Travel Tips

15 Things You Should Know Before Visiting the Tribes in Borneo

If you have thought about traveling to Borneo to meet the tribes that live there, you are lucky! because in Nomadic Tribe you will find different experiences to visit them in very different ways such as trekking, cycling, boat and others. Therefore, you will surely like to read some remarkable facts about the amazing cultures that inhabit this region before you travel.

The greatest Asia’s rainforest is located in Borneo.

View over jungle in Borneo

View over jungle in Borneo

Its landscape mixes with many other habitats such as mangroves, peat swamps, swampy forests, and large rivers, forming a unique ecosystem in the world and source of life for the tribes. Endangered animals such as orangutans, elephants and rhinos, among many other species, inhabit this environment.

The cultural mosaic of indigenous tribes in Borneo is immense.

They represent 11% of the population. Many of the tribes live in the forests, many others live in the coastal areas, and most are spiritually linked to the rainforest.

The tribes preserve their traditions.

Most of the indigenous people are adopting the customs of contemporary life, but it is gratifying to discover, when visiting the country, that they continue to preserve their traditions and lifestyle.

Shake hands to greet.

Keep in mind that shaking hands between men or women is a normal custom, but be careful! a man cannot shake a woman's hand or vice versa. Between different sexes, a slight bow of the head can be done while placing a hand on the heart.

Consider possible vaccinations.

Depending on your plans while visiting Malaysia, you should consider talking to your doctor about some possible vaccinations. In rural areas, Malaria, Rabies, Dengue and Yellow fever can be present, however, bigger cities tend to be safer.

Protect yourself from mosquitoes.

If you plan to go trekking and staying outdoors for long periods of time, we highly suggest you to reduce the risk of infection by protecting yourself from mosquito bites using repellents containing 30-50% DEET, usually harder to find in Malaysia and an easier find in the US, Europe and Australia.

Lun Bawang tribe. Salt for the health.

Lun Bawang musicians

Lun Bawang musicians

Sarawak tourism

While visiting the Lun Bawang people you will travel to the Buduk Bui Salt Spring and you will discover the traditional salt extraction tradition of the area. The indigenous community believe that each salt hill has its own nutritious value and benefits. According to their experience, the iodine in the salt helps the knee joints, the skin and cure thyroid problems. Make sure to pack up the salt and bring plenty back home! Read more about Lun Bawang tribe in our tribes section.

Kejaman tribe, Sibu Central Market.

While visiting the Kejaman you will also visit the Sibu Central Market. Here you will see all kinds of produces and you will also be able to buy some of the most exotic fruits, freshly picked from the forest by native people! Make sure to take with you small change to avoid going around with too much money, unfortunately pickpocketing is common. Read more about Kejaman tribe in our tribes section.

Tattooing in the Kayan, Lahanan and Sekapan tribes.

Borneo Female Tattoo

Borneo Female Tattoo

The Kayan, Lahanan and Sekapan share some similar customs, but unfortunately they are slowly disappearing. One of these tradition is tattooing, which was a very important activity in the tribes’ social life. Tattooists used to be the women’s profession and it was hereditary in the female line. Both men and women used to have protective arm, hands and fingers tattoos. In the past, this practice would take an entire day and over at least three weeks for both hands to be properly tattooed. Tattooing would normally take place before puberty to enhance the beauty of the Sekapan, Lahanan and Kayan girls and also to prepare them for meeting their future husbands.

Melanau tribe, language tips and socialization.

While staying with the tribe you can try to break the ice with some Melanau language! Let’s start with some greetings; Good morning: Selamet suwap; Good afternoon: Selamet abei; Good night: Selamet malem; How are you? Inou dengah nou? Unfortunately, the language is slowly disappearing and some parents are not teaching it to their kids, so your effort will be highly appreciated! If you want to learn more terms and expressions visit this Melanau online dictionary. Read more about Melanau tribe in our tribes section.

Be aware of monkeys in National Parks.

Tanjung Puting National Park

Tanjung Puting National Park Carillet

While trekking in the Bako National Park and spotting the incredible wildlife you might feel like having a snack… Well, look around before opening your bag as monkeys are known to be very glutton and to steal food even from the hands of unaware hikers!

Melanau manners and longhouse rules.

Almost all the indigenous communities in the area have the traditional longhouses in their village. To follow the Melanau etiquette, usually the traveller seeking shelter needed to firstly present themselves to the headman, that would arrange the sleeping arrangement. This tradition is now lost, however it is considered rude to turn up at a longhouse unannounced, especially since it is usually the family house.

Penan tribe, watch out for hidden signs.

The Penan have developed an intricate communication code to leave small information in the forest for fellow tribe members wandering in nature. The codes are usually left for safety reasons indicating to the person possible obstacles or dangers ahead and conveying the message using sticks, leaves, and stones. Read more about Penan tribe in our tribes section.

Penan art of sharing.

Penan woman works on traditional handicrafts

Penan woman works on traditional handicrafts

The Penan don’t have any word to say “thank you”, however, Jian kenin is the closest translation and it literally means “feel good”. To the Penans the lack of sharing is a serious insult and violation, but moderation is also important and you will never find a member abusing people’s generosity.

Dayak people, (ex) headhunters.

The Dayak tribe were the original heirs to the Borneo land. Although they practiced agriculture, hunting and gathering, they were feared for their ferocious head-hunting practices, called Ngayau. The Dayak attributed supernatural powers to the heads of their enemies and used them in rituals to secure crops or bring good fortune to their homes. The members of the tribes acquired greater social rank with the greater number of heads collected. Don't worry, they no longer practice these rituals for many years! Read more about Dayak tribe in our tribes section.