THE BARAM REGATTA defines what this rich cultural riverine tract of Sarawak is. This famous regatta is now held once every 3 years and this year is from Thursday 21 August to Saturday 23 August. Festivities include cultural performances, traditional sports competition, Baram Idol, beauty pageants, exhibitions and native craft stalls.
The Baram River rises from the highlands and passing through riverine settlements of longhouses. There are five major tribal groups that have given this region it’s cultural identity, Iban, Kelabit, Kayan, Kenyah and Penan. The Baram Regatta is held in Marudi, the furthest upriver trading post on the Baram and services all the longhouses in the Tutoh, Tinjar and Baram river basins. Nowadays, roads reach further upriver but Marudi still maintains its trading focus. The Baram Regatta was promulgated since the peace-making treaty to end tribal wars of over 115 years back. What better way to end hostilities by having regatta every couple of years in the spirit of friendly rivalry.
We would watch the races from the vantage point near Fort Hose up the hill on the banks of the Baram, looking across to Lubok Nibong.
We hear the chants as teams from different longhouses and tribes would set out to outrace each other, and we would gasp when there’s an occasional capsize or collision. There would even be an (army) helicopter hovering in the sky like a dragonfly.
Carol Brooks, a then Peace Corp science teacher at Marudi Secondary School posted on my Facebook page: My last Baram Regatta was in 1972 when the Orang Putih longboat team entered. They got off to a great start but steering was a challenge as their boat veered straight to the riverbank! Lots of laughter and fun!
The town square was abuzz with native cultural dances and stage shows, and stalls selling native craftwork from upriver. It was a good time to try buy carvings, ikat (woven fabric), beadwork and the rich array of native crafts. You could even buy blowpipes. And there were a lot of stalls selling traditional foods. What’s there not to love?
I'm very envious of friends who have made a special trip back to Marudi to re-live this spectacular regatta.