Settled on the South China Sea coast of Sarawak, the Melanau comprise an aristocratic society which used to have a strong bead culture, tied to animist religion. Developments in the 19th and 20th centuries have influenced the traditional way of life so that today, only a few Melanau still keep a significant number of beads. Nevertheless, shamen and healers, adherents to the old religion, continue to use beads in healing and purification ceremonies. Bereaved families protect themselves by wearing special beads, and by providing the deceased with beads according to his or her status in the traditional hierarchy. Specific kinds of beads are also prominent in traditional marriage ceremonies. Beads continue to adorn blouses and to serve as personal ornaments. Handicrafts embellished with glass seed beads are also produced, but mostly for the souvenir market.
The Society of Bead Researchers is a non-profit scientific-educational corporation founded in 1981 to foster historical, archaeological, and material cultural research on beads and beadwork of all materials and periods, and to expedite the dissemination of the resultant knowledge. Membership is open to all persons involved in the study of beads, as well as those interested in keeping abreast of current trends in bead research.
"Melanau Bead Culture: A Vanishing World?."
BEADS: Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers
10: 19-33. Available at: