The Last of the Ring Ladies from my Home State, Sarawak

After being away from home to study then work in Peninsular Malaysia for close to a decade, I have found myself starting to appreciate better those tiny little things we have back in my Bumi Kenyalang, Sarawak, that I tended to take for granted. And by “tiny little things” I meant the cultures and practices that make Sarawak, well, Sarawak.


I remember Cat once said something along the line that it is often only after we have seen the outside world that we would begin appreciating our very own.

She kinda took the words right out of my mouth. You know, the same idea that had been lingering at the back of my mind, but which I felt may be too premature to conclude – she reaffirmed it.

While my home state is made up about 40% of its non-Muslim indigenous natives who thereby form the majority, their cultures have become so prominent and distinct such that every time we hear “Sarawak”, cultural icons like the long house and blow pipe would cross our mind.

But these icons do not and cannot be used to represent any other states in Peninsular Malaysia. They just don’t fit together. That kind of dashing uniqueness associated with Sarawak, its culture, people, and everything else, is exactly what I only got to realise in the last couple of years after being away from home for so long. Every time I travel back home, I would ironically find myself thrown into a state of “culture shock” for the flexibility and beauty in the kind of cultural, religious, social, and political terrains I grew up in.

I’m sure by now some of you would have heard of Dewi Liana Seriestha, the Sarawak lass who recently made Malaysia proud by working herself into the Top 25 of the Miss World 2014 pageant and winning the Miss World Talent title. Anyway I have been following her for a while now and got to know that she is currently involved in a project called the Ring Ladies project.

When I heard “ring ladies”, the first thing that sprang to mind was this:

Long Neck Padaung Myanmar

Those were the long-neck Padaung ladies living at Inle Lake of Myanmar. Such a long-neck tribe can also be found in the Long Neck Village of Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Yet little did I know that in my very own home state in Malaysia, there are also a small group of indigenous natives who don themselves in a similar fashion, sans the stack of neck rings slowly stretching their neck. The coiled rings they wear around their arms and calves are called ruyang and rasung.

So ladies and gents – behold:

Ring Ladies of Sarawak
Image credit to elhazel.blogspot.com.

Do they not look similar?

I’m not saying they belong, or don’t belong to the same origin (extensive study needed on this if there hasn’t been any), but I just find it really interesting how the ring ladies from Myanmar and Thailand areas are strikingly similar to those in Sarawak. It is such a shame that despite having stayed in Sarawak for over twenty years, I have never even heard about the ring ladies of Sarawak until recently!

So let’s take a look at the following documentary starring the beautiful Dewi Liana who is of Bidayuh ethnicity to introduce this sub-tribe called Semban. The ring ladies are thus also called the Semban ladies.

As of January 2014, the documentary says there were only as few as five of these ring ladies left, and they can be found in Kampung Semban of Sarawak.