Sarawak is home to 27 different ethnic groups, each boasting its own unique culture that makes the Land of the Hornbills a very special place indeed. The newly opened Borneo Cultures Museum is the perfect primer for anyone who visits Kuching and would like to get a grasp of the land and its beautiful peoples.
One of the newest landmarks to dot the capital city, the Borneo Cultures Museum stands five storeys high with an unmistakably eye-catching architectural design that reflects Sarawak’s unique traditional crafts and rich cultural heritage.
Stepping through the main door and into the lobby, you are greeted by a large, open-air space. Function rooms and an auditorium occupy the first level, sharing space with the reception counter, restaurant, and gift shop.
There are different pricing tiers for visitors: Sarawakians get the best deal, followed by non-Sarawakians, and foreigners, respectively.
Each level has washroom facilities, and the entire building is differently-abled friendly. Parents of babies and very young children should take note of the nappy-changing rooms on the first two floors.
At press time, the Shamanism display is housed in a temporary gallery that provides a peek into the spiritual journey still practised by many tribes, especially those that live deep in the interior of Sarawak.
With various charms and rituals showcased, those with a penchant for the supernatural will certainly find the exhibits highly informative.
Level two hosts the Children’s Gallery and an Arts & Crafts section, with several areas where little ones can keep themselves occupied with various activities. This floor is full of sensory booths that offer a cutting-edge, interactive learning environment that will keep children busy for hours on end.
Generation-X parents will be awash with nostalgia with the ViewMaster-like apparatus that offers a different view of what Malaysia’s bodies of water contain. With the theme “Love Our Rivers”, this feature focuses on the concept of sustainability, with rivers as the foundation of the exhibit’s narrative.
Sarawak, after all, is home to the mighty Rajang, the longest in the country.
There are additional activities in the Arts and Crafts Gallery that provide an opportunity for visitors to know more about the skills involved in traditional craftsmanship, dances, and music.
The third level has the distinction of being the main gallery, boasting a whopping 2,188 sq m of exhibition space. Exploring the close relationship of local communities with their surrounding environments, you will embark on a river journey through three major geographical regions.
There are immersive and multisensory experiences here, as the theme “In Harmony with Nature” weaves a natural story that leaves you wanting to know more. Learn about the legend of Puteri Santubong through an interactive, four-panelled display that requires you to slide the front screen over paper cutouts behind to activate the corresponding video playback.
Of course, what is a visit to a museum if you do not view the collection of human skulls on display? An explanation of the rich history behind head-hunting culture in Borneo is provided to satiate the curious.
Take a journey through time on level four, where the focus lies on changes across the ages. You will learn more about archeological discoveries across Sarawak’s massive network of caves, dive into the Borneo region and its surrounding empires, the history behind the formation of Sarawak and its regions, and the rise of nationalism within the state.
The entire narrative from the prehistoric era to modern times can be explored on this level. There is even a large interactive book, the pages of which you can “flip” using your hands courtesy of a built-in motion-control sensor.
Another interesting exhibit tells of how the Brooke administration came to rule over Sarawak. You slide a marker from one year to another, and the screen changes to depict the ever-expanding territory of the White Rajah’s rule until present-day borders were defined.
Moving to the highest level, you will find the “Objects of Desire” gallery that features intricate handicraft of the tribes in Sarawak. These range from mats and beadwork to clothing, and reflect a level of skilled craftsmanship that has not been seen since.
The sheer accuracy and meticulous effort required boggles the mind, and such designs are touted to endow the wearer with divine powers while cementing one’s status symbol among the community.
All in all, your trip to Kuching will not be complete if you do not pay a visit to the Borneo Cultures Museum. There is so much to unearth and learn, and with new exhibitions slated in the coming months, there is even more to look forward to. You’d need to spend a couple of hours here at the very least.
And, just in case all five levels prove insufficient for the historian in you, you might be pleased to know that the Borneo Cultures Museum is part of the Sarawak Museum Complex, which is surrounded by the Sarawak Museum (Old Building), Kuching Aquarium, Islamic Heritage Museum, Natural History Museum, Taxidermy Building, Annex Office Building, and Sarawak Arts Museum.
Find out more about the Borneo Cultures Museum here.
Borneo Cultures Museum
Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg,
93400 Kuching, Sarawak
9.30am-4.30pm (Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays)
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about consumer electronics and other topics. Check out his blog at manatau.com.