Jul 222015


Sarawak Self-government Day is an Independence Day celebrated on 22 July every year by the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. The holiday has been celebrated widely by the Sarawak state government and citizens only since 2012, after public discontent about Merdeka Day (Malaysia Independence Day) being too Malaya-centric.


Originally, the Kingdom of Sarawak was granted independence by the Sultanate of Brunei in 1841, but came under British “protection” from 1888 onwards. At this time, Sarawak was not fully granted independence although it had some autonomy. After the end of World War II, the territory was administered by the British Military Administration, then became a Crown Colony in 1946. The transferring of the territory to colonial administration sparked a major protest by Sarawakian citizens who wanted full independence. This led to the assassination of Duncan Stewart, the second governor of the Colony, by Rosli Dhobi, who was captured and subsequently hanged for murder. The position of the Governor was taken up by Anthony Abell, who also became one of the members for the Cobbold Commission which brought Sarawak and North Borneo into the Federation of Malaysia.


Sarawak was granted self-government on 22 July 1963, on the condition that it join with the newly forming Federation of Malaysia on 16 September the same year. Before the Independence Day ceremony on 16 September 1963, Alexander Waddell, the last Governor of the Colony, left the Astana (governor’s house) and boarded a white sampan to cross the Sarawak River, then handed the administration of Sarawak to the Sarawakian citizens, with the Colonial flag lowered and the Sarawak flag raised. Before he left, the Governor appointed Stephen Kalong Ningkan as the first Chief Minister of Sarawak.


Sarawak is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It is also one of the founding members of the Malaysian federation alongside North Borneo (Sabah), Singapore (expelled in 1965) and the Federation of Malaya (Peninsula Malaysia or West Malaysia). Like Sabah, this territory has autonomous law especially concerning immigration, which differentiates it from the rest of the Malaysian Peninsula states. Today, the state is known as Bumi Kenyalang (“Land of the Hornbills”).


Sarawak is situated on the northwest of Borneo, bordering the state of Sabah to the northeast, Indonesia to the south, and surrounding the independent state of Brunei. The administrative capital is Kuching, which has a population of 700,000. Major cities and towns include Miri (pop. 350,000), Sibu (pop. 257,000) and Bintulu (pop. 200,000). As of the last census (2010), the state population was 2,420,009. Sarawak has six major ethnic groups: Iban, Chinese, Malay, Bidayuh, Melanau, and Orang Ulu. Several minor ethnic groups include Kedayan, Javanese, Bugis, Murut, and Indian.


The Iban comprise the largest percentage (almost 30%) of Sarawak’s population. The Iban are native to Sarawak, and Sarawak has the highest number of Iban in Borneo. The great majority of Iban are Christians. However, like most other ethnic groups in Sarawak, they still observe many of their traditional rituals and beliefs. Sarawak celebrates colorful festivals such as the generic Gawai Dayak (Harvest Festival), Gawai Kenyalang (Hornbill Festival), Gawai Burong (Bird Festival), Gawai Tuah (Luck Festival), Gawai Pangkong Tiang (House Post Banging Festival), Gawai Tajau (Jar Festival), Gawai Sakit (Healing Festival) and Gawai Antu (festival of the dead).


Sarawakian Chinese are said to be Han Chinese because 99.99% are classified as ethnic Han (which is a matter of statistical convenience more than reality). All 55 recognized ethnic groups of the People’s Republic of China are represented. Chinese pioneers are believed to have first arrived in Sarawak as traders and explorers in the 6th century. Today, they make up 24% of the population, and consist of communities descended from the economic migrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They are classified as a non-Bumiputera (non-indigenous) ethnic group.

The Sarawak Chinese belong to a wide range of dialect groups, the most significant being Cantonese, Foochow, Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, and Puxian Min. The Chinese maintain their ethnic heritage and culture and celebrate all the major cultural festivals, most notably the Chinese New Year and the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Sarawak Chinese are predominantly Buddhists.

Fuzhou people came to Sarawak in 1901 from Fuzhou, Fujian due to numerous violent incidents such as the Boxer Rebellion that occurred in the Qing Dynasty in 1899. During the Boxer Rebellion many Chinese Christians were brutally murdered. Wong Nai Siong a Christian leader, led them to Sarawak to live and to create a community by agreeing with terms and conditions set by Charles Brooke, then Rajah of Sarawak, and later allocated them a nearby town called Sibu and decided to name it the New Foochow Settlement. However, due to the sizeable presence of other Chinese sub-ethnic groups such as the Hokkiens, Hakka, and the Cantonese they ultimately retained the original name of the area.


Malays make up 23% of the population in Sarawak. They mostly populate the southern region and urban areas of Sarawak. Despite being Malays, Sarawak Malay has a distinct culture and language from that of other Malays in Peninsular Malaysia. They speak a local variant of Bahasa Melayu Sarawak (or Sarawak Malay), and have been classified as Bumiputera Sarawak.

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The Melanaus are thought to be amongst the original settlers of Sarawak; they make up 6% of the population. Today most of the Melanaus community are either Muslim or Christian, though they still celebrate traditional animist festivals such as the annual Kaul festival.

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Concentrated mainly on the West end of Borneo, the Bidayuh make up 8% of the population in Sarawak. The Bidayuh speak a number of different but related dialects. Some Bidayuh speak either English or Sarawak Malay as their main language. While some of them still practice traditional religions, the majority of modern-day Bidayuh have adopted the Christian faith.

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Orang Ulu is a multi-ethnic group in Sarawak. The various Orang Ulu together make up roughly 6% of Sarawak’s population. The phrase Orang Ulu means up-river people and is a term used to collectively describe the numerous tribes that live up river in Sarawak’s vast interior. Such groups include the major Kenyah and Kayan people, and the smaller neighboring groups of the Kajang, Kejaman, Punan, Ukit, and Penan. Nowadays, the definition also includes the down-river peoples of the Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh, Berawan, Saban as well as the plateau-dwelling Kelabit.

Orang Ulu is an ethnic designation politically coined to group together roughly 27 very small but ethnically diverse tribal groups in Sarawak, with a population ranging from less than 300 persons to over 25,000 persons. Orang Ulu is not a legal term and no such ethnic group exists or is listed in the Malaysian Constitution. The term was popularized by a minority association known as “Orang Ulu National Association” (OUNA) that was formed in 1969. The Orang Ulu typically live in longhouses elaborately decorated with murals and woodcarvings. They are also well known for their intricate beadwork and detailed tattoos. The vast majority of the Orang Ulu groups are Christians but old traditional religions are still practiced in some areas.

Sarawak cuisine is a mix, of course, with heavy influences from Malaya and China. But the dishes all have a Sarawak twist – mostly in the combinations of flavors and the raw ingredients. Hard to replicate if you are not there (as ever). This is a good site http://www.huntersfood.com/ For today I’ve chosen laksa which is popular throughout the country and comes in many styles. This one is rice noodles with chicken and shrimp in a very complex sauce/soup. Most of the ingredients for the sauce can be found in the West with a little digging. The noodles may be a challenge but you can substitute any thin rice noodles.


Sarawak Laksa


300g medium prawns
1 lemongrass bulb, bruised
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 small chicken (about 1 kg)
500 ml coconut milk
100 g dry roasted peanuts, ground
30 g roasted sesame seeds, ground
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and sugar to taste
oil for cooking
500 g beehoon or yellow noodles, blanched in hot water before serving

Spice Paste

15 shallots, peeled
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 cm galangal, peeled
15 dried chiles, deseeded and soaked in water
4 candlenuts
3 lemongrass bulbs, chopped
2 cm toasted belacan (dried, fermented shrimp paste)


1 whole cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into matchsticks
2 fresh red chiles, sliced
3 spring onions, chopped
8 calamansi limes, halved
2 eggs
soy sauce


Simmer the chicken in light chicken stock for about 1 hour. Remove the chicken and let cool a little before stripping the meat from the bones and cutting in bite-sized pieces.

Peel the shrimp and put the heads and shells into the chicken stock along with the with the chopped onion and lemongrass. Simmer for about 30 minutes, strain the liquid and reserve.

Put all the spice paste ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Heat a little oil in a pot and fry the spice paste for a few minutes. Add the chicken pieces and cook over low heat for another few minutes. Pour in about .5 liters of chicken/prawn stock, chopped cilantro and coconut milk. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the ground peanuts, sesame seeds, and lime juice, and season with salt and sugar to taste. Stir well and add the prawns. Continue cooking over low heat until the prawns are done.

In the gaps, beat the eggs with a little water and soy sauce to that they are a little thin. In a small frying pan make thin, dry omelets. Cut them into thin strips and put in bowls.

Put the noodles in the bottom of deep bowls, divide up the prawns and chicken, and pour the sauce over the top.

Set out the garnishes in bowls for guests to help themselves.