By MELODY ANCHING ANAK BENDINDANG Sarawakian Youth
This study on Sarawakian youth was carried out based on observations and discussions in the duration of two weeks and also based on my personal experiences. The observations and discussions involved Sarawakian youths from the age of 17 years old to 24 years old. There were also comments and opinions from a good friend of mine who was once a youth and also once a youth leader who guided and help many youths in his time. Introduction
These youths come from different backgrounds and races. Some of them from a race whom some people in Malaysia may never have thought to exist and this is quite sad as Sarawak is one of the biggest state in the country but yet remain mysterious to many. Before I continue with the findings of my study, one must first know the profile and background of Sarawak before one is able to understand her people.
Borneo is the third largest island in the world, boasting one of the oldest rainforest in the world. It is also divided among three countries, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Since I am a Malaysian, I will focus on the Malaysian territory of the Borneo island which is usually referred to as East Malaysia. What is so unique about Borneo is that it is made up of so many ethnic groups which resulted in Sabah and Sarawak having such a diverse culture and language. Sabah's biggest population is
In Sarawak, there is more than 26 ethnic groups that make up around 50% or more of its 1.7 million population and these are only the listed ones. However, there is at least 37 known groups and sub-groups. We have the Ibans, Bidayuhs, Melanaus, Kayans, Kelabits, LunBawangs, Ukit, Sekapan, Lahanan, Punan Bah, Penans, Sebob and others. Some of them still carry on with the traditional way of life like hunting, fishing and planting rice. They are usually the lesser known groups, such as the Ukit, Sekapan, Penans and so on.
“The Ibans comprise the largest percentage (almost 34%) of Sarawak's population.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarawak) Who are the Ibans? They used to be the most formidable headhunters on the island. Ibans are famous for their tuak, tattoos, traditional wear and of course, the beheaded skeletons in most longhouses. Ibans
We then have the Chinese, who are the second biggest group in Sarawak. They settled in Sarawak centuries ago and has long been a part of Sarawak’s society. The Sarawakian Chinese belong to many different dialect groups such as Hakka, Hokkien, Foochow, Teochew and so on. Sarawakian Chinese can speak more than one Chinese dialect, including Mandarin itself. Chinese
The Malays make up around 21% of Sarawak’s population, the third biggest group. Many of them are heavily involved in the public sector and most have migrated to cities and towns, especially Kuching. Back in history, the Malay are traditionally fishermen and one of the main reasons why their settlements are nearby rivers too. Malays
The Bidayuhs make up around 10% of Sarawak’s population. They are also sometimes known as the Land Dayaks as they moved further inland back in the old days. Bidayuhs own a lot of ancestral land around Sarawak before the state government took them away for development. Bidayuhs
Youths that study in universities or colleges in Kuching usually comes from small towns around Sarawak, namely Sibu, Miri, Bintulu, Serian, Bau, Kapit and so on. Only those who stay in the urban areas are more well-off compared to those who are from smaller towns or rural areas.
These are just some background information of the ethnic groups in Sarawak. Sarawak has a unique and different demographic profile compared to the Peninsular states. Because of its different demographic profile and geographic location in Malaysia, Sarawak has to be approached with an open mind and heart in order to understand her people and their way of life.
What really ANNOYS Sarawakians the most is the lack of knowledge West Malaysians have of Sarawak. My friends and I have experienced countless times when West Malaysians assumes that Sarawakians are still half-naked and lived in trees. This mind-set should be broken as Sarawak has a lot more to offer than that to the country. These amusing stories will be saved for another time on another topic.
Another thing about Sarawakian youths is that most of them come from a culture that encourages the consumption of alcohol. The Ibans especially, have a history of hardcore alcohol consumption from generations ago. It is customary during the harvest festival for all members of the longhouse to drink. To refuse is to cause disrespect towards your host. So most of them, especially the youths are drinkers.
Tattoos are also common among the youths, especially the males as it is not just about fashion, but also about their culture. An Iban who has the bungaterung on the balls of his shoulders signifies that he has entered into adulthood. Although not all have tattoos, most Bumiputera males are inclined or desire to get one.
However, if they do not have tattoos, they usually know how to drink even if they are not regular drinkers. Therefore, having a tattoo or two in Sarawak does not mean that you are a gangster. It usually symbolizes the tribe where one is from and the meaning of the tattoo.
“We could say that the Sarawakians youths are a more hardy bunch. We are proud of our heritage and where we come from. Also, we’ve been practicing 1Malaysia for many years. That would be my comment on Sarawakian youths.” -Maclean Patrick, 33 years old.
To understand Sarawakian youths, there must be an understanding of the upbringing of these youths. And the most easiest way to figure this one out is to look in schools and homes. Sarawak’s schools differs quite a lot from West Malaysia’s schools as schools in Sarawak are usually populated with more than 3 races. It is no surprise that most Sarawakians are multi-lingual. A lot of Bumiputeras in fact, studied and took the Chinese subject.
“I remember last time when I was in high school, even if its puasa month, recess would still be the same like any other day. We could eat and hang out with our Malay friends and it will be all cool. Its like nothing to them. Doesn’t mean anything if we eat in front of them or whatever. We have that understanding.” -Darren Jee, 21 years old. (St Joseph Secondary School 2002-2006)
School students spend half of their days in primary and secondary school. Sarawakian youths are surrounded everyday by their peers of different races when they are young, up to their teen years. From young, they are already exposed to different cultures and languages so race and religion is not really a factor in making friends.
Growing up in this kind of environment, Sarawakian youths are in fact actually more friendly and easy-going by nature. They do not feel easily intimidated or suspicious of a person of another race unless for some particular reason. Because of this, Sarawakian youths circle of friends may be as diverse as Sarawak itself.
“Sarawak is different cos’ if you go to any coffeeshop, you will see the Malay stall next to a Chinese stall and Malay people eating with Chinese or other Bumiputeras. See, here we understand each other better.” -Ken Kayrol, 21 yrs old, Malay
Sarawakian youths are definitely a more fussy bunch when it comes to spending. The youths are more careful when it comes to spending. The reason may also come from the fact that we know we are not as well-off as other more developed states. Although Sarawak is rich with resources, the people were not able to enjoy the full benefits of what Sarawak could really become because of the current state government.
One such quote by a Bumiputera studying in the Peninsular; “If only they know how hard it is for us to fight for our rights when even our land and our livelihood is taken away from us, when we have nothing, we still fight to be the best we can. We only have our education to depend on to gain a better life.”- Stanley, 23 years old.
The unity in Sarawak, the harmony of every different culture, speaks of the attitudes and lifestyles of the people of Sarawak, especially of the youths. Basically, the youths’ lifestyle is very easy-going and laid-back. They do not get uptight or intimidated easily by other races but welcome friendships. They don’t live in the fast lane but they take each day as it comes. They are more open to new ideas and new changes because of the dynamic environment that they live in.
Brands have never been a big part in a typical Sarawakian youth’s life. This could be mainly due to the fact that the Sarawak’s market has not been penetrated yet. Also, the standard of living in Sarawak is lower if compared to more developed states in the Peninsular. The wages and salaries in Sarawak in considerably smaller and the buying power is not as great as it is like in the Peninsular.
“If you go to the mall and wear ori Nike shoes, sure your friends will say “aiyaa, why you wear so expensive shoes? Dirty later..and you can get the same ones at a pasarmalam at Satok or somewhere…” -Jason Yeo, 21 yrs old p/s: Sarawakian youths are more Interested in shoe brands like Vans and Converse. (the skate and rock scene in swk)
Sarawakian youths and their self-image relates to how they feel and see things around them. At most times, Sarawakian youths dress themselves up without much fuss. They do not feel the need to put on BRANDS. As long as they feel comfortable, they are good to go. Take a walk in any mall in Kuching, Miri or Sibu, and you will get the idea of it.
This shows that the youths do not put much emphasis on how they dress. “Over here, you don’t judge a person on how they look. You could be looking at a very shabby person but the next thing you know, the person could be pulling out hundred notes in rolls. People here don’t show off, and people here don’t mess with just anyone. You may never know who you’re dealing with. Don’t play play o..” - AchangLibat, 19 yrs old
Sarawakian youths would in fact rather use their money on something not so commercialized. In fact, something too commercialized is considered lame. “If you go use a ori Louis Vuitton here, people will still see it as a fake and laugh behind your back. Its better you go buy something different and not commercialized and stand out from others.” - Theresa Kulleh, 17 yrs old
It is not that brands are bad, it is just that brands are not a priority in their lives. When asked what do they mostly spend their money on, “Food lah what else..” –Hector Yukaro, 20 yrs old “Alcohol!” –Mena Kun, 20 yrs old “FOOD!” – Darren Jee, 20 yrs old “Food first..then maybe entertainment..” – Ken Kayrol, 21 yrs old
It seems that food expenses take up most of their money. And any extra money left will still go to food. On another note, Sarawakian youths drinks a lot too. However, if entertainment is really considered, then it will be on movies, karaoke sessions and shopping.
Digi, Celcom and Maxis. The three big Telcos in Sarawak. 5 years ago, the dominant telcos were Digi and Celcom. Not long after, Maxis joined the race and is fast catching up with its competitors. What was the situation 5 years ago?
Sarawak youths only had a Digi or Celcom back then. Maxis was almost unheard of. Digi and Celcom were pushing their campaigns everywhere and they were in power for a quite a period of time. Their posters and banners were on almost every road and their roadshows were in almost every mall.
When questioned about who dominates the Telcos scene; “Its not much difference la now..all three are almost the same.” – Roma Joe, 20 yrs old “Most kids nowadays have more than one number so its hard to tell..”- Andy, 20 yrs old
It seems that the current situation now is anybody’s game. It just depends on how each company reaches out to the youth. To reach out to the Sarawakian youth and make them pay attention, is to bring in something different. Not the usual concerts and on-the-road convos. The youths have more than enough of that every year. Its time for something different. And Sarawakian youths aren’t as naïve as they are usually assumed to be.
Sarawakian youths had several trends in the past. For example, the skinny jeans season. Almost everyone had to have one. Before that, it was the china doll hair for the ladies and almost every girl had bangs on her forehead.
Most trends starts in the secondary school. Once these kids go out in the open, the rest of the crowd will catch up. Especially in Kuching where its not a really big place. However, trends in Kuching dies off pretty fast and a trend does not really happen or stay long unless it is really something that is interesting and relevant to everyone.
Sarawakian youths come from all kinds of backgrounds and culture. We are a more diverse and dynamic bunch. Our potential is yet to be truly uncovered and at most times, we were never really given the chance. Its about time that somebody does something about it.