One of the finest museums on the island of Borneo, the Sarawak Museum is also the oldest, opened in 1891 by Charles Burke, the second Rajah of Sarawak. Set inside a massive, rectangular, Victorian-period edifice designed to resemble a Normandy townhouse, the inside still has the feel of a museum constructed in the late 20th century as punctuated by the wood and bamboo flooring.
The need for interior renovations aside, however, the Sarawak Museum is home to a fascinating array of ethnographic and ecological artifacts relating to traditional tribal and environmental life in the state of Sarawak. In addition to small scale replicas of Iban longhouses, original tribal weapons, and mounted exhibits of exotic mammals and reptiles, of particular interest to many visitors are the displays of shrunken heads and human skulls which adorn various parts of the museum interior. Also on permanent display is a reconstruction of the prehistoric human settlement at Niah Caves, believed to be the oldest human settlement on the island of Borneo.
Across the street from the old museum is the Tun Abdul Razak Exhibition Hall, so named after Malaysia’s second prime minister and open to the public since 1983. Here visitors can peruse colorful, prehistoric pottery and gawk at a traditional Iban war boat, an ornately carved craft capable of transporting up to 25 people. Also on the grounds of the Exhibition Hall are replicas of mysterious rock carvings and structures found in a nearby mangrove swamp which, until their discovery, had only been encountered in the Kelabit Highlands deep in the Bornean interior.