Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. Known as Bumi Kenyalang ("Land of the Hornbills"), it is situated on the north-west of the island. It is the largest state in Malaysia; the second largest, Sabah, lies to the northeast.
The administrative capital is Kuching which has a population of 579,900 (2006 census; Kuching City South - 143,500; Kuching City North - 133,600; Padawan- 3rd Mile/ 7th Mile/ 10th Mile - 302,800). Major cities and towns also include Sibu (pop. 254,000), Miri (pop. 263,000) and Bintulu (pop. 176,800). As of last census (December 31, 2006), the state population was 2,357,500.
The Melanaus have been thought to be amongst the original settlers of Sarawak. Originally from Mukah (the 10th Administrative Division as launched in March 2002), 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.
While the Melanaus are ethnically different from the Malays, their lifestyles and practices are quite similar especially in the larger towns and cities where most Melanau have adopted the Islamic faith.
The Melanaus were believed to originally worship spirits in a practice verging on paganism. Today most of them are Muslim and some are Christians, though they still celebrate traditional animist festivals such as the annual Kaul Festival.