Bario Kelabit is a Malaysian village located in the centre of the Kelabit Highlands in the northeast of Sarawak, very close to the international border with Indonesian Kalimantan, and 3280 feet above sea level. It is the main settlement in the Kelabit Highlands. There are regular flights between Bario Airport and Ba'kelalan, Marudi and Miri.
Over a century ago, the Kelabits were somewhat involved in headhunting raids, not so much for ritual purposes but as a means to prove one’s courage, bravery or valour, and to get even with their enemy. However, things have changed. Today among other things, the Kelabits are well known for their friendliness and hospitality. They embraced Christianity during the 1940s through the influence of Guru Paul, also known as Nimang Tepun.
In the year 1946, the first school was opened by Tom Harrison, who lived with the Kelabits for two years after the Second World War. In 2001, the Bario community was named as one of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities by World Teleport Association.
The Kelabit Highlands is tucked in northeastern of Sarawak and is very close to the international border between Kalimantan and Sarawak. Bario is on the Kelabit Highlands, 3280 feet above sea level. It is the unofficial capital of the Kelabit Highlands. All roads lead to Bario. Due to geographical barriers, this wonderful place is isolated from the rest of the world.
Infrastructure and facilities
Despite its remoteness, there is infrastructure such as an airport, telecentre for internet access and computer services, schools, churches, clinic, police station and shops.
The Kelabit, at approximately 5000 people, is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Like many other indigenous communities in Sarawak, the Kelabit live in longhouses on the highlands. However, due to economic and social factors, many have migrated to live in urban areas over the last 20 years. It is estimated that roughly only 1200 Kelabit are still living on the highlands.
The Kelabit speak their language which is called "Kelabit". Today, many have learned to speak English and Malay languages.
In 1946 the first school was opened by Tom Harrison, who lived with the Kelabits for two years after the Second World War. In 2001 the Bario community was named as one of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities by World Teleport Association.
The Kelabits include lawyers, doctors, politicians and professionals. Kelabits are high achievers, highly educated and extremely bright. In the mid1990s, the heads of the legal departments of all the major oil companies operating in Malaysia were Kelabit.
The Kelabits value ceramic jars, brass gongs and beads. These items are inherited from their ancestors. The beads are used to make beaded hats (peta baa' rawir) and necklaces that are worn by the Kelabit women especially on special occasion. Visitors can purchase some of these beads as souvenirs too.
A traditional musical instrument is the sapeh, a plucked lute. It is carved from a tree trunk in an elongated rectangular shape with a homogenous neck extending from one end of the body. Formerly, its three or four strings were made from finely split rattan, but today they are made of wire strings.
The Kelabit also play the pagang (tube zither), which is made from a length of bamboo tube closed at both ends by its natural bamboo nodes. The strings are finely cut strips from the surface of the tube, which are still attached at either end.
On special occasion such as Iraus or during visits by important people, the school children will form a bamboo band where all the musical instruments that are played are made from bamboo.
The community's main economic activity is agriculture, mainly growing Bario rice. The cool climate at the average 20°C enables the residents to cultivate citrus fruits besides rice. Bario is also famous for its high-potash Bario-made salt and the refreshing, juicy Bario pineapple.
There are homestays in the village where board and meals are included in the price.
- Dr. Roger W. Harris (2006-07-17). "e-Bario: Participatory Community Development with Information and Communication Technologies". Retrieved 2009-07-05.