The Melanau
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The Melanau

River people

River people

Melanau, or A-Likou, means river people in Mukah dialect. The current name of Melanau was given by one of the Sultans of Brunei in the 19th century. Connect with this fascinating tribe who were among the earliest settlers in the Sarawak region.


  • Region is Southern Asia

  • Climate here is Tropical



The Melanau were traditionally fishermen and farmers. Some of them were skilled boat builders and exporters of local produce.


The Melanau tall house is an amazing structure on stilts, originally 30 to 40 feet high. Today, there are currently only a few examples of these houses left in Sarawak.


Social Structure

In the past a village was an independent unit governed by a group of self-appointed aristocrats called a-nyat, or elders. Today, the elders’ power is now primarily ceremonial.


While the Melanau were once animists, today the majority of them are Muslim. However, many still celebrate traditional rites and festivals.


The Melanau have a rich food heritage featuring unique ingredients like jungle ferns, umai, fresh fish products and siet. Herbal medicines are also used to restore the health balance.


The community speaks the Melanau language, which sits within the North Bornean branch of Malayo-Polynesian languages.


Melanau people perform a particular bamboo dance, while costumes also represent an important part of the heritage of this tribe. They are known for their painting skills, woodcarving, ironwork and colorful weaving.

Melanau ethnic costumes represent an important tangible and intangible heritage of this tribe.


The Melanau have their own calendar which begins in March. For them, the New Year is celebrated during the Kaul Festival, a thanksgiving to appease the spirits of farm, land, sea and forest. Ceremonies are accompanied by gong orchestras with distinctive chants and music.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Concerning beliefs and religion, the Melanaus are very tolerant of each other and are proud of their tolerance.

The Melanau are one of the rare ethnic groups in Malaysia to have a population that remains constant in numbers.

Photo credit: Borneo Pygmy Elephant Ansibin

Photo credit: Traditional Dance

Photo credit: Lady in Borneo, traditional attire Liew

Photo credit: Native fisherman

Photo credit: Baby orangutan. Borneo

Photo credit: Solitary floating house