—  State  —
Land of The Hornbills
Flag of Sarawak
Coat of Arms of Sarawak
Coat of arms
Nickname(s): Land of the Hornbills
Motto: "Bersatu, Berusaha, Berbakti"
"United, Striving, Serving"
Anthem: Ibu Pertiwiku (My Motherland)
   Sarawak in    Malaysia
Capital Kuching
 - Yang di-Pertua Negeri Abang Muhammad Salahuddin
 - Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud (BN)
 - State of Sarawak 124,450 km2 (48,050.4 sq mi)
Population (2010)[2]
 - State of Sarawak 2,420,009
 - Density 19.4/km2 (50.4/sq mi)
Human Development Index
 - HDI (2010) 0.692 (high) (11th)
Postal code 93xxx to 98xxx
Calling code 082 (Kuching), (Samarahan)
083 (Sri Aman), (Betong)
084 (Sibu), (Kapit), (Sarikei), (Mukah)
085 (Miri), (Limbang), (Marudi), (Lawas)
086 (Bintulu), (Belaga)
Vehicle registration QA & QK (Kuching)
QB (Sri Aman)
QC (Kota Samarahan)
QL (Limbang)
QM (Miri)
QP (Kapit)
QR (Sarikei)
QS (Sibu)
QT (Bintulu)
QSG (Sarawak State Government)
Brunei Sultanate 19th century
Brooke dynasty 1841
Japanese occupation 1941–1945
British control 1946–1963
Accession with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia[3] 16 September 1963[4]

Sarawak (Jawi:سراوق) (Malay pronunciation: [saˈrawaʔ]) is one of two Malaysian states[4] on the island of Borneo. Known as Bumi Kenyalang ("Land of the Hornbills"), Sarawak is situated on the north-west of the island. It is the largest state in Malaysia followed by Sabah, the second largest state located to the North- East.

The administrative capital is Kuching, which has a population of 579,900.[5] Major cities and towns include Miri (pop. 263,000), Sibu (pop. 254,000) and Bintulu (pop. 176,800). As of last census (2010), the state population was 2,420,009.[2]



The eastern seaboard of Borneo was charted, though not settled, by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The area of Sarawak was known to Portuguese cartographers as Cerava. During the 17th century, Sarawak was self-governed under Sultan Tengah. By the early 19th century, Sarawak had become a loosely governed territory under the control of the Brunei Sultanate. During the reign of Pangeran Indera Mahkota in 19th century, Sarawak was facing chaos.[6] Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II (1827–1852), the Sultan of Brunei, ordered Pangeran Muda Hashim in 1839 to restore order and it was during this time that James Brooke arrived in Sarawak. Pangeran Muda Hashim initially requested assistance in the matter, but Brooke refused. In 1841, Brooke paid another visit to Sarawak and this time he agreed to provide assistance. Pangeran Muda Hashim signed a treaty in 1841 surrendering Sarawak and Sinian to Brooke. On 24 September 1841, Pangeran Muda Hashim bestowed the title Governor to James Brooke. He effectively became the Rajah of Sarawak and founded the White Rajah Dynasty of Sarawak, later extending his administration through an agreement with the Sultan of Brunei. Sarawak was thus an independent kingdom from 1841 until 1888, when the state was placed under British protection.

Sir James Brooke, Raja of Sarawak.

Brooke Dynasty

James Brooke was appointed Rajah by the Sultan of Brunei on 18 August 1842. Originally Brooke ruled the territory across the western regions of Sarawak around Kuching until his death in 1868. His nephew Charles Anthony Johnson Brooke became Rajah after his death; he was succeeded on his death in 1917 by his son, Charles Vyner Brooke, with the condition that Charles should rule in consultation with his brother Bertram Brooke.[7] The Sarawak territories were greatly expanded under the Brooke dynasty, mostly at the expense of areas nominally under the control of Brunei. In practice Brunei had only controlled strategic river and coastal forts in much of the lost territory, so most of the gain was at the expense of Muslim warlords and of the de facto independence of local tribes.

The Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawak for a hundred years and became famous as the "White Rajahs", accorded a status within the British Empire similar to that of the rulers of Indian princely states. In contrast to many other areas of the empire, however, the Brooke dynasty was intent on a policy of paternalism in order to protect the indigenous population against exploitation. They governed with the aid of the Muslim Malay and enlisted the Ibans and other "Dayak" as a contingent militia. The Brooke dynasty also encouraged the immigration of Chinese merchants but forbade the Chinese to settle outside of towns in order to minimise the impact on the Dayak way of life. Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak, established the Sarawak Museum, the oldest museum in Borneo.

In the early part of 1941 preparations were afoot to introduce a new constitution, designed to limit the power of the Rajah and give the people of Sarawak a greater say in government. Despite this democratic intention, the draft constitution contained irregularities, including a secret agreement drawn up between Charles Vyner Brooke and his top government officials, financially compensating him via treasury funds.[8]

Second World War and Occupation

Japan invaded Sarawak and occupied the island of Borneo in 1941, occupying Miri on 16 December and Kuching on 24 December, holding both territories for the duration of World War II until the area was secured by Australian forces in 1945. Charles Vyner Brooke formally ceded sovereignty to the British Crown on 1 July 1946, under pressure from his wife among others. In addition the British Government offered a healthy pension to Brooke.

Anthony continued to claim sovereignty as Rajah of Sarawak. After the end of the Second World War, Anthony Brooke then opposed the cession of the Rajah's territory to the British Crown, and was associated with anti-secessionist groups in Sarawak. Anthony was banished from Sarawak.

Anthony Brooke was allowed to return only seventeen years later, when Sarawak became part of Malaysia. Sarawak became a British colony (formerly an independent state under British protection) in July 1946, but Brooke's campaign continued. The Malays in particular resisted the cession to Britain, dramatically assassinating the first British governor.


Sarawak was officially granted independence on 22 July 1963,[4][9] and joined with Malaya, Sabah, and Singapore, in the federation of Malaysia,[10][11] formed on 16 September 1963, despite the initial opposition from parts of the population.[12][13] Sarawak was also a flashpoint during the Indonesian Confrontation between 1962 and 1966.[14][15]


Having land area of 124,450 km² spreading between latitude 0° 50′ and 5°N and longitude 109° 36′ and 115° 40′ E, it makes up 37.5% of the land of Malaysia. Sarawak also contains large tracts of tropical rain forest home to an abundance of plant and animal species.

The state of Sarawak stretches for over 750 km along the north east coastline of Borneo, interrupted in the north by about 150 km of Brunei coast. Sarawak is separated from the Indonesian part of Borneo (Kalimantan) by ranges of high hills and mountains that are part of the central mountain range of Borneo. These get higher to the north and culminate near the source of the Baram River with the steep Mount Batu Lawi, Mount Mulu in the Park of the same name and Mount Murud with the highest peak in Sarawak.

The major rivers from the south to the north include Sarawak River, the Lupar River, the Saribas River, the Rajang River which is the longest river in Malaysia at 563 km long. The Baleh River branch, the Baram River and the Limbang River drains into the Brunei Bay as it divides the two parts of Brunei and the Trusan River. The Sarawak river 2459k2 in area and is the main river flowing through the capital Kuching.

Sarawak can be divided into three natural regions. The coastal region is rather low lying flat country with large extents of swamps and other wet environments. The hill region provides most of the easily inhabited land and most of the larger cities and towns have been built in this region. The ports of Kuching and Sibu have been built some distance from the coast on rivers. Bintulu and Miri are close to the coast line where the hills stretch right to the South China Sea. The third region is the mountain region along the border and with the Kelabit and Murut highlands in the north.


Sarawak has vast areas of both lowland and highland rainforest. However, Sarawak has been hit hard by the logging industry and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations and oil palm plantations. Malaysia's deforestation rate is increasing faster than anywhere else in the world. Statistics estimate Sarawak's forests have been depleted but thereis no definitive study to know how much. Malaysia's deforestation rates overall are among the highest in Asia, jumping almost 86 percent between the 1990–2000 period and 2000–2005. In total, Malaysia lost an average of 1,402 km² —0.65 percent of its forest area—per year since 2000.[16] By comparison, South East Asian countries lost an average of 0.35% of their forest per annum during the 1990s.


Ethnic groups

A Modern Iban Longhouse, built using new materials and preserving essential features of communal living
Iban girls dressed in full Iban (women) attire during Gawai festivals in Debak, Betong region, Sarawak

Sarawak has more than 40 sub-ethnic groups, each with its own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. Cities and larger towns are populated predominantly by Malays, Melanaus, Chinese, Indians and a smaller percentage of Ibans and Bidayuhs who have migrated from their home-villages for employment reasons.

Dayak Iban

Sea Dayaks (Iban) women from Rejang, Sarawak, wearing rattan corsets decorated with brass rings and filigree adornments. The family adds to the corset dress as the girl ages and based on her family's wealth.

The Ibans comprise the largest percentage (almost 34%) of Sarawak's population. Formerly reputed to be the most formidable headhunters on the island of Borneo, the Ibans of today are a generous, hospitable and placid people.[17] Because of their history as pirates and fishermen, Ibans were conventionally referred to as the "Sea Dayaks". The early Iban settlers migrated from Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo south of Sarawak, via the Kapuas River. They crossed over the Kelingkang range and set up home in the river valleys of Batang Ai, the Skrang River, Saribas, and the Rajang River. The Ibans dwell in longhouses, stilted structures with a large number of rooms housing a whole community of families.[17]

An Iban longhouse may still display head trophies or antu pala. These suspended heads mark tribal victories and were a source of honour. The Dayak Iban ceased practising headhunting in the 1930s.[17]

The Ibans are renowned for their Pua Kumbu (traditional Iban weavings), silver craft, wooden carvings and bead work. Iban tattoos, which were originally symbols of bravery among Iban warriors, have become amongst the most distinctive in the world.[17] The Ibans are also famous for a sweet rice wine called tuak, which is served during big celebrations and festive occasions.[18]

The large majority of Ibans practise Christianity. However, like most other ethnic groups in Sarawak, they still observe many of their traditional rituals and beliefs. Sarawak celebrates colourful festivals such as the Gawai Dayak (harvest festival), Gawai Kenyalang (hornbill, or the god of war festival), penuaian padi and Gawai Antu (festival of the dead).

It is interesting to note that there is also a thriving Iban population of between 30,000 & 40, 000 in Johor, found mostly in the area between Pasir Gudang & Masai on the eastern end of the Johor Bahru metropolitan area. Sizeable Iban communities are also present in Kuala Lumpur & Penang.


Chinese people first came to Sarawak as traders and explorers in the 6th century. Today, they make up 26% of the population of Sarawak and consist of communities built from the economic migrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The first Chinese (Hakka) migrants worked as labourers in the gold mines at Bau or on plantations. Through their clan associations, business acumen and work ethic, the Chinese organised themselves economically and rapidly dominated commerce. Today, the Chinese are amongst Sarawak's most prosperous ethnic groups.

The Sarawak Chinese belong to a wide range of dialect groups, the most significant being:

Whereas Hakka is spoken predominantly by the farmers in the interior, Hokkien and Teochew are the dominant dialects spoken within the major trading towns and among early traders and businessmen. Hainanese (a.k.a. Hailam) were well known as coffee-shop operators, the Henghua are famous as fishermen. The notable difference between those who presided in West Malaysia is the common use of Cantonese. Mandarin however was and still is the unifying language spoken by all the different dialectic groups in both East and West Malaysia. The Chinese maintain their ethnic heritage and culture and celebrate all the major cultural festivals, most notably Chinese New Year and the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Sarawak Chinese are predominantly Buddhists and Christians.


The Malays make up 21% of the population in Sarawak. Traditionally fishermen, these seafaring people chose to form settlements on the banks of the many rivers of Sarawak. Today, many Malays have migrated to the cities where they are heavily involved in the public and private sectors and taken up various professions.

Malay villages, known as Kampungs, are a cluster of wooden houses on stilts, many of which are still located by rivers on the outskirts of major towns and cities, play home to traditional cottage industries. The Malays are famed for their wood carvings, silver and brass craftings as well as traditional Malay textile weaving with silver and gold thread (kain songket).

Malays are Muslim by religion, having been converted to the faith some 600 years ago with the Islamification of the native region. Their religion is reflected in their culture and art and Islamic symbolism is evident in local architecture – from homes to government buildings.


The Melanaus have been thought to be amongst the original settlers of Sarawak.[19]

Originally from Mukah (the 10th Administrative Division as launched in March 2002), the Melanaus traditionally lived in tall houses. Nowadays, they have adopted a Malay lifestyle, living in kampong-type settlements. Traditionally, Melanaus were fishermen and still today, they are reputed as some of the finest boat-builders and craftsmen.[20]

While the Melanaus are ethnically different from the Malays, their lifestyles and practices are quite similar. This is especially the case in the larger towns and cities where most Melanau have adopted the Islamic faith.[21]

The Melanaus were believed to originally summon spirits in a practice verging on paganism. Today most of the Melanaus community is Muslim whilst some remained Christians, though they still celebrate traditional animist festivals such as the annual Kaul Festival.

Dayak Bidayuh

Concentrated mainly on the West end of Borneo, the Bidayuhs make up 10% of the population in Sarawak are now most numerous in the hill counties of Lundu, Bau, Penrissen, Padawan, Siburan and Serian, within an hour's drive from Kuching.

Historically, as other tribes were migrating into Sarawak and forming settlements including the Malays from the neighbouring archipelagos, the Bidayuhs retreated further inland, hence earning them the name of "Land Dayaks" or "land owners". The word Bidayuh in itself literally means "land people" in Biatah dialect. In Bau-Jagoi/Singai dialect, the pronunciation is "Bidoyoh" which also carry the same meaning.
The traditional community construction of the Bidayuh is the "baruk", a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres off the ground. It serves as the granary and the meeting house for the settlement's community. Longhouses were typical in the olden days, similar to that of the Ibans.
Typical of the Sarawak indigenous groups, the Bidayuhs are well known for their hospitality, and are reputed to be the best makers of tuak, or rice wine. Bidayuhs also use distilling methods to make “arak tonok”, a kind of moonshine.[22]
The Bidayuhs speak a number of different but related dialects. Some Bidayuhs speak either English or Sarawak Malay as their main language. While some of them still practise traditional religions, the majority of modern-day Bidayuhs have adopted the Christian faith with a few villages embracing the Islamic faith as a minority group within the Bidayuh community.

Dayak Salako & Lara

This ethnic group forms a small minority with very little or no comprehensive studies done by any party on their dialect, culture/customs and history. Although classified as Bidayuh by the Malaysian government for political convenience, the Salako and Lara culture have nothing in common with the other Bidayuh groups and their oral tradition claim different descent and migration histories. It is understandable that since this group is living within Bidayuh-majority areas and the fact that they also prefer to stay in one permanent inland area, most probably for agricultural reasons instead of branching out to other locations as opposed to the other races, they are grouped together as Land Dayaks.

This tribal community is believed to have originated from Gajing Mountain, at the source of Salakau River, near Singkawang in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Their language is completely different and not intelligible with the other spoken Bidayuh dialects in the other districts. They are mainly found concentrated in the Lundu area. In August 2001, the Salako and Lara community set up the Salako-Lara Association to safe guard and preserve their culture and custom for the future generations.


The Indians in Sarawak are a small community, estimated to be between 5000 & 7000 people (figure also includes those of mixed parentage & professionals/students/residents from other parts of Malaysia), found mainly in the urban exteriors of Kuching & Miri division. The Indians encompass a wide spectrum of religions, being represented in the Hindu, Muslim (from Tamil Naidu, Malabari & Andhra Pradesh subethnic groups), Christian, Sikh, Buddhist & Baha'i faiths.

The Sikhs were among the earliest Indians to set foot on Sarawak's soil, recruited by the first White Rajah, Sir James Brooke in Singapore as police officers to bring peace, law and order during the 1857 Chinese uprising in Bau. At a much later stage, the Sikhs were employed as security personnel for the Sarawak Shell Company in Miri & also as government-appointed prison wardens. It is also believed that there were a few Sikhs in the Sarawak Rangers, which was formed in 1872. As for the Tamil, Malayali, Sindh & other Indian ethnic groups, their history in the state began during the 1860s, when they were brought in from South India by the second White Rajah Charles Brooke to work in the tea & coffee plantations in the Matang Hills. There were also traders & travellers visiting the state for religious, educational or business opportunities. After many years, the Indian community is extended to include newer immigrants from Sri Lanka & other areas in India. The Indian Muslims were prominent in the restaurant business, textile trade & Indian food production. They were also instrumentally significant in their contribution to the Islamic fellowship & religious welfare in the state with their Muslim Malay brethren.

Many of the present-day Sarawak Indians are from mixed marriages with the Malays, Chinese & other Sarawak native ethnic groups, with many of the younger generation using English, Sarawak Malay or one of the native or Chinese dialects to communicate with everybody else. They have assimilated well within the state's general population as a culturally distinct group in Sarawak that is rather unique as opposed to the Indian diaspora of Peninsular Malaysia & the Asian region in general. A number of Sarawak Indians can be found working as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers & other professional careers in the government & private sectors.


Mixed marriages/unions between Europeans and local spouses have been going on for centuries, since the time European traders, sailors and colonists first set foot on Sarawak's soils.

The Eurasians in Sarawak continues to be the smallest of minorities, with many of them rather identifying themselves with the major racial denomination of their local parent rather than that of their European, Australian or American parent, as the local state government does not formally classify them as an official ethnicity. At the moment, the exact number of people in the local Eurasian community is not known, as many of them registered themselves (for administrative and social ease) as Iban, Bidayuh, Chinese, Malay, Melanau, Orang Ulu, Indian or simply under "others". Besides assimilating themselves into the general populace, many of them had also migrated to Peninsular Malaysia or their foreign parents' countries of origin.

The local Eurasians established the Sarawak Eurasian Association(SEA) in the year 2000 to foster closer ties among members of this community and also to raise awareness on the existence of this distinct group. Their association is quite unique, if compared to the Eurasian associations of Peninsular Malaysia, as it is composed by members of different religious faiths.


The present generation are descended from the original ethnic Javanese people, the majority from the province of Central Java, who arrived in Sarawak as "kuli kontrak", indentured servants who were brought in by the Dutch via Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) during the late 1800s to the 1940s & transferred to a British company to work in the rubber plantations. After the end of their contracts, some of them had decided to settle down & work on land no longer producing rubber. Over the years, these labourers were prosperous & were later given the right of ownership to several hectares of land.

An estimated 50,000 Javanese people are found all over the state, establishing their own villages, with the majority concentrated in Kuching & its surrounding areas. Some of the younger generation still carry traditional Javanese names & are identified as ethnic Javanese in their birth certificates. They are proud of their heritage; the current population still speak the language of their parents & retaining their age-old traditions & practices of their forefathers.

The friendly Javanese are traditionally Muslims, so they have a strong affinity with the Malays, with many of them intermarrying & living within Malay-majority areas & also other communities. They use Sarawak Malay or English as a common lingua franca to communicate with the other ethnic groups.


The Bugis are an ethnic group which had originated from the southwestern province of Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are renowned around the archipelago as adventurous seafarers and merchants, establishing trading routes with other ports along Sarawak's coastal areas over the past few centuries, eventually settling down with their families or taking up local spouses. The Bugis artisans are noted for their expertise in building tongkangs & proas, plying their skills at the fishing villages and local dockyards. They are also skilled farmers, construction workers, traders and fishermen.

The Bugis population in Sarawak is scattered throughout the state. Many can be found living along the coast alongside or within other communities and also opening up small agricultural settlements further inland, especially in the Sarikei district. They are predominantly Muslims and many have amalgamated with the local Muslim society through marriage.


The Bisaya are an indigenous people, concentrated around the Limbang river in northern Sarawak state. Most Sarawakian Bisaya are Christians. They are distantly related to the Visayan of the Philippines, most of which are more related to Bahasa Malaysia than Philippine Visaya. Such similarities may be due to the standardising effect and influence Bahasa Melayu had over not just the Borneon Bisaya but also all other ethnic languages spoken in Malaysia.

Bisaya’s indigenous people settled in Borneo thousand of years ago. The Bisaya were a people who were loved, feared and respected by the others. They are skilled in agriculture such as paddy planting, ginger, sago, local ginger, tapioca, banana, yam, pepper, coconut, and so on. They also hunt animals and breed others such as chicken, duck, goose, goat, buffalo, cow and many more. Bisaya people are also skilled in catching fish in the river or sea, and they can hold their breath under water without drowning.


The Kedayan are an ethnic group residing in parts of Sarawak. They are also known as Kadayan, Kadaian or simply badly spelled as Kadyan by the British. The Kedayan language is spoken by more than 37,000 people in Sarawak, with most of the members of the Kedayan community residing in Lawas, Limbang, Miri and Sibuti areas. The origins of Kedayans are somewhat uncertain, with some Kedayans claiming to have Javanese origins. However, most researchers consider them indigenous to Borneo, having accepted Islam and influenced by Malay culture. Kedayan are mainly padi farmers or fishermen. They have a reputation for knowledge of medicinal plants, which they grow to treat a wide range of ailments or to make tonics. The Kedayan tend to settle inland in a cluster pattern, with houses built in the center and with fields radiating outwards. The Kedayans traditionally tended to be a rather closed community, discouraging contact with outsiders. Intermarriage among relatives was encouraged for economic and social reasons.

Dayak Orang Ulu

A young Sarawakian playing the sapeh

The phrase Orang Ulu means upriver people and is a term used to collectively describe the numerous tribes that live upriver in Sarawak's vast interior. Such groups include the major Kayan and Kenyah tribes, and the smaller neighbouring groups of the Kajang, Kejaman, Punan, Ukit, and Penan. Nowadays, the definition also includes the down-river tribes of the Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh, "mean upriver" or "far upstream", Berawan, Saban as well as the plateau-dwelling Kelabits. The various Orang Ulu groups together make up roughly 5.5% of Sarawak's population.

The Orang Ulu are artistic people with longhouses elaborately decorated with murals and woodcarvings.[23] They are also well known for their intricate beadwork and detailed tattoos. The Orang Ulu tribe can also be identified by theirunique musical sound made by a sapeh, a stringed instrument similar to a mandolin.

A vast majority of the Orang Ulu tribe are Christians but traditional religions are still practised in some areas.

Some of the major tribes making up the Orang Ulu group include:

There are approximately 15,000 Kayans in Sarawak. The Kayan tribe built their longhouses in the northern interiors of Sarawak midway on the Baram River, the upper Rejang River and the lower Tubau River, and were traditionally headhunters.

They are well known for their boat making skills. The Kayan people carve from a single block of belian, the strongest of the tropical hardwoods.[24]

Although many Kayan have become Christians, some still practise paganistic beliefs, but this is becoming more rare.[25]

The Lun Bawang are indigenous to the highlands of East Kalimantan, Brunei (Temburong District), southwest of Sabah (Interior Division) and northern region of Sarawak (Limbang Division). Lun Bawang people are traditionally agriculturalists and rear poultry, pigs and buffalo.

Lun Bawangs are also known to be hunters and fishermen.Alternatively, they are also collectively called the Murut of Sarawak and are closely related to the Lun Dayeh of Sabah and Kalimantan.[26]

With a population of approximately 3000, the Kelabit are inhabitants of Bario – a remote plateau in the Sarawak Highlands, slightly over 1,200 meters above sea level. The Kelabits form a tight-knit community and practise and practice agriculture methods used for generations. Famous for their rice-farming, they also cultivate a variety of other crops which are suited to the cooler climate of the Highlands of Bario. The Kelabits are closely related to the Lun Bawang.

The Kelabit are predominantly Christian, the Bario Highlands having been visited by Christian missionaries many years ago.

With the population about ~22,000, the Kenyah inhabit the Upper Belaga and upper Baram. There is little historical evidence regarding the exact origin of the Kenyah tribe. Their heartland however, is Long San, along the Baram River and Belaga along Rajang River. Their culture is very similar to that of the Kayan tribe with whom they live in close association.

The typical Kenyah village consists of only one longhouse. Most inhabitants are farmers, planting rice in burnt jungle clearings. With the rapid economic development, especially in timber industry, many of them work in timber camps.[27]

The Penan are the only true nomadic people in Sarawak and are amongst the last of the world's hunter-gatherers.[2] The Penan make their home under the rainforest canopy, deep within the vast expanse of Sarawak's jungles. Even today, the Penan continue to roam the rainforest hunting wild boar and deer with blowpipes.[28]

The Penan are skilled weavers and make high-quality rattan baskets and mats. The traditional Penan religion worships a supreme god called Bungan. However, the increasing number who have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle for settlement in longhouses have converted to Christianity.[29]

  • Sebob/Chebob

One of the least known tribes in Sarawak and can be found in upper Tinjar river. Sebob are the first Tinjar settlers along the Tinjar river and it is said that others migrated at a later date. The Sebob/Chebob tribes occupies up to six longhouse in Tinjar including Long Loyang, Long Batan, Long Selapun, Long Pejawai and Long Subeng. Amongst the longhouses, Long Luyang is the longest and most populated Sebob/Chebob settlement. It comprises almost 100 units. Most of these people have migrated and found work in the cities.[30]


Sarawakians practice a variety of religions, including Islam, Christianity, Chinese folk religion (a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor worship) and animism. Christianity is the largest religion in culturally and religiously diverse Sarawak.[31] Religion plays a significant role in nurturing the culture of decency and modesty among Sarawakians. It also reflects and strengthens the identity among various ethnics. For example, Islam reflects the identity of Malay, Chinese religions and Buddhism reflects the identity of Chinese and Christianity reflects the identity of most Dayaks, while some still practising animism.[20]


Christianity is the most popular religion in Sarawak.[32] Sarawak is the state with the highest percentage of Christians in Malaysia with a 43%-majority according to the 2000 census. Major Christian denominations in Sarawak are the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Borneo Evangelical Church (or Sidang Injil Borneo, S.I.B.) and Baptists. Many Sarawakian Christians are non-Malay Bumiputera, ranging from Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Melanau.

Denomination of Christians in Sarawak may vary according to their race, although this is not necessarily true. For example, most Chinese Christians are Methodists, most Ibans and Bidayuhs are either Roman Catholics or Anglicans, whilst most Orang Ulu are S.I.B.s. Church plays an important part in shaping morality of the communities, while some Christians view the church as a religious place. Professing Christianity has led to abolishing of some previous rituals by indigenous ethnics such as headhunting, improper disposal of dead bodies. Christians among indigenous ethnics have also embraced many Christian values such as preserving modesty and dedication to God.[20]

Official statistics show that the number of Christians living in Sarawak has increased faster than that of Muslims in Sarawak. In 1960, Muslims outnumbered Christians in Sarawak; over the past half-century, the number of Christians has grown tremendously, due to foreign missionary efforts.[33]

Christianity has also contributed to the betterment of the education system in Sarawak. There were a lot of missionary schools built during 1950s to early 1980s.[34] Christianity has gained popularity throughout Sarawak, transcending race and religion. Due to federalisation of the education system, most of these missionary schools have been converted into government national schools. Participation of the church in these schools has been reduced. The Malaysian government has allowed the schools to continue using religious symbols on school buildings and teaching Christian values to non-Muslim students.[35]

Christians in Sarawak observe Christian festivals just like their counterparts in other part of the world, namely Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Ascension Day. However, only Christmas and Good Friday are public holidays in Sarawak.[36]


Masjid Kuching

Islam is the second largest religion in Sarawak. 26% of Sarawak population are Muslim by religion.[37] Many Muslims in Sarawak are ethnic Malays. All Malays are designated Muslim by the Malaysian Constitution.[38] Malay culture contributes significantly to Sarawakian Muslim tradition as a whole especially for weddings, circumcision (coming of age ritual), 'majlis doa selamat', etc.

Other ethnic groups which have strong Islamic influence in their traditions are Melanau and Kedayan. Melanaus, depending on region or kampung they live in, are normally either Muslim or Christian (while very little practising pagan). Most of them live in Kuching, Matu, Mukah, Igan and Bintulu. The majority of Melanau people are of Muslim faith.[39]

Kedayan, is another distinct ethnic from Malay and Melanau, but traditionally Muslim. Although small in number, they contribute to a majority of Muslim population in Sibuti and Bekenu district in Miri. Penan, on the other hand, which is part of Orang Ulu tribes, has gradually contributed to the rising Muslim population in Sarawak.[40]

Administratively, Islam is under the authority of the state of Islamic Council, which is Majlis Islam Sarawak (MIS), a state government agency. Under MIS, there are various agencies dealing with various aspects of Islam such as Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak (JAIS), Majlis Fatwa, Baitulmal Sarawak etc.[41]

Although the population of Muslims has increased over the past 40 years, their rate of growth has not matched that of the Christians. In 1960, Islam was the largest religion in Sarawak. Despite being the state with highest growth of Muslim population in Malaysia, Sarawak may have the highest growth of apostasy among Muslim converts in Malaysia.[36]

Muslims in Sarawak observe all Islamic festivals, such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Puasa), Hari Raya Aidiladha (Haji), Awal Muharram and Maulidur Rasul. All these celebrations have been commenced as public holidays in Sarawak. However, Israk Mikraj, Awal Ramadhan and Nuzul Quran, although observed, are not public holidays.[42]


Buddhism is regarded as the main religion of the ethnic Chinese in Sarawak. Many of the Sarawakian Chinese community, which comprises the bulk of the Buddhist population, actually practise a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religion. As there is no official name for this particular set of beliefs, many followers instead list down their religion as Buddhism, mainly for bureaucratic convenience. Buddhists from other ethnic especially Bumiputera are rare and almost insignificant to be related with.

Buddhists in Sarawak observe Wesak Day. It is a public holiday in Sarawak.


Unlike their fellow Peninsular Malaysians, Sarawak Hindus are very small in number. Almost all Hindus in Sarawak are Indians, while some are Chinese. There are less than 10 Hindu temples throughout Sarawak, most of them are located in Kuching and Miri.

Hindus in Sarawak observe Deepavali and Thaipusam. However, none of these festivals are public holidays in Sarawak.


The first Gurdwara was built in 1911 in Kuching, built by the Sikh community of pioneers in the state, comprising mainly of police & security personnel. At the present, there are four known Gurdwaras in the state, with one each located in Kuching, Miri, Sibu and Bau, with the latter no longer in existence since the late 1950s, due to the fact that there were no longer any Sikhs in that area.

Besides being used as places of worship, the Gurdwaras also hold weekly Gurmukhi classes and also serve as community centres for the thriving Sikh community.


Baha'i is one of the recognised religions in Sarawak. Various races embraced the Baha'i Faith, from Chinese to Iban and Bidayuh, Bisayahs, Penans, Indians but not the Malays or other Muslims. In towns, the majority Baha'i community is often Chinese, but in rural communities, they are of all races, Ibans, Bidayuhs, etc. In some schools, Baha'i associations or clubs for students exist. Baha'i communities are now found in all the various divisions of Sarawak. However, these communities do not accept assistance from government or other organisations for activities which are strictly for Baha'is. If, however, these services extend to include non-Baha'is also, e.g. education for children's classes adult literacy, then sometimes the community does accept assistance. The administration of the Baha'i Faith is through local spiritual assemblies. There is no priesthood among the Baha'is. Election is held annually without nomination or electioneering. The Baha'is should study the community and seek those members who display mature experience, loyalty, are knowledgeable in the Faith. There are more than 40,000 Baha'is in more than 250 localities in Sarawak.


Many Dayak especially Iban continue to practice traditional ceremonies, particularly with dual marriage rites and during the important harvest and ancestral festivals such as Gawai Dayak, Gawai Kenyalang and Gawai Antu.

Other ethnics who still have trace number of animism followers are Melanau and Bidayuh.


Unlike other states in Malaysia, Sarawak is divided into divisions rather than districts. Each division is headed by one Resident. Divisions are further divided into districts, each of which is headed by a District Officer; and each district is divided into sub-districts, each headed by an Administrative Officer.

Sarawak State Government Structure

Similar to its counterpart Sabah, Sarawak is regulated under the State Constitution and the Constitution of Malaysia.[43] Matters on which the Federal and State Governments can legislate are set out in the Federal and State List respectively under the Ninth Schedule of the Federation of Malaya Constitution (1957). In addition, there is also a concurrent list of matters which come under the purview of both the State and Federal Governments. Federal Law prevails in the event of inconsistency.[44]

State Government Ministries

The State Government Ministries formulate policies decided by the State Cabinet, and oversee their implementation by the relevant agencies.[43] There are eleven Ministries in Sarawak. These are:

  • Chief Minister Department
  • Ministry of Planning and Resource Management
  • Ministry of Finance and Public Utilities
  • Ministry of Rural and Land Development
  • Ministry of Environment and Public Health
  • Ministry of Tourism
  • Ministry of Housing
  • Ministry of Industrial Development
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry
  • Ministry of Social Development
  • Ministry of infrastructure Development and Communications

Administrative Divisions

Sarawak is divided into 11 Divisions:

Administrative Districts

Each division is further divided into districts. There are 33 districts throughout Sarawak.

Division District Subdistrict





Sri Aman

Sri Aman

Lubok Antu








Long Lama




Ng. Medamit


Nanga Merit

Sungai Asap


The state of Sarawak has introduced the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), a new development corridor in the central Sarawak state of Malaysia.[45] The initiative was launched on 11 February 2008 and is one of the five regional development corridors throughout Malaysia that will transform Sarawak into a developed state by the year 2020. It aims to accelerate the state's economic growth, as well as improve the quality of life for the people of Sarawak.[46]

Overseas interest is key to the development of SCORE with investment now totalling about US$30 billion in the aluminium, the polysilicon, and minerals-based industries as well as agriculture including aquaculture and the halal hub. In addition Chinese investors have recently pledged US$11 billion and Arab investors US$7 billion in the energy and aluminium clusters.[47]

Focusing on five major growth nodes, Tanjung Manis, Samalaju, Mukah, Baram and Tunoh, SCORE singles out 10 key industries for development.[48] These include tourism, oil, aluminium, metals, glass, fishing, aquaculture, livestock, forestry, ship building and palm oil.[49] Investors are being drawn to the region because it is rich in energy resources, with an energy potential of 28,000 MW of which 20,000 MW are in hydropower and 5,000 MW in coal-fired plants and the remaining 3,000 MW in other energy sources including biofuel.[50] This allows Sarawak to price its energy competitively and encourage investments in power generation and energy-intensive industries that will stimulate strong industrial development in the corridor.[51]

SCORE is developing a vast area that stretches 320 kilometres along Sarawak’s coast from Tanjung Manis to Samalaju and extends all the way into the extensive and remote hinterlands where two rural growth nodes, Baram and Tunoh, will also be developed.[52] In order to connect urban centres across the central region with the rest of Sarawak, new roads will be created to provide more efficient transport of goods, access to resources and human capital.[53]

Sarawak’s industrial sector is currently undergoing a transformation and the opportunities for investment are immense.[54] Value-added industries are taking an increasingly dominant role in the development of the state and the days when Sarawak exported raw materials that were finished elsewhere are long over, with the new clusters set to put “Made in Sarawak” stamps on more goods and services in the years to come.[55]


The breakdown of Sarawak’s GDP share by sector for 2010.

Sarawak has an abundance of natural resources. LNG and petroleum have provided the mainstay of the Malaysia federal government's economy for decades while State of Sarawak only get a 5% royalty from it. Sarawak is also one of the world's largest exporters of tropical hardwood timber and is the major contributor to Malaysian exports. The last UN statistics estimated Sarawak's sawlog exports at an average of 14,109,000 m³ between 1996 and 2000.[56]

With such vast land expanse, Sarawak has large tracts of land suitable for commercial agricultural development. Approximately 32% or about 40,000 km² of the state's total land area has been identified as suitable agricultural land. Nevertheless, less than 9% of this is planted with productive permanent crops, while the balance is still under shifting cultivation for hill paddy (rice) which is estimated at more than 16,000 km². The main commercial crops are oil palm, which has been increasing steadily over the years, sago, and pepper.

Since the 1980s, Sarawak has started to diversify and transform its economy into a more industrialised one. This endeavour has been seeing continuing success, with manufacturing and high-tech industries now playing a significant role in shaping the economic expansion of the state.

As the largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak aims to be a fully developed state along with the rest of the country by 2020. Sarawak has identified four sectors as key sources of growth:

  • manufacturing
  • commercial agriculture
  • construction
  • services sectors

The availability of vast competitively-priced land and rich reserves of natural resources has made Sarawak an attractive choice for manufacturing operations among investors.

Agriculture, logging and land usage

Sarawak's rainforests have been gradually depleted by the demand driven by the logging industry and the following introduction of palm oil plantations. Many of Sarawak's rural communities have felt changes affected by the economic activity of these industries. Peaceful protests and timber blockades between native communities and logging companies are common, often resulting in preventive police action. The Penan, Borneo's nomadic hunter gatherers have been most affected by these changes, complaining of illness through polluted rivers, game depletion resulting in widespread hunger and loss of traditional medicines and forest products. Their resistance to logging companies culminated in a series of protests and timber blockades in the 1990s, of which many were dismantled by the Police, within the remit of the Law. The Penan claim that their rights are not respected by the State nor by logging companies.[57] Another example, the native customary rights court case of Rumah Nor in the Kemena Basin gave rural communities engaged in subsistence farming hope for continued communal use of land reserves. Although the Court of Appeal ruled against Rumah Nor on the grounds that they had not produced sufficient evidence for their claim, it nevertheless upheld the principles stated by the lower court. These principles are the basis of not only Rumah Nor's claim, but of the claims of all Sarawak's native communities, namely, (i) that native customary rights are NOT created by legislation, although they can be extinguished by legislation, on condition of adequate compensation, and (ii) that these communities have a territory including forest reserves and rivers, and farmland, including land under fallow. Thus although the Court of Appeal ruled against Rumah Nor's specific claims, it upheld the lower court's ruling in favour of Rumah Nor with regard to the general principles. In this sense, it represents a significant blow to the state's claims that native customary rights comprise only those rights recognised by the state through its legislation.


In February 2011, the Government of Sarawak announced that it is intensifying wildlife conservation and protection activities as part of its commitment to sustainable development. Chief Minister Taib Mahmud said: "We must plan our development in a sustainable manner, to ensure that the prosperity of the State will not only be sustained but can be handed down to our children and grand-children."[58]

A programme has been put in place to save the flora and fauna affected by the construction of the Bakun Hydro Electric Dam. A total of 349 species of flora, 65 species of fauna, 27 mammals and 38 bird species were identified and relocated to higher ground. There is now a conservation programme in place in the Bakun Dam catchment area and it is anticipated that the growth in eco-tourism will provide economic opportunities for local communities.[59]

Other programmes include the Heart 2 Heart orangutan campaign which invites the public to get involved with orangutan conservation; orang-utan and turtle adoption; protection of the dugong (a large marine mammal) and the Irrawaddy dolphin, which are both endangered species; and the Reef Ball project that will rehabilitate Sarawak's ocean ecosystem by placing artificial reef modules in the sea to form new habitats. Reef balls have also proven their effectiveness in protecting turtles in Sarawak. In the early 1990s, between 70 to 100 turtle deaths were reported every year. Now, the number of deaths has been reduced significantly to less than 15 reported cases. Reef balls also protect traditional fishing areas and are used to create recreational diving sites.[60]


In March 2011, the Chief Minister spoke at a gala welcome dinner held in conjunction with the Tomorrow’s Leaders Summit at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching attended, where he outlined the State's commitment to reserving two million hectares of land for national parks and animal sanctuaries. The event was attended by Nobel Laureate Professor Douglas Osheroff, the leading American physicist.[61]


Tourism also plays a major part in the state's economy. In 2010, Sarawak was visited by 3,270,655[62] tourists (international and domestic tourists). As for 2011, the state is targeting 4 million[63] visitors. This is in-line with more direct flights from countries such as Japan and South Korea. The Sarawak Hornbill Tourism Award is held each year to appreciate the best in the tourism sector of the state. Some of the most popular tourist attractions are Kuching city, Gunung Mulu National Park, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) and many more. The RWMF is the region's premier "world music" event, attracting more than 20,000[64] music fans.

See also


  1. ^ "Laporan Kiraan Permulaan 2010". Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia. p. 27. Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Laporan Kiraan Permulaan 2010". Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia. p. iv. Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  3. ^ Malaysia Act 1963. (PDF) . Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Agreement relating to Malaysia between United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore
  5. ^ (2006 census; Kuching City South – 143,500; Kuching City North – 133,600; Padawan- 3rd Mile/ 7th Mile/ 10th Mile – 302,800)
  6. ^
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Facebook. Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  9. ^ Bernama (22 July 2008). "Reflect On Past Leaders' Struggles, Says Taib". Retrieved 24 July 2008. 
  10. ^ United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, '''North Borneo and Sarawak'''. (14 December 1960). Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  11. ^ United Nations Member States. Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  12. ^ UN General Assembly 15th Session – The Trusteeship System and Non-Self-Governing Territories (pages:509–510). (PDF) . Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  13. ^ UN General Assembly 18th Session – the Question of Malaysia (pages:41–44). (PDF) . Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  14. ^ United Nations Treaty Registered No. 8029, Manila Accord between Philippnes, Federation of Malaya and Indonesia (31 JULY 1963). (PDF) . Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  15. ^ United Nations Treaty Series No. 8809, Agreement relating to the implementation of the Manila Accord. (PDF) . Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
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  17. ^ a b c d Journey Malaysia. Journey Malaysia. Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
  18. ^ Tourism Malaysia USA. Tourism Malaysia USA. Retrieved on 12 August 2011.
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Further reading

  • Gudgeon, L. W. W. (1913), British North Borneo. London, Adam and Charles Black.
  • Runciman, Steven (1960). The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946, Cambridge University Press.
  • Chin, Ung Ho (1997), Chinese Politics in Sarawak: A Study of the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), (Kuala Lumpur, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) (ISBN 983-56-0039-2).
  • Barley, Nigel (2002), White Rajah, London, Brown Little/Abacus.
  • Cramb, R. A. (2007), Land and Longhouse: Agrarian Transformation in the Uplands of Sarawak, Hawaii University Press
  • Julitta Lim Shau Hua: „Pussy's in the well“ : Japanese occupation of Sarawak, 1941–1945. Research and Resource Centre SUPP Headquarters, Kuching 2006, ISBN 983-41998-2-1
  • Brooke, Sylvia (The last Ranee of Sarawak), (1970), Queen of the Headhunters. William Morrow Co.
  • Palmer, Gladys, (1929) Relations & Complications. Being the Recollections of H.H. The Dayang Muda of Sarawak. Foreword by T.P. O'Connor. Ghost-written by Kay Boyle. London, John Lane Co.
  • Urmenyhazi, Attila (2007) DISCOVERING NORTH BORNEO, A travelogue on Sarawak & Sabah by the author-graphic designer-publisher. National Library of Australia, Canberra, record ID: 4272798.
  • James Chin. “The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same”, in Chin Kin Wah & D. Singh (eds.) South East Asian Affairs 2004 (Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies, 2004)
  • James Chin. “Autonomy: Politics in Sarawak” in Bridget Welsh (ed) Reflections: The Mahathir Years, (Washington DC: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004) (ISBN 9790615 124871) pp 240–251

External links

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