A Chinese restaurant owner is waiting for customers in the middle of the night in Kuching, Sarawak. Sarawak is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, the other one being Sabah. The town of Kuching (Cat in Malay) and Sarawak were part of the sultanate of Brunei, until it was ceded to the adventurer James Brook, who had helped the sultan to peacefully resolve an uprising. Brooks ruled as the rajah, or king, on Sarawak from 1841, and his son succeeded him. His reign came to an end with the arrival of the Japanese occupying forces in 1941.
Kuching is a remarkable town, lying on the banks of the Sarawak river and only a couple of hours from Bako National Park. Its population is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Dayak, the grouping of indigenous tribes such as the Iban and the Orang Ulu. These tribes are renowned for their elaborate weaving techniques as well as their tattoos. Indigenous peoples livelihoods are severely threatened by encroaching Malaysian and Indonesian civilisations, forestry companies as well as missionaries. As with many other indigenous tribes facing rapid modernisation, alcoholism is a serious threat to the sustainability of their communities. Many tour agencies offer tours to “go and see the indigenous people”, stay with them in their long houses and participate in weddings. Beware, these wedding ceremonies are often fake and staged to please the tourists, as the indigenous people have been left destitute by intensive logging, which is itself aided by deeply entrenched corruption.