Sarawak State Museum
Muzium Negeri Sarawak
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; 110.34361
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]


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

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 as Wallace, although he did return to England with Charles (Johnson) in 1862, supported his elder brother, Brooke, when he was disinherited in 1863, and retained no known links). Indeed, naturalists Beccari, Doria, and Hornaday are more likely to have encouraged the Rajah, in 1878, to ask his officers to collect specimens throughout the state, with a view to building a museum in the future,[2] and he asked for land from the Anglican Mission in 1880.[3] 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.[citation needed]

Starting 23 October 2017, the state museum was temporarily closed for refurbishment works. A total of RM28 million was spent on renovating the historic museum building with another RM 280 million spent on constructing a new museum campus building nearby.[5][6] The new museum building named as the Borneo Cultures Museum was opened in March 2022. It is the largest museum complex in Malaysia, and second largest in Southeast Asia, after Singapore National Museum.[7] However, the reopening of the Sarawak State Museum has since been delayed due to the complexity of fitting out galleries and exhibitions.[8]

Bridge connecting Sarawak State Museum with Borneo Cultures Museum
Front of Borneo Cultures Museum building, 2022


The building has undergone several renovations and alterations since its construction. It is rectangular, 44' × 160' with walls and pillars of bricks. The museum building has European-style architecture with its edifice in Queen Anne style. It bears a strong resemblance to the Samuel Way Building of the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital.[9][10] The galleries are lit by dormer windows on the roof, making wall space available for exhibit displays and collections.[4][11]


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.[12]

Museum journal

The Sarawak Museum Journal is published by the museum staff. It was first published in 1911, with John Moulton the inaugural editor,[13] making it one of the oldest scientific journals of the South-East Asian region.[14] Topics covered include the history, natural history and ethnology of the island of Borneo.

Curators and directors

Ipoi Datan, the former director of Sarawak State Museum

Until 1974, the head of the museum was termed as a "Curator". Here are some of the following people who become Curators:

After this, "Director" was the designated title for the head of the museum. Here are some of the following people who become Directors:

See also



  1. ^ a b c Sulok Tawie (21 September 2017). "Sarawak Museum to close until 2020 for restoration". The Malay Mail Online.
  2. ^ Jennifer R Morris, Second to None in the East: reassessing the birth of the Sarawak Museum, Sarawak Museum Journal, 2019, pp.201-224
  3. ^ CJ Brooke to WR Mesney, 11 August, 1880,
  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. ^ a b Sharon Ling (23 September 2017). "Sarawak's old museum building to close until 2020". The Star Online.
  6. ^ Peter Sibon (6 December 2017). "Poised to be one of the best in Asean". The Borneo Post Online.
  7. ^ Maganathan, Dinesh Kumar (10 March 2022). "Borneo Cultures Museum fully booked this month, a day after opening". The Star (Malaysia). Archived from the original on 12 March 2022. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  8. ^ "Reopening of Old Sarawak Museum delayed, no concrete plans yet for city aquarium, Summer House". Dayak Daily. 14 June 2022. Archived from the original on 14 June 2022. Retrieved 24 March 2024.
  9. ^ Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital (including photo)
  10. ^ Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital (photo and detail)
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Howe, Marvine (25 December 1988). "Preserving Borneo's Traditions". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Moulton, John Coney (1886-1926)". JSTOR Global Plants. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  14. ^ "Sarawak To Hold International Museum Day In July". SAINS. Archived from the original on 12 August 2023. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  15. ^ "Retiring Heads of Departments".