Bidayuh Baruk

  • Baruk on a local community compound
  • Gardens around the baruk
  • Baruk exterior
  • Baruk exterior
  • Hornbill symbol at the top of a baruk house
  • candle holder
  • Flutes and mixed wood carving
  • Skulls, pottery and more in the storage area of the baruk
  • Musical corner with exposed gongs
  • Roof interior structure
  • Fireplace inside the baruk
  • Fireplace inside the baruk
  • Baruk entrance
  • Detail of walls
  • Roof of a baruk
  • baruk on stilts
Baruk at the Sarawak Cultural Village, SCV

Baruk at the Sarawak Cultural Village, SCV

A baruk is the main section of a traditional Malaysian Bidayuh longhouse. In the several local districts, baruk used to be called with different names by the Bidayuh ethnic groups, according to their different dialects. For instance, in Padawan a baruk was called ‘Panggah’ while at Serian it is known as ‘Baluh’ or ‘Balui’. All and all, we can state that baruk is a great synonym of the Bidayuh ethnic people in Sarawak.

History tells that during the old days, baruk was a place of congregation for Bidayuh warriors. The baruk’s interior is usually filled with weapons, gongs, wooden masks and other personal effects. On the inside of a Baruk roof usually hang human skulls belonging to the ancient enemies of this community killed by the Bidayuh warriors. This is why the baruk was sometimes known as the head-house.

Skulls, pottery and more in the storage area of the baruk

Skulls, pottery and more in the storage area of the baruk

It is believed that when the Bidayuh people were atheist and pagan, the baruk functioned as a venue for cultural ceremonies, a place to practice Adat Oma, a spiritual religion quite similar to the one the Red Indians practiced, with homage paid to land, including the mountains, the forests, rivers and things connected with nature and their spirits. It was at the baruk that the Bidayuh people also danced.

It is for me still amazing to believe that such small communities of primal people managed to build such spectacular buildings with no technology at all. Their creativity is what makes me really attracted to the baruk architectural design.

Detail of walls

Detail of walls

But let me enlighten you with something amazing: the Bidayuh communities never used iron nails to build their houses, and the same goes for the baruk. These sturdy and long-lasting buildings are tight together with ropes made out of tree bark and rattan.

This is supported by most of the elders in my own community. When I met Kampung Opar headman, he told me that baruk architecture use a system of joints to hold in place building materials. He added that the Bidayuh are very concerned about ventilation and thanks to that, they capitalized on air convection to keep the baruk structure cool on the inside.

Fireplace inside the baruk

Fireplace inside the baruk

Of course, the building of a baruk follows a well-established procedure. A baruk is round and built off the ground. Hardwood is used for the posts, with bamboo and/or wood as floor, while the roof is thatched. The baruk has only one door which is reached by climbing a flight of steps. The window of a baruk is the roof, part of which can be opened or closed according to the need for ventilation; an impressive system I would say. The inside of a baruk usually includes a traditional stove and a fireplace, mainly used for cooking purposes during certain events like Gawai Dayak festival or during rituals. A baruk is normally positioned right in the middle of a Bidayuh village so it is easy for the villagers to gather there.

baruk on stilts

baruk on stilts

The baruk is indeed a very important element to any tribe, a piece of heritage that should be retained for future generations to admire, as it is a significant item of the Bidayuh people, displaying their cultural heritage and identity. I totally agreed with local minister Dato Sri Micheal Manyin when he said that today the baruk is quite appropriate to serve the modern needs of the Bidayuh community and should not be regarded only as a mere head-house.

Words are not enough to describe the great icon that is the baruk, so I invite you to visit one in person in order to experience and witness its appealing design. You can found authentic baruk in a few places: at the Sarawak Cultural Village, at Kampung Opar in Bau and at Kampung Benuk in Padawan. Happy baruk!

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About the author

Cato is a young woman from Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Cato gained a Bachelor Degree with honours in Social Science majoring in Communication Studies at the University Malaysia Sarawak - UNIMAS. After a long spell as a full-time reporter writing for TV and Radio news in Borneo and beyond, she is currently a Special Officer in the public relations field. She is also a regular and passionate contributor at Asian Itinerary. Cato is a dynamic woman with several interests and hobbies like travelling, listening to music, playing guitar, reading, kayaking and surfing the Internet. She is a young promise in the travel-writing world, and one of the main exponents of Asian Itinerary.

View all articles by Catohrinner Joyce Guri