Secrets of the Lun Bawang Tribe, Sarawak

Ethnic tribes in Sarawak considered clay beads a mystical item. Each tribe’s unique and differences are reflected in how they string the beads together. New born babies wear bead anklets to mean another set of protective eyes to protect them from evil. Beads are commonly sewn into clothing or a beaded collar for iban’s jackets or dresses to be worn on special festivities or occasions like weddings or other grand ceremony.

A Bidayuh’s main costume is black and red, with the beads adding colours to it. Women’s dance costumes have colourful beads embroidered into the colourful artworks of black and red velvet.

Beads signify wealth and status of the Melanaus and Bidayuhs. These beads include rare antique beads from the Middle East, Venice and China which dated back to centuries ago ie. that ancient traders have traded here in Sarawak.

The natives in wearing these beads would include a wild boar tooth for strength and responsibility or a brass bell for women wearers, to protect the wearer from harm. Beads are passed down from generation to generation, and like an asset, its value increases over time. Mothers collect beads from the time their child was born. A man may also use beads as a dowry when he wants to get married. The type and numbers of beads that a man owns reflect his worth and status in society.

The Lun Bawang tribe in Sarawak, also known as Orang Ulu (the Ulu People) are famous for their beadworks. The Lun Bawang tribe from a village called Long Tuma located at the northern tip of Sarawak produces their own ceramic beads to decorate their baby carriers, women handbags and sun hats,bracelets,anklets, belts and others.

Most of the Lun Bawang tribe stays in Lawas, a 4 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Those Lun Bawang women uses their creative skills to make beadworks from clay and sell it to tailor shops in the city.

Long Tuma’s history dates back since the Brooke era. Most of the women in the village are involved in producing ceramic beads for necklaces, bracelets and other clay based accessories as a source of income for them. The government of Sarawak through the Development of Rural Industrial Programme has commercialized the bead making skills of the Lun Bawang people through exhibitions and expositions around Sarawak. These beads are attractive to Bruneian tourists. Lawas is located quite near Brunei. Hence, the tourists would frequent the village to purchase the beadworks. The government has exported these beads to Sabah, West Malaysia and overseas.

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