Sunday, 23 December 2007

Sanctuary Hotel and mall Kuching

This building proposed to be build in current Ceko market,across of Astana Negeri.This building will be known as Sanctuary Hotel and Mall,where as the building consisting of Shopping Complex,cafe and hotel.This building is part of the new waterfront extension in Kuching whereas the next phase of Kuching waterfront stretched from this Ceko market to Brooke Dockyard All this pics(i mean the brooke dockyard itself) will become part of History as next year,this place will be demolished for giving place to New Kuching waterfront,so Kuchingites ,grab your camera and start to take pics of surrounding Brooke Dockyard to ceko.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The girl who would be queen

The White Rajahs of Sarawak ruled over their kingdom for more than 100 years, but the outlandish behaviour of the last Ranee, Sylvia Brooke, helped to bring about their downfall. Philip Eade traces her story

At the Daily Telegraph obituaries desk in April 2002 we were telephoned by a man introducing himself as Stewart McNair. He was the only son of Valerie Brooke, a colourful figure known as 'Princess Baba' during the 1930s, and the grandson of Sir Vyner Brooke, the last White Rajah of Sarawak, whose extraordinary wife Ranee Sylvia had adopted the sobriquet 'Queen of the Headhunters'. Mr McNair, himself a headhunter, the recruitment kind, was calling to suggest an obituary of his aunt Elizabeth Brooke Vidmer ('Princess Pearl'), who had recently died in Barbados. In the process of cobbling together a piece for our page, I was drawn in to the curious story of the Brooke family.

Sylvia Brooke
Sylvia Brooke in 1930

The Brookes had ruled their jungle kingdom on the island of Borneo for just over a century. They were the only English family ever to have occupied an Oriental throne and seem to have been remarkably popular with their subjects. They had their own flag, currency, postage stamps and constabulary, and each White Rajah had the power of life and death over half a million Malays, Chinese and Dyak tribesmen - notorious for their custom of taking heads. During the 1930s Rajah Vyner, a cloud-living Old Wykehamist, was one of the few monarchs left in the world who could still say 'l'Etat, c'est moi'.

Yet he ruled his kingdom rather as if it were an English country estate, with tribal chiefs always welcome at the big house. His family appeared in Burke's Landed Gentry as 'Brooke of Sarawak', and his career was encapsulated in one of the more arresting entries in Who's Who: 'Has led several expeditions into the far interior of the country to punish headhunters; understands the management of natives; rules over a population of 500,000 souls and a country 40,000 square miles in extent.'

Prior to the Second World War, the press in Britain continued to romanticise the Brooke Raj, but in truth the dynasty was in decline. In December 1941 Sarawak was overrun and occupied by the Japanese while the Rajah and Ranee were - conveniently, it was muttered - out of the country, and after the war Rajah Vyner controversially abdicated, ceding Sarawak to Britain as its last colonial acquisition.

The whimsical Rajah, his Rasputin-like private secretary and the ham-fisted British government all bore their share of responsibility for the clumsy way in which the Raj was brought to an end. But in many people's eyes a bigger villain was Ranee Sylvia, the extravagantly dressed author of 11 books who was submissive consort one moment, outrageous self-dramatist the next, described by the press as 'that most charming of despots', and by her brother as 'a female Iago'.When Steven Runciman wrote his history The White Rajahs (1960), he admitted privately that tact and fear of legal proceedings had 'kept me from saying too openly what I think about the later stages'. 'Of the Ranee,' he wrote in a letter to Rajah Vyner's niece, 'I've said very little, as I didn't want to risk libel.' There being no risk of that after Ranee Sylvia's death in 1971, I decided to write her biography, although one esteemed historian confessed he was baffled that I should want to write about such a 'wretched' and 'seedy' character.

Sylvia's elder sister Dorothy - later better known as the Bloomsbury painter 'Brett' and the third in DH Lawrence's ménage à trois in New Mexico -recalled being wheeled in a double pram with Sylvia by their nurse in Hyde Park one day and being told to wave to their father, Reginald Brett, who was out walking with a friend. Reggie wondered to his friend why those children were waving at him. 'Perhaps they are yours,' the friend ventured.

Reggie Brett, a courtier who succeeded his father as the second Viscount Esher in 1899 when Sylvia was 14, was a fabulously well-connected man, the confidant of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V, and of every prime minister from Rosebery to Baldwin. Yet he was a remote and often cruelly insensitive father to his children when they were little, apart from his younger son Maurice, whom he worshipped. Girls, in particular, were 'tiresome things until they are grown up', as far as Reggie was concerned.

Written off as plain and tongue-tied by her father, subordinated by her brothers (it was her duty every morning to do up their bootlaces) and mauled by her father's secretary, Sylvia made two attempts at suicide by the time she was 12: she first tried ptomaine poisoning, buying a tin of sardines from the village shop, opening it and leaving it on top of her cupboard for seven days before eating it; when that failed, she sought to catch pneumonia by lying naked in the snow.

After suffering further agonies of adolescent inadequacy, followed by miserable seasons as a ballroom wallflower, she sought refuge in her writing. Lunching each day at 'Lord Esher's table' at the Savoy Grill, she befriended JM Barrie, who helped her to publish her short stories. One of these, The Left Ladies, was inspired by Sylvia's fear of being left on the shelf, a fear exacerbated by the stuttering progress in the closest thing she had had to a love affair.

She had first met Vyner Brooke, the Rajah Muda of Sarawak, in 1903, when he was 29 and she had joined the all-girl orchestra cunningly formed by Vyner's mother, Ranee Margaret, as a means of introducing suitable young ladies to her three shy sons, each of whom would eventually marry a member of the ensemble. Vyner had quickly declared his love for 18-year-old Sylvia, but a combination of her parents' hostility (Reggie Esher not only thoroughly disapproved of despotic forms of government, but also regarded the White Rajahs as characters out of a comic opera) and her own uncertainty meant that it was not until 1911 that she finally accepted him.

At their wedding the press turned out in force, eager to report the news that Lord Esher's daughter had married the heir to 'one of the most romantic sovereignties in all Asia', 'Lord and Taker of Life', 'the greatest autocrat on earth'. When they returned from honeymoon, George Bernard Shaw, Sylvia's other literary admirer, had sent a nursery rhyme:

'Ride a cock horse
To Sarawak Cross
To see a young Ranee consumed with remorse.
She'll have bells on her fingers
And rings through her nose,
And won't be permitted to wear any clo'es.'

A year later, in 1912, Vyner took Sylvia on her first visit to Sarawak. After a week she wrote from the royal palace (Astana) to tell Shaw that she was 'alas no longer what I was, a humble, dutiful wife, but a howling snob with a head as swelled as the largest coconut in the land - every time I go to pick a flower in the garden the guard turns out, and every time I go to buy a button in the village, 60 people gather about the shop, when we go to dinner our national anthem is played as we go up the steps, and we sit upon cloths of gold.'

In 1918 Vyner succeeded his father, Rajah Charles, and Sylvia became Ranee. By this time she had produced three daughters but no son. (Before each birth the old Rajah had primed the bellringers in Sarawak to announce the arrival of a future heir to the Brooke Raj, but they clung to the ropes waiting for a signal that never came.) Shortly after the birth of her third daughter, Valerie, Sylvia was told that she could have no more children, so instead she hatched various schemes aimed at overturning the rules of succession in favour of her eldest, Leonora - 'Princess Gold'. At the same time she took every opportunity to blacken the name of the heir apparent, Vyner's nephew Anthony Brooke, accusing him of folie de grandeur when Vyner briefly left him in charge of Sarawak. She said that he had clamped a golden cardboard crown to his car and instructed that all traffic draw aside at his approach.

Sylvia was hardly one to talk, having confessed to her father shortly after her marriage that she wanted 'crowns plastered everywhere'. In general she did not do dignity. Her lack of restraint as Ranee shocked serious-minded members of the Sarawak service - in 1930 the chief justice complained to his mother about the 'unbelievable amount of smut in Her Highness's conversation'. In 1946, after observing the Ranee dancing with two prostitutes in a nightclub and taking them back to the palace to paint their portraits, a visiting MP from Westminster concluded that 'a more undignified woman it would be hard to find'.

Sylvia's daughters, meanwhile, grew up with little in the way of boundaries and Sylvia was happy to live vicariously through them, relishing the fact that 'they never had to stand in a row of anxious virgins as I had done, waiting to be asked to dine or dance'. The 'dangerously beautiful' Brooke girls eventually married eight times between them; their various husbands included the 2nd Earl of Inchcape and the bandleader Harry Roy. According to cousin Anthony, their antics turned Sarawak into 'a music hall joke'.

When, in 1937, Valerie, the wildest of the three, fell into the clutches of the European middleweight 'catch-as-catch-can' wrestling champion Bob Gregory, her wedding was attended by a blaze of publicity which they eagerly fanned by driving around London in a white open car with 'Baba and Bob' painted on the back, and Valerie carrying a toy monkey, larger than she was, wherever she went. They later announced they were going to buy an island in the Netherlands East Indies to be called 'Babaland', where 'every man would be Rajah'. 'We're going to have a democracy,' Valerie declared, 'but with a court and things - maybe an aristocratic democracy. I think a country without lots of uniforms and braids is no fun.'

Publicly, Sylvia joined with Vyner in disapproving of the match, but in the view of the stern chief justice, she was entirely to blame for bringing her daughters up 'like tarts'. At the same time, she contributed to what Anthony called 'this rotten, cheap publicity' by making wildly inaccurate statements whenever she stumbled across a journalist. She did nothing to dispel the impression that Sarawak was populated entirely by headhunters and lotus eaters, and saw to it that her position and influence as Ranee remained enshrouded in myth. But while her peculiar status and activities were endlessly celebrated by the press, the Colonial Office (CO) had long regarded her as 'a dangerous woman'.

In 1942, when she arrived back in England from Sarawak, imaginatively claiming that she had just 'escaped' from the invading Japanese, and volunteering to go on a lecture tour, the CO could think of nothing 'calculated to do less good and more mischief than a lecture by this lady'. After the war, she wanted to be part of the advance party to Sarawak to help re-establish 'normal life', but it was tersely minuted that she 'ought to be the last civilian in the queue - her spiritual home is Hollywood'. When she eventually returned to Sarawak, in 1946, it was to accompany Vyner as he prepared to abdicate. Although she maintained otherwise, she had been secretly pushing for a transfer of sovereignty since the late 1930s. With the country now on its knees after four years of occupation, and with Anthony's presumptuous attitude over the succession becoming increasingly irksome to them both, cession to Britain in return for a financial settlement had become all the more attractive.

On this, their final visit to their kingdom, they landed as usual by flying boat at the mouth of the Sarawak river and transferred to the royal yacht, with Sylvia standing on deck waving her silk scarf all the way upriver to the capital Kuching. 'Never before had we received such a tremendous welcome,' she recalled: 'hundreds of little boats lined the river banks, and behind the boats the crowds were so dense they looked like a forest of dazzling flowers with their golden sarongs and little coloured coats.'

As they went ashore, a 21-gun salute boomed out from Fort Margherita, and as they walked among the people, Sylvia four paces behind her husband (according to Sarawakian custom, she was his slave), Malay women surged through the guard, prodding Vyner beneath his royal yellow umbrella and teasing him that 'the Rajah has got fat'. Later on, as they looked down from their upstairs veranda at the palace, the crowd sang Salamat rumah Tuan Rajah (Blessings on your house, Rajah) and Salamat Tuan Ranee. Sylvia recalled that she 'would have felt further from tears if some of them had denounced us and called down curses on our heads instead of invoking this gracious and merciful benediction, this unanimous affection.' She wondered if it was crossing Vyner's mind not to go through with the cession.

Over the next few days, Dyak chiefs came to the palace to tell of their wartime experiences. Sylvia's old favourite, Temenggong Koh, was now aged 76 but he looked younger than he had before the war, 'refreshed' by the renewed headhunting that had taken place during the occupation. In Sarawak as a whole it was estimated that 1,500 Japanese had lost their heads - which were particularly prized by the Dyaks for being 'nice round heads with good hair and gold teeth'. Officers in the Sarawak service thought that 'this three and a half years of glorious hunting' would not make the Dyaks out of hand, but rather the fact that they had replenished their head supply would tend to keep them quiet.

Vyner and Sylvia later made one final journey up the Rejang river to Kapit, where Temenggong Koh had summoned hundreds of Kayans and Dyaks in their war boats, scarlet capes and hornbill feather head-dresses. When the Rajah came ashore and made a speech, they all fell silent. As Sylvia later wrote, 'he was amongst the people that he loved; and as always in such circumstances, his shyness disappeared. I don't think I have ever admired Vyner more than I did then, as he stood, a tall informal figure in a khaki suit and an old white topi, addressing his warriors and their wives, explaining to them the reasons for the cession. He did not read his speech, but told his story in their legendary language and in the only way that they could really understand; and their fierce lashless eyes never left his face.'

They spent their last night in a longhouse, and the next morning inspected a collection of Japanese heads, which had been smoked and hung in a special corner of the longhouse. The Dyaks explained that they had sent their prettiest daughters down to a pool in the jungle to bathe, and, as Sylvia recorded, when the Japanese had crept up to stare at them 'they had simply lopped off their heads as they went by'.

On July 26, 1946, soon after Sylvia and Vyner returned to London, the Privy Council ordered the annexation of Sarawak to the British Crown. For the first time during their marriage they were now entirely redundant in her affairs, 'shorn of our glory,' Sylvia wrote in her autobiography, 'and faced with the necessity of adjusting to a world in which we were no longer emperors but merely two ordinary, ageing people, two misfits...'

After her unhappy childhood, Sarawak had been 'like a dream come true', and when it ended her existence seemed 'pointless and monotonous, waking up in the morning with no definite purpose, no plan of activity, and with no future to look forward to, only the past to remember.' At night she 'still seemed to hear the Dyak gongs and the distant resonance of muffled drums; to inhale the perfume of the flowers in the little Malay girls' hair. Would I ever cease to long for that enchanted land, or to forget that I had once been part-ruler of it; or break myself of the habit of standing whenever Vyner entered a room, or walking dutifully four paces behind him? Now that we no longer had our country, we had a feeling of isolation, of not belonging. Where was the sentry presenting arms as we went in and out? Where were the Malay boys softly and gracefully waiting on our every wish? Perhaps I had enjoyed it all more than I should...'

Her desolation was compounded by the fact that she and Vyner now lived separately, she in a flat in Archery Close, just north of Hyde Park, he in a house in Albion Street around the corner, which grew increasingly dilapidated as the years wore on. A budgerigar flew freely about Vyner's drawing-room, occasionally pausing to bathe in a jug of water, from which the old Rajah would then pour drinks for his guests. When it became old and ill and obviously dying, Vyner turned his face away and said to his secretary, 'Put it in the water jug.'

Occasionally, he would ask Sylvia to help him get rid of one of his girlfriends, whereupon she would go round to his house and play the indignant wife. She affected to tolerate his endless affairs as 'part of his colour and charm... his little foolishness', adding that in any case it was not entirely his fault, for although she had 'thawed considerably in the Sarawak sun, I was still, to all intents and purposes, a frigid woman'.

She denied that she felt jealous, explaining to her sister Dorothy that she and Vyner had 'too good an understanding for that', and that they had 'made a glorious success of our marriage just because we don't behave like any other husband and wife have ever behaved. We go out together, dine together, have lots of fun, and then at night we call it a day, and go back to our virgin beds. No one who has ever married has so hated the sleeping together more than either he or I did... It's all right when you are young, and it's all right if you want kids. But as an act it is both ridiculous and awkward, and I take a very poor view of it indeed.'

'Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters: An Outrageous Englishwoman and her Lost Kingdom' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) by Philip Ead

Charles Vyner Brooke's colourful past

Charles Vyner Brooke.
He was a charmer and womaniser who grew up in the shadow of an autocratic father and then sold his crown for a million pounds. PREMILLA MOHANLALL digs up some juicy stories on Charles Vyner Brooke.

Getting lost can lead you on a voyage of discovery! I had taken a wrong turn after a shopping trip in London and found myself wandering through quiet Albion Street when I stopped to stare at a bronze plaque that read:

Brooke, Sir Charles Vyner (1874-1963)
Last Rajah of Sarawak, lived here.
13, Albion Street W2
London, England

This sent me trawling through the history books to find colourful stories about the family that are little known to most Malaysians.

Charles Vyner Brooke’s best claim to fame was as the rajah who sold his kingdom for a million pounds to the British Colonial Office. He then retired to lead a reclusive life in London, a broken “king” but with a sexual appetite that didn’t wane – he died in the arms of a 17-year girlfriend at age 87!

Brooke, the grandnephew of James Brooke, was an easygoing and spendthrift young man. His father, Rajah Charles, the second White Rajah of Sarawak and James' nephew, once warned his heir: “Our family never entertained the idea of founding a family of Brookes to be European millionaires!”

But his advice fell on deaf ears and the young man, together with his queen, squandered the family money and title, and eventually died in relative obscurity in London. His life reflected his rejection of the spartan lifestyle that his frugal father had imposed on the family.

Young Charles Vyner grew up in the Astana, in Kuching, that was sorely in need of renovation. His father, however, refused to change even one stick of furniture. It was reported that when a resident, A. B. Ward, took it upon himself to replace the moth-eaten tablecloth in the Astana, the enraged Rajah Charles flung it out. Rajah Charles abhorred luxury and comfort saying that he could live as rough a life as his subjects, especially those in remote villages.

From all historical accounts, Rajah Charles was a model ruler. He had inherited a bankrupt state in 1870 from his uncle, James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak.

The new rajah was a quiet and severe young man who dismissed the British Colonial Office’s model of administration for the colonies as being “apt to exalt Western civilisation to the exclusion of native customs, forcing home-made laws upon reluctant people.”

However, he was opposed to slavery and headhunting and devoted his energy to abolishing these practices. To effect these reforms, he started the Sarawak Service, with 50 officers. He encouraged his officers to marry local women, something that did not endear him to the English ladies of Kuching.

As the white rajah, he, however, considered it his royal duty to produce a white heir. He returned to England to marry Ranee Margaret, a lively young lady, 20 years his junior. Fort Margherita is named after her.

The newly married Rajah Charles then built the Astana, now the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak. Not surprisingly, the Astana was a no-frills affair. He sired three children but they died on a trip back to England on board a British mail boat. From then on, Rajah Charles travelled only on French liners.

He later sired three boys – Charles Vyner, Bertram and Harry. His succession assured, he and Ranee Margaret led separate lives – he preferred the quiet life of Sarawak while she enjoyed the gaiety of London society.

Ranee Margeret socialised with the London literary set and displayed great courage when she chose to ignore convention and protect the two young sons of Oscar Wilde from their father’s homosexual scandal that rocked English society in the 1880s.

Rajah Charles.
Rajah Charles, meanwhile, attended to the affairs of the state with unstinting devotion. He built the courthouse, now a Kuching landmark, where he heard several cases daily. During his reign, gold and oil deposits were found in Sarawak. He also encouraged crop cultivation for exports. To work the mines and grow crops, he encouraged the Chinese to migrate here. This period saw new townships in the predominantly jungle landscape – Sibu, Bintulu and Samarang. Kuching also grew fast.

Charles was a keen horseman who loved racing. He built the Kuching Turf Club to feed this passion. He proclaimed a Race Week once a year, something like the Melbourne Cup Week or Ascot. The first races were held in 1890, using ponies from Sabah; later he imported studs from Australia.

Two racing days were declared public holidays, when Kuching society gathered at the turf club in Pandungan. Grandstands were allocated to Europeans and native chieftains, with a line of huts across the grandstand for locals.

Like his uncle James Brooke, Rajah Charles ruled Sarawak, independent of the British Colonial Office.

Charles Vyner Brooke inherited a financially well-managed state. An affable young man, he married Sylvia Brett, the daughter of Lord Esher and godchild of novelist J.B. Barrie and Bernard Shaw.

She was a social butterfly, who organised dances and amateur theatre for the European community of Kuching. The Rajah built a cinema that was named after her. He also renovated the Astana, transforming it from a ramshackle building to a stately mansion and had an elaborate coronation. Ranee Sylvia proclaimed yellow as the royal colour, for the exclusive use of the Rajah and his family.

This was the heyday of social life in Sarawak, portrayed in the novels of Somerset Maugham – of theatre, dances and Whites-only clubs. During this period, locals were discouraged from entering European clubs, a practice that ran against the previous Brooke rule of encouraging integration.

Charles Vyner was a charming personality and Ranee Sylvia wrote in her biography published in 1972 (released after she died in 1971) that he was a man with a voracious sexual appetite on the trail of skirts, especially local ones, many of whom became close family friends.

In her book, Ranee Sylvia describes the pleasures and strains of life in Kuching, where as the Rajah’s wife, she vetted and accepted philosophically his many mistresses.

Ranee Sylvia was bored and given to big spending; he, on the other hand, did his best to improve the lot of his people but did not enjoy the rigours of administration.

Before long, the state coffers began to dwindle and just months prior to Japanese Occupation, Vyner, who was tired of ruling, announced that he planned to celebrate the centenary of Brooke rule by divesting himself of absolute power.

He had no male heir; the Sarawak Constitution drawn up by the earlier rajahs clearly stipulated that the ruler must be male. Charles Vyner had three daughters and Ranee Sylvia tried to amend the constitution to include female rulers but she failed.

Fort Margherita, built 1879, was named after Ranee Margaret. — Starpix by RAPAEE KAWI
After the war, nationalism was on the rise. Charles Vyner realised that he might have a losing battle on his hands. Besides, he wanted out. So, he ceded the state to the British Crown. He handed over Sarawak’s accumulated reserves of £2.75mil on the understanding that £1mil pounds would be set aside in a trust for himself and his family. Thus ended 100 years of Brooke rule in Sarawak, which became a British Crown Colony on Jul 1, 1945.

Charles Vyner and his wife went their separate ways – he went into exile in London, where he died in 1963.

Ranee Sylvia continued her royal role abroad. Dressed in the royal regalia of Sarawak, she entered the lecture circuit and toured America, where she was received as the Queen of the Headhunters (it’s also the title of her autobiography). A woman with a sense of drama, she also took the Brooke family saga to Hollywood but nothing came out it. She died in 1971 in Barbados.

Their daughters Leonora, Elizabeth and Valerie gained notoriety for their public brawls, family feuds and illicit love affairs. Elizabeth went on to become an actress and died in 2002. Little is known of the other two. W

Brooke Trivia

  • James Brooke was romanticised as a buccaneer and it is said that Charles Kingsley dedicated the novel Westward Ho! to him.

  • Errol Flynn was tipped to play the part of James Brooke in a Warner Brothers movie in 1930s. The script was so heavily fictionalised that the Brooke family refused to endorse it – Hollywood wanted James to be portrayed as a womaniser, which he wasn’t, given an injury that had made him impotent.

  • Rajah Charles was considered an eccentric. After losing an eye in a riding accident he replaced it with a fake eye that was destined for a stuffed albatross!

    Originally published in The Star on Saturday October 30, 2004

  • Thursday, 22 November 2007

    SARAWAK REGATTA ~ Paddling Into The Past

    SARAWAK REGATTA ~ Paddling Into The Past
    By Sanib Said
    Director Sarawak Museum

    Other than known as the Land of Perfection (Darul Hana) during the Brunei Sultanate Period and now the Land of Hornbills, Sarawak is also known as the Land of Many Rivers. Certainly there are countless rivers, small and big ones, criss-crossing the largest state in Malaysia and playing important roles in the history and culture of its 24 ethnic groups. There are too many toponymns which derive their name from rivers including the name of the state, Sarawak. The capital city, Kuching, gets its name from a small river that no longer visible which once rose from the hill called Mata Kuching where trees known as mata kuching (not mata pusa) were found and its fruits said to resemble mata kuching (cat’s eyes). This simply shows how intricate the relationship between man and his rivers is in Sarawak.

    In many ways, the link between men and the rivers are served by the boats. Until very recently rivers and boats are the major means of transportation and communication among big towns, small towns, villages and longhouses. If it could be called so, the climax of the intricate relationship of rivers and men with their boats was the annual regattas organized practically by all districts in Sarawak in the not so distant past when roads and cars were still rare and few. The annual regattas of the past were more than just boat racing but they were grand social events including peace celebrations, cultural performances and development exhibitions rolled into one big festivals.

    The famous regatta in Sarawak was known as the Baram Regatta first held in 1899 in Marudi. But it was not the first. As the available historical records are concerned, the first regatta was held in January 1871 in Kuching known as the Sarawak Regatta. Practically every other district towns throughout the state followed and turned the regattas into great annual social event until the advent of more cars, planes and fast boats in 1970s.

    The first Baram Regatta in 1899 in Marudi perhaps epitomized to the timeless value of regattas in Sarawak. The chief architects of the Baram Regatta was no other than the Resident, Charles Hose whose reminiscene could be found in his book, the Natural Man.

    “Some thirty years ago it was my privilege to be present at a meeting at Marudi (Claudetown) in the Baram district, and in the presence of an overwhelming force of the tribes loyal to the Government of Sarawak, of all those tribes whose allegiance was still doubtful, and all those who were still at a variance with each other. The object was to abolish old bloodfeuds and persuade the tribes to aid the Government in keeping the peace. In calling this conference, I felt that in order to suppress fighting and headhunting, the normal young Bornean’s natural outlet, it would be well to replace them by some other equally violent, but less disastrous, activity; and I therefore suggested to the tribes a sort of loca Henley, the chief feature of which would be annual race between the war-canoes of all the villages. The proposal was taken up eagerly by the people, and months before the appointed day, they were felling the giants of the forest and carving out from them the great war-canoes that were to be put to this novel use, and reports were passing from village to village of the stupendous dimensions of this or that canoe, and the fineness of timber and workmanship of another.

    Between the people living on the banks of the two rivers, the Baram and the Tinjar, hostility which just at this time had been accentuated by the occurrence of a blood-feud between the Kenyahs, a leading tribe of the Baram, and the Lirongs, a powerful tribe of the Tinjar. In addition to these two groups was a large party of Madangs, a famous tribe of fighting men of the central highlands whose hand had hitherto been against every other tribe; and also a large number of Ibans, who more than all the rest are always spoiling for a fight.

    The winners were a crew of peaceful down-river folks, who had learnt the art of boat-making from the Malays of the coast; and they owed their victory to the superior build of their ship rather than to superior strength. When they passed the post it was an anxious moment. How would the losers take their beating? Would the winners play the fool, openly exulting and swaggering? If so, they would probably get their heads broken, or perhaps lose them. But they behaved with modesty and discretion. The excitement of the crowds on the bank was great, but it was entirely good-humoured; in the interest of the racing they seemed to have forgotten their feuds. This opportunity was naturally seized to summon everyone to the conference hall. This time they settled down with great decorum, the chiefs all in one group at one side of a central space, and the common people in serried ranks all round about it. In the centre was a huge, gaily-painted effigy of the sacred hornbill, on which were hung thousands of cigarettes of home-grown tobacco wrapped in dried banana leaf.

    Many retired and senior civil servants still vividly recalled those so-called ‘good old days”. This is because most if not all available civil servants at the district events would be involved directly in organizing the event. One recalled the caretaker/maker of the boat who would spit all sorts of charms on the boat and forbid anyone from touching it; hence guarded jealously throughout the night. Most importantly, according to the ancient belief, no one should ever touch the front tip of the boat decorated with beautifully carved motifs and images.

    In those days, just like racing horses today, boats were given names. Some were simple names but other were outrageously bombastic and long as those which had been found in some old programmes books and the old faithful Sarawak Gazette, viz. Burong Raja Wali Senang Hati (Happy Kingfisher) owned by Bujang Kontoi, Seri Bulan Pelandok Dara (Moon Virgin Mousedeer) owned by T>K> Senusi, Bendera Baru Note Sarawak (Flag New Note Sarawak) owned by Ason anak Lawat, Singa Terbang Kendawang Gronggong (Flying Lion?) owned by S.P.G. Rimbas. A few simple and futuristic such as Merdeka owned by Hassan Bros in 1951 and Tidak Disangka owned by Madenah Melayu in 1955. Many reflected the situation of the times such as Usaha Berjaya (Successful Effort); and Muhibbah (Harmony) that raced in the 1970 regatta.

    Paddling through the past one could contemplate that it was the harmonious (Muhibbah) relationship between men, settlements and river that the people of Sarawak found in regattas. Such a relationship will guide us as Sarawakians paddle into the future.



    The Chinese Dragon Boat features the head and tail of a dragon, a mythological creature regarded by the Chinese as having dominion over the waters and exercising control over rainfall. The head and tail are kept ashore during the year and are only affixed for the races. After they have been attached, it is necessary to bring the boat to life and a ceremony presided over by a Taoist priest amidst burning incense and exploding firecrackers. The eyes of the dragon head is dotted with paint and sacrificial paper money is put into the dragon’s mouth and then thrown into the water.

    The Dragon Boat Race traces its history to commemorate the life and death of a famous Chinese Scholar-stateman, Chu Yuan. Some three centuries BC, Chu Yuan served the King of Chu during the warring states period. As a loyal Minister, Chu Yuan at first enjoyed full confidence and respect of his sovereign. Eventually through the intrigues of his rivals, he was discredited and was never able to regain the emperor’s favour. On the fifth moon in the year 295 BC Chu Yuan plunged himself into the Milo River in the Hunan province.

    The people who lived in the area jumped in their boats and rushed out in a vain search for him. This unsuccessful rescue attempt traces the history of what the Dragon Boat Race is and is being commemorate every year.


    In the olden days, the building of the Perahu Balok was largely undertaken by the Malays of Kampung Ladung, Batang Air Simunjan, an area famous for its timber (kayu balak).

    Originally the perahu balok was created from a whole tree trunk using simple implements such as the “parang” and “beliong”. The boat can accommodate between 4 to 5 persons.

    Over time the building method was modified involving building such parts as the “lunas’ and ‘linggi” separately and using water-tight woods such as ‘kayu penyauk’ or ‘empedu’ for the “timbo”. Accommodating between 5 to 10 people, it is also called ‘perahu sampat”. Because of its popularity, perahu sampat was distributed for sale not only at the Ceko Market, Kuching but also other part of the state, especially Samarahan.

    Perahu Balok (or Sampat) is still popular especially among the riverine and coastal communities and serves a number of purposes, such as fishing, gathering of attap leaves and transportation.


    The Melanau Community has a few types of traditional boats. In the Melanau dialect (Mukah) they are known as Bahong, Badong, Bakong, Buagan and Bidar. Each one has its own uniqueness, designed and constructed in different sizes and capacity to suit different purposes.
    The boats are all made from wood, ranging from Kapur (Lelawak), Papa, Daeet, Gerangan and Meranti. The choice of wood influences the boat’s durability, speed and lightness for racing.

    The Bahong and Badong boats are used for deep sea and shallow water fishing. Bakong boats is normally used for transporting goods along the wide and deeper rivers while Buagan, being smaller in size and capacity is mainly used in small rivers in the villages. Bidar boat on the other hand is used by the Melanaus for boat competitions and regattas held in Mukah, Dalat and other districts and divisions in Sarawak.

    The boats are decorated with paraphernalia consisting of the ritualistic “Serahang”, a multi-tiered traditional basket specially used at the Melanau’s traditional Kaul festival and “Jengayak” as well as other accessories of a typical Melanau origin. The Melanau flags are held high by the men’s paddlers with headbands while women paddlers put on their “terindak” hats that served as a protection against the hot sun.

    Whenever and wherever a regatta is held in Sarawak, Bidar is always present and had been on the racing scene of the Sarawak Regatta for over a century, thus contributing to the colours of this premier event which is of great historical and cultural significance.


    “HARUK ADANG USUNG TINGANG” literally translated means “flying boat with the hornbill bow”.

    So-callled “flying boat” because the Orang Ulu legend has it that during the tribal warring days of Borneo, the fire to avenge the death of their tribesman would burn so strong in their warrior’s chests that it would literally fuel the “HARUK ADANG USUNG TINGANG” to “fly”.

    Usually dug out from the “arau”, “merang kayuk” or sometimes known as “enkabang” tree. Its bow is usually curved with the hornbill motif, given that the hornbill is highly revered in the Orang Ulu culture as it was seen as a vessel for the spirits to communicate to the people. This legendary “HARUK ADANG USUNG TINGANG” did not remain as mere legend, but also made the long and ardous journey from upper Bakun to Kuching to pay tax during the reign of Rajah Brooke by sheer ‘paddle power’, and back!

    Nevertheless, the mention of the legendary “HARUK ADANG USUNG TINGANG” never fails to inspire the modern-day Orang Ulus even though it belonged to a bygone era.


    This type of ‘arud’ or boat is most popular to the Dayak Bidayuh Community along Sungei Kiri in the Penrissen area. They call it ‘Arud Diak’ (Arud Tikura) because of its peculiar shape, adaptability and suitability to rough swift river in the rural areas.

    “Diak” in Bidayuh is a species of tortoise, which can survice on land, sea and rivers. It has a hard, thick and slightly brownish coloured shell covering the body with a pale yellow colour under the stomach. Around its body there are sharp edges which can cut.

    Long before the Brooke’s arrival in Sarawak, the Bidayuh along Sungei Sarawak Kiri up to Kpg. Annah Rais in Padawan used this kind of ‘Arud’ as means of transportation. They paddled through swift flowing rivers bringing down with them fruits and rice for sale or trade with other villagers in kampungs like Buntal, Bako and Santubong.

    The ‘Arud’ is usually made of a species of wood from the ‘Bitouh’, ‘Engkabang’, ‘Pota’ or ‘Miranti’ trees. These materials need to be thoroughly dried before the construction begins. The ‘arud’ normally has 10, 15, 20 paddlers and it would take them three to four months to complete.


    The ‘Perahu Bidar’ also known as ‘Perahu Pengayau’ was known to be made more than a century ago in the Saribas and Skrang districts (Simanggang Divisioin, now known as Sri Aman). The construction of this boat then spread to Sebuyau and Lundu.

    The ‘Perahu Bidar’ is usually made from hard wood such as ‘Meraka’, ‘Keruing’, ‘Penyauk’ and other hard wood species. The wood used is selected based on its durability and water resistance. Tools use to make the ‘perahu bidar’ include ‘beliong’, ‘rimbas’ and ‘parang’.

    The hull or ‘lunas’ (langkan) is made from the trunk of a huge hard wood tree and is then ‘timbo’ (attached) with planks to make the ‘Perahu Bidar’. The boat is usually 36 feet long and 6 feet wide and can accommodate up to 20 to 25 paddlers.

    With passage of time, the ‘Perahu Bidar’ has changed in size and use and some to 72 feet long and 3 feet wide that can accommodate from 10 to 30 paddlers. The ‘Perahu Bidar’ or ‘Perahu Pengayau’ is now being used for competitive river sports especially in the Regatta Sarawak which is held every year.

    Monday, 19 November 2007



    Otto Steinmayer, Universiti Malaya

    Drawings by Augustine Anggat Ganjing

    In Memoriam Augustine Anggat anak Ganjing, died 14 February 2007, Kuching.

    Photograph by Charles Hose, ca. 1900

    "All this is not too bad—but what's the use? They don't wear breeches." Michel de Montaigne, Of cannibals .


    MANY may think that—like the loincloth itself—a paper on the loincloth ought to be brief and cover only the essentials. Yet just as we wear clothes for more reasons than mere utility, and dress decorates as much as it hides, the subject of the loincloth furnishes an occasion for remarks on history, culture, and psychology.

    Despite being among the most basic markers of cultural identity, the loincloth has been distinctly ignored. Anthropologists generally give a word or two regarding it, then pass on to other matters, and writers on costume ignore the topic altogether. When I came to study Borneo, I tried to find a description of what the Borneo loincloth was and how to wear it. For as the Dutchman Karl Martin said of the Sulawesi loincloth a hundred years ago, "once it's on it's hard to figure out how it got that way."[1] Many Dayaks who have grown up in modern city life, or even farther out, are as much at a loss for the method of putting on a loincloth as any western man. Much as the western man now finds it difficult to tie a bow tie!

    There are several reasons why western writers would not want to write much about the loincloth. In the first place, mere unfamiliarity.[2] European men's dress is an "arctic" style based on trousers and the shirt, which they inherited from the Romans. According to archaeological evidence,[3] European men have been wearing trousers from the remotest past, even when they too were "primitive." With negligable exceptions,[4] they have never worn any kind of loincloth. The only thing in Europe which resembles it is underpants, a garment that has a history of scarcely a thousand years and whose dignity and consequent esthetic value has been nil.

    Second, though the purpose of the loincloth is to cover the male genitals, it leaves the buttocks bare. Most peoples feel shame about all or part of the genitals; but it seems to be a peculiarly western trait to feel equal shame about the buttocks, probably from a fear of homosexuality, an anxiety which also seems to grow with civilization. Hence, westerners have always considered the loincloth an immodest garment.

    In daily life Europeans felt very uncomfortable with any kind of exposure, to the point that a peasant would not work with his shirt off even on a hot day. Only the ancient Greeks, whose clothing consisted of a single wrap, felt no shame about the naked body. This attitude has survived in western art's genre of the nude.

    Clothing, which in its broadest sense includes ornaments and paint, is universal: there never has been such a thing as a naked people. Human beings have a horror of being nude, of being shamefully bare, which does not necessarily mean that the genitals can be seen. In the case of South American Indians, nudity meant appearing without appropriate ornaments or paint, something one would only dare to do while working in the garden when no one was looking.[5] You notice in photographs that the Penan, even on their hunting trips, wear their strings of beads and fiber bracelets.

    There are, as I see it, four main functions of clothing, all equally important: ornament, modesty, protection, and the feeling of something on the body or constricting it.

    The most profound function of clothing, in this widest sense, is to ornament the body, and thus to "humanize" and "socialize" it. Some South American Indians have expressly said that they ornament themselves because if they wear no ornament they feel there is no difference between themselves and animals. Ornament is a necessity for them to keep their identity as human beings in the vast and often terrifying forest. It is an expression of play, delight, and willed human beauty. For the same reason, the Balinese and other southeast Asian peoples formerly abhorred white teeth. They felt white teeth were a sign of animality, and hence they blackened them with iron salts in order to look distinctly human.[6] Ornament is also one way a person can show something about his standing and his life. The tattoos that an Iban man had pricked on him (which can also be considered a type of clothing) after say, bejalai, are an example of this.

    The universal human feeling of modesty must also originate from this anxiety to be distinguished from animals, to put human order into overwhelming natural creation. Animals live their sexlives completely in the open and mix with any degree of kin. Human beings control their sexuality and respect the stringent and universal prohibition against incest. The Nambikwara of Brazil went completely naked, and never allowed themselves to become sexually excited in public. This was their way of modesty.[7]

    Nakedness is nevertheless always erotic. Though eros is an essential of human life, unrestricted eros is both dangerous and "inhuman." Usually peoples have felt that they ought to render the genitals symbolically harmless with some covering or decoration. Many men of South American, Africa, and Melanesia felt ashamed that any other person should see their glans penis, and thus covered it with sheaths of leaves, or in the case of the Panamanians, of gold.[8] The men of the Yanomami tribe formerly tied up their penises to belts around their hips,[9] and they felt ashamed if their penises came undone, even in a fight.[10] Other peoples circumcise the penis, either because religion demands it or because (as is become customary among the natives of Borneo) the women are repelled by penis with foreskin intact. In Borneo, only antu are carved or depicted in weavings as entirely naked, a sign of their crude, powerful, half-animal nature.

    But these coverings ornament and attract attention to the genitals as much as hide them. Their function is in fact not so much to hide the penis as to ornament it, humanize it and socialize it. Westerners misinterpret the erotic significance of the penis sheath; those who wear them consider them equipment for modesty and decency. Their function is to help create a humane balance in sexuality. The "primitive" man does not at all deny his virility, but displays it in such a way as to indicate also that he controls his sexuality and channels its energies in a socially responsible way. The often beautifully decorated front apron of the Bornean loincloth must likewise be a humane display of a man's sexuality, as much as is the sporran of Scotsmen's traditional dress.[11]

    People in warm climates felt no false shame over going completely nude if necessary. It is interesting that the Igorots of Luzon, who speak a Malayo-Polynesian language and in many respects resemble the Dayaks of Borneo, were on occasion quite careless of being seen naked. Women took off their skirts and put them under their hats if it began to rain, and a photograph shows naked men in company with women (dressed in banana leaves) doing the messy work of churning up a rice field for planting.[12] I have heard of only one or two instances of Dayak men going naked like this. Dayaks in general are shocked at the idea. But a photograph of thirty years ago shows a Penan man entirely naked as he hauls a catch of fish out of a river.[13]

    Thus, utility has always been a difficult justification for many types of clothes, especially in a tropical climate where they are not necessary at all.[14] How useful are high heels? or blue woolen suits such as we see bankers wearing on the streets of Kuala Lumpur? If utility were consulted, a loincloth would seem much more practical, a point that "primitive" men have made rather often, when they don't actually come out and say that wearing trousers is indecent.[15] To traditional tropic dwellers, the comfort of a cool body outweighs considerations of being scratched in the jungle, and modesty complies. Modern dress functions prominently as a complicated symbolic system for asserting status, and a blue suit in Malaysia is an especially Veblenesque piece of conspicuous consumption.

    The last main reason for the wearing of clothes is the universal desire to do something with the body, to paint it, tattoo it, scarify it, to feel something constricting it.[16] It feels good to wear ornaments, paint, strings, and bracelets. Some peoples who do not cover their genitals enjoy simply wearing belts. A loincloth to a man gives the pleasing feeling of a band holding belly and genitals. It lets him feel his body, his nakedness and being, ornamented with something else. A loincloth is something put on the body. Western clothes that cover everything reshape the person entirely.

    Now and again someone asks regarding the loincloth: "But can it be comfortable?" I assure them that it is.


    ALTHOUGH at one time anthropologists who were guided by the idea of "progress" thought that people began naked, progressed to little piece of bark or tassels, etc., "to hide the shame," then went on to invent breechcloths and loincloths, and at last skirts and trousers, we can really discover no such sequence. The simplest sort of men's garment that westerners can recognize as such is a strip of skin, bark, cloth, or whatever, passed between the legs and secured front and back by a belt. This we English speakers (who have been late in finding names for such things) ought to call a "breechcloth." Even this is a misnomer, because its function is to cover the genitals, and not the buttocks or "breech." The Yami people of Botel Tobago Island, off southern Taiwan, demonstrated to two Japanese anthropologists how in very ancient times their men used large leaves for their strip,[17] which presumably they changed often, just as some Melanesian men plucked fresh leaves daily for their penis sheaths.

    Barkcloth was doubtless certainly in use before woven cloth was, and it's natural to think that barkcloth was early used for breechclouts. Although Mangyan men of Mindoro in the Philippines still wear breechcloths as well as loincloths, there is no evidence either way for use of breechcloths in Borneo in the remote or historical past. In the Pacific region, the penis sheath is restricted to the Melanesian cultural area.[18]

    Barkcloth can be produced easily in a long strip, and with that one has the material for making an actual loincloth, that is, a single piece of material that is both breechcloth and the belt that holds it. Such is what Hawaiian men wore before the Europeans arrived, and it's natural to believe that other Malayo-Polynesians did the same. A loincloth is easily perceived as more stylish than a breechcloth, and is definitely more comfortable, because the belt is broader, softer, and does not need to be cinched so tight.[19] When weaving appears, textiles are used for the loincloth, and when commercial cloth is imported, that is used.

    In speaking about Borneo, I use the term "loincloth" throughout. Although European writers of the last century commonly used the Malay term chawat for the Borneo dress,[20] in current Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia the word denotes such things as babies' diapers and beggars' rags and lacks dignity. To adopt the Iban term sirat would imply that I give preference to that language.[21] Throughout Borneo the loincloth is pretty much the same for all peoples, although different peoples undoubtedly wore it in subtly distinct styles.

    The loincloth is a garment of great antiquity, the original men's clothing of most of the world, and particularly of the Malayo-Polynesian area, which includes the islands of the Pacific Ocean as far east as Hawaii and as far south as New Zealand,[22] the Malay Archipelago and the Philippines, the Malay peninsula, the island of Madagascar to the west, and mainland places inhabited by such Dayak-like peoples as the Mnongs of Vietnam, the Mru of Bangladesh and the Nagas of Assam.[23] On the continent west of India the loincloth is unknown. In Malaya, Java, Bali, and elsewhere, the loincloth was replaced by the skirtlike kain because of Hindu influence,[24] while the sarong (a sewn tube of cloth) is an Islamic import. It is worth noting that in the Balinese wayang kulit, the most venerable character, Twalen, wears a loincloth and not a skirt. Twalen is both a funny rustic servant and one of the highest of gods, and it has been suggested that his character represents the pre-Hindu and animist "native" nature of the Balinese.[25]

    At this point, I ought to give the reader, who has been waiting, directions on how to make a generic loincloth, something that would pass for clothing among the right circles in Borneo, the Philippines, or the Amazon.

    Take a strip of material about 10 inches wide and 10 to 12 feet long.Hold up one end in front with your left hand or chin. The distance it falls determines the length of the apron. Pass the rest of the material between your legs to the back and bring it up from back to front, from right to left around your waist (the other way if lefthanded). Wind it around your waist, and then, when you reach again to the back, double the material over and pass it under the cloth that comes between your legs, and pull on the loop thus formed until belt and pouch are sufficiently tight. There should be a little "tail" [iko sirat in Iban] in the back. The loincloth wound this way is quite secure and will not fall off even on a hard trek through the jungle.

    Simple enough. But as dress is an important medium for individuals as well as whole peoples to express their individual styles, the loincloth too has many variants which we must consider. The Dayak loincloth is hardly a mere cache-sexe. No young man would have been caught dead in a skimpy ragged thing. (Although 140 years ago Spenser St. John found Murut men wearing just that, "chawats....absurdly small, not even answering the purpose for which they were intended."[26]) The standard Borneo loincloth goes at least twice around the waist, and usually more, and the apron and tail will hang at least two thirds of the way down the thighs. The Borneo fashion is to cover a broad band of waist, including the navel, although in the past, men often liked to squeeze the cloth of the pouch and apron very narrow.[27] While in the midst of some chore in which the apron and tail might be dirtied or caught, a man can tuck them into the waistband.[28]

    Although Dayaks have been trading with other countries for thousands of years, barkcloth was certainly the original material for loincloths, as it was in Hawaii. Barkcloth was worn quite often in later times, even in the middle of this century, when trade stopped during World War 2 and nobody whether in Kuching or in the ulu could buy cloth. The poor Sebuyau of Lundu, who had by that time abandoned the sirat, were forced to make barkcloth shorts.

    This ancient barkcloth loincloth must have been elegant. I have so far seen only two modern examples. One made as a gift for me by my friend Michael Gayut is shown in the illustrations. Dayaks preferred bark from the ipoh tree for its whiteness and softness, and often gave it a damasked texture by beating it with a carved mallet. One example is on display at the Sarawak Museum. Later on barkcloth came to be regarded as a stopgap material. Even Europeans felt that barkcloth was not up to standard. In the 1870s Margaret Brooke walked in the Istana grounds with the Rajang rebel Lintong, who had been captured and brought to Kuching:

    Shabbily dressed, his chawat (or waistcloth) was made of bark, and he was naturally not allowed towear his head-dress of feathers which denoted to the Dayak world that he had appropriated human heads. No, Lintong was not smartly dressed when I saw him...[29]

    However, men of the Mentawai people of Siberut still prefer barkcloth to commercial cloth, saying it is more comfortable.[30]

    There is a limit to how long a strip of barkcloth can be made. The longest will go only about twice around the waist. Usually the Borneo loincloth is made of a piece of commercial cloth and longer than the minimum twelve feet, often eight to ten yards of cloth and more. Early Brooke officials frowned on this "extravagant waste." The common daily style was to wind the loincloth of a single long length off the bolt, folded in half lengthwise and not cut. Thus it would be about 18 inches wide.

    Dayaks preferred to use cloth dyed in some color, especially dark blue, or bright red (kesumba , an assertive color), or black. A cheap cotton such as is still sold in Kuching was acceptable, but one hears even of silk loincloths. Photographs taken by Charles Hose around a hundred years ago show orang ulu men wearing loincloths of white cotton, which seems to have been the fashion in those days. Many photographs from the beginning of this century as well as the 40s and 50s show Dayak men wearing loincloths of cotton printed in a calico or large flowered pattern. It's an old and authentic fashion.[31]

    I have seen no old examples of sirats woven in the ikat technique peculiar to the Ibans, though recent ikat loincloths exist from eastern Indonesian islands.[32] It would be natural to suppose that Iban women did weave them for their men, and there is evidence in the following passage of an ensera. Keling comes on a night visit to court Kumang [ngayap] and, as he gets up to leave, not yet having assurance of her love, she takes the tail of his loincloth in her hand. This must have been a very splendid sirat, since it was the custom for young men to dress carefully and stylishly for a courting visit.

    Ninga jako orang ka indu munyi nya dia Keling lalu angkat beguai pulai. Sepi iya tak tekait iko sirat. Digama iya tak besabong sama jari.

    "Nama main nuan megai iko sirat aku deh unggal? Enti nuan deka neladan iya tau ga unggal," pia ko Keling.

    "Enda ga unggal. Ukai aku deka neladan tanda sirat nuan. Aku enda kala neladan japai jamah orang," pia ko Kumang.[33]

    Keling asks: Do you want to copy the designs on the front and tail of my loincloth? As the great art of Iban women is the design and execution of ikat weavings, and since Kumang is in mythology the very greatest weaver, Keling here ironically supposes that Kumang wants to examine the ikat design of the ends [tanda ] of his sirat.

    These tanda are the most important part of the sirat, as they are that which shows, the body of the sirat being hidden under its coils.[34] Women often weave only these decorated ends and stitch them later to a strip of commercial cloth. I have in my collection three such pieces, which are shown in the illustrations.

    I have also seen sirats made out of a body of white commercial drill cloth, with separate pieces stitched to the ends. These tanda are thickly embroidered with colored thread, in a style of design I have seen neither on mats nor on pua or other weavings, but most resembling mat designs. The hems of these tanda sirat are decorated with tassels of yarn and little pompoms. I cannot guess how old they are. From their good condition I would guess that these are recently made and were only worn on festival occasions. They also are about 10 inches wide and long enough to pass only twice or three times around the body.

    The fashion of the recent present [35] among all Dayak peoples is to wear a loincloth of red, black or dark blue commercial cotton with one broad bar of white, then a bar of color contrasting with the color of the sirat's body, then another bar of white sewn to the apron and tail portions. Dayaks seem to have invented this design in imitation of hornbill feathers.[36] Other loincloths have tanda decorated with appliques of commercial fringe, or, among the orang ulu , with tanda painted in their special own tendril-like designs or with beaded portions.

    These modern sirats are very long indeed, and are often wound to cover the middle body completely from the top of the thighs to above the navel. Pictures show that men need help getting into these loincloths. Sometimes excess cloth that passes from under the bunch between the legs is arranged in two huge billowing loops. These can be seen in photographs of Gawai festivals.

    gawai loops

    That the fashion of wearing a long sirat that covers much of the body is an old one we have the evidence of a phrase in an historical tale of the time just before the Brooke era: Sirat seduai nyampai di kerigai rusok marang —"The sirats of the two of them reached to their ribs, turning around both sides."[37]

    While working or travelling, especially if one is an older man and does not feel obliged to be fashionable, one can wear a sirat sabelit , a "once-wound loincloth," as the Ibans call it: "a work sirat, i.e. once round waist and apron just enough for decency." [38] "Sirat Sabelit" is also the name of a hero of a story recorded by Jepet anak Achoi. He is a young man who begins as a diseased and despised outcast, and later with the help of an antu (spirit) becomes

    [ photograph copyright © K. F. Wong, Anna Photo Co.] healthy, beautiful, and honored. His name characterizes him as one so poor and squalid that he takes no care of his clothing. No doubt this refers to his own opinion of his manliness as well.

    Also while working or travelling men used to attach a trapezoidal mat made of woven rotan, often beaded among the orang ulu, or of bear or leopard skin if one could get it, over the buttocks from a string around the waist. This is called a tikai burit in Iban and tabin in Kayan, and makes a portable, instant seat.

    There used to exist a sport of wrestling among the Orang Ulu (not the Iban) akin to sumo wrestling. In this the loincloth, as in sumo, was important, as a place to get a hold on. [ photograph by Charles Hose, ca. 1900.] kayans_wrestling

    Accessories such as bamboo containers for tobacco or blowpipe darts (temila' in Iban) were fitted with a carved wooden clip so that they could be hooked to the waist of the loincloth. Charms [Iban pengaroh ] were not merely slipped under the loincloth for carrying but tied with a string around the waist.[39] Dayak men undoubtedly also stuck small items to carry in their waistbands. The Iban lost the skill of writing during the general Flood because they carried their papers in their loincloths, while the orang puteh carried theirs in their hats.[40]

    In other cultures a boy's putting on the loincloth for the first time was a ceremony that marked his entrance into adulthood. There seems to have been no equivalent among Dayak peoples. Iban boys began to wear the sirat when they began to feel ashamed. According to Sandin[41] a boy at this age is called a sirat-leka , "one on and off with his sirat." One may compare the Dayaks' similarly casual attitude to circumcision, which in Borneo is performed with none of the solemnity which accompanies the operation among the Malays.

    Other cultures also have certain customs associated with the loincloth or proverbial expressions concerning it, but I have found none in Borneo. This does not surprise me, since I have seen that Ucko found little symbolism attached to the penis sheath—to us a much more curious garment—among the peoples he studied. A Dayak man can hardly "gird his loins" in the Biblical sense for getting down to business, because he is always so girt. But a writer in a recent New Straits Times[42] discusses the Malay equivalent cawat kote that has become the Kelantan football cry. This means "loincloth the penis," to take the front of the sarong between the legs and tuck it up back to make a loincloth to wear for hard work, so that the penis doesn't waggle around. The Balinese also tucked up their version of the kain this way. Dayak poets pay attention to the loincloth now and again,vespecially the loincloth of a handsome bujang , or those of guests at a festival. The phrase sirat...nyampai di kerigai rusok marang mentioned above occurs as a poetic formula in the Renong cycle. Another expression applied to the tail of the sirat is ujok-ujok : "rising and curving over to the tip," also said of ferns and cocks' tails.[43] The fashion of wearing a long and billowing tail to one's loincloth probably began as an imitation of cocks' plumes. And just as the bars on the apron are derived from hornbill feathers, these loops too are also assertions of virility, for the cock and the hornbill are both manly birds, and appropriate to be imitated in the man's dress.

    Dayak men always had to wear at least a loincloth. Photographs show that to appear well dressed a man could not dispense with unus , the calf-rings of demam fiber, and rangki , armlets of shell, stone, porcelain, or silver. A man should always keep his long hair neatly trimmed in the appropriate style [gumba ], wound in a sanggul , and wrapped by a labong . Fashion also obliged him to bear some tattoos. On festive occasions a man should wear all the ornaments he possesses: silver belts and chains, bead necklaces, etc.[44] Men commonly wore a shirt of barkcloth or ikat fabric (a garment perhaps originally derived from quilted armor), and the dress of the manang and lemambang may have a connection with Hindu dress.

    It seems to be universal that persons in higher functions--rajahs and war leaders, priests, and partygoers—wear more ornaments and clothes. In Borneo, the lemambang during Gawai wear a long flowered robe, which puts me in mind, given all the well known connections of Dayak religion and Hinduism, of the injunctions of the Sanskrit smrtis and dharmasastras that command a brahman to wear an upper cloth (which, however, can be represented by the upapavitam , or sacred string) while performing religious duties.

    Charles Brooke had strong opinions on the desirability of keeping the various races of Sarawak separate, and had noticed the part that dress played in creating racial identity.[45] A visitor in the early part of this century relates that the second rajah required Dayak men to appear in loincloths and appropriate ornaments on official occasions. At the same time he says that Brooke instituted a prize for the best dressed Dayak of the Sarawak Rangers,[46] the ancestor of the present Keling contest.

    Finally, it is the opinion of most writers on Borneo from St. John[47] and up that the curious and persistent story that there are tribes with tails somewhere out in the jungle began when someone failed to to make out that the tail of the loincloth was connected to the garment and not the man.


    THE loincloth has all but disappeared in Borneo. It may have been disappearing for a long time, since St. John saw a boy cast off his loincloth for a new pair of homemade trousers a hundred and forty years ago,[48] although until recently one could find older Iban men who were comfortable in nothing but their sirat. In my travels, I have only once seen any man wearing it. That was at Rumah Jimbun, Ulu Balleh on Dayak Day, when an older man threw a length of calico about him over shorts. The fact that traditional dress is worn on a holiday important to the Dayak people is evidence of how it is still seen as part of their cultural identity. Photographs show that Penan left on their own still wear their avets . Now and then one sees pictures of men in the Philippines, in remote parts of Indonesia, and on Pacific islands wearing their loincloths.

    Native identity is strong in Borneo and elsewhere, but no one can deny that native ways of life have taken a beating, in part from the spread of western styles, in part because the environment is rapidly being rendered unfit to sustain a traditional life. Just as native material life is an adaptation—not obvious or easily got but carefully worked out with the experience of thousands of years—to the conditions of river and forest, wearing the loincloth, as I have tried to show in passing, is a small part of a psychological adaptation in human life, in which male sexuality is neither repressed or vilified, but asserted, and at the same time humanized. It would be a pity if this as other human achievements were allowed to be lost to the world.

    A foreigner sympathetic to Dayak ways of life, and not only to its superficial particulars, can only deplore the nearly complete abandonment of this ancient and beautiful dress. I have especially wished to write this article in defence of it because of the remarks of persons who flaunt the Penan loincloth as a symbol of alleged Dayak "primitivity" (whatever that means) and unwillingness to conform to "progress." The argument that the loincloth is even "uncivilized" will not hold water. To the Penan, wearing the loincloth is one of the customs that makes them themselves.[49]

    But as long as the rest of the world sticks in these unjust attitudes, foreigners cannot expect the Dayaks, in the face of such universal misunderstanding, to preserve a dress that will only cause them themselves further to be typed as "primitives."


    Note: This paper is essentially unaltered from the verison published in 1991. However, one thing I would like to add is a part of a letter from James Brooke noticed by Prof. John Walker and printed by him in his article "James Brooke and the Bidayuh":
    "...Following his accession to the government in 1841, therefore,
    Brooke needed a large supply of cloth and garments to give away...

    The following August [1842], he asked his mother to send him

    a quantity of cloths from fifteen to eighteen feet long, and from nine
    to fourteen inches wide. The material to be course Russian duck, such
    as seamen wear, each end to be worked about a foot and a half, in
    different fashions according to the ladies taste, either in gold or red
    threads, spangles, beads, shells, or the like, and some may be fringed
    with red, or gold, or blue, in worsted or silk.

    These are the dimensions of a Bornean loincloth (chawat or sirat)."

    We note that Brooke did not mention to his mother the particular destination in the wearing of such needlework.


    1. Taup, (Bidayuh). Ipoh (Antiaris toxicarica) bast, dyed with wild tumeric. Strips of black-dyed bark inserted through slits, and triangles attached with the tree's own latex. 21 x 173 cm.


    2. Cotton Sirat in ikat technique with vegetable dyes, woven by the late Samba Indai Sendi of Stampin. A) 25 x 182 cm, pieced out with commercial cloth to 462 cm. B) Uncut, 29 x 191 cm.

    3. A) Sungkit (metallic brocade) sirat, cotton (Dylon) and silver thread, woven by Mrs. Edward Senada of Stampin. 26 x 183 cm, pieced out with commercial cloth to 623.5 cm. Hems and fringe of tanda ornamented with glass beads and brass bells. B) Cotton ikat sirat (Dylon), woven by Indai Lian of Rumah Jimbun, Ulu Balleh. 23 x 439 cm.

    4. Tabit, seat-mat attached to back of loincloth [Iban tikai burit, Kayan tabin. Penan. Rotan in natural color and dyed black. Made by Mdm. Raden Bong, Long Main, August 2000. NB. The tiles are 8" square.


    [This article originally published Sarawak Museum Journal vol. XLII, no. 63 (New Series) Dec 1991, 43-61. Text copyright © Otto Steinmayer 1991, 2001. Drawings copyright © Augustine Anggat Ganjing 1991, 2001. Photograph by K.F.Wong copyright © Anna Photo Co. 1960, 2001.]

    [1] p. 121ff.

    [2] Westerners who early met loincloth-wearing men had great trouble finding words to describe the loincloth. The earliest writers, such as Marco Polo, use the vaguest expressions. The first attempt accurately to describe what southeast Asian men wore seems to be the following from the end of the 16th century [Cavendish p. 290]: "The people of this island [Capul, near Luzon] go almost all naked.... The men wear only a strop about about their waists, of some kind of linen of their own weaving, which is made of plantain leaves, and another strop coming from their back under their twists ["the junction of the thighs, the fork" OED], which covers their privy parts, and is made fast to their girdles at their navels."

    [3] See Hald.

    [4] The Minoans wore some sort of breechcloth. The Greeks wore a loincloth at the Olympic games up to a certain date. (See Thucydides History, 1.6.) Later, men exercised naked.

    [5] See Gregor.

    [6] Covarrubias, p. 119.

    [7] See Levi-Strauss, p. 302.

    [8] Which gives an interesting twist to the conquistadors' lust for this metal. See Wafer, pp.83-4, who, perhaps surprisingly for a 17th century Englishman, comments on the Panamanians' modesty.

    [9] Which the ancient Greeks were also accustomed to do when exercising.

    [10] Chagnon, p. 65.

    [11] Some passages of traditional Bornean poetry seem to confirm this view. See the Kenyah poem Lalo-o-o-o in Rubenstein, p. 1242."The Long Bakong people...The loincloths that they wear to cover their genitals, / their loincloths are white in color, of hard stiff cloth,/ so they are always pulling them up and down, /adjusting their loosening loincloths..." Compare the traditional Hawaiian genre of the poem in praise of the chief's loincloth [malo]

    [12] Masfarré, p. 24.

    [13] Lim, p. 40.

    [14] See Montaigne's essay On the custom of wearing clothes for the most intelligent discussion yet on this subject.

    [15] Plenty of evidence shows that both the Greeks and the Romans thought trousers an indecent as well as barbarian garment. The most interesting is a passage in Hippocrates' treatise Airs,Waters, and Places [chap.22] in which he attributes the infertility of Scythian men to their practice of wearing trousers.

    [16] See Bateson and Mead concerning the Balinese idea of the"separability" of body parts.

    [17] See Kano and Segawa, plate 58: "IGAKUJUT-NO-ANUNURA or loin cloth of ancient time. The Yami tells us that, in ancient time when the present loin cloth was not used, the rude loin cloth was worn by fastening two pieces of the long leaf of a wild grass called Anunura..."

    [18] See Ucko.

    [19] I have read somewhere about a Sulawesi man who used a string strung with large beads for his breechclout belt, in order, says the writer, "to forestall abrasion."

    [20] "Chawat" first attested in English in Beeckman, p. 54.

    [21] A few of the many names in Bornean languages for the loincloth: Kayan: bah ; Penan: avet , iveg ; Bidayuh: taup . Certain names are perhaps related to Philippine words for the same thing,for example, Kayan bah with the Tagalog bahag.

    [22] The Hawaiian and Samoan term for the loincloth is malo, in Maori maro. The Tahitians wore a loincloth, also called maro , alone or as underwear beneath their skirtlike pareu . (See Oliver v.1, p. 153.) These names are all cognate with the Malay malu.

    [23] The natives of the Americas (when they did not go naked in rainforest areas) wore a breechcloth or loincloth. The civilized peoples of Mexico and Central America wove loincloths almost exactly like the Bornean loincloth. Inca men used a style fastened by a string with an apron long enough so that a decorated fringe would show from beneath their upper tunics, exactly like the Japanese etxhu fundoshi.
    Africa shows a great diversity of men's lower body garments, which awaits study.
    Japanese men also wore the loincloth [fundoshi ] from ancient times up through WW2, either alone, or as underwear. Many still wear the fundoshi in Japan. This ought to counter arguments thatthe loincloth is a "primitive" garment.

    [24] The ancient Indians were the only Indo-European speakingpeople ever traditionally to have worn a loincloth. The nîvi (which means "knot," presumably a knotted loincloth) mentioned inthe Atharva Veda was used as an undergarment beneath the skirtlike vâsas (the modern dhoti ). The later name for it is kaupîna or langoti . Many references make it clear that the little breechcloth was a symbol of chastity and decency. When worn alone by any person other than a small boy the breechcloth was a sign of extreme poverty. Poverty, however, was no shame if borne in following the life of a spiritual ascetic. The ascetic's breechcloth is also a symbol of his virility, which to an Indian is all the greater for being contained. Heroes of romantic tales such as the story of Nala and the Dasakumâracarita generally spend some time wandering around in a breechcloth.
    Nowadays it is reported that a little breechcloth is worn as underwear in the south of India, where not replaced by modern commercial underpants.
    Indians and other civilized peoples distinguish between inner and outer clothing; in Borneo, no such distinction used to exist. The loincloth is worn all by itself.

    [25] Covarrubias, p. 242-3.

    [26] v.2, p.129.

    [27] See too a recent photograph in Chen, after p.32.

    [28] See Ejau, pp. 8-9, in which the character Ula runs to save a favorite dog from the fire that is burning his garden-land, and scorches his sirat. In one of the Apai Sali stories, Apai Sali deliberately burns his sirat's tail in order to have an excuse for running off to the jungle. [Nyangoh, p. 4]

    [29] M. Brooke, p. 74.

    [30] Hanbury-Tenison, p.47. Cf. p. 156.

    [31] See also Brooke Low's comments on colors of loincloth material and decoration in Ling Roth v.2, p. 54-5

    [32] See Majlis.

    [33] Pitok, p. 5.

    [34] If Hose and McDougall are to be believed, the first ruler of Brunei, Awang Alak Bertatar, later known as Sultan Mohammed, wore the most extraordinarily grand tanda on record: "Like most of his subjects this warrior was a Bisaya, not indeed a civilized potentate at all, to judge by conventional standards [sic ]; for the chief mark of his royal dignity was an immense chawat, or loin-cloth, carried as he walked by eighty men, forty in front and forty behind." [v.1, p.18] I have not been able to trace this story farther than Hose, and therefore repeat it with caution. But if true, this story would show that Borneans shared with the ancient Hawaiians the notion that a chief's loincloth is a symbol of his royal prowess. Up to Hose's own time, an official at the coronation ceremony of a Brunei sultan wore a chawat over trousers to show he represented the sultan's Dayak subjects. [p.20]

    [35] That is, much used recently; but the style has a history of at least 150 years. Wallace reported of the Bidayuh style during his visit: "The chawat is generally of blue cotton, ending in three broad bands of red, blue, and white..." [p. 51]

    [36] See the Bidayuh poem Tingiring Nyamun Anak Ihang in Rubenstein, p. 338.

    [37] Jacob anak Imang, p. 42. See also Sandin 1977, p. 39.

    [38] Richards, sub voc.

    [39] See photograph in Morrison, p. 72.

    [40] Richards, sub voc. burong.

    [41] 1966, p. 7.

    [42] 15 May 1990.

    [43] Richards, sub voc.

    [44] Compare the scene in Visakhadatta's play Rakshasa's Ring , [act 5, after verse 11]. Indian men of the time in which the play is set wore very little, a piece of sheer fabric they draped scantily around their loins. Here Rakshasa is summoned to court, and calls for his ornaments, saying that he cannot appear without them.

    [45] C. Brooke, p.202.

    [46] Smith, p.148.

    [47] v. 1, p. 399.

    [48] v.1, p. 321.

    [49] SAM, p. 33.


    Bateson, Gregory, and Mead, Margaret (1942): Balinese character: a photographic analysis. Special publications of the New York Academy of Sciences, v. 2.

    Beeckman, Daniel (1718): A voyage to and from the island of Borneo. London.

    Brooke, Charles (1866): Ten years in Sarawak. reprint Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1990.

    Brooke, Margaret (1934): Good morning and good night. Constable and Co., London.

    Cavendish, Thomas (1587): Voyage around the whole earth. in Hakluyt, voyages and discoveries, ed. Jack Beeching. Penguin, 1972.

    Chagnon, Napoleon (1983): Yanamamo, the fierce people. 3rd. ed. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York.

    Chen, Paul C.Y. (1990): Penans, the nomads of Sarawak. Pelanduk Publications, Petaling Jaya.

    Covarrubias, Miguel (1937): The island of Bali. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

    Ejau, Andria (1964): Dilah Tanah, Borneo Literature Bureau (BLB), Kuching.

    Gregor, Thomas (1977): Mehinaku: the drama of daily life in a Brazilian Indian village . University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

    Hald, Margrethe (1980): Ancient Danish textiles from bogs and burials. National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

    Hanbury-Tenison, Robin (1975): A pattern of peoples . London.

    Hippocrates (5th. c. B.C.): Works . ed. with a trans. by W.H.S. Jones, Heinemann, London, 1957.

    Hose, Charles and McDougall, William (1912): The pagan tribes of Borneo . 2v. reprint 1966 Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., London.

    Jacob anak Imang (1966): Ijau Berani , BLB, Kuching.

    Jepet anak Achoi (1968): Sirat Sabelit. BLB, Kuching.

    Kano, Tadao & Segawa, Kôichi (1945): The illustrated ethnography of Formosan aborigines, the Yami tribe. Contribution from the Shibusawa Institute for Ethnographical Research. Seikatsusha Ltd., Tokyo.

    Levi-Strauss, Claude (1955): Tristes tropiques. Plon, Paris.

    Lim Poh Chiang (1989): Among the Dayaks. Graham Brash, Singapore.

    Ling Roth, Henry (1896): The natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo. 2v. reprint 1980, University of Malaya Press, Kuala Lumpur.

    Majlis, Brigitte Khan (1984): Indonesische Textilien. Ethnologica, neue Folge, Band 10, Koln.

    Martin, Karl (1894): Reisen in den Molukken. E.J. Brill, Leiden.

    Masfarré, Eduardo (1988): People of the Philippine Cordillera, photographs 1934-1956. Devcon IP Inc., Manila.

    Montaigne, Michel de (1595): Essays. trans. Donald Frame. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

    Morrison, Hedda (1962): Life in a longhouse. BLB, Kuching.

    Nyangoh, Harry (1967): Apai Sali. BLB, Kuching.

    Oliver, Douglas L. (1974): Ancient Tahitian society. 3v. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

    Pitok, Norman Rundu (1966): Salumpong Karong Besi. BLB, Kuching.

    Richards, Anthony (1981): An Iban-English dictionary. Oxford.

    Rubenstein, Carol (1973): Poems of indigenous peoples of Sarawak: some of the songs and chants. Sarawak Museum Journal, special monograph no. 2.

    St. John, Spenser (1862): Life in the forests of the far east. reprinted 1986 Oxford University Press, Singapore.

    SAM [Sahabat Alam Malaysia] (1990): The battle for Sarawak's forests. 2nd. ed., Penang.

    Sandin, Benedict (1977): Gawai Burong. Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

    Sandin, Benedict (1966): Tusun Pendiau. BLB, Kuching.

    Smith, Harrison W. (1919): "Sarawak: the land of the white rajahs." National Geographic Magazine, v. xxxv no. 2, [Feb. 1919] pp.110-167.

    Ucko, Peter J. (1969): "Penis sheaths: a comparative study." in Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland for 1969.

    Visakhadatta (8th. c. A.D.?): Rakshasa's Ring. in Coulson, Three Sanskrit Plays. Penguin.

    Wafer, Lionel (1692): A new voyage and description of the isthmus of America. ed. L.E. Elliot Joyce. Oxford, Hakluyt Society, 1934.

    Wallace, Alfred R. (1890): The Malay archipelago. 10th. ed. reprint 1983, Graham Brash, Singapore.