Ethnic Melanau makes up about 6 percent of the total state population of Sarawak. A majority of Melanau professes the religion of Islam and the ethnic is commonly associated with ethnic Malay. Their concentration is quite restricted to the central coastal region of the Rajang River delta in towns such as Oya and Mukah.
The ethnic Melanau is considered very unique for a few reasons - they consume sago in preference to the more commonly found rice. The sago is commonly cultivated from the sago palm trees (Metroxylon sagu) often found in the coastal swamps and marshland in the river delta. In general, sago is not much different from rice or bread in term of carbohydrate composition and versatility in cooking methods.
Visitors will be amazed when first seeing the Melanau Tall House in the cultural village. It is built some 40 feet above ground that you will wonder how these tribal people, isolated from common modernity, were able to build such a behemoth. In as much as the house itself being an engineering marvel of its own, there are reasons why the house is built in such way. The main reason, according to the literature that I read, is that the coastal areas where the Melanau live are prone to frequent pirate attacks from the sea, hence the tall house is some sort of protection against these perpetrators. Not to mention, the river delta that the people call home is also subjected to occasional flooding that having a house with the floors raised considerably above ground is a necessity rather than a cosmetic pursuit.
There are staircases provided for visitors to enter the tall house. The first staircase will bring you to the first floor where the display of tools and utensils associated with ethnic Melanau is available throughout. Surprisingly, there is another staircase made of tree trunks to the second floor where the bedroom models are showcased. Climbing these trunk-staircase is an acquired skill on its own and caution should be exercised.
Outside the tall house, there are two points of interest that you need to check out. The first one is the tibau swing used during Pesta Kaul, a festival uniquely attributed to ethnic Melanau. Behind the tall house is a sago-making outlet where the personnel will be more than happy to demonstrate the intricate process of making this staple food. You can also get the chance to sneak a taste of a local sweet delicacy called kuih tebaloi. This novelty item can also be purchased at the outlet for RM3 per pack.
Breathtaking house. Unique sago-making methods.