The diversity in the traditional dances of Sarawak is a result of having people from so many different cultural backgrounds living harmoniously, proudly calling themselves Sarawakians. This Visit Sarawak, come and be fully immersed in the cultural dances of Sarawak. Among the most famous cultural dances are the Ngajat of the Iban folk, the Hornbill Dance of the Kenyah tribe, the Eagle Dance of the Bidayuh and the traditional Melanau dance known as Alu Alu.
The origins of the Ngajat (Iban for dance) can be traced back as far back as the 16th Century. It is an integral part of the cultural identity and folklore of the Iban tribe of Sarawak. It was originally performed as a celebratory ritual to welcome a warrior’s return from battle. Today, it is still performed during Gawai Dayak as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest or as a celebratory welcome to visitors to the longhouses. Audiences would be greeted with female dancers adorned with elaborate headdress and dresses with intricate woven motifs. The male dancers will be wearing a ceremonial loincloth, while carrying a long sword, thumping their feet away in an aggressive manner, in a warrior like stance, prancing and at the same time, looking around with caution as if to stalk their enemies.
This variation of the Ngajat performed by women displays the grace and beauty of the culture and tradition of the Iban. The dance depicts the daily activities of the Iban community, such as weaving the Pua Kumbu. The dancers would wear a stunning ensemble that features a colourful Marik Empang, an outer garment of beads and hand-stitched cotton worn around the neck when performing this dance.
Rejang Beuh (Eagle Dance)
The Rejang Beuh or Eagle dance is a popular dance among the Bidayuh tribe of Sarawak. According to folklore King of the Pleiades, the gods of the sky instructed hero Madu Sawan to battle with the legendary bird of the sky known as Tingkilang Ramang or The Spirit Eagle. This was to ascertain who had the right to take the King’s daughter, Dara Buda for a wife.
The Rejang Beuh is usually performed after the harvest season as a form of entertainment for guests to the longhouse. The dancers would stretch their arms out wide, imitating the movements of the eagle as they flap their wings in flight.
The male dancers, like their female dancing counterparts, will dance to the beat of the drums and gongs with accompaniment of little bells hanging from the bangles on their ankles. They are adorned with a necklace of wild boar tusks hung around their neck.
The Kanjet Ngeleput is a warrior dance of the Orang Ulu tribe, performed by a male dancer in full warrior attire. This includes a vest made of animal skin, a headgear featuring colourful beads and hornbill feathers, a long knife, along with a container full of darts tied around his waist and a blowpipe in hand. The dance portrays the nimble but stealthy gait of the warrior as he goes on a hunting trip in the jungle. He sees his target, he takes aim and shoots a dart, seldom missing the mark.
The Alu Alu, is dance of the Melanau tribe in Sarawak, is an integral part of the funeral rites of the tribe. The Alu Alu, which is not considered a traditional dance but a new creation dance, is performed as a means to comfort the relatives and friends of the deceased; the dance is usually performed at night over a span of four days.
There is no specific movement to the dance and can be derived from most simple and mundane of action, from everyday activities of the tribe such as cooking, bathing, farming and many more. The movements of the dance can also be inspired by dreams, from work or by nature.
The dance reaches it climax when one of the male dancers climbs to the top of a bamboo pole with support of his fellow dancers holding the pole up. The dancer then rests his stomach on the tip of the pole and is spun incessantly to the beat of the music and stops when the music has slowed down. This portion of the dance requires feats of strength and bravery.
Another dance, steeped in folklore and tradition of the Orang Kenyah tribe, is the Datun Julud, also known as the Hornbill Dance. From generation to generation, word of mouth dictates that a prince named Nyik Selung had conceived the idea of the dance to celebrate happiness and gratitude.
There is no limit to how many dancers are to perform the dance. Occasionally, a single female dancer will grace the stage. Sometimes it can be up to four dancers or more, depending on the occasion.
The dancers will be wearing ceremonial sarongs in beautiful patterns and designs, accompanied by a beautiful headpiece and a pair of fans made from hornbill feathers, the national bird of Sarawak. Today, the practice of using hornbill has been stopped completely, and the feathers are replaced with fake ones.
The dance includes gentle flicks of the wrist, in a slow and graceful up and down motion accompanied by the fans. The dance pays homage to the graceful flight movements of the majestic bird. It is always accompanied by the beautiful sounds of the sape, a traditional lute instrument that produces soothing and melodious sounds – a perfect combination.
See it all at one place
See these dances at the Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong. Performances are staged by award-winning dancers and musicians at 11.30am for the morning show and 4pm for the evening show. Call STB at +6082 846 108 / 846 078 or email [email protected] / [email protected] for more information. Not sure how to get there? Book a Grab car from your smartphone to get there or check if your hotel can help you out with bookings and transportation to Sarawak Cultural Village.