Sibu - An Ethnic Kaleidoscope
Ethnic Kaleidoscope I Sibu
Along the banks of the Rejang and its tributaries, in towns, villages
and longhouses, a great variety of people have made their home.
The Rejang delta, where the river spreads out before it meets the
sea, is the heartland of the Melanau, intrepid fishermen who also
cultivate the sago palm for its starch. Further up, the river is
lined with Malay kampungs (villages) and padi fields as far as Sibu.
The majority of Sibu's inhabitants are Foochow Chinese, descendants
of the town's founders, who migrated from Sounthern China at the
turn of the century to escape persecution and civil war.
Above Sibu, Chinese shophouses give away to Iban longhouses. The
Rejang and its tributaries, the Katibas and the Baleh, have the
largest Iban population in Sarawak, a result of the great Iban migration
of the 17th and 18th centuries. Beyond the Pelagus Rapids, Iban
culture ceases to dominate and the longhouses of the various Orang
Ulu (upriver people) groups start to appear. At first there are
just isolated settlements of Punan Bah and Kajang, but above Belaga
lies the heartland of the Kayan and kenyah, the two great tribes
of Borneo's interior, as well as many smaller Orang Ulu groups,
including the Bukitan, Lahanan, Punan, Ukit and the semi-nomadic
Penan. However, even this far from the main towns there are small
settlements of Chinese in the bazaars and villages, descendants
of bold and enterprising traders who risked life and limb opening
up the 19th century Rejang to commerce.