ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon Print

Bringing Borneo's unique 'boat lutes' in tune with 21st century

Artists and researchers team up to save endangered musical tradition

Carved from a single piece of wood, "boat lutes" are plucked string instruments with hollowed bodies that look something like the dugout canoes used on Borneo's waterways by indigenous inhabitants. (Courtesy of Gindung Mc Feddy Simon)

KUCHING, Malaysia -- Visitors to the traditional longhouses of Borneo are often served a round of tuak (rice wine) by their indigenous tribal hosts, known collectively as Dayaks. But the really lucky get an extra treat: the sweet, melancholic melody of the sape', a traditional instrument whose four strings are a perfect match for the ubiquitous serenade of buzzing rainforest insects.

Long, lean and exquisitely chiseled, the sape' was developed by the indigenous Kenyah and Kayan communities in northeastern Sarawak -- one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo -- and has become a global emblem of local indigenous cultural identity. But the island treasures dozens of other indigenous string instruments, collectively called "boat lutes," in dire need of preservation.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

Discover the all new Nikkei Asia app

  • Take your reading anywhere with offline reading functions
  • Never miss a story with breaking news alerts
  • Customize your reading experience

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more