The Bario Chapter

About Bario 


Bario is an East Malaysian village located in the centre of the Kelabit Highlands in the northeast of Sarawak, very close to the border of Kalimantan, Indonesia. Situated 3280 ft above sea level, it is the main settlement in the Kelabit Highlands.

The Kelabit Highlands is the homeland of the Kelabit community. The Penan community has also settled temporarily in Bario. Kelabits and Penans, along with a number of other ethnic groups such as Kenyah, Kayan and Lun Bawang are known as Orang Ulu. The Kelabits, at approximately 5000 people, are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. Like many other communities in Sarawak, the Kelabits live in longhouses on the highlands although some have built their own houses in Bario.


Why Bario?

However, due to economic and social factors, many have migrated to live in urban areas over the last 20 years. It is estimated that roughly only 1200 Kelabit are still living on the highlands. Younger Kelabits have left for large cities to further their studies, while others married outside their community and never returned. Many have landed well-paid jobs overseas and have settled there.

The Kelabit community speak their own language, known as Bahasa Kelabit. Many do speak Bahasa Melayu as a base language and some speak English as well.

The community’s main economic activity is agriculture, mostly growing Bario rice, which enjoys a price premium compared to other rice varieties from around the country and is regarded as Malaysia’s best-quality rice.  



– Equip women in Bario from the age of 30-65 with the necessary skills to become homestay hosts, community guides and cultural teachers so that they can earn non-farm income through agro-tourism.

– Equip them with decision-making and leadership skills to eventually lead development of the patriarchal community.

– Lure younger Kelabits residing in the cities to return with proven income-earning, thereby reviving their cultural traditions.


Long Term Impact

– To enable the community to earn a more on-farm income through agro-tourism, hence the cash flow within each village will increase; improving the economy of Bario

– To train the women to be leaders and trainers for others in their community.