It’s a hot and wet afternoon in the tropics of Sarawak, Borneo. The jungle surrounding us is an artful assemblage of bamboo and palm trees, draped over the river banks. We are gliding through the murky waters of Sungei Tatau, flanked on both sides by lush foliage. Our destination: the last remaining Tatau longhouse in the region.
I am in Bintulu, Borneo – a destination better known for oil and gas than cultural attractions. Few tourists make it out here except for local visitors but I’ve heard it is all about to change. With newly introduced tourism infrastructure development, giant chains have all set up shop here including the innovative Tune Hotels group. The hotel chain that has made it to the forefront of the budget hotel industry in Malaysia has just opened a new branch in downtown Bintulu and I’m here to check it out and explore the area. On our first day here, we’re going deep into the tribal territories in search of the last remaining Tatau tribe of Sarawak.
Hopping off the traditional longtail boat, we received a warm welcome from the Tatau tribal folks. Like most other tribes in Sarawak, they greeted us with a shot of tuah, hand-made rice wine. The men in the tribe then guide us into their house with a traditional dance.
Sarawak, Borneo is a stronghold of tradition. Many tribes still live in various corners of Sarawak and conserve their traditional practices. Although the family we visited is a mixture of Tatau and Iban tribes, they are the last remaining Tatau tribe left in Sarawak and thus hold extreme importance to the Bornean culture.
Residing in traditional longhouses (as the name implies, they are elongated houses where 15 to 20 families live under one roof), the Tatau tribes were warm and friendly, asking us to join in the dances and ceremonies. I was joined by a group of over 20 Malaysian journalists, among which many agreed with me that this tribal experience was as authentic as it could get.
By the end of the dance, we were invited to enjoy lunch in the longhouse. Typical Sarawak food was laid out on the floor as we dug in for a taste of tradition. A Tatau senior in her sixties, explained to me in Teochew dialect, “Everything we eat is from nature or grown by ourselves, such as the coconut core, bamboo and chicken.” The entire tribe is self-sustained by their own crops.
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