Sarawak, Malaysia’s largest state on Borneo Island, is nicknamed the ‘Land of the Hornbills’. With eight out of the world’s 54 species, the bird features as the state symbol. Keep reading and discover why hornbills, in particular the Rhinoceros Hornbill, has deep cultural links to Sarawak and its indigenous people.
Hornbills are unusual. The giant birds, which can grow larger than one metre (3.3 feet) and weigh several kilograms, have strange, double-decked beaks and bills. Looking at one, it’s easy to pass it off as a goofy animation. But hornbills have elegance and grace while swooping and gliding from their nests high in the treetops. The hornbills in Sarawak are some of the largest birds in the rainforest and from a distance can resemble a swan with a giant beak. But the beak and bill aren’t for feeding. Instead, they’re a quirky evolutionary trait to them help find a mate. And when they do, hornbills are monogamous. A single male and female will spend their lives, sometimes reaching several decades, together. Hornbills also share with their family and it’s not uncommon to see them pass food amongst each other.
Cultural ties to the Dayak people
According to the indigenous Dayak, an umbrella term for the natives of Borneo, Rhinoceros Hornbills represent the spirit of God. It’s considered good luck to the local community when one flies over the house. And when the Iban tribes of Sarawak watched soaring hornbills, they saw the God of War as well as various omens. The birds were also believed to have mythical powers. Superstitious pagans and animists sacrificed the majestic creatures and wore their yellow-orange beak on a necklace. This, they said, gave power and influence. Feathers from the tail were harvested to decorate ceremonial headdresses and weapons, including blowpipes and machetes. Those sporting the hornbill feathers would be stronger than their opponents.
A protected species
Since 1998, Sarawak’s Rhinoceros Hornbill has been given a protected status with strict punishments against those who hunt or keep the bird as a pet. With loss of habitat through deforestation and hunting for their feathers, people need to take action before the elegant birds become threatened and endangered. Anyone wanting to see the hornbills in Sarawak for themselves can head to Kubah National Park, approximately 23 kilometres (15 miles) west of the state capital Kuching.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.