Borneo Cultural Studies

A unit as unique as the island of Borneo itself! You simply won’t find a multi-disciplinary syllabus or set of field trips quite like this anywhere else on earth. We’ve worked very hard to prepare a
taste of this wonderful island that is completely incomparable, while also providing a curriculum that is meaningful and engaging.

Through the passage of two weeks, you’ll be forever changed as you come to understand the geography, natural history, wildlife, society and culture of this wild place. Through studying the myriad of peoples, flora and fauna that call Borneo home you’ll be able to truly understand the island in all its stunning beauty . Your appreciation is enhanced through field trips to Sarawak’s globally acclaimed national parks, including the stunning Miri Sibuti Coastal Reserve and the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Mulu. Come to know and love Borneo in a way that no tourist package or any number of books could ever match. Come study Borneo!

Course Information:

Start Dates Duration Cost Course Code Application
Summer Study Period
(3 Jan – 3 Feb)
14 days
(per unit)
MYR 5989* (Check Rate) Asia 1002
Asia 1003
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As an introductory unit, the focus will predominantly be on culture, social organization and history, supplemented with real life experiences amidst communities and societies of contemporary Borneo.

This unit will provide a broad description of the geo-cultural and social make-up of Borneo (Sarawak, Sabah, Brunei and Kalimantan). Significant phases in the historical evolution of Borneo will also be covered, such as the Brooke rule, Japanese Occupation, British Colonialism and the Independence Wave.

This unit aims to provide sufficient familiarity with the main social, cultural and historical characteristics of Borneo for the pursuit of more advanced understanding, studies or research of particular aspects of Borneo.

Topic Summary:

Introduction to Sarawak
Sarawak is rich in history and heritage. It is also known as Land of The Hornbills. The population comprises of local ethnic groups namely Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau and other minor tribes plus the Malays, Chinese and Indians living together in harmony for more than a century. Being the largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak covers a vast area of 124,000 sq-km of land along the northwest coast of Borneo, the third largest island in the world This module is an introduction to Sarawak and her people.

Austronesian Migration
Austronesian languages are spread across half the globe, from Easter Island to Madagascar. Evidence from linguistics and archaeology indicates that the ‘Austronesian expansion,’ which began 4,000–5,000 years ago, likely had roots in Taiwan, but the ancestry of present-day Austronesian-speaking populations remains controversial. This module will take a look at Bellwood’s and Solheim’s theories on the expansion of Austronesian peoples to Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) which includes Borneo.

Intangible Culture – Traditional tattooing:
For Borneo’s Dayak peoples, spirits embody everything: animals, plants, and humans. Many groups have drawn on this power by using images from nature in their tattoos, creating a composite of floral motifs using plants with curative or protective powers and powerful animal images.

Tattoos are created by artists who consult spirit guides to reveal a design. Among Borneo’s Kayan people, women are the artists, a hereditary position passed from mother to daughter. Among the Iban, the largest and once the most feared headhunting group in Borneo, men apply the tattoos. This module will focus on the cultural significance of tattooing to the Dayaks and the future of the art in the 21st century.

Sarawak’s History: Pre-Rajah Rule, Under Rajah Rule and Independence
The history of modern Sarawak is closely related to the adventures of an Englishman, James Brooke after his advent to Sarawak in 1839. However, Sarawak’s history is older than the Brooke Raj. This module will take a look at Sarawak’s history from prehistory to the modern era.

Material Cultures of Borneo-Trade Objects: Their Impacts on the Indigenous Cultures of Sarawak
In Sarawak, old ceramic jars, swords, gongs, beads and beadwork are part of familial heirlooms and are part of Sarawak’s rich cultural heritage. This module will take a look at the importance of trade objects as heirlooms or “pesaka” to the Dayaks.

Intangible Cultures: Traditional Weaving, Plaitwork and Musical instruments
Intangible Cultural Heritage comprises the living expressions and traditions that communities, groups and individuals around the world receive from their ancestors and pass on their knowledge to their descendants. This module will cover the traditional arts of weaving, plaitwork and musical instruments of the tribes in Sarawak.