of some kiosks, stands one serving local food, made up by two nice Muslim girls: the Meeting Point. Opposite are some tables where you can enjoy the simple meal and nearby another kiosk sells drinks… ice-tea, ice-coffee, etc… The food is simple and good, based on rice or noodles but with vegetarian option; prices of around 5 MR.
The town can be covered on foot, with the very compact historical center is developing around the Courthouse Building and Waterfront. Here you can easily reach up to Chinatown and Little India, the Sarawak Museum and the main mosques.
To visit Baku National Park or Nature Reserve is required Semmenggoh uses public transport. (see next posts)