Sarawak in the Limelight

| Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Puteri Santubong and Puteri Sejinjang. An endearing tale of two princesses. Of jealousy, of heartache, of rage. A tragic ending albeit only a famous myth. But there is more to the glorious land of Sarawak than its myths, folk tales and legends. 

Sarawak has been in the spotlight for over a hundred years. Movie directors, TV producers, TV celebrities and authors have shown extensive interest in Sarawak due to its mystical past, ethnic diversity, languages, cultures and religions as well as its unique nature and wildlife. And in the digital age, Sarawak continues to attract those who wish to explore and uncover its unique stories. Social media influencers such as youtubers, vloggers, bloggers and Instagrammers continue to play their part in contributing to the Sarawak narrative.

So it’s only fitting that we take stock of some of the Hornbill state’s most famous moments!

 

Movies  

Sarawak really came to the fore in 1987 with Orion Picture’s Farewell to the King. The movie was set during World War II and tells the story of an American who escapes a Japanese firing squad by hiding with the head-hunters deep in the Borneo jungles, and who is later made king of the Dayaks. The movie was shot in a small town in Sarawak called Bau. The film cost US$16 million to make but couldn’t replicate the popularity of the book, generating on US$2.5 million in box office takings.

A scene from ‘Farewell to the King’. 

Photo credit: https://www.alamy.com/original-film-title-farewell-to-the-king-english-title-farewell-to-the-king-film-director-john-milius-year-1989-stars-nick-nolte-john-milius-credit-vestronorion-album-image207066085.html

 

The Sleeping Dictionary, was mostly shot in Batang Ai, Sarawak, and went on general release in 2003. The movie revolves around the unorthodox traditions of the local tribe, and forbidden love between a British man and his native lover. If you make a trip to Batang Ai, you can stay at the Aiman Batang Ai Resort (previously the Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort) where the film crew stayed during the filming of the movie. The Sleeping Dictionary did better at the box office, generating US$33 million while costing US$12 million to make.

Jessica Alba as Selima in ‘The Sleeping Dictionary’.  

Photo credit: http://costumeholic.blogspot.com/2010/01/sleeping-dictionary.html

 

A Chinese movie, Blue Tears, was the first romantic comedy produced in Sarawak. Filmed at various tourist attractions around Miri, including the scenic Tusan Beach in Bekenu, about a 30-minute drive from the town of Miri.

Film crew at work in ‘Blue Tears’.

Photo credit: https://www.miricitysharing.com/blue-tears-2018-film-in-miri-city/  

 

Have we missed anything? Let us know if there are other movies that were filmed in Sarawak. Meanwhile here are some exciting movie facts for you: 

  • If you are a Marvel fan, you must have watched Venom, released in 2018. Did you know that some of the shots reference Sibu, Sarawak? Watch it again and see if you can spot the references! 
  • Malaysia’s first ever Hollywood epic film, Rajah, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, is scheduled to be released in 2021. The movie, delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was featured in a Cannes First Look by The Hollywood Reporter in conjunction with the first-ever virtual Cannes Film Festival. Keep a look out for it next year! 

 

TV Programmes   

Apart from movies, numerous travel documentaries showcasing the beauty of Sarawak have been produced over the years. 

 

The BBC Travel Show featured Mike Corey’s travel to Sarawak, where he spent a day with some orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, and climbing the jagged peaks at Gunung Mulu National Park to get a spectacular view of the Mulu Pinnacles.

 

In Episode 13 of the Amazing Race Asia, aired in 2007, the teams had to scour Kuching town, specifically Padungan Road, the Old Courthouse, Sarawak Cultural Village, Permai Rainforest Resort, and Bako National Park to get through check-points in order to complete the race.  

 

In 2019, Top Gear filmed an episode called ‘The Borneo Ultimatum’ at Bakelalan, where the presenters had an exciting adventure, racing a Matra Bagheera and an Austin Allegro estate through the dusty roads of the countryside.   

The Top Gear presenters with their ‘racing cars’.

Photo credit: https://www.topgear.com/car-news/top-gear-tv/tg-tv-ep4-s27-super-cheap-classics-borneo#1

 

Festive Foods, a Netflix special, also featured a food documentary (Chinese with English subtitles) titled Gawai Dayak

 

And of course, when we speak of food, who can forget the awesome food journey of the renowned travel documentarian and celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain? Sarawak was featured in one of his episodes of Parts Unknown in 2015. In the series, he revisited the Iban longhouse and celebrated the Harvest Festival, Hari Gawai with them. He also made sure he had his all-time favourite ‘breakfast of the Gods’, Laksa Sarawak in Kuching. 

A humble TV personality, much loved by his fans.

Photo credit: https://says.com/my/lifestyle/anthony-bourdain-in-malaysia 

 

Now, if you have watched Crazy Rich Asians, then you must know Henry Golding, who shot to stardom after playing the movie’s lead role. In a new 6-part TV documentary series on Discovery Channel Asia titled Surviving Borneo, Henry Golding went on a personal mission to discover his tribal roots while learning valuable life lessons from the various Borneo tribes, especially on what it takes to protect, provide and survive in the 21st century. 

Henry Golding in discussion with his film crew. 

Photo credit: https://rojakdaily.com/entertainment/article/3307/henry-golding-returns-to-his-iban-roots-in-discovery-channel-s-surviving-borneo

 

Books

Sarawak has been featured by numerous authors, usually in the form of travel literature and autobiographies, but some fiction authors have also mentioned Sarawak. Here are a few interesting reads with links to purchase them from book depository. You can also try Amazon or Book Xcess Online or if you are already in Malaysia, then drop by any of your favourite local bookstores such as Kinokuniya, MPH, Borders and Popular. 

Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo 

Photo credit: https://www.bookdepository.com/Stranger-Forest-Eric-Hansen/9780375724954

Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo 

Author: Eric Hansen

 This travel epilogue was first published in 1988, and written by Eric Hansen, who in 1982 was the first Westerner to walk across Borneo. Along with a group of Penan hunters, he completed his almost 1,500-mile journey throughout the jungles of Borneo and in his book, he shares, rather humorously, his fascinating adventures hunting wild animals, coming face to face with carnivorous-eating plants, and participating in tribal ritual dances (he was also given the name Rajah Kumis: King of the Moustache during a ceremony)!     

 

Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters: An Outrageous Englishwoman And Her Lost Kingdom 

Photo credit: https://www.bookdepository.com/Sylvia-Queen-Headhunters-Philip-Eade/9781250045898

Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters: An Outrageous Englishwoman And Her Lost Kingdom

Author: Philip Eade  

Sylvia Brooke, otherwise known as the Ranee of Sarawak, was the consort of His Highness Sir Vyner Brooke, the last White Rajah of Sarawak. She dubbed herself the ‘Queen of the Headhunters’, in reference to the Dayaks, who had acquired a fierce reputation for their head-hunting rituals. The memoir offers a compelling yet rather bizarre tale which ends in the downfall of the rule of the Brooke family. 

Into the Heart of Borneo  

Photo credit: https://www.bookdepository.com/Into-Heart-Borneo-Redmond-OHanlon/9780140073973 

Into the Heart of Borneo

Author: Redmond O’Hanlon

A witty and entertaining travel narrative by acclaimed travel writer Redmond O’Hanlon, who went on an expedition into the beautiful jungles of Borneo, accompanied by James Fenton, Headman Dana, Inghai and Leon; the former being his poet friend and the others, a group of Iban guides. His travel chronicles are full of wit and humour, and a must read.  

White Rajah  

Photo credit: https://www.bookdepository.com/White-Rajah-Nigel-Barley/9780349116730

White Rajah 

Author: Nigel Barley

He was regarded by the Dayak people as a demigod with supreme magical powers. He never married, and upon his death, he left no son to succeed his throne. He was Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, and this autobiography serves as an interesting insight to his life and legacy. 

Where Hornbills Fly: A Journey with the Head Hunters of Borneo  

Photo credit: https://www.bookdepository.com/Where-Hornbills-Fly-Erik-Jensen/9781780767741

Where Hornbills Fly: A Journey with the Head Hunters of Borneo 

Author: Erik Jensen

A beautiful memoir by Erik Jensen, who spent a number of years in Sarawak while he was a young man, living in a longhouse amongst the Iban community. The thought-provoking book will certainly appeal to the younger generation of educated Ibans who are curious about how their older generations, brought up in more traditional ways, adapted to a modern world.  

Flashman’s Lady  

Photo credit: https://www.bookdepository.com/Flashmans-Lady-George-MacDonald-Fraser/9780006513018

Flashman’s Lady 

Author: George MacDonald Fraser 

Chronologically, this exhilarating novel which features the character of the antihero Flashman, is the third in its series. This time, Flashman goes on an exciting voyage to Borneo with his wife (who eventually gets kidnapped); has an interesting encounter with Sir James Brook (the first White Rajah of Sarawak), who then helps him chase after a pirate prince through the jungles of Borneo! If historical fiction is your cup of tea, this 1977 novel will certainly appeal to you. 

Payah   

Photo credit: https://www.mphonline.com/en/productdetails/children-books/readingseries/9789834263805.   

Payah 

Author: Margaret Lim

If you’re looking for books which are more suitable for younger readers, you will be happy to know that Margaret Lim, a Sarawakian, has written several children’s books that talk about the rich culture of Sarawak. Payah is an 8-year old girl from the Kayan tribe, who has fun adventures in the jungles of Sarawak.

A participant browsing through photos shared by communities from villages in Sarawak.

Photo credit: https://www.picuki.com/media/2200784328611611428

A coffee table book entitled Warna-Warni Borneo: Panda CLICK! Bersama Masyarakat Kapuas Hulu, Kalimantan Barat dan Kapit, Sarawak was launched in 2019 with the support of WWF Malaysia and WWF Indonesia. The book was produced by communities from 8 villages and provides readers with photographic insights into their daily lives. The participants managed to capture 140,000 pictures on various themes such as their daily activities, cultures and the environment, and were also given the opportunity to publicly share the stories of the pictures taken. 

 

YouTube Videos and Vlogs 

Apart from movies and/or TV programmes, there has also been an increase in YouTube videos and vlogs on Sarawak. 

Our favourite are cool videos by Laurence Britton, a YouTuber from Birmingham, UK of his travels to Sarawak. Click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t8DpPhG9EY to watch him explore Mulu National Park, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gpO5XPlQw4 to see him trying out some of the local dishes.   

Meanwhile, you can also check out some awesome videos of Sarawak by these travel YouTubers:

 

Have you visited some of the locations featured in the movies, TV programmes, YouTube and travel vlogs, or mentioned in the books? Comment below and share photos of them on STB’s social media, we can’t wait to hear from you! 

Did you know that you can enjoy up to 50% discounts comprising of over 30 travel attractions in Kuching, Sibu, Mukah, Bintulu, Miri and Mulu in the ‘Sia Sitok Sarawak’ campaign? If you’re a Sarawakian or a Non-Sarawakian residing in Sarawak, you just need to make your booking up until 31st December 2020 for travels up to 31st March 2021. You don’t need to be in a movie to experience Sarawak’s amazing forest and wildlife national parks, just book a fully guided tour at https://sarawak.travel/booking/details/273271/bako-national-park and visit Borneo’s oldest and one of its most popular national parks. Or perhaps, go on a thrilling adventure at the Niah Great Cave where some of the oldest human remains were discovered in Southeast Asia. For more information, visit https://sarawak.travel/explore-all

SiaSitok sarawak_main

Effective 4 October 2020, Malaysians and foreign citizens need to apply for permission to enter Sarawak and submit an e-health declaration form at least 12 hours before entry. 14-days at a quarantine centre is mandatory and Covid-19 tests will be done on the 2nd and 10th day (all costs are self-borne). Different rules apply for Sarawakians returning home. Click here for further updates.    

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