Orang Ulu – Kelabit

Information taken from Marudi’s Fort Hose (Baram District’s Museum)

The Kelabit inhabit the interior of mountain valleys on the upper reaches of the Baram river known as the Bario Highlands.

Bario Highlands. Retrieved from http://www.maswings.com.my/sarawak.html

The population of the Kelabit was estimated to be 5,059 with 18 longhouses in 1987. Today, most of the young and educated Kelabit have moved out of the highlands to work in the larger towns in Sarawak. The Kelabit live in an open-system longhouses where the community live with mutual help and harmony.

The Highland Kelabit are mainly wet padi planters, who produce the famous “Bario Rice”.

Bario wet paddy field. Retrieved from http://i257.photobucket.com/albums/hh223/wag6174/Bario-100.jpg

They also rear buffaloes and cattle for sale. In the traditional Kelabit social organisations, the nobles are known as Paran while the middle group are called Pupu or Upaupa. The third strata of social hierarchy are the auak lun ian oda ‘commoners’.

The Kelabit of the highlands also process salt from the natural licks which they used as a barter item in the past.

Salt making is only carried out during the non-farming season. Today, salt making for commerce has lost its importance.

The Kelabit are skilled in carvings on bamboo, wood and stone and ivory.

Kelabit ancient ceremonial ground found in 2005 in Ramudu, Sarawak. Kelabit people carve the stone to mark their important site for festive as well as their burial ground. Retrieved from http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qVfRW4_wNBc/SycQhabJjJI/AAAAAAAAAN4/Z1NCVv1nrdY/s400/Megalith+Part+I.jpg

They also make their own parangs and work utensils.

Kelabit ladies are adept at bead work.

With the advent of Christianity, most of the ritualistic dances are no longer practised. However, traditional songs are still commonly sing by both men and women. Sekunuhor story telling is still a common oral tradition today.

The most unique aspect of Kelabit Culture are related to those of megalithic practices, greetings and the naming ceremony.

Video above: Megalithic and dragon jar cemetary visit, Long Peluan, Kelabit Highlands.

Video above: Name-changing irau or irau mekaa ngadan in Kelabit.


With the Kelabit Ladies. Picture by Alyssa Chin.

With the Kelabit Ladies. Picture by Alyssa Chin.

For more information, do read Land of FriendlyKelabits by Harlina Samson, TheStar Online.

Reference list:

MASwings. (2007). Bario [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.maswings.com.my/sarawak.html

Kalang, A. (2008). Paddy field [Image]. Anderson’s Picturific.  Retrieved from http://i257.photobucket.com/albums/hh223/wag6174/Bario-100.jpg

Borneo Native Store. Kelabit Highlands Bario Salt 200G [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.borneonativestore.com/image/cache/data/Bario%20Salt_2-600×600.jpg

Hadi, A. H. (2009).  Kelabit stone carving [Image]. acrossplanet. Retrieved from http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qVfRW4_wNBc/SycQhabJjJI/AAAAAAAAAN4/Z1NCVv1nrdY/s400/Megalith+Part+I.jpg

Ethnographic Arms & Armour Forum. (2006). Kelabit Parang [Image]. Retrieved from http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attachment.php?attachmentid=15979&stc=1

Sarawak Tourism Board. (2012). Kelabit lady string beads [Image]. Retrieved from http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-RjMpPjYOrLE/UHYiRbBP6VI/AAAAAAAAAs0/SPCZ5Cr5rWc/s1600/orang+ulu+craft.jpg

Kelabit. Retrieved from http://asiaharvest.org/pages/profiles/nonChina/Malaysia/Kelabit.pdf

Monica Janowski. (2011, January 4). Name-changing irau 22 Dec 09, Kelabit Highlands [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdbYuJ4ZVTI

Monica Janowski. (2011, January 4). Megalithic and dragon jar cemetery visit, Long Peluan, Kelabit HIghlands [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHmOfttfr-A


2 thoughts on “Orang Ulu – Kelabit

    • I was told that Ramudu is near the border of Sarawak and Kalimantan, meaning it would be in the highlands.

      The distinct difference between Kenyah and Kayan would be their language. For example, the word “I” in Kenyah is ‘ake’ whereas in Kayan would be ‘akui’. Other than the language and difference of settlement area, I would have to say the lifestyles, customs and traditions are almost similar to each other.

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