Sarawak State Museum

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Sarawak State Museum
Muzium Negeri Sarawak
The Sarawak State Museum, Kuching, Malaysia.JPG
EstablishedBuilt in 1889. Open on 4 August 1891
LocationKuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Coordinates1°33′17″N 110°20′37″E / 1.55472°N 110.34361°E / 1.55472; 110.34361Coordinates: 1°33′17″N 110°20′37″E / 1.55472°N 110.34361°E / 1.55472; 110.34361
TypeEthnology museum
FounderCharles Brooke
OwnerSarawak state government

The Sarawak State Museum (Malay: Muzium Negeri Sarawak) is the oldest museum in Borneo.[1] It was founded in 1888 and opened in 1891 in a purpose-built building in Kuching, Sarawak.[1] It has been said that naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace encouraged Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak, to establish the museum [1]: there is no evidence for this (Wallace, although he did return to England with Charles (Johnson) in 1862, supported his elder brother, Brooke, when he was disinherited in 1863, so is unlikely to have retained any links).

Starting 23 October 2017, the museum is temporarily closed until 2020 for an RM308-million refurbishment works. Only RM28M will be spent on the historic museum building with the rest to be spent on a far larger new museum campus building nearby. [2] Once it is reopened, the museum aims to be one of the finest museums in ASEAN.[3]


The museum in 1896, prior to its extension in 1911.
The museum after its extension in 1911.

The visit of Alfred Wallace, may have increased Charles Brooke's interest in the natural history of Sarawak to the extent that, since 1878, he asked his officers to collect specimens throughout the state, with a view to building a museum in the future. As the collections began to increase, the specimens were put inside a clock tower at a government office. Then, the specimens were moved to a room above an old vegetable market when Hugh Brooke Low's collections arrived from the Rajang River. The room above the old vegetable market acted as a temporary museum and was open to the public. Finally, the proper Sarawak museum was built in 1889 and opened on 4 August 1891. The museum extended a new wing in 1911. However, the brick work steps outside the old wing was demolished in 1912. The building was built to permanently house and display local indigenous arts and crafts, and collections of local animals.[4]

During the Japanese Occupation, the museum was directed by a Japanese officer, who was sympathetic to its goals. He protected it and the museum suffered very little damage or looting.[4]

The historic building has been renovated. It is used to exhibit and interpret collections on the natural history of Sarawak. Shell Oil sponsored an exhibit on the petroleum industry, which has been important to Borneo. In addition, it displays archaeological artifacts and reconstructions of examples of the traditional life of the indigenous peoples, and of their arts and crafts. It has the most comprehensive archaeological, natural history, and ethnographic collections on Borneo.


The building has undergone several renovations and alterations since its construction. It is rectangular, 44’ × 160’ with walls and pillars of bricks, and roof of belian and concrete. The museum building has european-style architecture with its edifice in Queen Anne style. The galleries were lighted up by dormer windows.[4][5] The galleries are lighted by dormer windows on the roof, making wall space available for exhibit displays and collections.


The longhouse gallery inside the museum.

The ground floor of the museum holds the natural history collection and specimens of Sarawak fauna — reptiles, mammals, birds, etc., all expertly prepared and mounted for display. The west wing of the museum houses the Shell exhibition on the petroleum industries of Sarawak.

The first floor has exhibits of ethnographic artifacts of the indigenous peoples, such as models of the various types of longhouses, musical instruments, various kinds of fish and animal traps, handicrafts, models of boats and others.


The museum has been proclaimed guardian of the national patrimony, with the responsibility to search for, acquire and protect antiquities and historical monuments. The museum director is also responsible for protecting marine turtles and assisting the chief game warden in the conservation of wildlife.[6]

Museum journal[edit]

The Sarawak Museum Journal is published by the museum staff. It was first published in 1911, with John Moulton the inaugural editor, making it one of the oldest scientific journals of the South-East Asian region. Topics covered include the history, natural history and ethnology of the island of Borneo.

Curators and directors[edit]

Ipoi Datan, the current director of Sarawak State Museum.

Until 1974, the head of the museum was termed "Curator":

After this, "Director" was the title for the head of the museum:

  • Lucas Chin — 1 April 1974 – December 1991
  • Dr Peter M. Kedit – December 1991 – April 1996
  • Sanib Said — May 1997 - December 2008
  • Ipoi Datan - January 2009 – Feb 2019[2][7]
  • Suria Bin Bujang - Feb 2019 (acting)

See also[edit]


  • Lenzi, Iola (2004). Museums of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Archipelago Press. p. 200 pages. ISBN 981-4068-96-9.


  1. ^ a b c Sulok Tawie (21 September 2017). "Sarawak Museum to close until 2020 for restoration". The Malay Mail Online.
  2. ^ a b Sharon Ling (23 September 2017). "Sarawak's old museum building to close until 2020". The Star Online.
  3. ^ Peter Sibon (6 December 2017). "Poised to be one of the best in Asean". The Borneo Post Online.
  4. ^ a b c Ah Chon, Ho (1948). Kuching in pictures (1841-1946) (PDF). Kuching: Sarawak state library (Pustaka Negeri Sarawak). pp. 42–43. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2018. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  5. ^ Patrica, Hului (7 August 2015). "Tracing the designs behind the Sarawak Museum". The Borneo Post. Archived from the original on 9 August 2015. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  6. ^ "Preserving Borneo's Traditions".
  7. ^ "Retiring Heads of Departments".

External links[edit]