Sarawak is home to numerous indigenous cultures, all with their own cultural practices, traditions and festivals that contribute to the colourful tapestry that makes up Sarawak’s unique identity.
These cultures and traditions reflect and shape values, beliefs, and aspirations, thereby defining the people of Sarawak and their identity. It is important to preserve cultural heritage because it ensures a people’s integrity remains intact.
Sarawak does this through those many unique cultural festivals and you can read about them here, but there are also many exciting, urban, contemporary festivals that leverage on the multi diversity of the state and stay true to the spirit of Sarawak while fusing traditional and modern elements.
Here’s a decent list of some modern, contemporary festivals that celebrate the soul of Sarawak and present it in such a way that it’s appealing to boomers and the millennials alike.
1. Rainforest World Music Festival
The RWMF is a globally respected annual indigenous music festival that takes place in July at Sarawak Cultural Village which is at the foot of the jungle ornamented Mount Santubong, about 30 minutes outside Kuching.
RWMF started in 1998. A joint effort by local organisations and Sarawak Tourism Board about 300 mainly curious locals attended the first event. Today, RWMF has grown to be one of the most anticipated music festivals in Malaysia and draws more than 20,000 attendees every year from all over the world.
There is a variety of accommodation options available, from local homestays to beach fronted hotels, jungle resorts or traditional and indigenous Iban and Bidayuh longhouses in the festival village itself which are walking distance to the event grounds.
RWMF showcases Malaysian talent but also celebrates the diversity of global music with performers from all over the world. RWMF has featured indigenous performers from the Philippines, Madagascar, Scotland, South America, Zimbabwe, Greece, Samoa, and many other countries.
The 3-day event has a relaxed atmosphere with multiple immersive workshops taking place throughout the event venue. The experience here is similar to no other music festivals you have been to as you can feel the spirit of the musicians as they sing to the rainforest and the mountain. You never feel like they’re just churning out another festival gig. During the performance, they are one with nature, and they take you along with them.
Source: Gaya Travel
The daytime workshops are held inside various traditional houses in the village, where the performers and leaders of the events are often on the same floor-level as the audience, allowing them to get up close to the performers.
Performers and artists are always walking around the site and you are free to approach them and initiate a conversation. They are usually very accommodating and encourage you to interact with them.
While you are marvelling at the magnificence of Mount Santubong during the day, don’t forget to catch the breathtaking sunset at Damai Beach at dusk and immerse yourself in the golden rays of the Sun.
2. Rainforest Fringe Festival
Source: The Star
The RFF is a 10-day exhibition of the best that Sarawak has to offer in terms of art, food, fashion and music. The event takes place in the heart of Kuching in the month of July and acts as a perfect lead up to the RWMF.
RFF highlights the rich arts and culture of the indigenous tribes and communities of Sarawak and acts as a catalyst for the beauty and energy of Sarawak, her people and her rainforest.
All this is portrayed through cultural film screenings, photography exhibitions, art and craft bazaars, fashion shows and many other displays of the Sarawak essence by highly talented Sarawakians.
RFF aims to raise the profile of the culturally rich aspects of this land that has managed to preserve indigenous cultures that are centuries old.
3. Borneo Jazz Festival
The Borneo Jazz Festival is the longest-running Jazz festival in the region and usually takes place in the month of July at Coco Cabana in Marina Bay, Miri.
BJF brings Jazz to Sarawak with ensembles from countries like USA, Italy, Mexico, Japan, Austria, The Netherlands and other top artists from around the world.
In addition to musical performances, BJF features multiple art exhibitions, jamming sessions and food stalls with unique Sarawakian cuisine. Even though the event runs until late at night, don’t miss out on the ‘Yoga and Sape’ (a traditional Sarawakian musical instrument) in the morning by the waterfront to help energise you in preparation for the coming day of beautiful Jazz music against a backdrop of the Borneo rainforest!
4. What About Kuching (WAK)
Source: The Star
Bringing you back to Kuching, WAK is a month-long, one-of-a-kind festival that celebrates Kuching. WAK features multiple arts, culture and food-related events spread all over the city. Since it is a community-driven event, it facilitates a way for outsiders to experience and appreciate Kuching in a way her residents do.
What about Kuching has multiple events that include photography walks, a conference around the ancient art of Borneo beads, food walks, artisan bazaars, cultural and musical performances.
WAK is open to anyone and they have an online calendar that lists all the events happening throughout the month. WAK kicks off in October 2020 and is a great way to see parts of Kuching that you might never visit and meet people you might never meet.
It makes sense to book your trip to these events early as flight prices tend to spike nearer the dates. Flights to Kuching from major destinations such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore start from as low as USD $52.
All of these festivals have green initiatives ongoing throughout the events such as the Tuyang Initiative at the Borneo Jazz Festival, #Urbins at RWMF, a “no single-use plastic bag” ruling and single-use plastic bottles banned throughout all the events.
This is to protect the beauty of this abundant land, ensuring that our future generations may continue to enjoy the wonders of Borneo as well. Being such a culturally rich and diverse state, the beauty of Sarawak, her people, and her rainforests deserve to be celebrated as they always have been.