Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011: My Anak Borneo Story


I was missing for some time, busy with work, dance practices and my recent trip to KL with Anak Borneo. We participated in the Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011 in the dance category, doing a Memaloh Dance and a second Dance Medley, Borneo: The Land of Gawai Aramaiti.


Those who know me would be surprised as to why I’m even interested in dance, traditional some more. It was a coincidence I guess. I’ve always wanted to learn, but too embarassed to. Then I met some friends who wanted to go for the Borneo Hornbill Festival 2011 in KL, and willing to take on newbies (who has two left feet). Besides, it’s a dying culture. So why not? Thing is, once you’ve tried it, you kind of get addicted to it. There’s something about doing something that your ancestors did, different from the rest and in touch with nature. Sorry, I’m rambling again.

Anyway, the Anak Borneo group consists of ten people with members from Limbang, Miri, Kalimantan border, Betong and Kuching. It was fun meeting everyone, learning something new. It felt like the old days of secondary school when we went on trips for competitions to far off lands (back then it sure seemed so).

3Iban, Selakau, Kadazan, Kenyah, Kenyah, Bisayak, Memaloh, Tindal, Murut, Suluk

Of course, with any groups there’s bound to be problems but we got through it. We didn’t win anything, but I’m guessing most of us expected that. We didn’t perform as well as we expected, but all in all I had a great time. Made friends with some of the other teams too.


The dances were interesting, some a bit boring. The Kumang Keligit Keling was nice, some coming up with as much accessories as possible.

For the ethnic dance category, 1st place is Sanggar Budaya from Miri, 2nd ASWARA, 3rd Kampung Benuk (proud of you!). Whether or not they deserve to win is subjective since I’m not all that versed in dance.


My only solo part and I screwed it. Missed the ballon, the arrow hitting the shield so hard it took awhile to pry it off. There’s a hole now in the terabai. Plus the wound on my feet which I guess came from somebody’s sword who dropped it.


On another note, the Borneo Hornbill Festival, organised by Warisan Sarawak is a great concept, with great ambitions, but ultimately fell flat when it came to implementation. The tickets were expensive, low turnout due to lack of promotion (there wasn’t even a banner in front of the building except a small one when you actually walk in), draggy shows (the Kumang, Keligit, Keling dragged on till 2 A.M), unorganised, messy schedule (clashing rehearsals that wasted our time), ignorant MCs (this one pisses me off the most) with stuttering speech who don’t seem to know a thing about what they were talking about,  and odd showtimes (who’s going to come on a weekday to the centre of KL??)

But the festival is a laudable effort by the organisers. The stage, lighting and audio were awesome. The prizes were extremely awesome too (Grand prize 3.5k + trip to Melbourne).

Like a journalist who was asked how the festival fared this year compared to the last, he answered, “It’s improving.”


I’m not sure I’ll be joining next year (maybe Keling, if I ever get a bit more beefier lol), but I hope they learn from this and improve. It’s one thing to delegate, it’s another to delegate and monitor.

Find a cheaper venue, charge less for the tickets (RM 70 is a lot of money for two days), promote it aggresively not just through the internet, but through travel agencies, radio, physical banners or buntings, at the airport, invitations to various ethnic associations (maybe ask them to endorse). If possible invite our Kalimantan Dayak counterparts as guest performers. New categories like folk song and instrumental would be good. Stay punctual according to schedule so as to not waste our limited time.

Provide a basic, affordable package that includes transportation and accommodation to and from the venue for teams that come from far, like many international festivals.

Find knowledgeable MCs on Bornean culture preferably from Sarawak or Sabah who don’t stutter. Confine the festival to the weekends or at least start on Fridays to allow more people in central KL to come. Cut out unnecessary parts of the show. Ideally it should end latest by 11 AM (many use public transport).

Define in the rules what the dance must be (especially the rampaian etnik), while part of the jury (ideally 5 people) should be real experts on not just dance but the culture itself because dance evolves, and there are many dances that aren’t known which might be construed as too creative.

Great time, great friends, a memorable journey in something new, and an exciting way to learn about your own culture and those of others.


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