Kanowit is a town and the capital of a district of the same name, located within the Sibu Division, Sarawak, east Malaysia, comprising 2,253.5 square kilometres. As of 2010, Kanowit's population is 28,985. It is built on the mouth of Kanowit River at the bank of Rajang River, approximately 174 kilometers from the coast of South China Sea. It takes 45 minutes to reach the town by land transport and an hour by boat from Sibu. The main ethnic groups are Iban, Chinese, Malay, and Melanau.
The town takes its name from the Kanowit, a Melanau ethnic group called Rajang by the Ibans. (ISO 639-3: kxn) . The language is still spoken. There still are some Kanowit people living in the Kanowit area. However, the language is doomed to extinction.
The village where Kanowit people live is known as Kampung Bedil, a short trip by boat up the Rajang River from Kanowit town.
Fort Emma is a fort built in 1859 by Rajah James Brooke, out of timber and bamboo. It was named after Emma Brooke, sister of Rajah Charles Brooke. The fort remains impressive, despite years of neglect. It is now open to the public as a museum.
Fort Emma was also the site of the last serious challenge to Brooke rule in Sarawak. In 1859, a number of Malay chiefs, led by Syarif Masahor of Mukah and supported by the Sultan of Brunei planned a series of attacks to kill all the Europeans in Sarawak and Dutch Borneo. In June 1859, Brooke government officials Charles Fox and Henry Steele were murdered at Kanowit as the first step of this plan. The Tuan Muda Charles Brooke led a force of Iban from Saribas to revenge the attack and to recover the heads of the unfortunate victims. As a result, Mukah was annexed to Sarawak, Sharif Masahor later fled to Johore and it was the last time the Malays and the Iban joined forces against the White Rajah.
The town center consists of three streets of 1930s vintage Chinese shophouses, near the waterfront. A few new shophouses have been built. Kanowit have a dry and wet market, offering local vegetables, meats and handicrafts. The market opens everyday from 7am till 12 noon. The biggest supermarket is Hock Tong Seng. During periods of celebration, the local karaoke can often be heard from far away with the pounding basslines of trashy 80's hits in English, Malay and Chinese.
The best sight seeing can be had by walking along the riverside from town or up the Telecom Hill or Bukit Memaluh Hill.
The town has two primary schools:
- Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan St. Francis Xavier (the earliest primary school in Sarawak, founded in 1883,
- Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Yee Ting, a Chinese-run government school
and three secondary schools:
- Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kanowit,
- Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Datuk Haji Abdul Rahman Yakub,
- Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Nanga Dap.