Multiethnic Society of Central Sarawak: An Ethnographic Analysis

  • Yumi Kato
  • Jayl Langub
  • Abdul Rashid Abdullah
  • Hiromitsu Samejima
  • Ryoji Soda
  • Motomitsu Uchibori
  • Katsumi Okuno
  • Noboru Ishikawa
Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)


This chapter discusses the historical formation and current features of society in the Kemena and Tatau river basins in Bintulu, central Sarawak, where various ethnic groups live close together in a small area as a result of the historical migration of each group. We refer to previous studies and to interviews we conducted, mainly in 2011. Historically, Vaie Segan and Penan lived in the Kemena basin, Tatau lived in the Tatau basin, and Melanau and Malays came from the inhabited coastal areas. The basins’ ethnoscape changed along with migrations of various ethnic groups—Kayan, Punan Bah, Bekatan, Chinese, Iban and Kenyah—from neighbouring basins. These groups migrated through various routes from the south (Bah River), southeast (Bukit Lumut), east (Belaga River), northeast (Tinjar River, Suai River and Brunei), west (various places including Mukah, Oya, Saribas and Sri Aman) and southwest (Pelagus and Merit rivers). Factors that triggered migration included disease, natural disasters, topography, hydrology, economic interests, political crises, trade, land shortages, access to natural resources and marital relationships. The current multiethnic society is shaped from these multiple migrations and intermarriage. People’s ethnic backgrounds are therefore diverse in any given village, creating a coexistence of religions, languages, family histories and ethnic identities within a single community. There is thus wide variation within each ethnic group depending on the diversity of its members and the interaction with neighbouring communities.


Sarawak Kemena River Tatau River Ethnoscape Migration Multiethnic society 



This research was conducted with the permission of the Sarawak Planning Unit. We thank the Institute of East Asian Studies at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak for supporting this research. Research funds were provided by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) 22221010 ‘Planted Forests in Equatorial Southeast Asia: Human-nature Interactions in High Biomass Society’ from the Japan Society for the Promotion of the Science. An earlier version of this paper was published in 2014 (Kato et al. 2014). We greatly appreciate the people in the villages we studied for their understanding and help with this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yumi Kato
    • 1
  • Jayl Langub
    • 2
  • Abdul Rashid Abdullah
    • 3
  • Hiromitsu Samejima
    • 4
  • Ryoji Soda
    • 5
  • Motomitsu Uchibori
    • 6
  • Katsumi Okuno
    • 7
  • Noboru Ishikawa
    • 8
  1. 1.Center for Arts and SciencesFukui Prefectural UniversityEiheijiJapan
  2. 2.Institute of Borneo StudiesUniversiti Malaysia SarawakKota SamarahanMalaysia
  3. 3.Independent ResearcherSelangorMalaysia
  4. 4.Institute of Global Environmental StrategiesHayamaJapan
  5. 5.Graduate School of Literature and Human SciencesOsaka City UniversityOsakaJapan
  6. 6.Hitotsubashi UniversityTokyoJapan
  7. 7.Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences Society and CollaborationRikkyo UniversityToshimaJapan
  8. 8.Center for Southeast Asian StudiesKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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