Along the Sarawak River, the annual boat races is the remnant of more than a century battle of friendly athleticism and the setting for lively activities of trading tribal crafts and products.
It was an unbelievably hot and humid day at the Kuching Waterfront where visitors and foreign tourists walk shoulder to shoulder with a fan or a bottle of water in hand to witness the teams of boat racers from organisations either under the government or private agencies and even from the neighbouring countries of Indonesia and Brunei for the annual Sarawak Regatta that’s held from 26th October to 4th November this year. The history of the race began as early as in 1872 during James Brooke’s administration when he suggested in an attempt to avoid racial wars that the local tribes along the Rajang engage in the challenge of boat racing as a measure of their strength, speed and power.
In the fight for the coveted title of Raja Sungai, each long boat will carry thirty paddlers to test their skill and as an expression of teamwork while other competitions are also held at the Regatta such as the Brooke Swim, Raft Tug-of-war, and duck catching as well as various exhibitions and markets selling cultural crafts, wares and food which ranges from the kek lapis to snacks like amplang . The markets are an absolute feast and a showcase that welcomes the on goers into a piece of the lifestyle of the tribes from the artistry displayed for example, an elderly woman weaving a piece of cloth by using an Iban loom inside the tents hosting the Festival Kraf Sarawak 2018.
There are even wood carvings, weapons’ cases and furniture sold at the many booths made by the mainly used Bornean billian wood and bamboos and of course, a variety of Sarawak textiles and jewelry. The vendors would exhibit their craftmanship by weaving and sewing their products at their very booth and don the attire that are an array of colours in the form of a silver headgear called Sugu Tinggi and Marek Empang which is an arrangement of intricate pom-poms and woven cotton threads worn around the shoulders.
It is no denying that the festival commemorates not only the culture and the way of life of the people of Sarawak in the heart of Kuching but there is also a space for history by Sarawak’s branch of Arkib Negara Malaysia where there is a presentation of archived records and documents in relation to the state’s past hence, making the fete not only a spectacle of beauty on the surface but a demonstration of how the land of the hornbills came to be.
Featured Image source: Aina Izzah.