Sarawak: Wikis


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—  State  —


Coat of arms
Motto: "Bersatu, Berusaha, Berbakti"
"Unity, Effort, Duteous"
Anthem: Ibu Pertiwiku
Location of Sarawak
Coordinates: 1°33′0″N 110°20′7″E / 1.55°N 110.33528°E / 1.55; 110.33528
Capital Kuching
Royal capital Kuching
 - Ruling party Barisan Nasional
 - Yang di-Pertua Negeri Abang Muhammad Salahuddin
 - Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud
 - Total 124,450 km2 (48,050.4 sq mi)
 Density 20.1/km2 (52.1/sq mi)
 - Estimate (2009) 2,504,000
Human Development Index
 - HDI (2003) 0.763 (medium)
Postal code 93xxx to 98xxx
Calling code 082 (Kuching), (Samarahan)
083 (Sri Aman), (Betong)
084 (Sibu), (Kapit), (Sarikei), (Mukah)
085 (Miri), (Limbang), (Marudi), (Lawas)
086 (Bintulu), (Belaga)
Vehicle registration QA & QK (Kuching)
QB (Sri Aman)
QC (Kota Samarahan)
QL (Limbang)
QM (Miri)
QP (Kapit)
QR (Sarikei)
QS (Sibu)
QT (Bintulu)
QSG (Sarawak State Government)
Brunei Sultanate 19th century
Brooke dynasty 1841
Japanese occupation 1941-1945
British control 1946
Accession into Malaysia 1963

Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. Known as Bumi Kenyalang ("Land of the Hornbills"), it is situated on the north-west of the island. It is the largest state in Malaysia; the second largest, Sabah, lies to the northeast.

The administrative capital is Kuching which has a population of 579,900 (2006 census; Kuching City South - 143,500; Kuching City North - 133,600; Padawan- 3rd Mile/ 7th Mile/ 10th Mile - 302,800). Major cities and towns also include Sibu (pop. 254,000), Miri (pop. 263,000) and Bintulu (pop. 176,800). As of last census (December 31, 2006), the state population was 2,357,500.



The eastern seaboard of Borneo had been charted (though never settled) by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The area of today's Sarawak was known to Portuguese cartographers as Cerava. Sarawak had been a loosely governed territory under the control of the Brunei Sultanate in the early 19th century, although for a brief time in the early 17th century Sarawak was self-governed under its first and last Sultan, Sultan Tengah. During the reign of Pangeran Indera Mahkota in 19th century, Sarawak was in chaoscitation needed. Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II (1827–1852), the Sultan of Brunei, ordered Pangeran Muda Hashim in 1839 to restore order and it was during this time that James Brooke arrived in Sarawak. Pangeran Muda Hashim initially requested assistance but James Brooke refused. In 1841, James Brooke paid another visit to Sarawak and this time he agreed to assist. Pangeran Muda Hashim signed a treaty in 1841 surrendering Sarawak and Sinian to James Brooke. Thereafter, on 24 September 1841, Pangeran Muda Hashim bestowed the title Governor to James Brooke. He effectively became the Rajah of Sarawak and founded the White Rajah Dynasty of Sarawak, later extending his administration through an agreement with the Sultan of Brunei.

Sir James Brooke, Raja of Sarawak.

Brooke was appointed Rajah by the Sultan of Brunei on August 18, 1842; originally this territory was just the western end of later Sarawak, around Kuching. He ruled Sarawak until his death in 1868. His nephew Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke became Rajah after his death; he was succeeded on his death in 1917 by his son, Charles Vyner Brooke, with a provision that Charles should rule in consultation with his brother Bertram Brooke[1]. The territory was greatly expanded under the Brooke dynasty, mostly at the expense of areas nominally under the control of Brunei. In practice Brunei had only controlled strategic river and coastal forts in much of the lost territory, and so most of the gain was at the expense of Muslim warlords and of the de facto independence of local tribes.

The Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawak for a hundred years and became famous as the "White Rajahs", accorded a status within the British Empire similar to that of the rulers of Indian princely states. In contrast to many other areas of the empire, however, the Brooke dynasty was intent on a policy of paternalism to protect the indigenous population against exploitation. They governed with the aid of the Muslim Malay and enlisted the Ibans and other "Dayak" as a contingent militia. They also encouraged the immigration of Chinese merchants but forbade the Chinese to settle outside of towns in order to minimize the impact on the Dayak way of life. They also established the Sarawak Museum, the first museum in Borneo.

In the early part of 1941 preparations were afoot to introduce a new constitution, designed to limit the power of the Rajah and give the people of Sarawak a greater say in government. Despite this democratic intention, the draft constitution contained defects and improprieties, not least by reason of a secret agreement drawn up between Charles Vyner Brooke and his top government officials, by which he was to be financially compensated for this gesture out of treasury funds.[citation needed]

Japan invaded Sarawak and occupied the island of Borneo in 1941, occupying Miri on December 16 and Kuching on December 24, and held it for the duration of World War II until the area was secured by Australian forces in 1945. The Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke, formally ceded sovereignty to the British Crown on July 1, 1946, under pressure from his wife among others. In addition the British Government offered a healthy pension to sweeten the negotiations. His nephew Anthony continued to claim sovereignty as Rajah of Sarawak.

After the end of the Second World War, Anthony Brooke then opposed the cession of the Rajah's territory to the British Crown, and was associated with anti-secessionist groups in Sarawak. Anthony was banished from the country. He was allowed to return only seventeen years later, when Sarawak became part of the Federation of Malaysia. Sarawak became a British colony (formerly an independent state under British protection) in July 1946, but Brooke's campaign continued. The Malays in particular resisted the cession to Britain, dramatically assassinating the first British governor.

Sarawak was officially granted independence on July 22, 1963,[1] and was admitted into the federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963, to the initial opposition from parts of the population. Sarawak was also a flashpoint during the Indonesian Confrontation between 1962 and 1966.


The Sarawak State Legislative Assembly building

Having land area of 124,450 km² spreading between latitude 0° 50′ and 5°N and longitude 109° 36′ and 115° 40′ E, it makes up 37.5% of the land of Malaysia. Sarawak also contains large tracts of tropical rain forest home to an abundance of plant and animal species.

Sarawak is currently divided into eleven Administrative Divisions: Kuching Division, Samarahan Division, Sri Aman Division, Betong Division, Sarikei Division, Sibu Division, Mukah Division, Kapit Division, Bintulu Division, Miri Division and Limbang Division.

The state stretches for some 750 km along the north east coastline of Borneo, interrupted in the north by about 150 km of Brunei coast. Sarawak is separated from the Indonesian part of Borneo (Kalimantan) by ranges of high hills and mountains that are part of the central mountain range of Borneo. These get higher to the north and culminate near the source of the Baram River with the steep Mount Batu Lawi, Mount Mulu in the Park of the same name and Mount Murud with the highest peak in Sarawak.

The major rivers from the south to the north include Sarawak River, the Lupar River, the Saribas River, the Rajang River with 563 km the longest river in Malaysia with the Baleh River branch, the Baram River, the Limbang River that drains into the Brunei Bay as it divides the two parts of Brunei and the Trusan River that also flows into the Brunei Bay.The Sarawak river 2459k2 in area and is the main river flowing through Kuching(the capital).

Sarawak can be divided into three natural regions. The coastal region is rather low lying flat country with large extents of swamps and other wet environments. The hill region provides most of the easily inhabited land. Most of the larger cities and towns have been built in this region. As the swamps make up much of the coast, the ports of Kuching and Sibu have been built some distance from the coast on rivers, while Bintulu and Miri are close to the coast at the only places that the hills stretch right to the China Sea. The third region is the mountain region along the border and with the Kelabit and Murut highlands in the north.


Sarawak features vast areas of both lowland and highland rainforest. However, Sarawak has been hit hard by the logging industry and the expansion of monoculture tree plantations and oil palm plantations. Malaysia's deforestation rate is increasing faster than anywhere else in the world. Statistics estimate Sarawak's primary forest has been depleted by around 50%[citation needed]. Malaysia's rates of deforestation are among the highest in Asia, jumping almost 86 percent between the 1990-2000 period and 2000-2005. In total, Malaysia lost an average of 1,402 km² —0.65 percent of its forest area—per year since 2000 [2]. By comparison, South East Asian countries lost an average of 0.35% of their forest per annum during the 1990s.



A Modern Iban Longhouse, built using new materials and preserving essential features of communal living
Iban girls dressed in full Iban (women) attire during Gawai festivals in Debak, Betong region, Sarawak

Sarawak has more than 40 sub-ethnic groups, each with its own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. Cities and larger towns are populated predominantly by Malays, Melanaus, Chinese, and a smaller percentage of Ibans and Bidayuhs who have migrated from their home-villages for employment reasons. Sarawak is rather distinctive from the rest of Malaysia in that there is only a small community of Indians living in the state.

Dayak Iban

Sea Dayaks (Iban) women from Rejang, Sarawak, wearing rattan corsets decorated with brass rings and filigree adornments. The family adds to the corset dress as the girl ages and based on her family's wealth.

The Ibans comprise the largest percentage (almost 34%) of Sarawak's population. Formerly reputed to be the most formidable headhunters on the island of Borneo, the Ibans of today are a generous, hospitable and placid people.[citation needed] Because of their history as pirates and fishermen, they were conventionally referred to as the "Sea Dayaks". The early Iban settlers who migrated from Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo south of Sarawak) via the Kapuas River and crossed over the Kelingkang range and set up home in the river valleys of Batang Ai, the Skrang River, Saribas, and the Rajang River. The Ibans dwell in longhouses, a stilted structure comprising many rooms housing a whole community of families.[citation needed]

An Iban longhouse may still display head trophies or antu pala. These suspended heads mark a tribal victory and were a source of honor. The Dayak Iban ceased practicing headhunting in the 1930s.[citation needed]

The Ibans are renowned for their Pua Kumbu (traditional Iban weavings), silver craft, wooden carvings and bead work. Iban tattoos, which were originally symbols of bravery among Iban warriors, have become amongst the most distinctive in the world.[citation needed] The Ibans are also famous for their tuak, a sweet rice wine which is served during big celebrations and festive occasions.

The majority of Ibans currently practice Christianity. However, like most other ethnic groups in Sarawak, they still observe many of their traditional rituals and beliefs. Sarawak celebrates colourful festivals such as the Gawai Dayak (harvest festival), Gawai Kenyalang (hornbill, or the god of war festival), penuaian padi and Gawai Antu (festival of the dead).


The Chinese first came to Sarawak as traders and explorers in the 6th century. Today, they make up 26% of the population of Sarawak and consist of communities built from the economic migrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The first Chinese (Hakka) migrants worked as labourers in the gold mines at Bau or on plantations. Through their clan associations, business acumen and work ethic, the Chinese organised themselves economically and rapidly dominated commerce. Today, the Chinese are amongst Sarawak's most prosperous ethnic groups.

The Sarawak Chinese belong to a wide range of dialect groups, the most significant being Hakka, Hokkien, Foochow, Teochew, Cantonese and Henghua. Hokkien, Hakka, Foochow and Mandarin are the most widely spoken dialects. The Chinese maintain their ethnic heritage and culture and celebrate all the major cultural festivals, most notably Chinese New Year and the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Sarawak Chinese are predominantly Buddhists and Christians.


The Malays make up 21% of the population in Sarawak. Traditionally fishermen, these seafaring people chose to form settlements on the banks of the many rivers of Sarawak. Today, many Malays have migrated to the cities where they are heavily involved in the public and private sectors and taken up various professions. Malay villages (kampungs) - a cluster of wooden houses on stilts, many of which are still located by rivers on the outskirts of major towns and cities, play home to traditional cottage industries. The Malays are famed for their wood carvings, silver and brass craftings as well as traditional Malays textile weaving with silver and gold thread (kain songket).

Malays are Muslim by religion, having been converted to the faith some 600 years ago with the Islamification of the area. Their religion is reflected in their culture and art and Islamic symbolism is evident in local architecture - from homes to government buildings.


The Melanaus have been thought to be amongst the original settlers of Sarawak. Originally from Mukah (the 10th Administrative Division as launched in March 2002), the Melanaus traditionally lived in tall houses. Nowadays, they have adopted a Malay lifestyle, living in kampong-type settlements. Traditionally, Melanaus were fishermen and still today, they are reputed as some of the finest boat-builders and craftsmen.

While the Melanaus are ethnically different from the Malays, their lifestyles and practices are quite similar especially in the larger towns and cities where most Melanau have adopted the Islamic faith.

The Melanaus were believed to originally worship spirits in a practice verging on paganism. Today most of them are Muslim and some are Christians, though they still celebrate traditional animist festivals such as the annual Kaul Festival.

Dayak Bidayuh

Concentrated mainly on the West end of Borneo, the Bidayuhs make up 10% of the population in Sarawak are now most numerous in the hill counties of Bau and Serian, within half an hour drive from Kuching.

Historically, as other tribes were migrating into Sarawak and forming settlements (particularly the Malays from the neighbouring archipelagos as they shore up along the coastal areas and riversides) the peace-loving, meek-natured Bidayuhs retreated further inland, hence earning them the name of "Land Dayaks n land owners". The word Bidayuh in itself literally means "land people" in Biatah dialect. In Bau-Jagoi/Singai dialect, the pronunciation is "Bidoyoh" which also carry the same meaning.
The traditional community construction of the Bidayuh is the "baruk", a roundhouse that rises about 1.5 metres off the ground. It serves as the granary and the meeting house for the settlement's community. Longhouses were typical in the olden days, similar to that of the Ibans.
Typical of the Sarawak indigenous groups, the Bidayuhs are well-known for their hospitality, and are reputed to be the best makers of tuak, or rice wine. They also do arak tonok,some kind of moonshine.
The Bidayuhs speak a number of different but related dialects. To some Bidayuhs they either speak English (thanks to the British colonial era James Brooke) or Malay as their main language. While some of them still practice traditional religions, the majority of modern-day Bidayuhs have adopted the Christian faith.

Dayak Orang Ulu

Young Malaysian playing the sape.

The phrase Orang Ulu means upriver people and is a term used to collectively describe the numerous tribes that live upriver in Sarawak's vast interior. Such groups include the major Kayan and Kenyah tribes, and the smaller neighbouring groups of the Kajang, Kejaman, Punan, Ukit, and Penan. Nowadays, the definition also includes the down-river tribes of the Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh(mean upriver/far upstream), Berawan, Saban as well as the plateau-dwelling Kelabits. The various Orang Ulu groups together make up roughly 5.5% of Sarawak's population. The Orang Ulu are artistic people with longhouses elaborately decorated with murals and woodcarvings. They are also well-known for their intricate beadwork and detailed tattoos. The Orang Ulu tribe can also be identified by their unique music - distinctive sounds from their sape, a stringed instrument not unlike the mandolin.

A vast majority of the Orang Ulu tribe are Christians but old traditional religions are still practiced in some areas.

Some of the major tribes making up the Orang Ulu group include :

  • Kayan

There are approximately 15,000 Kayans in Sarawak. The Kayan tribe built their longhouses in the northern interiors of Sarawak midway on the Baram River, the upper Rejang River and the lower Tubau River, and were traditionally headhunters. They are well known for their boat making skills, which they carve from a single block of belian, the strongest of the tropical hardwoods.

Although many Kayan have become Christians, some are still practise paganistic beliefs, but these are very rare today[citation needed].

  • Lun Bawang

The Lun Bawang are indigenous to the highlands of East Kalimantan, Brunei (Temburong District), southwest of Sabah (Interior Division) and northern region of Sarawak (Limbang Division).Lun Bawang people are traditionally agriculturalists and practise animal husbandry such as rearing poultry, pigs and buffaloes. Lun Bawangs are also known to be hunters and fishermen.

  • Kelabit

With a population of approximately 3000, the Kelabit are inhabitants of Bario - a remote plateau in the Sarawak Highlands, slightly over 1,200 meters above sea level. The Kelabits form a tight-knit community and practise a generations-old form of agriculture. Famous for their rice-farming, they also cultivate a variety of other crops which are suited to the cooler climate of the Highlands of Bario. The Kelabits are closely related to the Lun Bawang.

The Kelabit are predominantly Christian, the Bario Highlands having been visited by Christian missionaries many years ago.

  • Kenyah

With the population about ~22,000, the Kenyah are inhabitant of Upper Belaga and upper Baram. There are few findings on the exact origin of the Kenyah tribe. Their heartland however, is Long San, along the Baram River and Belaga along Rajang River. Their culture is very similar to that of the Kayan tribe with whom they live in close association. The typical Kenyah village consists of only one longhouse and the people are mainly farmers, planting rice in burnt jungle clearings. With the rapid economic development, especially in timber industry, many of them work in timber camps.

  • Penan

The Penan are the only true nomadic people in Sarawak and are amongst the last of the world's hunter-gatherers.[2] The Penan make their home under the rainforest canopy, deep within the vast expanse of Sarawak's virgin jungle. Even today, the Penan continue to roam the rainforest hunting wild boar and deer with blowpipes. The Penan are skilled weavers and make high-quality rattan baskets and mats. The traditional Penan religion worships a supreme god called Bungan. However, the increasing number who have abandoned the nomadic lifestyle for settlement in longhouses have converted to Christianity.

  • Sebob/Chebob

One of the least known tribes in Sarawak and be found in upper Tinjar river. Sebob are the first Tinjar settlers along the Tinjar river and it is said that the other tribes came later(migrated) The sebob/chebob tribes occupies up to 6 six longhouse in Tinjar namely; Long Loyang, Long Batan, Long Selapun, Long Pejawai,and Long Subeng.(All these names come from small stream where they lived) Amongst the longhouses, Long Luyang is the longest and most populated Sebob/Chebob settlement.It comprises almost 100 units. Most of these people have migrated and found work in the cities.


Sarawakians practice a variety of religions, including Islam, Christianity, Chinese folk religion (a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor worship) and animism. Christianity is the largest religion in culturally and religiously-diverse Sarawak. Religion plays a significant role in nurturing the culture of decency and modesty among Sarawakians. It also reflects and strengthens the identity among various ethnics. For example, Islam reflects the identity of Malay, Chinese religions and Buddha reflects the identity of Chinese and Christianity reflects the identity of most Dayaks (while some still practising animism).


Islam is the second largest religion in Sarawak, constitutes 30% of Sarawak total population. An estimated 77% of Muslims in Sarawak are from Malay ethnics. All Malays are Muslim by religion as stipulated in Malaysian Constitution. Thus, Malay culture contributes significantly to Sarawakian Muslim tradition as a whole especially for wedding, circumcision (coming of age ritual), 'majlis doa selamat' and etc.

Other ethnics which have strong Islamic influence in their traditions are Melanau and Kedayan. Melanaus, depending on region or kampung they live in, are normally either Muslim or Christian (while very little practising pagan). Melanau Muslim represents 15% of total Sarawakian Muslim population. Most of them live in Kuching, Matu, Mukah, Igan and Bintulu. Majority of Melanau profess Muslim.

Kedayan, is another distinct ethnic from Malay and Melanau, but traditionally Muslim. Although small in number, they contribute to a majority of Muslim population in Sibuti and Bekenu district in Miri. Penan, on the other hand, which is part of Orang Ulu tribes, has gradually contributed to rising Muslim population in Sarawak.

Administratively, Islam is under the authority of state Islamic council, which is Majlis Islam Sarawak (MIS), a state government agency. Under MIS, there are various agencies dealing with various aspects of Islam such as Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak (JAIS), Majlis Fatwa, Baitulmal Sarawak and etc. Muslims in Sarawak are very well taken care of in their religious aspect of their life, despite not being the majority in Sarawak.

Although percentage of Muslims has grown steadily for the past 40 years, the growth does not match to that of Christians. Back in 1960, Islam is the largest religion in Sarawak (professed by 23% of Sarawakians) compared to 16% Sarawakian Christians. Apostacy among Muslim converts is common throughout Sarawak. Many cases of apostacy are due to unattended Muslim converts by Muslim missionaries, especially at upriver areas. Despite being the state with highest growth of Muslim population in Malaysia, Sarawak may has the highest growth of apostacy among Muslim converts in Malaysia.

Muslim in Sarawak observe all Islamic festivals, such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Puasa), Hari Raya Aidiladha (Haji), Awal Muharram and Maulidur Rasul. All these celebrations have been commenced as public holidays in Sarawak. However, Israk Mikraj, Awal Ramadhan and Nuzul Quran, although observed, are not public holidays.


Christianity is the largest religion in Sarawak, making up 43% of Sarawak total population. This makes Sarawak the state with highest percentage of Christians in Malaysia. Major Christian denominations in Sarawak are the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Borneo Evangelical Church (or Sidang Injil Borneo, S.I.B.) and Baptists. 78% of Sarawakian Christians are non-Malay Bumiputera, ranging from Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Melanau.

Denomination of Christians in Sarawak may vary according to their race, although not necessarily true. For example, most Chinese Christians are Methodists, most Ibans and Bidayuhs are either Roman Catholics or Anglicans, while most Orang Ulu are S.I.B.'s. Church plays an important part in shaping morality of the communities, while some Christians views the church as a religious place. Professing Christianity has led to abolishing of some previous rituals by indigenous ethnics such as headhunting, improper disposal of dead bodies, etc. Christians among indigenous ethnics have also embraced many Christian values such as preserving modesty and dedication to God.

Despite being denied aid financially and administratively by Sarawak government, Christianity has continued to expand the number of followers. Official statistic shows that percentage of Christians in Sarawak grow faster than that of Muslims in Sarawak. For the past 40 years, Christianity grows tremendously from only 16% of the Sarawak population to 43%, thanks to the foreign missionary efforts. In 1960, there were fewer Christians than Muslims in Sarawak, with a gap of 7%.

Christianity has also contributed to the betterment of the education system in Sarawak. There were a lot of missionary schools built during 1950s to early 1980s. It has gained popularity throughout Sarawak urban citizens transcending race and religion. Due to federalization of education system, most of these missionary schools have been converted into government national schools. Participation of church in these schools have been reduced, and intake of teachers have been liberalized to follow other national schools. Although the reputation of these schools as missionary schools have somehow being abolished, government did allow the schools to continue using religious symbols on school buildings and teaching Christian values to non-Muslim students.

Christians in Sarawak observe Christian festivals just like their counterparts in other part of the world, namely Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Ascension of Jesus Christ. However, only Christmas and Good Friday being declared public holiday in Sarawak.


Buddhism is regarded as the main religion of Chinese ethnic in Sarawak. Many of the Sarawakian Chinese community, which comprises the bulk of the Buddhist population, actually practise a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folk religion. As there is no official name for this particular set of beliefs, many followers instead list down their religion as Buddhism, mainly for bureaucratic convenience. Buddhists in Sarawak made up less than 15% of Sarawak total population. Buddhists from other ethnic especially Bumiputera are rare and almost insignificant to be related with.

Buddhism in Sarawak observe Wesak Day. It is a public holiday in Sarawak.


Many Dayak especially Iban continue to practice traditional ceremonies, particularly with dual marriage rites and during the important harvest and ancestral festivals such as Gawai Dayak, Gawai Kenyalang and Gawai Antu.

Other ethnics who still have trace number of animism followers are Melanau and Bidayuh.


Unlike their fellow Peninsular Malaysians, Sarawak Hindus are very small in number. Almost all Hindus in Sarawak are Indians, while some are Chinese. There are less than 10 Hindu temples throughout Sarawak, most of them are located in Kuching and Miri. Due to intermarriage of Peninsular Malaysian Indians and Sarawakian Bumiputeras, a new breed of mixed Indians have born in Sarawak. These has contributed slightly to the growth of Hinduism in Sarawak, although unproven.

Hindus in Sarawak observe Deepavali and Thaipussam. However, none of these festivals are public holidays.


Baha'i is one of the recognized religion in Sarawak. Various races embraced Baha'i, from Chinese to Iban and Bidayuh but not the Malays or other Muslims. In some schools, Baha'i associations or clubs for students do exist. Baha'i advertisements are also a normal sight on public bus throughout Sarawak. There are some instances where Sarawak government contributes financial aid in form of land or cash to Baha'i associations.

Other religions and faiths

Apart from the abovementioned religions, many Chinese profess wholeheartedly to Chinese folk religions, Taoism or Confucianism without embracing other religions like Buddhism. Normally they will state their religion as 'no religion', or to some extent, choosing one of other non-Muslim religions to be stated.

Sikhism is also one of the minor beliefs in Sarawak. There are only two gurdwaras in Sarawak, one in Kuching, and another one in Miri.

There are also sizeable amounts of atheists and non-practitioners. Most of them choose to state their religion as 'no religion'. This practice, is accepted not only in Sarawak, but throughout Malaysia.

Administrative divisions

Unlike other states in Malaysia, Sarawak is divided into divisions, not districts. These divisions are headed by one Resident. Each divisions is further divided into districts, which is headed by District Officer, and also sub-districts, headed by Administrative Officer.


Sarawak is divided into 11 Divisions:


Each divisions is further divided into districts. There are 33 districts throughout Sarawak.

Division District Sub-District




Sri Aman

Sri Aman

Lubok Antu








Long Lama




Ng. Medamit


Nanga Merit

Sungai Asap

Agriculture, logging and land usage

Sarawak's rainforests have been gradually depleted by the demand driven by the logging industry and the following introduction of palm oil plantations. Many of Sarawak's rural communities have felt changes affected by the economic activity of these industries. Peaceful protests and timber blockades between native communities and logging companies are common, often resulting in preventive police action. The Penan, Borneo's nomadic hunter gatherers have been most affected by these changes, complaining of illness through polluted rivers, game depletion resulting in widespread hunger and loss of traditional medicines and forest products. Their resistance to logging companies culminated in a series of protests and timber blockades in the 1990s, of which many were dismantled by the Police, within the remit of the Law. The Penan claim that their rights are not respected by the State nor by logging companies [3]. Another example, the native customary rights court case of Rumah Nor in the Kemena Basin gave rural communities engaged in subsistence farming hope for continued communal use of land reserves. Although the Court of Appeal ruled against Rumah Nor on the grounds that they had not produced sufficient evidence for their claim, it nevertheless upheld the principles stated by the lower court. These principles are the basis of not only Rumah Nor's claim, but of the claims of all Sarawak's native communities, namely, (i) that native customary rights are NOT created by legislation, although they can be extinguished by legislation, on condition of adequate compensation, and (ii) that these communities have a territory including forest reserves and rivers, and farmland, including land under fallow. Thus, although the Court of Appeal ruled against Rumah Nor's specific claims, it upheld the lower court's ruling in favour of Rumah Nor with regard to the general principles. In this sense, it represents a significant blow to the state's claims that native customary rights comprise only those rights recognised by the state through its legislation.

The problems caused by logging in Sarawak were starkly illustrated in Bruce Parry's BBC TV series, Tribe in 2007 (Series 3). He spent time living with the Penan and was shown some of the effects and heard them voice their concerns. No response or defence has been offered by any of the political elite. What remains clear is that entering politics remains a route to wealth in Sarawak, as in Malaysia more generally, so long as one remains subservient to those at the 'top' (unless one is at the 'top').


Sarawak has an abundance of natural resources. LNG and petroleum have provided the mainstay of the Malaysia federal government's economy for decades while State of Sarawak only get 5% royalty from it. Sarawak is also one of the world's largest exporters of tropical hardwood timber and is the major contributor to Malaysian exports. This has led to wide scale deforestation of Sarawak's rainforest. The last UN statistics estimated Sarawak's sawlog exports at an average of 14,109,000 m³ between 1996 and 2000 [4].

With such vast land expanse, Sarawak has large tracts of land suitable for commercial agricultural development. Approximately 32% or about 40,000 km² of the state's total land area has been identified as suitable agricultural land. Nevertheless, less than 9% of this is planted with productive permanent crops, while the balance is still under shifting cultivation for hill paddy (rice) which is estimated at more than 16,000 km². The main commercial crops are oil palm, which has been increasing steadily over the years, sago, and pepper.

Since the 1980s, Sarawak has started to diversify and transform its economy into a more industrialised one. This endeavour has been seeing continuing success, with manufacturing and high-tech industries now playing a significant role in shaping the economic expansion of the state.

As the largest state in the Federation of Malaysia, Sarawak aims to be a fully developed state along with the rest of the country by 2020. Sarawak has identified four sectors as key sources of growth:

The availability of vast competitively-priced land and rich reserves of natural resources has made Sarawak an attractive choice for manufacturing operations among investors.

See also


  • Sarawakstop


Further reading

  • Gudgeon, L. W. W. (1913), British North Borneo. London, Adam and Charles Black.
  • Runciman, Steven (1960). The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946, Cambridge University Press.
  • Chin, Ung Ho (1997), Chinese Politics in Sarawak: A Study of the Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), (Kuala Lumpur, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) (ISBN 983-56-0039-2).
  • Barley, Nigel (2002), White Rajah, London, Brown Little/Abacus.
  • Cramb, R. A. (2007), Land and Longhouse: Agrarian Transformation in the Uplands of Sarawak, Hawaii University Press
  • Julitta Lim Shau Hua: „Pussy's in the well“ : Japanese occupation of Sarawak, 1941 - 1945. Research and Resource Centre SUPP Headquarters, Kuching 2006, ISBN 983-419982-1
  • Brooke, Sylvia (The last Ranee of Sarawak), (1970), Queen of the Headhunters. William Morrow Co.
  • Palmer, Gladys, (1929) Relations & Complications. Being the Recollections of H.H. The Dayang Muda of Sarawak. Foreword by T.P. O'Connor. Ghost-written by Kay Boyle. London, John Lane Co.
  • Urmenyhazi, Attila (2007) DISCOVERING NORTH BORNEO, A travelogue on Sarawak & Sabah by the author-graphic designer-publisher. National Library of Australia, Canberra, record ID: 4272798.
  • James Chin. “The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same”, in Chin Kin Wah & D. Singh (eds.) South East Asian Affairs 2004 (Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies, 2004)
  • James Chin. “Autonomy: Politics in Sarawak” in Bridget Welsh (ed) Reflections: The Mahathir Years, (Washington DC: John Hopkins University Press, 2004) (ISBN 9790615 124871) pp 240–251

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Map of Sarawak in Malaysia
Map of Sarawak in Malaysia

Sarawak is Malaysia's largest state. It lies in East Malaysia and shares the island of Borneo with the eastern state of Sabah, the separate country of Brunei and the Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan.

  • Bintulu - dreary oil and gas industry base
  • Kuching - Sarawak's capital, the City of Cats is located at the western tip of the state
  • Belaga - Jumping point to many of inner Borneo's indigenous tribes and long houses
  • Miri - Sarawak's northern city, capital of the state's oil industry
  • Sibu - gateway to the hinterland of the Rejang River, Sarawak's and Malaysia's longest river
  • Sarikei - "food basket" for the Land of the Hornbills
  • Sri Aman - little town along the Batang Lupar, popular among local and foreign tourists especially during the annual tidal bore phenomenon 'benak' in April.
  • Mukah - a coastal town in Central Sarawak where the sago-eating tribe (Melanau) are found.
  • Kapit - one of the stopover along the Rejang and gateway to interior Sarawak
  • Bintangor - former name is 'Binatang' meaning animal. Famous for greenish skin orange.
  • Simunjan - a tiny town located between Serian and Sri Aman, site of some colonial era coal works.
  • Bako National Park - home to the bizarre, obscene-nosed proboscis monkey
  • Bukit Lambir National Park - approximately 30km from Miri city. Known for its beautiful water falls and tranquility.
  • Loagan Bunut National Park - home to the friendly community of Orang Ulu people known as the Berawan whom are mostly fishermen in this part of Sarawak. The largest freshwater lake in East Malaysia.
  • Gunung Gading National Park - where you can try to spot a Rafflesia, the world's largest flower
  • Gunung Mulu National Park - with mighty Mount Mulu and some of the world's largest cave system
  • Kubah National Park - massive sandstone ridge with its three mountain peaks – the 911m high Gunung Serapi and the slightly smaller Gunung Selang and Gunung Sendok
  • Tanjung Datu National Park - smallest of Sarawak’s National Parks, at just under 14 sq km, but it is also one of the most beautiful
  • Talang-Satang National Park - was established with the primary aim of conserving Sarawak’s marine turtle population
  • Batang Ai National Park - part of the region’s largest trans-national protected area for tropical rainforest conservation
  • Similajau National Park - its coastline, a chain of golden sandy beaches, punctuated by small rocky headlands and jungle streams, and bordered by dense green forest
  • Niah National Park - one of Sarawak’s better known national parks, important for its archaeological remains such as a 40,000 year old human skull, prehistoric cave paintings, and the birds nest industry. The caves are home to large colonies of bats and swiftlets.
  • Semengoh - home to a famous orangutan sanctuary and rehabilitation center
  • Wind Cave Nature Reserve - is part of the Bau Formation, a narrow belt of limestone covering about 150 sq km of Southwest Sarawak
  • Sama Jaya Nature Reserve - the first multi-purpose urban forest park in Sarawak
  • Damai - Sarawak's premier beach resort on the Santubong Peninsula
  • Bario and the Kelabit Highlands - the vast highland plateau in the interior popular for trekking and serene Orang Ulu villages.
  • Rejang River - the mighty Rejang River, Malaysia's longest river, is the main "highway" connecting little towns and longhouses in Sarawak's hinterland.


Sarawak is the largest and, certainly in terms of visitors per square kilometer, least touristed state of Malaysia. Nearly as large as peninsular Malaysia, the interior is covered in a thicket of impenetrable jungle and mountains and the great majority of the population lives near the coast or along rivers leading to the sea.

James Brooke, the first White Rajah
James Brooke, the first White Rajah

One of the stranger episodes in Malaysian history began in 1841 when James Brooke, an English adventurer armed only with a single ship (the Royalist) and diplomatic skills, was made Rajah of Sarawak by the Sultan of Brunei. James and his nephew and successor Charles expanded their private colony to cover much of the state. The third Rajah, Vyner, continued to develop the colony but fled from the invading Japanese in 1941, ending the Brooke dynasty after precisely 100 years. After the end of the Japanese occupation, Vyner returned to Sarawak in April 1946, but ceded the colony to the British in July of the same year. Sarawak joined together with Singapore, Federation of Malaya and North Borneo (today Sabah) to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

Bidayuh woman
Bidayuh woman

Even by Malaysian standards Sarawak has an extraordinary mix of peoples: the largest ethnic group is neither Chinese (26%) nor Malay (21%), but the Iban (29%), who gained worldwide notoriety as the fiercest headhunters on Borneo. Back in the bad old days, an Iban lad couldn't hope for the hand of a fair maiden without the shrunken head of an enemy to call his own, and bunches of totemic skulls still decorate the eaves of many a jungle longhouse. Fortunately for visitors, headhunting hasn't been practiced for a while, although some of the skulls date from as late as World War II when, with British support, Iban mercenaries fought against the occupying Japanese. Other tribes of note include the Bidayuh (8%) and the Melanau (5%), as well as a smattering of Kenyah, Kayan and a group of tiny tribes in the deep heartland known collectively as the Orang Ulu (Malay for "upriver people").

Speaking Malay in Sarawak

Please notice some basic communication terms in Bahasa Melayu Sarawak.

  • Kamek - I
  • Kitak - You
  • Auk - Yes
  • Sik - No
  • Igek - Piece
  • Kamek Mauk Pergi Jamban Dolok - I Would Like To Go To The Toilet
  • Kitak Dari Siney? - Where Are You From?
  • Nyaman Juak Makanan Tok - This Food Is Quite Tasty
  • Kamek Ngupok/Mupok Dolok - I'd Like To Make A Move
  • Nama-Name
  • Maok-Want
  • Jamban-Toilet
  • Duit-Money

As elsewhere in Malaysia, Malay is the official language, but English and various Chinese dialects are widely spoken. The Iban language is the largest linguistic group, with many local variations. The majority of Sarawakians are multi-lingual, a necessity in such a multicultural society, and Malay or English will stand you in good stead in most places. Knowing some phrases in Iban, Chinese or other local dialects however will greatly impress your hosts wherever you go.

While standard Malay is well understood, the local dialect, known as "Bahasa Melayu Sarawak", is different enough to be legally categorized as its own language. Malays from coastal part of Sarawak, especially the one from Sebuyau, Kabong, Saratok, Betong, Sri Aman and the surrounding areas speak different dialect called "Bahasa Orang Laut". Malays from Sibu and Miri speak similar language with Kuchingites Malay, but they have some terms unique to their dialect, for example "Pia" in Sibu (in Kuching, they called it "Sia", which means "there"), "Cali" in Miri (in Kuching, they called it "Jenaka", which means "funny").

Get in

Alone among Malaysia's states, Sarawak maintains an autonomy on immigration control, mostly so mainlanders cannot freely immigrate and swamp the thinly populated state. Even if coming in from elsewhere in Malaysia, Malaysians need to bring along their ID and are restricted to a stay of 90 days at a time. Other foreigners need to fill out a second immigration from.

Still, for most travellers this is just a formality and an interesting extra stamp in their passport, as anybody who does not need a visa for Malaysia can get a free 90-day visit permit on arrival. If you do need an advance visa for Malaysia, you'll need one specifically for Sarawak, so be sure to state this when applying at the Malaysian embassy.

By plane

Most visitors arrive in Sarawak by plane. The largest gateway is Kuching the state capital, which is about 1.5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. There are also a few direct international flights from Indonesia (Pontianak, Bali and Jakarta), Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and Macau as well as Singapore flying in twice or thrice weekly. China's Xiamen Airlines offers direct connections from Xiamen.

Other airports with domestic connections to Peninsula Malaysia on both Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia include Miri, Sibu and Bintulu. MASWings serves flights between cities and rural areas in East Malaysia, including Sarawak and Sabah. AirAsia also operates an international flight from Miri to Singapore four times a week.

By land

Sarawak has land borders with Brunei, Indonesia and the Malaysian state of Sabah.

  • Brunei

There are several land crossings between Sarawak and Brunei. They are at Sungei Tujuh (on the road between Miri and Bandar Seri Begawan, Tedungan (on the road between Limbang and Bandar Seri Begawan), Pandaruan (a ferry crossing on the route between Limbang and Brunei's Temburong district) and Labu (along the route from Temburong district to Lawas).

  • Indonesia

The main crossing between Sarawak and Indonesia is the Tebedu-Entikong checkpoint which lies along the Kuching-Pontianak road. There are many other crossings between the two countries although the legality of these crossings are questionable and are mostly used by locals living in those areas. It is also possible to legally cross the border in the Kelabit Highlands between Bario and Long Bawan. See the Kelabit Highlands page for details.

  • Sabah

As Sarawak controls its own immigration matters, there are checkpoints at border between Sarawak and Sabah at Merapok (Sindumin on the Sabah side) near Lawas.

By bus

There are direct international buses from Pontianak, Indonesia to Kuching, a direct express bus service between Lawas in northeastern Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah as well as bus connections between Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and Miri.

Get around

Sarawak is big and, by otherwise high Malaysian standards, its roads are poor, making planes the most convenient way of getting around. For example, it's about 1 hour from Kuching to Miri by plane (full fare RM164), but a butt-numbing 14 hours by bus (RM70).

By air

Malaysia Airlines [1] and budget airlines AirAsia [2] provide frequent flights between Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri.

The rural air service is operated by MASWings [3], which took over the network from FlyAsian Express (FAX) on October 1, 2007. Flights use Fokkers and Twin Otter aircrafts. Fokkers flight cover Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Limbang and Mulu National Park while Twin Otter planes link Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Lawas with rural towns and longhouses like Mukah, Marudi and various settlements in the Kelabit Highlands like Bario, Bakelalan, Long Seridan, Long Lellang, Long Banga and Long Akah.

By bus

Most cities in Sarawak are now linked by express buses although travelling times can be long because of the distance. Companies include Vital Focus Transportations Sdn. Bhd., which operates Suria Bas, PB and Borneo Highway express buses, and Biaramas.

By boat

Express boats run from the coast inland along Borneo's larger rivers. They are generally faster than buses and cheaper than planes. Popular routes include Kuching-Sibu (4 hours) and Sibu-Kapit (3 hours).

Local transport

Most cities have local buses and taxis serving not only the city centres and their surrounding suburbs but also adjacent rural districts.


Sarawak's highlights include the caves of Gunung Mulu National Park, which are some of the largest in the world, and the orangutans of Semengoh. A visit to the longhouses and indigenous tribes in the interior of Sarawak is a must.


Visit the Sarawak Cultural Village, some 45 minutes' drive from Kuching. Entrance fees are RM60 per person. It is a living museum of different tribes and architecture spread over a lovely green area at the foot of Mount Santubong. You will be able to see how Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, etc. tribes live, work and cook in the longhouses, each with its own identity. It is also best to visit this place during the annual Rainforest World Music Festival which happens each July. The festival is held on the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village, hence you don't need to pay the entrance fees (festival fees include entrance to the Village).

Rainforest World Music Festival [4] has been around since 1997 and its popularity is growing from year to year. Accommodation around the festival grounds are snapped up as soon as bookings open so be quick. Good places to stay are Holiday Inn Damai Beach and Damai Lagoon, both a few minutes' walk away from the festival. Alternatively, you can stay within the heart of Kuching city and take the daily shuttle to the festival (RM10 each way). The three-day world music festival brings together some of the best world musicians for workshops and nightly live concerts. Tickets for the three-day festival are RM250, or RM90 for daily entry.

Take a tour to an Iban Longhouse. One longhouse provides accommodation for visitors. The facilities are very basic, but tolerable for one night and an interesting insight into the Iban culture.

Alternatively, you can visit to one of the very old Bidayuh longhouse (namely Annah Rais Longhouse), which is nearer to the Kuching. Visit Longhouse Adventure website for more details about their full-board longhouse homestay program.


Various tribal handicrafts are the most popular souvenirs from Sarawak. Particularly notable are pua kumbu, double-weaved fabrics woven by Iban women and illustrated with hypnotic, surreal patterns, wood carvings and bead handicraft by the Kayan and the Kenyah tribes, and Bidayuh baskets and floor mat or kasah, woven from rattan. Black pepper from Sarawak (far more potent than the bland stuff sold in the average supermarket) is also a worthwhile buy.

Variety of Sarawak delicacies
Variety of Sarawak delicacies

While the Malay, Chinese and Indian favorites covered in Malaysia#Eat are widely available in East Malaysia as well, there is also a broad selection of local ethnic cuisine.

  • Manok Pansoh. Manok Pansoh is the most common dish among Iban. It is a chicken dish which normally be eaten with white rice. Chicken pieces are cut and stuffed into the bambo together with other ingredients like mushrooms, lemongrass, tapioca leaves etc and cooked over an open fire - similar to the way lemang is cooked. This natural way of cooking seals in the flavours and produces astonishingly tender chicken with a gravy perfumed with lemongrass and bamboo. Manok Pansoh cannot be found easily in all restaurants and coffee shops. Some restaurants require advanced booking of Manok Pansoh dish prior to your arrival.
  • Umai. Umai is a raw fish salad popular among various ethnic groups of Sarawak, especially the Melanaus. In fact, umai is a traditional working lunch for the Melanau fishermen. Umai is prepared raw from freshly caught fish, iced but not frozen. Main species used include Mackerel, Bawal Hitam and Umpirang. It is made mainly of thin slivers of raw fish, thinly sliced onions, chilli, salt and the juice of sour fruits like lime or assam. It is usually accompanied by a bowl of toasted sago pearls instead of rice. Its simplicity makes it a cinch for fishermen to prepare it aboard their boats. Umai Jeb, a raw fish salad without other additional spices, is famous among Bintulu Melanaus. However, it is rarely prepared in Kuching. You can try umai when you eat 'Nasi Campur' during lunch hours in Kuching. Most coffee shops, especially Malay or Bumiputera-owned one, served umai daily for 'Nasi Campur'.
  • Midin (originated from Sarawak). The locals greatly indulge in jungle fern such as the midin (quite similar to pucuk paku that is popular in the Peninsular). Midin is much sought after for its crisp texture and great taste. Midin is usually served in two equally delicious ways - fried with either garlic or belacan. You can try Midin when you eat 'Nasi Campur' during lunch hours in Kuching. Most coffee shops, served Midin daily for 'Nasi Campur'.
  • Bubur Pedas (originated from Sarawak). Unlike many other porridge that we know, Bubur Pedas is cooked with a specially prepared paste. It is quite spicy thanks to its ingredients, which include spices, turmeric, lemon grass, galangal, chillies, ginger, coconut and shallots. Like the famous Bubur Lambuk of Kuala Lumpur, Bubur Pedas is exclusive dish prepared during the month of Ramadan and served during the breaking of fast. So don't expect to eat Bubur Pedas at anytime you want!
  • Nasik Aruk (originated from Sarawak). Nasik Aruk is a traditional Sarawakian Malay fried rice. Unlike Nasi Goreng, Nasik Aruk does not use any oil to fry the rice. The ingredients are garlic, onion and anchovies, fried to perfection with very little oil and then the cook will put the rice in. The rice must be fried for longer time (compared to frying rice for Nasi Goreng) for the smokey/slightly-burnt taste to absorb into the rice. It is a common to see Nasik Aruk in the food menu list at Malay and Mamak coffee shops and stalls.
  • Linut/Ambuyat (originated from Brunei, but widely consumed in Sabah and Sarawak). Linut (in Sarawak) and Ambuyat (in Sabah) is a sticky porridge-like type of food, made from sagu flour. It can be eaten raw, or dipped into spicy sambal belacan. Normally, linut or ambuyat is eaten during high tea or night supper.

Chinese-influenced dishes

  • Sarawak laksa is the local spin on the ubiquitous noodle dish. It's sweet and coconutty like Singapore's laksa lemak, but gets a unique zing from heavy spices (notably sambal belacan, a mix of chili and shrimp paste) plus toppings of grated cucumber, chili and egg.
  • Kolo mee is a simple but popular Sarawakian noodle dish, consisting of dry egg noodles tossed in oil and served with slices of roast pork.
  • Tomato kueh tiaw is a variation of the popular fried kueh tiaw (thin, flat rice noodles), with tomato gravy, meat (usually chicken pieces), vegetables and seafood (usually prawns). It is particular to Kuching.
  • Kek lapis Sarawak or Sarawak Layer Cake is an elaborately baked cake with multiple layers which has a unique and delicious taste.
  • Foochow bagel (kompia). This pastry can only be found in Sibu where ethnic Chinese of Foochow clan formed a majority.


The local firewater, served up in prodigious quantities if you stay in a longhouse, is known as tuak and is distilled from rice, sago or any other convenient source of fermentable sugar. For those who want a stronger dose, langkau or Iban whisky can be sourced from longhouses in the interior. You can buy commercial tuak (The Royalist) at most supermarkets in Kuching. Great as a souvenir for friends! The commercial rice wine/tuak is rather pleasant to drink too, and none of that home-brewed murkiness either.

Stay safe

Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are very common in certain parts of this region and great care and caution should be taken when entering water, especially brackish areas like Batang Lupar. A visit to the local crocodile farm; Jong's Crocodile Farm is recommended. Active headhunters no longer exist in Borneo and have not for at least 50 years, thanks largely to the Rajah Brooke's effort to pacify waring tribes and peace-making.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun




  1. State in eastern Malaysia which has Kuching as its capital.

Simple English

File:Bako National Park
Sarawak Bako National Park view.

Sarawak is a state in Malaysia that is located mostly on the northwestern portion of the island of Borneo. The capital city of Sarawak is Kuching.[1]


Other websites

States and Federal Territories of Malaysia
States: Johor | Kedah | Kelantan | Malacca | Negeri Sembilan | Pahang | Perak | Perlis | Penang | Sabah | Sarawak | Selangor | Terengganu
Federal Territories: Kuala Lumpur | Labuan | Putrajaya

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