Get to know: The Bidayuh of Sarawak

Bidayuh is the second largest indigenous ethnic group in Sarawak after the Iban. The Bidayuh people are also knowns as the Land Dayak. In fact, the name Bidayuh itself means ‘people of the land’.


Bidayuh of Sarawak

According to history, the Bidayuh of Sarawak originate from Western Borneo. A well-known site known to be the ancestral home of the Jagoi-Bratak sub-group of the Bidayuh of Sarawak is Bung Bratak, which translates as ‘Bratak Hill’. It was once a vast settlement boasting seven longhouses built by the Bidayuh that migrated there from Mount Sungkong in West Kalimantan 700 years ago. On May 1, 1838, Bung Bratak was attacked by hostiles from Skrang, forcing the villagers to flee and later establish a new settlement known as Bung Jagoi. (want to know about “Bau: Discover Bung Jagoi”)

Bung Jagoi at Bau
Bung Jagoi

Today, the Bidayuh of Sarawak mainly live within Kuching, Serian, Lundu, Bau, Penrissen, Padawan and Siburan areas. Traditionally, the Bidayuh lived in longhouses, complete with a traditional roundhouse called Baruk, where they had community gatherings and special occasions. But with the change of times, they began to move into individual houses made of wood or bamboo. Today, these longhouses and traditional abodes have been replaced with houses made of brick and mortar, although there are still some longhouses kept preserved such as those in Anah Rais and Bunuk in Penrissen, as well as Mongkos in Serian.



Interestingly, Bidayuh of different areas speak distinctively different dialects. There are more than 20 different dialects spoken by the Bidayuh in Sarawak, the three main ones being Biatah, Singai-Jagoi and Bukar Sadong. Even more interestingly, the differences are noticeable even between two neighbouring villages. And the differences can be anything from pronunciations to intonations, and even words. Therefore, two Bidayuh persons from different areas speaking in either English or Bahasa Melayu Sarawak to one another is nothing strange. But that does not mean that they do not know how to speak their own language.


Culture, traditions, religion

The Bidayuh are incredibly adaptive to change, contributing to their tremendous success in a modern society. But while many have gone on to live and work in the city, and some even found career opportunities overseas, the Bidayuh have not forgotten their culture and traditions. In fact, they have made many efforts to preserve their culture and traditions for the future generations.

At the aforementioned longhouses, old ways of celebrating Gawai are still being practiced, including the wearing of traditional costumes and performing of traditional dances such as Ngiyar and Brejang. Many households still keep traditional woven baskets, winnowing trays and fish traps that are still useful for their day to day activities. In towns and cities, many Bidayuh households still keep these crafts to display in their homes.

Originally pagans and animists, the Bidayuh used to believe in nature and the ancestral spirits, but since the time of the Brookes, most have embraced Christianity. However, the old ways are not forgotten. Today during special occasions and Gawai celebration, ancient traditions are still performed, although only symbolically.

The Bidayuh still practice the traditional ways of preparing food in addition to modern-day cooking. Kasom ikien (preserved fish), dewon bandung poh (pounded tapioca leaves), puyak goreng ikien (fermented durian fried with small fish), siap tenok yan bruuk (chicken in bamboo) are some of their traditional favourites, which are still savoured today. Of course, in this day and age, a perfectly grilled fillet mignon is not something uncommon in the diet of the modern-day day Bidayuh.

So do you know anyone who’s Bidayuh?

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