Two years following the inaugural hosting of the Philippines, the City of Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia, hosted the Budayaw Culture and Arts Festival of the Brunei Darrusalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines – East Asia Growth Area or BIMP-EAGA. As expected, it was a showcase of the diverse cultural traditions and artistic expressions of the many indigenous groups in the region.

For a week, Kuching’s Plaza Merdeka Mall and the Old Courthouse located at the city’s historical core became a performing arts haven and venue of scholarly exchanges as participants from member countries banner their traditional dances, music, culinary heritage, and traditional attires, and share researches and expertise on culture and heritage.

With the theme “Beauty in cultural diversity,” the event promoted unity and understanding between the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural groups of the BIMP-EAGA member countries.

It was co-organized and sponsored by the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA); Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism; Brunei Darussalam’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports; Sarawak’s Ministry of Tourism, Art, Culture, Youth and Sports; Sabah’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment; and Labuan Corporation.

Aside from the performances and various activities in Kuching, an outreach program was held in Sarawak’s Samarahan Division showcasing the rich cultures of Malay, Iban, and Dayak indigenous groups of Borneo.

Participants there were treated with sweets such as pinjaram, roti jala (net cake), burasak (sweetened rice cake), and gula apong (palm sugar); traditional arts demonstration such as mat weaving and beadworks; and participated in traditional games ketingting (akin to the patintero of the Philippines), batak lampong (tugging using a piece of wood), and sumpit (blow pipe).

This cultural celebration was impressive to say the least with the chosen venue equally imposing for its charm and laid back environment where the old and new and the people of different faith mix harmoniously. It was a good outlet to promote better understanding and mutual respect among people of different ethnicities, advance industries and activities related to tourism, and solidify ties anchored on our many similarities.

It is on these lines that this monograph was prepared, a documentation of the Budayaw events with additional essays on the built environment of Kuching and on the concept of cultural work. Also, since this was produced during the time of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, two articles discuss how the culture and arts sector of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries is coping with this extraordinary event.

Experts from the field were interviewed to get a grasp of the general situation of culture and arts practitioners as well as know the impact of the pandemic to them and their recovery plans once this global problem is over.

The writers here are cultural workers and journalists who personally witnessed and observed the events as these unfolded in Sarawak in November 2019 and researchers tasked to undertake interviews during these trying times. What they wrote are interesting culture and arts tidbits and observations on Budayaw, the flagship cultural program of BIMP-EAGA, anchored on the premise that there is indeed, unity in diversity.