Orang Ulu Longhouse

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Orang Ulu


The Kayan, the Kenyah, the Kelabit, the Lun Bawang and the other minor tribes...these are the Orang Ulu, gentle and graceful people - as reflected in their songs, music and dances.

Sit on the verandah of the Orang Ulu Longhouse nest with the friendly craft-ladies as they do their intricate beadwork whilst in the background, floats the melodiously haunting tune of the sape, their stringed musical instrument. Other sights of interest are the art of body tattooing, Parang Ilang, their fighting sword, Klirieng, their burial pole (totem pole).

Orang Ulu, “up-river dwellers”, is a useful if vague term to describe the central Borneo people living in Sarawak. Accounting for 5.5% of the total population, the Orang Ulu comprises the Penan, the Kayan and Kenyah, living in the middle and upper reaches of Sarawak's longest rivers, the Kelabit and Lun Bawang groups in the highlands proper.

In the past, the orang Ulu were famous throughout the region as sword-smiths. They extracted iron from the ore found in their area, they forged it into excellent blades which they tempered in the cold mountain streams.

Traditionally, an Orang Ulu longhouse was built to last. Many of these people practise settled agriculture, and have developed rice field irrigation to a fine art. This makes the search for new farmlands unnecessary. The solid ironwood houses are designed to last for many generations.