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.
Snapshot

Snapshot

  • Region is South America

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Casual

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers

Life

Life

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

Home

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.

Culture

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.

Religion

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

Traditions

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.

Language

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

Art

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.

Celebrations

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
iStock.com/Craig Ansibin

Photo credit: Traditional Dance
iStock.com/Cn0ra

Photo credit: Lady in Borneo, traditional attire
iStock.com/Alex Liew

Photo credit: Native fisherman
iStock.com/JordiRamisa

Photo credit: Baby orangutan. Borneo
iStock.com/gethinlane

Photo credit: Solitary floating house
iStock.com/claffra