Sarawak is home to 28 ethnic groups, each with their own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. The Ibans form the major ethnic group on this land with about 30.1% of the total population per the year 2000 census. The Chinese, who generally live in the cities, are the second largest group at 26.7%, followed by the Bidayuh, Melanau and other native tribes of Sarawak who are collectively known as Orang Ulu. The Malays constitute a large portion (23.0%) of the population as well, mainly concentrated along the coast.
The Melanau are a people who live on the island of Borneo, primarily in Sarawak, Malaysia, but also in Kalimantan, Indonesia. The areas of Sarawak inhabited by Melanau speakers stretch from Bintulu on the northwest coast of Borneo to the Rajang Delta in the southwest, and up the Rajang River to Kanowit. Beyond Kanowit are closely related Kajang peoples, who also are found on the River Baluy. The inhabitants of the coastal area live along rivers (Balingian, Mukah, Oya, and Igan) that run parallel to one another through dense tropical-rain-forest swamp, and frequently are referred to as the Coastal Melanau to distinguish them from Melanau speakers on the Rajang. Melanaus have been thought to be amongst the original settlers of Sarawak. 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. The Melanau people make up 5.8% of Sarawak 's population.
The name Melanau was not used by the Melanau to refer to themselves until recently. They call themselves a-likou meaning 'people of the river'. Legend has it that the name Melanau was given by one of the Sultans of Brunei to the inhabitants of the coastal swamp flats and riverbanks of central Sarawak.
The Melanaus can be divided into six different groups which are: Melanau Mukah, Melanau Dalat, Melanau Oya, Melanau Matu-Daro-Rejang, Melanau Ba'ie (Bintulu) and Melanau Miri. Each group has its own characteristic dialect but they share the same cultural and lingual background (except for Melanau Bintulu dialect which can hardly be understood by the rest. Many linguists feel that it hardly fit into the Melanau language grouping). The Melanau languages have been divided in the following eleven: Mukah, Balingian, Oya, Dalat, Daro-Matu, Rajang, Kanowit, Sibu, Bintulu, Seru and Tanjong.
There is one group that have been missed out, they are the Melanau Igan. They live in kampungs (example : Kampung Skrang, Kampung Tengah,Kampung Hilir etc) near the river that borders the Mukah - (Matu-Daro) district. The main languages are Melanau, some speaks Malays. This group of Melanau are 100% Muslim. Their culture are similar of those of Malays culture.
Culture & economy
The Melanau were traditionally fishermen as well as padi and sago farmers. Some were skilled boat builders. They used to live in tall stilted and long houses, but today (2007) they live in kampong (separated houses in a village community) style. Because of religious similarity, the majority of Melanaus live socially and culturally like the rest of the Malays in Malaysia. The Melanaus were believed to originally worship spirits in a practice brinking on paganism. Today many of them are Christian and Muslim, though they still celebrate traditional animist festivals such as the annual Kaul Festival.
It is one of the rare ethnic groups in Malaysia which hardly grows or increases in its population. This is because the Muslim Melanaus that have migrated to bigger towns in Sarawak have "automatically" become Malays especially during the National Census Operation as their names (and many times the language the elders use with their children at homes) are inseparable from the Sarawak local Malays. This has helped the Malay population of Sarawak to have significantly increased...
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