Photoblog: The Last Remaining Tatau Tribe of Sarawak, Borneo

Posted on January 5, 2011 by

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.


Tatau lady in her traditional wear

Welcome dance

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.

Tatau tribal ladies

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.

Tatau tribe

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.


Enjoying lunch in the longhouse

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.

Sunset along Sungei Tatau


My trip was made possible by Tune Hotels, but all opinions are my own. Read more about my travels through Sarawak, Borneo in the next few weeks.


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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

13 Responses to “Photoblog: The Last Remaining Tatau Tribe of Sarawak, Borneo”

  1. Camels & Chocolate January 6, 2011 3:08 am #

    My husband and I went to Borneo for our honeymoon last summer but we stuck to Sabah the whole time for the diving. Glad to see the part of it we weren't able to explore through your lens!

  2. David @MalaysiaAsia January 6, 2011 4:12 am #

    Nice write Nell! I love how the local always prepare a grand welcome for guests to the villages. For me, it's always the Ibans who seem to amaze me on my every visit to their longhouses. I couldn't help notice in one picture there was 'Beer' in cans being served! How up-to-date these Tatau tribe people are.. impressive as usually I get served the hard core Tuak where I always leave the longhouses giddy headed.


  3. ayngelina January 7, 2011 1:22 am #

    I love the movement in the third photo, very cool.

  4. Laura January 9, 2011 11:40 am #

    Lovely photos! I have yet to visit this part of the world, but it looks fascinating. I'm looking forward to reading more about it!

  5. Kristina January 9, 2011 12:54 pm #

    This is one of the least mentioned destinations and it's great reminding people it is there, ripe and waiting for tourists. great post!!!

  6. Chris Simon February 2, 2011 9:29 am #

    beautifully photographed and written – i am in Tatau right now (and Bintulu) filming and looking for budding Malay actors and film hands – chris simon, 2 Feb 2011 – (Here until April, 2011)..

  7. Erica February 11, 2011 5:40 pm #

    Wow. The first woman looks exactly like an aunt of mine…

    Love the movement in the pictures!

  8. Angela February 11, 2011 8:19 pm #

    So fascinating, and so sad to think that many of these civilizations are disappearing, they are so precious to the world's diversity.

  9. hideosan February 25, 2013 8:29 pm #

    This is an awesome write. Love the article about the Tatau Tribe. What about coming down to Borneo again? Am sure there is much more to see. Here is a little website for it.


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