Have you ever come across an event called the Sarawak Regatta? Water sports have become mushrooming activities in so many different countries; yet, unlike any other countries in the world, in the biggest of the Malaysian provinces, Sarawak, they are still practicing this traditional water sportive event in the traditional way.
The Sarawak Regatta is an important event with a very interesting and distinct history and cultural significance. But there is more: the history behind the Sarawak Regatta has recently been unveiled by Sarawak’s Minister of Tourism, Datuk Amar Abang Zohari bin Tun Abang Haji Openg in an interview with The BorneoPost.
History tells us that this sport was introduced in Malaysia in 1872 during the reign of James Brooke, the first White Rajah. During that period of time, warring tribes fought each other to death over territory, pride and historical enmity. To divert such lusty energy away from violence, the then colonial authorities created a river race to be made between traditional boats or long boats. The main reason behind this race was to foster peace and passion and to unite the warring tribes of Borneo by ending tribal hostilities.
There are several more interesting stories and iconic incidences that happened along the Sarawak River that excite historians, and that the Sarawak Regatta event wants to showcase. The most famous is when the Chinese Hakka gold miners attacked Kuching, and James Brooke escaped by swimming across the river.
The Sarawak River was the gateway to Kuching, a place for trading essential goods, for communication and for protection from potential enemies. Introspectively, the 141 years of race involving local participations has since undergone tremendous transformation, particularly in terms of service delivery and scope. Nowadays, the race is widely opened to participants from foreign countries. This annual rowing event takes place in the month of September; this year Sarawak has managed to gain international flavor thanks to the dragon boat races that attracted participants from Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei. The programme included competitions of Balok Boats with 7 men paddlers, Bidar Boats with 15 to 30 male and mix race paddlers, Kenyalang Boats, Tambang Boat and Brooke Swim; amazingly enough, each of the boats came with its own first name! The winner of the main race is nominated the King of the River – Raja Sungai. The 2013 Sarawak Regatta saw the Jang Keratung team winning the title of Raja Sungai, the Tuan Yang Terutama challenge trophy, as well as 10,000 Ringgit (2,500 Euros) in prize.
Nowadays, Sarawak Regatta is an anticipated sports event in the Ministry of Tourism calendar, and is held every year. Its objective is not only to bring the multiracial people of Sarawak together, but also to encourage teamwork, and to boost company morale and sportsmanship.
If you are in Kuching, apart from this traditional water sport you can enjoy the expo, take pictures along the riverbank, try the inexpensive traditional boats that take you to the other side of the town, and buy Sarawak’s traditional multilayer cake lapis. For next year, plan your trip ahead of the regatta and create your own Sarawak experience.