Bario is the unofficial capital of the Kelabit Highlands. Bario
is isolated from the rest of the world and you can only reach it by plane. It takes one hour by air from Miri on a MAS Twin Otter
Despite its geographical barrier, there are many infrastructures such as an
airport, internet access and computer services, police station, two schools,
churches, clinic, shops and various
offices manned by skeletal staff. The children recently
started playing computer games and doing their English lessons on PCs.
The Kelabit Highlands are on a picturesque flat plateau in the
north-eastern corner of Sarawak.
It is 1,000m to 1,100m above sea level. All roads on the plateau lead to Bario.
The Kelabit Highlands is the homeland of the Kelabit. This is one of the
smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak.
inland groups, the Orang Ulu all live in longhouses,
although they may vary slightly in design from group to group.
"Orang Ulu" is a collective term meaning "people of the
interior". It is used to describe a number of inland peoples including
Approximately there are still 5000 people, but there are about
1800 people living in 355 families at the Highlands.
have moved elsewhere in Malaysia; younger people have left for large
cities to further their studies, while others married outside their
community and never returned. Many have landed well-paid jobs overseas
and have settled there.
The Kelabit have their own language, although most of them have learned
to speak English or Malay.
However, its remoteness has been no barrier to locals, some of whom
have become academic high achievers.
have one of the highest ratio of professionals. Among them are
Professor, medical specialists, lawyers, engineers and corporate high flyers who
have travelled widely.
live in the highlands at the head of the Baram River, until recently a very
inaccessible area. The Kelabit are also notable for being very tall and large of
build, and they built many megalithic (large stone) monuments.
The Twin Otter in the Highlands
Over a century ago, the Kelabits were involved in head hunting
raids, not so much for ritual purposes but as a means to prove oneís courage,
bravery, guts or valency, and to get even with their enemy. However, things
have changed. Today among other things, the Kelabits are well-known for the
friendliness and hospitality.
The Bario Highlands were first visited by Australian Christian missionaries many
The Kelabit embraced Christianity during the 1940s
through the influence of Guru Paul, also known as
Trekking through the Kelabit Highlands from village to longhouse to village is a
great way to experience the rainforest up close and personal. The two main
departure points for treks are Bario
and Ba'Kelalan. Resthouses offer
simple accommodation at both villages, and local guides take tourists on
overnight treks that involve jungle shelters and longhouse visits. Experienced
mountaineers can also attempt Mount Murud and Batu Lawi.
On the jungle trails that connect longhouse
settlements around Bario, everyone you meet on foot will stop to at
least say hello. Often, questions are exchanged in greeting. In their
former world, this was both a courtesy as well as a way to gather news
from visitors, to satisfy their curiosity about the world beyond their
Gem's lodge is very nice and lies in an
idyllic setting in the forest. It's is about 6km out of
Bario, near Pa'Umor. It would take about an hour to
walk or a quick ride from the airport.
Gemís Lodge is owned by Jaman and his wife Sumi, both
Kelabit tribe members and natives of Bario. Jaman is an
cheerful, friendly guy who takes great pleasure in hosting
people at his large, comfortable, well-equipped lodge. When
he isnít maintaining the lodge, he guides groups on jungle
treks for as little as two hours and as long as six days.
Sumi spends her days cooking, cleaning, gardening and
weaving souvenir can-holders for the guests from bandanus
leaves that she collects from the surrounding jungle. Beside
taht, Sumi raises three kid.
never sits still, rarely stops smiling and sings all day
long. This is exactly the remote, quiet, totally beguiling
place where one could imagine getting comfortable and never
The community's main economic activity is agriculture, mainly growing Bario
Bario is famous for its
fragrant rice, which enjoys a price premium compared to other rice
varieties from around the country and is regarded as Malaysiaís
The Kelabit are known for their generations-old form
of rice farming, but the tribe also cultivates a variety of other crops
well-suited to the cool climate of at the average 20 oC in the highlands. Besides rice the residents cultivate citrus
fruits. Bario is famous for its sweet,
refreshing, juicy Bario pineapple.
The forest is still an important source of
food. It is also the only way to get fresh meat in the highlands.